"John," Claude said, shaking him awake.
"Your phone's been ringing non-stop for about thirty minutes now."
"Mm, kay," he murmured.
"John," Claude said. "None of us got to sleep any earlier than you did. Answer your phone or shut it off before we have a coup on our hands."
"Yeah, okay," he said. He usually kept it on a low ring in case Claire called. He must have really been sound asleep if he slept through thirty minutes of it ringing.
And they were all from her, he noticed as he scrolled through the missed calls.
She'd called from her cell and her house phone. Both, several times. That couldn't be good.
"Melissa?" he asked Claude.
"Sleeping soundly. Her phone hasn't made a peep."
"I guess she's worn out then," John said with a scoff.
"I guess so."
They'd had a pretty late party preceding their two nights of shows in Indianapolis to celebrate John and Melissa's song breaking the top 20 on the pop charts. It was actually pushing the Top 10, which was pretty good for only two months of airplay and the first week or two no one took the song seriously. It was too bad it hadn't done that last weekend when they were in Shermer.
There was a huge difference between being up late because of something like a party and playing, Melissa was learning that. Everyone thought touring was great. And, overall, it was. There were lots of downsides, though, especially at the beginning. They were all pretty used to it by now, but it was all brand new to Melissa. She was used to staying at places like the Plaza or Waldorf when she went places. Traveling as they were wasn't all that great for promoting lots of consistent sleep either.
He knew she was grateful for the weekend with her mom in Phoenix and last weekend back home, in her own bed for a couple of nights. They'd be back again in Chicago before she left for school, which was when she'd stop touring with them. They had some tour dates out east after she got to school and John had told her if she wanted to play with them on the weekends they were within driving distance to Wellesley she sure could.
"No messages?" Claude asked.
"No," John said. That probably wasn't good. Had something happened with her parents in the past week?
He slid out of his bunk, taking his phone with him as he ran his fingers through his hair before heading to the bathroom to try to wake up a bit. He grabbed a Coke once done in there from the fridge and dialed her home number.
'You are alive,' she said. She didn't sound too good. Was she sick?
"Uh yeah. We were up late."
'I bet you were.'
"We were. Larry and the guys flew in to give us a party before our concerts here for our song."
She didn't sound as though she meant that. In fact, if he wasn't mistaken she sounded as though she was crying.
"Everything all right?"
She laughed, but it wasn't a real laugh. It was one of those laughs that came out more of a sob when someone was crying real hard. 'No,' she said.
'You are such a fucking liar. I can't believe I fell for your lines. Eighteen years later and you knew exactly what to say to get me out of my panties. Again.'
He pulled the phone away from his ear for a second, certain he was hearing things. Nope, the phone was really connected. He wasn't hallucinating. He pinched himself. Yup, he was really awake, standing here having her say things like that to him.
"What are you talking about?"
'I've never been inside of anyone else without a condom.'
'Might want to tell Darcy Singleton that.'
He frowned, pinching the bridge of his nose as he was trying to process what she was talking about. "Who?"
'And the I loved you after that day speech was real convincing. I just can't figure out to what end you said all of that stuff. To get out of child support? You've kept paying it. Maybe you thought I'd tell you to stop?'
"Okay, Claire. I'm functioning on about two hours of sleep here. Can you maybe cut it to the bare basics of what the issue is."
'You having another child!'
"Me having a huh? What?"
'Yes. Like six months younger than Melissa. So clearly you weren't all that shook up about not seeing me again or the fact you'd gotten me pregnant to do it again.'
"Are you on drugs?"
'You know the answer to that.'
"Well, in the world where I saw you last weekend I knew the answer to that. This world where you're talking about me having another kid. I have no idea what you're talking about."
"I don't, really. I have no other kids, Claire. I wasn't with anyone. Well," he paused, thinking it over. "I guess I was the weekend of prom, but that was it before I found out you were pregnant."
'I don't believe you.'
"Claire. Again. What are you talking about?"
'She's on the radio this morning, talking about her son.'
"And I still don't know who that is!"
'You do, too. We went to school with her.'
"We went to school with a lot of people I've forgotten all about since leaving Shermer."
'You fucked her!'
"Claire, I understand you're upset, but I'm not sure the phone is the place to be having this conversation."
'This isn't a conversation, John. This is me telling you after you've dropped Melissa off in August I don't want to hear from you again.'
"Claire, come on."
'No. Lose my phone number. Forget all about me.'
