'Hello,' Melissa said.
"Hey, it's John," he said. He'd been sort of hoping to get Claire. It was Saturday evening. He assumed Melissa would be out somewhere already. It was the reason he'd timed his call this way.
'Hi. How are you?'
"Oh, all right. How are you?"
"Nervous?" he asked.
'More than I've ever been in my life.'
"That's expected. You'll do fine."
'I hope so. I don't want to disappoint you.'
"Hey," he said, closing his eyes a little at her words. He'd never worried about disappointing his dad or mom. He was a disappointment according to them since before junior high school. He had worried about pissing them off, though. He talked big to his friends and stuff, but he got accustomed to treading very carefully at his house to avoid beatings whenever possible. "Melissa, there is no disappointing me. You are amazing. You had no idea how I would react to you yet you sought me out. I was a shit to you and you still asked to play for me. You are way braver than I was at your age or, well, your mom and I would've been together when she found out she was pregnant with you."
'I know, but you're putting it out there…'
He shrugged, not that she could see him do it.
"I consider you and Claire fortunate we've gone eighteen years without anyone finding out."
"If you've changed your mind."
'It's too late, isn't it?'
"Well, for the single to be released? Yes. For you to come out with us, no."
'No, I want to.'
'Mom's laughing at the list you sent home with us.'
'She doesn't think I can pack that light.'
"Oh. Yeah, it is an adjustment. Do the best you can." She'd have an empty bunk above her, possibly two depending on how they worked the bunk arrangements. So she would be able to put stuff on one if she had to, but he wasn't telling her that. He'd rather she pack less and have to add stuff then too much and he'd have to be the bad guy going through her stuff like Willem Dafoe did to Charlie Sheen's character in Platoon.
'I won't. We went out and bought a duffle bag.'
"Perfect. It bunches up when you don't need it and it's lighter to carry than a suitcase."
'And we're going to go to the bank before I leave and get rolls of quarters.'
He chuckled softly.
"Have you ever had to pay to do your laundry before?"
'No,' she said softly.
"You'll have plenty of experience for college next year."
'That's what Mom said,' she said.
"Speaking of your mom," he said.
'I suppose you didn't call on a Saturday night to talk to me.'
"I always call hoping to talk to you, but I did have something to ask her."
'Ask her or just making sure she's home,' she said.
'It's Saturday night.'
"She has friends. At least I hope she does. So, no, I'm not calling to ensure she's home on Saturday night."
'Oh. Just called to say you love her then.'
"Melissa," he said.
'You mean you haven't said it yet?'
"Well," he said, thinking about that. "No," he admitted. They'd skirted around it, said it in the past tense but not for the here and now.
"I don't know. It's not an easy thing for me to say."
'Is that why you say that it's John when you call me.'
"What else am I supposed to say?"
'It's your dad.'
"Oh," he said. He hadn't even thought that was an option. "I didn't think of that."
'Well, you are him.'
"No scarier than putting it out there for the whole world to see that I have you."
It hadn't taken their producer more than a week to call after they'd overnighted the two songs Claude, John, and Melissa had worked on the ten days she was in Florida over spring break. He'd wanted to know where they'd found her and why no one had heard of her yet. John had been surprised both of their songs were going to be put on the release. Claude said he wasn't surprised. They weren't their style of music, but they were good.
One of her songs would be hitting the airwaves with the release of a track of Shooterz from the new album. With that release it would come out that his daughter was not only singing and playing with him but had written the song, too.
Claude and John had talked for hours one night about how to handle getting it out there. John hadn't thought just putting it out there like this would work, but Claude figured the release of the song with the information that she was his daughter might make that stand out less. It was worth a shot.
"You, uh, want me to say that?"
"I'll take that as you'd like it?"
'Yeah,' she whispered.
"I'll work on it."
'Me, too,' she said. 'I'll get Mom. You should tell her, you know.'
"That I'm your dad?"
