'It's strange how you're without her this summer the same as last summer, but it just feels totally different,' Allison said.
"I know," Claire said. She'd been thinking the same thing. Of course, Melissa had only been gone a week. She would be back, though, and Claire knew that this time. This time last summer Claire wasn't sure that would happen. Realistically, she supposed, she knew she wouldn't stay at her parents' forever.
Her father and brother were not thrilled with Claire letting Melissa go with John for the summer. Never mind that she was an adult and could legally do whatever she wanted with or without Claire's blessing. Deep down Claire thought it would be a good learning experience for her daughter on whether this was a career path she wanted.
Hearing her song on the radio was so strange. Wonderful, but strange. Hearing her name in conjunction with John's publicly was nerve wrecking. She'd lived pretty privately over the years. Allison and Andy were among only a few who knew the identity of Melissa's father. What other people thought Claire had no idea and she'd never really cared. She knew and those that mattered knew. She kept waiting for people to gossip, wondering why it took eighteen years for him to admit he had a daughter.
John was concerned about Melissa finding out about the child support. What John didn't know was that she hadn't needed to spend very much of his money over the years. She'd invested most all of it so that Melissa could buy a house or something when the time came. Claire supposed she should tell him, but she hadn't really thought about it until all of this came out. She really didn't think Melissa would get upset about finding out now he'd been supporting her all along. If she'd found out years ago, yes, but now. Then, maybe she was wrong.
'So where are they today?'
"Um, Albuquerque. Or maybe that was last night."
'I hope their bus doesn't break down on that route.'
"Me, too! At least they all have cell phones."
Claire heard the beep come through the line that indicated she had another call and pulled the phone away from her ear to check the number.
"Oh, Ally, it's Missy."
'I'll talk to you later. We have to get ready to head to the zoo anyway. Tell her I said hi and that Uncle Andy and I are so proud of her. We can't wait to hear all about it when she gets back.'
"I will. Thanks."
She pressed FLASH on the phone to get over to the other line.
"Hi, sweetheart. How are you?"
'Good. Tired,' she said.
"Tired?" Claire glanced at her watch. "It's noon."
'I know. I didn't sleep well last night,' she said.
'Yeah, we didn't get done until almost three o'clock and then just trying to sleep on a bus when you're kind of hyper,' she said.
"It's an adjustment."
"Where are you?"
'Um, I'm not sure. Flagstaff? I think that was tonight.'
Claire laughed softly.
"You left Albuquerque?"
'Yeah,' she murmured.
"Aunt Ally says hi and that she and Uncle Andy are proud of you."
'Tell them thank you.'
"She said they can't wait to hear all about it when you get home."
'I'm sure I'll have plenty to tell them.'
"I'm proud of you, too."
'I know, thank you.'
"So, a week?"
'I know. I'm sorry I haven't called, but I sort of needed to get into a routine, you know?'
"I get it," she said. That didn't mean she liked it, but she understood it. "What are you doing now?"
'Laundry,' she said, sounding exasperated. She knew how to do laundry. Claire had ensured she did even if she did it for her most of the time.
"At a laundromat?"
'Yup,' Melissa said.
"How have the concerts gone?"
'Good actually. It's fun. Tiring, and I only do a couple of songs with them a night.'
'Yeah. Um, the first night we did my song and then Dad let me play their next song."
Since when was she calling him Dad? He'd always been John whenever they'd talked about him. It was so strange because for the past eighteen years there'd been just Mom. She certainly never thought she'd be hearing Melissa saying Dad about her actual dad.
'Yeah. It was a song we'd played the three of us when we were in Florida together. So, they've been doing that song after my song.'
"I see," Claire said. "And you like that?"
'Yeah,' she said.
"Well, good then."
'It's so cool, Mom. I mean, I never really thought about it. Why would I? I don't think I'm any better than anyone else.'
"Well, I'd argue with you on that point."
'You're my mom, you have to say that.'
"Yes, but I'd also never encourage you to do something I knew you'd fail at or embarrass yourself doing."
'True,' she said. 'It's just. They're real musicians, and I'm playing with them. Noel is kind of quiet, like he doesn't care or something, but he hasn't said anything bad.'
"Well, that's good, honey."
'Dad said he sent you a video from Sunday night from Albuquerque.'
"I'll look for it later this week then."
"I don't know if I should say I miss you or not. I mean, I do, but I don't want you to feel bad."
'I don't. I mean it's totally different than last summer. I know I can call you anytime.'
'I love you, Mom.'
"Love you, too, honey."
'Thank you for letting me do this.'
