Chapter Nineteen
Word Count: 4,473

February 14, 2003 (F)

Valentine's Day.

He had no idea why he was doing this.

A glutton for punishment? Maybe so. He wagered at the very least he'd get dinner out of Melissa since Sean did not live here and was spending the weekend with his family down in Texas. As far as John knew Melissa was not aware of John being the reason for Sean's face being bruised the past week. John hadn't spoken to him since that night

The days since that night hadn't gone smoothly at all. They managed to get one song done, but that was about it.

That was the reason he was here this weekend. They all needed a break. Over a month together under the same roof was too much. Sure, they each had their own room and stuff, no one had to share a bathroom or anything except the women who didn't seem to mind that, oddly. Everyone could come and go as they pleased. They still had to share the kitchen, pool, and living space since John didn't outfit each bedroom with cable TV and stuff.

So, everyone was going their own way until Tuesday. Dominick was probably as glad for the time off as John was.

He parked on the street in front of her house and put the car in Park. He had never done this before. He'd never had reason to chase after a woman.


He probably would have chased after her nineteen years ago given some time to process she wasn't coming after him. He hadn't gotten to that point, though, when her dad showed up at Claude's house during band practice.

He eyed the boxes on the seat next to him with a scowl. He'd never bought Valentine's Day things before either. He'd never had reason to. Anyone dating him knew he didn't go in for all that romantic shit. Maybe he'd gotten stuff for his mom as a kid, but he couldn't recall doing that. He'd never been able to participate in the Valentine exchanges at school growing up. Kindergarten and first grade maybe he had, but not after that he was sure of it.

If Date Guy was pursuing her these things likely wouldn't be the only ones she got today. She'd gone on her first date with him back in September if he recalled correctly. That was five months ago and he had no idea how many dates they'd gone on.

That bothered him.

Her dating someone.

Her getting gifts from someone.

He didn't want her dating someone.

He didn't want her getting gifts from someone.

Well, that wasn't completely true. He did, just he wanted that someone to be him.

That pretty much urged him to see this through. He put the car in Drive and pulled onto her driveway.

It was cold here. If it was above freezing it wasn't much above that. He stamped his feet on the step after he'd rung the bell and waited for her to answer. He'd timed this portion of his day with Melissa being in school. He had no idea what the deal was, but he preferred to not do whatever they were going to do in front of Melissa.

Especially since she told him over the weekend last weekend that one of the schools she was considering was University of Florida. She'd thought he'd mind, and he assured her he wouldn't so long as she understood that it wouldn't mean he would be in Tampa all of the time. He'd love being a couple of hours away from her.

She'd also gotten accepted to some colleges on the upper East Coast and out west as well and stuff, so she had her decision cut out for her. The idea that she was considering University of Florida was pretty awesome to him.

Claire opened the door and was clearly surprised, and didn't look pissed to see him. She didn't look as though she'd been pining away for the last six weeks waiting for him to get his act together and come to her either, though.

"Hi," he said.

"John. What are you doing here?"

"Uh, well," he said, gesturing a bit with his arms to the boxes he was holding. "It's Valentine's Day."

"Yes," she said.

"Can I come in and give this stuff to you?"

"To me?"

"Yeah, you. Who else would I be coming here to give this stuff to?"


"Oh, I have something for her, too, sure, but no," he said.

She stepped aside and he stepped over the threshold.

"So, uh," he said. "I had to order these by phone from Florida so I'm sorry they're not in a vase or anything, but I knew I wanted to deliver them to you myself."

He handed her the longer, bigger box, which she took and stared at him for a second.

"What? It's not a trick," he said. Christ. Wasn't she supposed to be excited at the idea of getting flowers?

She opened the box then and gasped a bit. She glanced from the box to him and back to the box again. He couldn't tell what she was thinking, but she didn't appear excited. Or very thrilled.

"They're beautiful," she whispered.

"I should hope so," he said. They'd cost more than he realized a dozen roses would cost never having reason to buy one before now let alone twelve of them.

"I can't accept them."

"I'm sorry?"

"John. I can't accept them."

"They're a gift."