'No, smart ass. You know what I mean.'
"I'd rather not do that over the phone."
"I don't know. I guess I'd like to see her face and make sure she doesn't laugh at me when I say it."
'She won't laugh at you.'
'Have you ever said it before?'
"Not and meant it, no," he admitted. "The one woman I dated for over a year. She said it and after like the third time I figured I had to say it back."
"Pretty good sign that she wasn't who I was supposed to be with I guess."
"Speaking of. You and Sean are going to be okay on a bus together for three months, right?"
"All right. None of us want drama."
'There won't be any drama. We still talk and everything, but we sort of agreed to see how my freshman year goes.'
'He's nice and everything, but I guess we're both still getting used to my being your daughter.'
"Well, overall I think he's a good guy."
'Even if you're not sure who he took that pill for?'
"Even if. I promised your mom your bunk would not be across from or right above or below his."
'Yes. No. Just no.'
He laughed at that. Did that mean she hadn't even thought about sex with Sean? Boy would he be in for a world of disappointment if that was the case. He'd been working pretty hard with no results if that was the case. Or was that an ew she didn't want her parents thinking about her like that? He wasn't sure.
"Well, just so you know."
'Am I going to sleep with you?'
"With me, no, but I imagine we'll be close together, yeah."
'Okay,' she said.
Was that good or bad? He wasn't sure. She was nervous, she'd admitted that much.
'And, yeah, that's what I meant, by you.'
'All right. I'll get Mom.'
'And I'll see you in a couple of weeks, right?'
"If you change your mind between now and then."
'No. Even if I never do it again I want to. I mean, how many other girls my age can say they toured with Shooterz.'
"None," he said.
'I know! Anyway, I'll get Mom. You should tell her, though.'
"You're entirely too interested in what I do or don't say to your mother."
She set the phone down then.
'Hi,' she said.
'I didn't even hear the phone ring.'
"She answered almost before it rang completely. She must have been waiting for a call."
'Oh, yes, she and some of her friends are going shoe shopping.'
'They need shoes to go with their gowns.'
"Oh," he said, that made it clearer. "You'll send me a picture or two, right?"
"Good. I'm debating whether I should accidentally leave my computer open for Sean to see the pictures."
'Be nice,' Claire said.
John chuckled. "Does she like this guy she's going with?"
'I don't know if she does or not. I think she assumed Sean wouldn't go so she had him in mind all along.'
"Does he know that?"
'I don't think so.'
'Guys do it, too.'
"I suppose. Listen. I won't keep you too long. I know it's Saturday night. I just realized I need to buy her a gift for graduation and I have no idea what kind of gift to get her."
'You don't have to get her a gift, John.'
"I may not have had a graduation party or any big fanfare for getting my diploma, but I'm aware of what went on. Your parents will be there more than likely. I can't show up without a gift."
'Anything for her dorm room. If you want to be real conservative you could do some savings bonds or something.'
"Hmm," he said. "Do you have a list of stuff she'd like for her dorm room? Or something for me to look at?"
'You've never been in a dorm room?'
"Oh, Princess, sure I have but I wasn't paying attention to what they had in their rooms."
'Oh,' she whispered.
"Sorry. Was that the wrong answer to give?"
'No. I don't want you to lie to me.'
'And yes, I can send you a list of ideas.'
"Thank you. The guitar was easy. I knew that. I don't know anything about college. I don't really know anything about her when it gets down to it. Basic, general stuff."
'You'll get there.'
"I hope so."
'You want to, both of you, so you will.'
'She's very excited about the summer. If she hasn't told you that, she is.'
"She said she's nervous."
'She is that, too. She's definitely excited, though. I think the nervousness comes from her friends finding out more than anything. She's hoping the single won't be released until after graduation.'
"Not going to happen. It should be hitting the airwaves within the next week."
'I think she realizes that, but she's nervous.'