"Well, I couldn't have stopped you really."
'Yeah, except you control my college fund and everything.'
"If you think I'd withhold college from you because you wanted to spend the summer doing this you have really underestimated me."
'No, not really, just I know some friends parents'.'
"I'm not their parent. I'm your parent."
'I got pretty lucky.'
"You did," Claire said, smiling a little.
'I should go, my dryer is about done so I need to fold and go so I can get a nap I guess.'
"Okay. Where are you staying tonight?"
'Well, the girls got a room, but the guys are staying on the bus.'
'Yeah. I guess they do that sometimes and just ask for a couple extra towels so everyone can take a shower.'
"I suppose," Claire said.
'I'll sleep wherever Dad sleeps.'
"And he's sleeping on the bus?"
'He said that's what he'd normally do when they're just here for a night like this.'
'Is that wrong? Should I make him stay at a hotel?'
"That's between you two. If you're okay on the bus."
'I am. It's not so bad.'
"Okay. Well, if you change your mind I gave you that credit card for emergencies."
'I have it. He wouldn't let me do that, though.'
"Well, I'll talk to you soon. Thanks for calling."
'Sure. I'll talk to you soon.'
"I can't wait."
'Aren't you going to ask about Dad?'
"What about him?"
'I don't know. Something? Anything?'
"I was excited to hear from you, so no, that wasn't on my mind. Is he okay?"
'Yeah. I just figured you'd ask something.'
"My daughter called me, I wanted to hear about you."
'Okay,' she said. Claire suspected she gave the right answer there, though she wasn't sure why. Was she not sure Claire would rather talk to her over John? She loved John, but she hadn't spent the past eighteen years with him either. There were some things that just couldn't be taken away.
"You can tell him I'll be awake later if he wants to call when you're done."
'It'll be close to four your time, I think. Last night we didn't get done and out of there until about then.'
"I'm not going anywhere. The phone will be on by my bed."
'I'll tell him. Bye, Mom. Give Scotty a hug from me.'
She disconnected then, setting the phone down on the table next to her coach. She took a deep breath.
She tried to picture what her dad would say at the idea of Melissa sleeping on a bus instead of in a bed at a hotel. He'd have a fit and say something disparaging about John being unfit or uncaring or a poor provider. Claire knew it wasn't a matter of affording a hotel, but when they were on the road as they were for months at a time they had to cut corners when they could.
He'd told her as much. She'd seen the bus so she knew where she was and everything. She didn't say anything about Sean, and Claire hadn't thought to ask. Claire suspected their break was more Melissa's idea than Sean's. She hadn't said so, but she recognized things about herself in Melissa. Her attitude towards guys was one of them. She'd never really been interested in anyone before. She'd been one of the few parents of her group of friends who didn't have to worry about her daughter coming home pregnant. Missy just didn't do those things, and Claire suspected she wasn't all that comfortable when all was said and done with someone who would want those things from her.
She'd worry that she was sleeping on the bus because Sean was, but she knew John wouldn't let that fly. She also trusted that Missy would have asked her to take her to the doctor for something if she was thinking about taking that step with Sean. They'd always been pretty open about things like that. True, she hadn't told her about John, but she hadn't lied about the general circumstances about Missy coming to be.
She sounded good, a little lonely maybe but good. Claire had no doubt it was a very different way of life. She was used to it pretty much being her and Claire most of her life. To have to share space with so many other people was going to be a learning experience. She tried to picture her sharing a bathroom with three other women let alone the men, too.
Of course she'd be doing that next year, too, in college. For whatever reason she'd chosen to go to Wellesley. Claire didn't understand it, but she couldn't argue with the opportunities the school offered her. It's where she wanted to go, though. Claire about had a heart attack the first time she saw what the tuition was going to cost for a year. She didn't balk at paying it, but hadn't expected it to be that much. Private schools cost more she knew that.
As Ally said this summer was totally different from last summer. She knew exactly when Melissa was coming home, and exactly when she was leaving again. It was the filling the time while she was gone that was stumping Claire. She'd spent so much time helping to take care of Stu the year before he died that she honestly had no idea what to do.
It was different now, too. Since it'd come out that Melissa was John's daughter she had people looking her up who she hadn't spoken to in years. To what end she wasn't sure. She figured anyone who was coming out of the woodwork eighteen years later wasn't worth returning a call to. If they really needed something important they'd call her back.
So, she was sort of stuck in that she wasn't completely sure who she could even trust right now besides Ally and Andy.