"Come on. Some chick I don't even remember says…"
'Why would she lie?'
"I don't know. Why haven't I heard about it before today then? You think I'd lie to you?"
'You do it very well.'
"I haven't said one fucking lie to you, Claire. Never. Not then. Not now."
'I'm not sure you'd even know the truth if it bit you on the nose.'
His phone beeped, indicating he had another call. He drew the phone away from his ear, sighing softly at seeing it was Larry on the line.
'Better go. It's probably her.'
"I don't know who she is and you think she has my fucking cell phone number?"
'I mean it, John. I'm done.'
"Claire, come on," he said, as the phone beeped again. "You've believed me that I haven't been using since November. That I haven't slept with anyone but you."
Everyone thought he'd hit the mother lode when she hadn't to this point gone crazy. No spur of the moment phone calls just to see what he was doing. No accusations that he was doing anything. She called on occasion, but not obsessively and didn't seem upset if a day or two went by without any contact from him. To this point no third degree about what he'd been doing or who he'd been doing it with. No accusations of fucking anyone else.
"I'm hanging up now. Don't call again."
"How the fuck am I supposed to get Melissa home then?"
'She knows the way to our house by now I'm fairly sure. She doesn't need you to call me for that.'
He sighed. "Claire. There has to be something…"
'Good bye,' she said, and hung up.
She fucking hung up. He brought the top of the phone to his lip and leaned his head back against the cupboard behind him.
Fuck. He didn't think it was possible for him to feel as bad as the day she'd told him she didn't want to be involved with him in February. He'd been wrong. This was fucking ten times worse because he really wanted her with him. All of the time. He'd thought about seeing if she wanted to look at a place near Wellesley to go in on together, maybe a place big enough for Melissa to use herself if she wanted to.
His phone rang again. He glanced at it, hoping it was Claire, but knowing it wasn't.
"Hi Larry," he said.
"I just heard about it myself," he said as Larry went on about Darcy Singleton and what they were going to do about it. One illegitimate kid popping up was explainable, but another so close in age to Melissa didn't look good so soon after the revelation of her existence.
"Thanks," John said.
Claude came out then.
"Some chick I've never heard of was on the radio in Chicago this morning evidently saying she has a kid by me."
"You've never heard of her?"
John shrugged. "Claire says we went to school with her, but fuck if I remember her name."
"Is it possible?"
"No! Absolutely not. I'd know if I had another fucking kid, don't you think?"
"Fuck, you, too."
"Well, do you blame her?"
"She wouldn't even hear me out, never mind that hearing me out on a bus when she's there isn't exactly the way to hash out such a problem."
"Also can't blame her."
"I suppose not. Larry said he's going to find the woman and talk to her, find out what's going on. I swear to God, Claude, I don't know anything about a son."
"Huh. You don't know what she said?"
"No, beyond the brief summary Claire poignantly told me."
Claude chuckled at that.
"I'm glad you can find this amusing."
"You knew it wasn't going to be easy, John. You knew that back in February when you went to her house."
"This isn't her thinking I don't want to be with her. This is her thinking I've been lying to her for eighteen fucking years."
"Well, she's probably realizing you never got down and dirty about details between then and now."
"No," John said. There was good reason for that.
"Of all the times for Ally to be gone early in the morning! It's summer. She and the kids are supposed to sleep in!"
Claire was furious. Beyond furious, she was seething and needed someone to talk to. The only person she thought of was Ally. She'd driven over here without calling first, but it was before nine o'clock on a Tuesday. She assumed they'd be home.
She pulled out her cell phone and was about to call to leave Ally a message asking her to call her ASAP when the door opened. Ashley opened it barely a crack, looking sleepy and surprised to see her.
The door opened wider.
"Hey, Ashley. Is your mom home?"
"Yeah. She's in the shower, I think."
"Oh," she said.
"Come on in."
"Thanks. Sorry if I woke you."
"It's okay. Erik actually woke me to tell me to go answer the door."
Claire smirked a little at that. Erik was fourteen, and very good at it. He had the attitude to go with eating Andy and Ally out of house and home. Of course, Andy had been that way at that age so they'd known what to expect. Or so Ally tried telling Claire, but some days it seemed his appetite surprised them.
"I'll tell Mom you're here," she said, heading up the stairs.
"Thanks," she said. "Tell her I'll be in the kitchen."
"Okay," she said.