"Is Vernon going to give her a hard time?"
'You know I hadn't even thought about him. She obviously doesn't know about how fond you two were of each other when we were in high school.'
"Fond," he said with a scoff. "That's one way of putting it."
'Anyway, she'll be fine, John. She's nervous. I think it's normal given the circumstances.'
'She's still excited, though.'
"Good. I am, too."
"One thing I'm not so excited for, though."
He chuckled. "Nothing bad. I mean serious bad. Just that when you come to see us we won't get to be alone. I got very used to being alone with you."
'Me, too,' she whispered.
"Yeah? Good used to it?"
'Yes,' she whispered.
"Is she there?"
'I'm not sure.'
"I see. Well, she's going to be staying in my room. It seems ridiculous to get her her own room, and I refuse to put her with Candy. Farrah maybe…"
'Yes, but if you did that only when I …'
"She might figure out her parents are having sex?"
'Well, yes, exactly.'
He laughed. "You want me to see about Candy or Farrah letting her bunk with her. Jazmin picks up people all of the time so I wouldn't put her with her."
'No, it's fine.'
"Fine? Says you!"
"I'll figure something out."
'That would be nice.'
"I could show you the bunk in our bus."
'That would fit?'
"Both of us? Is that what you're asking? I think we could make do, yes. Might have to be the me on top you're not crazy about."
'I have never said I'm not!'
"I'm teasing," he whispered. "You requested it. I remember that."
'I did. I wanted that.'
"Me, too. And I said so that night, too."
"Good. I told you I'd make it good for you."
"Not that I'm complaining about the behind you thing. Far from it. I could do that every time and be a happy guy."
'You shouldn't say that.'
"It's true! I love watching you. Us. That way. It's a turn on. You liking it is an even bigger turn on."
'That's not the only reason you want me to come is it?'
"No! I mean. I want to have sex with you. If that's a bad thing or a crime so be it, but no that's not the only reason I want you to come when you can. I want you there, Claire. I don't know how much clearer I can be about it. I told you there's never a time I don't. You could come with the whole summer if you wanted to."
'If I didn't have Scotty.'
"You'd never be able to live out of a dufflebag for three months."
'You might be right.'
"I'd love to see you try."
'Scotty couldn't come?'
His eyes widened at the question.
"Are you serious?"
'Why not? Truck drivers have dogs.'
"Well, sure, I suppose. I'd have to consult with everyone to be sure, but I can find out if you're serious."
'I don't know. I have a lot of stuff to do around here.'
'Yes. Some fundraisers for Stu's company I have to go to.'
"Oh," he said with a slight scowl.
'They asked. I said yes.'
"Is that normal?"
'I'm his widow. His grandfather started the agency and he worked there until he died. I guess they want his name associated with the events.'
"I see," he said.
'Is that a problem?'
"No, you just hadn't mentioned it."
It wasn't a problem, but he still had a problem picturing her being anything but Claire Standish. He knew she was legally Claire Addison, Mrs. Stewart Addison III he supposed.
"Who runs the company now?" Stu hadn't married before Claire and had no kids.
'A couple of nephews.'
"Ah. How old are they?"
'Archie is forty, I think and Larry is our age.'
"Huh," he said.
'I actually still control the company. Until one, or both I suppose, proves they can run the company Stu left it to me.'
"Because he knew you knew how to run a business."
"He obviously trusted you."
"I'm glad. I'm glad you had that."
"So, Melissa asked me something while we were talking."
"She did. She asked me if I'd told you I love you yet."
'Why did she ask you that?'
"I'm not sure. Curiosity? Nosiness? Wondering where we were at?"
'What did you say?'
"I told her I hadn't."
"She asked me if I was going to tell you."
'I'll talk to her. I'm sorry. She shouldn't be asking you things like that…'
"No, Princess, you're missing my point."
"That is that I want to say it. To you. I've only said it once before and like I told her I didn't really mean it."