It hadn't come out that Claire and John were together. She didn't care, and in fact sort of welcomed the reprieve she was experiencing. She had a feeling once that tidbit came out she'd never have peace and quiet.
For that she was glad Melissa had chosen the school she had. It was small, private, and they wouldn't allow craziness on their campus.
They weren't lying about it, but to this point no one had asked that question so it hadn't come up. Claire tended to agree with John that less was probably better. If they didn't want to know something why volunteer the information? Living in separate cities as they did and the band now being on tour. Well, it wasn't blatantly obvious. She imagined even if she did go see them perform and was spotted people would attribute it to her seeing Melissa.
The phone rang again and she glanced at it, sighing seeing that it was Christopher calling. She didn't want to talk to him today. He was probably just reminding her about lunch tomorrow. As if she'd forget. As if she'd ever forgotten. He still treated her like his baby sister who hadn't not just run a successful business, but been able to sell that business before the age of thirty-five and be pretty well set if she never wanted to work again. She'd done that. He hadn't, but he still called to remind her of things like lunch appointments.
Of course he was probably reminding her today because he'd know she didn't really want to go. She wasn't too pleased with her parents right now.
She set the phone back on its charger without answering before heading up to her office. Office was putting it nicely. No other children were going to come so she'd had this room designed with being able to work from home in mind if she wanted to. Everything she needed to design and create was here. It had come in very handy when Stu was sick and she hadn't wanted to leave him alone.
Scotty followed her in and she shut the door. It was a habit. There was no one here to disturb her, but Stu and Missy knew that if the door was shut she wasn't to be bothered unless it was an emergency.
She had a couple of things that she was working on. More importantly she had a couple of clients that she knew would eat what she was working on up. If she could get these things done before school started so those few stores could have them on display in time for Christmas she'd do very well. She couldn't deny that she liked the idea of one or two stores selling Standish exclusives.
"Ow," she said, poking herself with a pin at the sound of the phone. It was rare for her to get this many phone calls in a day. She had friends, but most of them had jobs. Ally was the only teacher Claire knew with summers off.
She put her fingertip to her mouth as she glanced at the phone, expecting it to be Christopher again. He knew she was home and had a tendency at times to call until she picked up because he was just that controlling. It wasn't Christopher.
"Hello," she said.
'Hey, did I catch you at a bad time?'
"No," she said, smiling and unable to stop herself from doing so.
'You sure? I almost hung up.'
"I thought you were Christopher."
'Why is he calling you?'
"Probably to remind me about lunch tomorrow."
'Oh. Everything all right?'
"Yes. I just usually have lunch with him and Dad once a month or so."
"I don't want to go tomorrow."
"It'll be all right."
'No, really. Why are you going? To make them happy. You don't need their shit, Claire. Don't go.'
"John. They're my…"
'The people who did everything in their power to make sure you and I never saw one another again after school?'
'I'm telling you. Meet us.'
"I can't walk away from my obligations, John. And Scotty."
'You could bring the dog along.'
'Yes. I asked. No one minded. Farrah expressed concern about the fairness of keeping a dog his size on a bus all summer, but she wasn't against it.'
"I still have things…"
'I know,' he said.
He hadn't said so, but she knew the things she had to do for Stu this summer bothered him.
"How are things going?"
'Yeah. You know, busy. Never enough time to do anything.'
"Missy called earlier."
'Good. She said she was going to while doing laundry.'
"She did. Was she doing it by herself? I guess I didn't ask."
'No, a group went.'
'You asking me if I have clean clothes, Princess?'
"I wouldn't mind you not needing clothes."
"Really, but not when you're so far away."
He chuckled at that.
'I'll go after the concert. The laundromat is twenty-four hours.'
"Oh," she said.
'It gives me time to unwind afterward. Then I'll crash when we hit the road.'
"It's quiet, too, I bet."
"You should give that tip to Missy. She sounded good."
'She seems to be having a good time.'
"You're sleeping on the bus tonight?"
'Yeah, she said she was okay with it. Farrah, Jazmin, and Candy offered to get a second room if she wanted to stay at the hotel and split two and two. The three of them have shared a room many times. I guess she thought four women in the same room might be too much.'
"She said she was. She asked me if she was supposed to make you pay for a hotel."
'I would if she wanted me to.'
"I know. She knows, too. She's fine."
'So, when are you going to come see us?'
'That's a ridiculous question, but yes.'
"Me, too," she said.
'Good. Fix it.'
She laughed softly.
"Well, if you really want to know."
"I'll be seeing you this weekend."
'All right. I'll call ahead and…'
"I already did."