"Yes, I understand that, and I appreciate the effort that you went to, but I can't accept them."

"Why not?"

She sighed heavily, and looked at her feet then. "I've been seeing someone."

He turned then, walking to the window next to the front door. He glanced outside for a second.

"Why?" he asked.

"What kind of question is that?"

"It's a reasonable question after what happened between us at my house."

"We had sex."

"It was better than sex."

"It was still sex, John. I knew that then."

"Did you consider yourself seeing him then?"

"Not exclusively or anything, no. I wouldn't have had sex with you if I was."

"But you considered yourself seeing him?"

"I'd gone out with him, so yes."

"I thought…"

He turned then, regarding her.

"What? We had a couple of nice phone conversations and made out one night that I'd sit and wait for you?"

"Well, no, of course not. I just assumed I meant something."

"You do, John, but you're not here."

"I'm here now."

"Sure. For how long? A few days again? Then you'll be gone and I wouldn't know when I'd see you again or if I'd see your picture on some website somewhere with someone else. I won't live like that."

"We hadn't gotten to that point."

"No, and I can't get to that point. I'm sorry if I misled you somehow."

"Having sex with me for a week, yeah, that's kind of misleading."

"Like you've never had sex with someone for a week before without it meaning anything?"

Well, of course he had, plenty of times. Not with her, though. And why did he feel like she'd just cut his heart out saying it meant nothing? Christ.

"I like him. He's a good man."

"I want to meet him."

"Excuse me?"

"I want to meet who's going to be around my daughter."

"She hasn't met him yet. I'm nowhere near that point."

"But you're near the point of telling me to take my flowers and get the fuck out?"

"I didn't ask you to bring me flowers."

"No, but you had to know…"

"How could I possibly know in this lifetime you'd show up here today with flowers?"

"Because you know that week meant more to me than just sex."

"How do I know that?"

"Other than shopping I did everything I could with you. Does that point to someone who was just out to have sex with you?"

"John," she said, handing the box back to him.

"I'm not taking it. Throw them away. Do whatever the fuck you want with them, but I don't want them back. I bought them for you. You think about them laying in your trash can when you're out with whoever tonight. May as well throw these away with them," he said, handing her the box of chocolates he'd bought. Cliché as hell. He knew that. He'd assumed she'd understand he hadn't done this before. "Let Melissa know I'm in town, if she wants to have dinner with me tonight I'm apparently available."

"You thought I'd just drop everything and have dinner with you on a Friday night? Valentine's Day?"

"No, I thought you'd appreciate that I flew here to surprise you with gifts, as basic as they may be, and agree to have dinner with me."

"Without any notice?"

"You won't return my calls!"

"There's a reason for that!"

"You make no fucking sense, do you know that?"


"I have never done this. Ever. I've never in my life given anyone anything for Valentine's Day. I've never in my life contemplated taking someone to dinner on Valentine's Day. I've never been ignored."

"It must be rough for you, I'm sorry. I'm not ignoring you, John."

"Could have fooled me."

"You can have a relationship with Melissa without me as part of it."

"I want you as part of it!"

"I don't," she whispered.

And there it was. She didn't want him.

"Fine," he whispered. He wasn't going to beg her. Good God if people saw him doing this much he'd never live it down.

He turned to leave then, stopping once he'd open the door.

"Here. May as well complete making an ass of myself. This is for you. Do what you want with it just like the rest of the stuff," he said, handing her the jewelry box. It wasn't a ring or anything, but it had been a pretty nice necklace that he'd seen and liked. He could have taken it back, returned it, but he didn't want to. The jeweler would remember him because it hadn't been a cheap necklace and he'd tried to sell John a ring to go with it. The jeweler would remember him because he'd known who John was. He wasn't going to go back there to return something he'd bought. Talk about humiliating.

"John," she said.

She made no effort to take the box so he set it on the table by the door.


He wasn't a crier. He had to search long and hard to even come close to a time he'd hurt enough to cry. His dad had beat the crying out of him long before that day he'd talked to Claire for the first time. He'd learned by not responding, holding it in, the beatings didn't last as long. It was the crying, the pleading his dad had gotten off on.