'Oh,' she said.
"She said it first and stuff, more than once sort of putting me on the spot."
'Mm,' she said. Was she mad? Should he not be saying this stuff? She'd been married. She'd admitted to having sex before marrying Stu. He had no idea how many times or guys she was talking about either. He imagined it wasn't a lot, but even if it was he wouldn't be mad about it. Well, not really.
"It made me think, though, about you leaving in January thinking I didn't want anything."
"Let me finish," he said.
"If you left my place in March not understanding clearly that I love you I was obviously derelict in my duties as your boyfriend."
"I make no promises I'm going to say it every conversation or anything. This is new for me. Please, though, take my actions to heart and know that I do."
'Okay,' she whispered.
"Okay?" he asked with a slight frown. She didn't sound very excited about what he'd just told her.
'Well, I just wasn't expecting you to say that over the phone.'
"With Melissa nearby."
'Yes,' she said.
"I see. And you don't want her to hear what you have to say?"
'I'm not sure yet.'
'I mean. I do, too.'
"That's good enough for me for tonight."
"What are you doing tonight?"
'I'm actually going to a dance with a friend of mine.'
"You're not telling me more?"
'There's nothing more to tell.'
"I find that hard to believe."
Silence. She was still on the line he could hear that much. What could possibly be bad about a dance?
'It's a Parents Without Partners mixer.'
'It's a group…'
"Believe it or not I'm familiar with the group." One of his friends' dad's had met his step-mom through something like it when they were in junior high.
"So, you're going to this dance because…"
'She doesn't want to go alone.'
"And you volunteered?"
'Kind of,' she mumbled.
"Are you looking for a partner?"
"Claire, I swear to God, if this isn't working out for you…"
'No, John, I swear to you, that's not it. I remember what it was like having Melissa when she was little and being the only one with a kid. I couldn't do anything at the drop of a hat like my other friends could. I remember not being able to go out because she was teething so bad and running a fever so high I didn't feel right leaving her with a sitter or my parents.'
"She did that?"
'She did,' she said.
"Is that normal?"
'Yes,' she said. 'So, we had lunch one day and she was talking about seeing this ad at her church.'
"And you weren't going to tell me?"
'I didn't think there was anything to tell.'
"I might like to know you're going to a single's dance, Claire."
'It's not! I mean, sure, I guess, but it's so that people who are single parents can meet other single parents. Not just romantically.'
"Have you gone?"
'No, not really. It never interested me.'
'I was pretty busy.'
'Are you mad at me?'
"I'm not mad at you, but I can't help but think you were sort of deliberately not telling me about this."
'I wasn't sure how you'd react.'
"To my girlfriend going to a singles dance? Yeah, that isn't something I enjoy hearing."
'I can call you when I get home.'
'Would that make you feel better?'
She snorted softly at that.
"If you call me later it'd be from your bedroom, wouldn't it?"
"Melissa won't be in there."
"That would make me feel better."
'It might be late.'
"I'll be up."
"I'm not sure if I should tell you to have fun or have a terrible time."
'For my friend's sake I hope it's a good time.'
"What's her name?"
"Well, I hope Laura meets Mr. Wonderful."
'So I don't have to go with her again?'
"Yup," he said.
'What are you doing tonight?'
"Actually I'm working on a song."
'Better than the last one you wrote, I hope.'
He laughed at that. "It is. A lot happier at any rate."
"If you're good I'll sing it for you the next time I see you."
'On the bus?'
"If that's what you want me to do with you while we're on the bus together, sure."
'That's a start.'
"That isn't where I'd start."
'I bet it's not.'
"Good night, Princess. Have fun."
'You're not mad?'
"No, I'm not mad. If you were trying to hide it from me you wouldn't have told me."
'I'm just not used to…'
"Having to be accountable? Yeah, me neither. Not really. We'll get used to it. Call later if you want."
"Night," he said, hanging up.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com