"Yes. I'm going to rent a car anyway, so figured you and Missy can stay wherever I stay."
'Uh,' he said.
'That mean you don't want to get a tour of the bus?'
She snorted softly at that.
"By bus you mean your bunk?"
'Uh, yeah. That specifically.'
"Because I've seen the bus."
'I know. You haven't seen the best part of the bus, though.'
'No. Because the best part of the bus would be you and me in my bunk.'
"And, yes, we can figure something out."
"You were envisioning three months of no sex, weren't you?"
'Well, I mean, I could if I had to.'
"That is good to know."
'I mean, I went from January until you came down for Spring Break. And then until now, obviously.'
"I'm relieved to hear that."
'Good,' he said. 'Wait. You had doubts?'
"Not since Valentine's Day, no, but before then I'm not sure…"
'I was fucking trying to get you to talk to me!'
"I know, and you could have gotten frustrated or something."
'Well, yeah, sure. It confused the fuck out of me, but I didn't go out and fuck anyone.'
"John. Don't get angry at me."
'I'm not, I just didn't realize there was any doubt.'
"Well, I didn't leave in January with any commitment."
'There was on my end. Maybe I should be wondering about you and date guy.'
'Ally and Andy sure seem to like him.'
"John, really, no. If you think I had time between getting home from your place and Valentine's Day."
'You don't work!'
"He does! I absolutely was not looking for that from him. They were dates. Andy knew him and thought it would help me get back out there without being too scary. They didn't think I'd marry him or even date him more than I did. They just wanted to get me over that hurdle of a first date after Stu died."
'Has he called?'
"He has," she admitted.
"You're cute when you're jealous, you know that?"
He scoffed. 'If you say so.'
"I told him I couldn't see him anymore." She had been surprised he'd seemed disappointed when she told him that. They'd liked one another well enough, but she hadn't gotten the impression he was rushing out to pressure her for a commitment or anything.
"He hasn't called since, and I doubt he will."
She chuckled softly.
"I noticed on your schedule that you have a few days in between shows at the end of July."
'You did? If you say so, I guess I don't know.'
"Would you and Melissa like to come home?"
'I'll look into it.'
'Did you notice that we're playing Shermer Days again?'
'We won't be there a full week again like last year, but we'll be there Thursday through Sunday, I think.'
'We can come home then, too?'
"You can," she whispered, closing her eyes a bit at the sound of him calling it home. She shouldn't like that. She shouldn't want him to call it that. She did, though. Immensely. He had a hugely impressive house in Tampa, but she doubted when it got down to it he considered it a home. She didn't think he'd ever really experienced a home and she really wanted to give that to him.
'All right then. The Fourth is a Friday. You'll come?'
She giggled softly.
'To the concert, Princess.'
'Maybe the three of us can watch the fireworks after?'
"I'd like that."
"Then it's a date."
'I like dates with you.'
"Funny, me, too."
'That's so you.'
'I know what you meant, I just had to say it.'
"You're so funny."
'I know, right? So what were you doing with your day anyway?'
"Working on a design."
'Really? Anything good?'
"Well, I think so. I haven't scrapped it so I must really think so."
'Something you're going to wear yourself?'
"No, I'm going to try to sell it."
"Yeah," she said with a shrug. "There are a couple of boutiques that if I get some nice Christmas things done by fall they'd sell."
'I guess with three months…'
"Never mind her going to school!"
'I suppose. If you need something to do once she goes to school…'
"I cannot travel with you."
'You absolutely can travel with me.'
'Just throwing it out there, and letting you know I really would like it.'
"I'm sure you would."
'So, will I get to see what you're working on?'
'Yeah. Pictures or something?'
"I suppose if you want to."
'You're doing it, I want.'
"All right. I can do that."
'And you know people who'll just do up things like that?'
"I do know plenty."
'I suppose. Now if you're designing something, you know, sexy, design it just for me and model it for me.'
"I don't …"
'Like you traveling with me, I'd very much like that.'
"I don't think I even know what would like good on me."
'When I see you this weekend I'll tell you in great detail my opinion on that.'
"That sounds very nice."
'I'm not sure nice was on my mind.'
She laughed softly. "Mine either."
'I'll let you go.'
'I'll try to call during the week again, if not this weekend I guess.'
"Yes." She told him the hotel she was staying in so he'd know if for some reason she didn't see him.
'I'll have your pass at the front desk then.'
'Thank you, Princess.'
'Pet Scotty for me.'
"Missy said something similar."
'We like the dog.'
'We love the mother.'
"She loves you, too."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com