He pulled over a couple of blocks from her house and did just that then. Did she not understand?

Fuck. What could he have done differently? He didn't live here so it wasn't as if he could have seen her after their week in Tampa. He ran the side of his index fingers along each eye, pushing on his eyelids a bit as he got himself under control.

Fuck. Who the fuck would want to bother pursuing loving someone if it felt like this?

He sighed a while later when he realized where he'd driven to. No conscious decision, just automatically this is where he'd come. He let out a breath, realizing the tears had dried up but the feeling of needing to let it out hadn't.

He thought he'd experienced hurt before with his old man and his mom. He thought there was nothing worse for him to feel. He'd been wrong.

He drew his cell phone out of his coat pocket and hit the first speed dial number, letting his head fall back against the headrest. He didn't pray often for Claude to actually be home when he called him, but he was doing it right now.

'Yeah,' Claude said, sounding as if he was driving.

"Hey," John said, hoping his voice sounded normal.

'Hey, Buddy, what's up? You make it to Chicago?'

"Yeah," John said.

'Oh? That doesn't sound like an enthusiastic yeah.'

"She's involved with someone."

'Oh,' Claude said.

"I'm parked in front of a dealer's house…"

'I'm sure you are. You called me, though, John. You didn't go inside.'

"Not yet."

'That's huge, John.'

"Sure. I really want to go inside, though."

'I bet you do. I told you it wasn't going to be easy, John.'

"She's involved with someone. Did you not hear that part? I don't see it getting much more difficult."

'She can't be serious about the guy if you two were having sex a month ago.'

"A month and a half ago."

'Two weeks shouldn't matter.'

"Yeah. I fell in love with her in ten minutes."

Claude sighed.

'So, what did she say?'

John repeated as much of the conversation as he could remember.

'Well, what are you prepared to do, John?'

"I don't fucking know! I've never been here before."

'I know,' Claude said. He did know. Unlike John, Claude had pursued most all of the women he'd been involved with heavily. John, on the other hand, let women come to him. He preferred it that way. 'You have two choices here. Well, three I guess, technically.'


'Let her go and just have a relationship with Melissa without her.'

"I don't like that option."

'Let both of them go and just go on about your life as you were before July.'

John sighed. "I like that option even less," he said, surprised by that honestly. He liked Melissa. A lot. He didn't want her gone from his life now that he'd had her in it.

'Pursue the fuck out of her and convince her you're not joking around.'

"I don't know…"

'You do know. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out how to woo a woman. If you want her, don't take no for an answer and do something about it. If you give up the other guy's going to win.'

"I know," John said. "I hate that idea."

'Drive away, John. Go back to your hotel room and think about what you can do for her to want to choose you over the other guy.'

He sighed.

'I'm happy to help where I can, but as you've pointed out I'm probably not the guy to take advice from when it gets down to it.'

"You know how to get women to marry you at any rate."

'Is that what you want, John?'

"I'd sure like to find out if that's what I want."

'Huh," Claude said. 'Drive away. You need me to call the cops and have them come arrest you? I will.'

"No," John said. He took a deep breath, exhaling sharply.

'Did you cry yet?' Claude asked

"Fuck you."

'You think I was happy when Paula dumped me like she did. I spent about four days in a hotel room stoned and drunk out of my mind so that I wouldn't hurt so bad to need to cry.'

"Oh," John said.

'Your situation isn't the same. Any idiot can tell you she likes you, John. Probably a lot. Prove to her you're not the John from eighteen years ago and aren't going to bail on her.'

"I think that'll take a while."

'It probably will. You need to decide if it's worth the time.'

"She is."

'Are you seeing Melissa?'

"I'll probably call her when school lets out and tell her I'm here. I told Claire to tell her, but I'm not sure she'll pass along messages from me today."

'Was she mad?'

"You know, no. She just seemed," he shrugged. "I don't know as if she just didn't want to get involved."

'Well, make her think you're worth wanting to be involved with. That's all I can say.'


'And being at the house when she gets home from her date might be kind of fun.'

"Fun for who?"

'For you. She knows you know, yes?'


'Let her know that knowledge isn't going to dissuade you.'

"Assuming Melissa isn't busy."


"Thank you for being around."

'You're welcome. Thank you for calling me.'


'No, John, really, that was huge. You may not see it as that, but I've been where you are. I've walked into the dealer's house. Think of how far you've come since the last time you were at that guy's house.'

"Yeah," he said simply. He remembered.

'Call me back if you need to. I'm not doing anything tonight that important.'



'Do you want me to cancel dinner tonight?' Allison asked.

"I don't know," she said. She'd been fine until she opened the damned jewelry box out of morbid curiosity. It was too big to be a ring she'd known that much. He'd given her a necklace with a heart charm on it with Melissa's birthdate on one side and a garnet stone on the other side.

'I mean, no one would blame you.'

"You would."

Allison sighed. 'Not really. He really gave you roses?'

"Not just roses, Allison. They're gorgeous. It was like he told the florist to box up a dozen of their best roses just for me."

'Maybe he did, Claire. Ironic, I know, but if he went around here they'd love to get his business.'

"I guess."

'I'll cancel. It's fine, really. Andy and I really just wanted you to have a nice time tonight, that was all.'

"I know. Alan's going to think I'm a flake."

'He's not. I'll tell him something came up.'

"Yes, me with no job and an eighteen year old daughter."

'Things still come up.'

"What do I do?" she asked.

'Sweetie, I don't know that I can tell you what to do. You want to call him, don't you?'

"I do," she said. "And that's ridiculous."

'You love him. Call him if you want. On the other hand,' she said, trailing off.


'It might be kind of fun to actually be chased by John Bender.'

"I'm not going to play games with him."

'You've already started, Claire. You lied to him!'

"I didn't lie to him! I do not want to get hurt. I don't have room in my life to get involved with someone who doesn't want to make time for me. I don't want to be an occasional stop that he sees as an obligation."

'I know. I just meant it'll be kind of fun to see what he does next.'


'Sweetie, he's not going to just go away. You do realize that, right?'

"No," Claire said, biting her lower lip. God. Was he going to try again?

'If he loves you, he'll come back until you say yes.'

"Great," Claire said.

'Does Melissa know he's in town?'

"No. I figured I'd wait until she got home from school to tell her," Claire said.

'I'll tell Alan you need to be a mom tonight.'

"Thanks, Ally, I'm sorry. Really. I just wasn't expecting this."

'I honestly wouldn't have been either. How good was the sex anyway?'

"Ally!" Claire said.

Her friend laughed. 'If he's bringing you roses, chocolates, and jewelry it must have been pretty damned good.'

"All I will say is that for the first three nights no missionary at all."

'Really? Good for you for speaking up.'

"How do you know I spoke up?"

Allison laughed then.

"Shut up," Claire said, realizing it was probably obvious.

She'd complained about Stu's inability to do anything but that position more than once. Allison had told her to speak up, but Claire had been too embarrassed. How did one go about asking your husband for something like that? She hadn't known. Maybe one day she would've gotten brave enough but he'd gotten sick and the issue went away on its own.

'I do know that Alan did not get you a dozen roses.'

"You do?"

'I do. I think he got you something, but not that. He asked me. He wasn't sure, I guess.'

"I don't blame him." Until the past month they hadn't seen one another more than a couple of times. The past month, though, they'd done something with Allison and Andy every weekend. They'd had dinner a couple of times just the two of them as well when Melissa had something else she was doing.

'No, not like that. He didn't want to scare you off and get you too much. He does like you, though, I know that.'

"I like him, too."

'I know,' Ally said.

Unspoken was that she liked him, but she wasn't crazy about him.

'Anyway. I'll take care of it. We'll be around tomorrow if you need to talk more.'

"Thanks," Claire said. She disconnected and glanced at the roses. She hadn't had the heart to throw them away. They were gorgeous. Each and every one of them was as perfect a rose as it could be. She hadn't taken the necklace out of the box, but it sat on the counter next to her open. She ran her finger along the stone. Garnet was Melissa's birthstone, which meant John actually had to think about and research what he was going to get her. He hadn't just gone to a store and bought any old thing.

"I don't know what to do, Scotty," she said. The dog didn't answer her, of course. She honestly had not expected him to come here again. She figured he was calling and emailing her to be nice so she wouldn't think he'd used her or anything. He likely wouldn't want something like sex between them to interfere with him getting to know Melissa better.

This, though.

She had no idea. She closed the jewelry box, pushing it closer to the vase she'd put the roses in. "All right, Scotty, let's find something to do until Melissa gets home." Thinking about this was doing her no good at all.


He checked into his hotel room. He'd made the reservation but had sure been hoping he'd end up staying at Claire's house for the weekend. He knew she wouldn't have let him sleep with her, but at least he would've been there. He'd been looking forward to that. He'd had sex before lots of times. He'd had women stay with him lots of times and stayed with some a few times, too. He'd never just sat around the table at breakfast talking with anyone, though. The three of them had done that. It was probably a common everyday occurrence in their household, but for John it was a completely foreign thing. He'd never experienced it before that week with them.

He glanced at his watch and drew his cell phone to him from where it was on the nightstand. School was close to letting out so he decided to head over there. He knew where the student parking lot was, so he figured he could just wait there for her to come out.

He could call her, but he sort of thought seeing her reaction would be kind of fun. Surely he had to get a better reception from her than Claire.

He parked on the street, walking to the student parking lot from there where he found her car with ease. She wasn't the only one to have a nice car, but hers was one of the newest.

And he was right about her reception being better than Claire's. She even hugged him in front of her friends, which she hadn't done at her house when he'd been there in November.

"What are you doing here?"

He shrugged. "Florida in February is so boring."

"Yeah, right. Oh my God, are you staying at the house again?"

"No," he said. "I'm staying at the Hyatt," he said.

"Oh," she said. She seemed a little confused by that answer, but he wasn't going to elaborate when they weren't alone. "This is Stacey and Trish," she said, gesturing to her friends. She seemed to realize why he hadn't said more.

"Hi," he said. "Good to see you both again."

"You, too," they both said, but he could tell by the look in their eyes that they were trying to figure out where they recognized him from.

"So," he said. "I figured I'd see if you wanted to get something for dinner. Unless you had plans?"

"No! I'd love to."

"All right. I'll pick you up around six?"

"Sure," she said. "Uh, where are we going?"

"Dress nice," he said.

"Okay," she said.

"Do I know you?" one of the friends asked. He didn't know which was which.

"Me?" John asked.

"Yes. You look real familiar."

"I have one of those faces. So I've been told anyway. Other than that night at Melissa's house I haven't seen you before."

"Oh," she said.

"Anyway, I'll see you about six then."

"Yeah, sure," she said.

"John," she said after a few seconds, walking up to him.


She reached up on her toes and kissed his cheek.

"Thank you."


She shrugged. "Surprising me. That was so cool."

"Really?" he asked. He hadn't thought he was doing anything special or anything. He just thought it'd be sort of fun. Better than sitting in a hotel room, wishing he was somewhere else.


"Well, yeah, sure. Happy to do it. We can meet sooner than six. If you want to come to the hotel and swim or something, you're welcome."

"Oh, yeah, that'd be fun. Are you sure?"

He chuckled with a shake of his head.

"Absolutely positive. I'm in room thirteen twenty. I'm heading back there, so get there whenever you want to. Just bring a change of clothes if you want to swim."

"Okay," she said. "I'll see you in a while."

"Yup," he said, glancing behind her at her friends.

"They're going to figure it out, you know."

"They may figure out who you are, but that doesn't mean they're going to figure out that you're my dad."

"Just making sure you thought of that, kissing me on the cheek and stuff. You were worried about them gossiping."

"Not so much anymore. I mean, a little I guess."

"Oh?" he asked, surprised at that. What had changed? And when had it changed?

"No," she said.

"Well, when it's more than not so much anymore let me know."


"Then I'll know I can talk about you."

"Oh," she said, blushing at that.

He chuckled, reaching to touch her cheek. He was going to touch her hand, but realized they were both wearing gloves. So he settled for her cheek.

"I'll see you later then."

"Yeah," she said.

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