Claire found her way to the kitchen and the coffee maker there. She started to pour herself a cup, reaching into the cupboard for the Bailey's she knew Ally kept in there. She added some to her cup just as Ally walked in. She was dressed, but still had a towel covering her hair.
"You don't even know."
"Did we have plans I forgot about? I asked Ashley, but she didn't think so."
"No," Claire said.
"Okay," Ally said.
"He's got another child, Ally."
"I was listening to the Loop this morning while I was working on something. I never listen to morning radio, you know? I find it too distracting because they're talking all of the time instead of playing music."
"Right," Ally said.
"Today, though I wanted the talking for some reason," she said with a shrug, taking a sip of her coffee. Ally poured herself a cup, joining Claire at the table.
"They were talking about Shooterz. You know, playing at Shermer Days again in the middle of a big release tour. They were joking about how Melissa probably had some influence over that decision. It wasn't hugely negative, but not exactly flattering either. Her and John wanting to come home after their song has been so successful."
"I can imagine," Ally said. They had heard all kinds of remarks the past couple of months. Good and bad, they ran the gamut.
"Then they were talking about Melissa and what it must be like to be recording with her father. Touring with them. Having an in to recording as she did."
Ally sighed softly.
"So then they started taking calls. People commenting on it. Melissa. Shooterz. Me. I hadn't heard some of those things said about me in years. Some knew John, Claude, and Billy from school. Then Darcy called in."
"Oh," Ally said, lips tightening. She clearly remembered her. She was pretty hard to forget, which was what made Claire even madder about John trying to deny he knew her. It was rumored around high school that she'd had three abortions before their senior year. Claire had no idea if that was true, but due to her position she'd heard all of the stories. And more.
"Says she has a son that's John's who just turned eighteen last month."
"Oh," Ally said.
"Right? He told me he'd never. Ally. I believed him! You know? We've been doing it without anything for months because I believed him!"
"Of course you did, Sweetie. You love him."
"No. I don't. I'm done."
"No! I'm done! How humiliating to hear about another child he has over the radio!"
"Maybe he doesn't know!"
"He says he doesn't."
"Maybe he's telling the truth."
"I doubt it."
Ally was quiet as Claire sipped on her coffee.
"There's another possibility," Ally said quietly after a pretty long bit of silence between them.
"What? One that doesn't paint me as insane for trusting him? Forget my heart. He has my daughter, Ally!"
"He's not going to hurt Melissa. You know that. I know you're mad and hurt right now, but deep down you know he'd never hurt her."
Claire sighed softly.
"She could be lying."
"What good would that do?"
Ally shrugged. "Attention. She always was an attention whore. She said her full name?"
"She did, before they could hit the dump button."
"So, she clearly wanted it out there."
"I don't know. That seems pretty far to go for some attention."
"He's in the news right now not just because of Shooterz but because of Melissa. Maybe she thought it'd give her something."
Claire's phone rang and she glanced at the ID.
"Go ahead and take it."
She sounded like she'd been crying.
"Are you okay, Missy?"
'Dad says I have to go home? Is he telling me the truth?'
"I didn't tell him you had to come home now."
'He said you're pretty mad and he thought I should go home so you don't get madder.'
'For whatever I did that has you mad at me.'
"Oh, Sweetie, I'm not mad at you. How could I possibly be mad at you?"
'Then why do I have to go home? Our song broke the Top 20, Mom!'
"I know, I heard that."
'Are you mad at Dad?'
"You could say that."
'Oh,' she said simply. 'So, he's trying to do the right thing?'
"For once in his…" Ally slapped her hand and grabbed the phone away from her.
"Hi, Melissa, it's Aunt Ally, how are you?"
"Yeah? I bet you're having a blast. It was so good to see you last weekend. We're so proud of you. Even Erik was impressed."
"Yeah, he totally was. He told all of his friends that he knew you and everything."
"Your mom doesn't want you home any sooner than you're ready to come home. Okay? I promise you."
"I love you, too, Sweetie. You have fun, and knock them dead tonight."
Ally hung up the phone, setting it on the table between them.
"Don't do that, Claire. No matter how mad you are at him, don't put her in the middle of it or say things to her you may regret later."
"You did. Don't do that. You went seventeen years without saying one disparaging thing about him. I commend you for that. If it had been me I would have filled her head for seventeen years about what a deadbeat he was. You didn't do that because you wanted to give her the chance to be objective if she ever had the opportunity to meet him. You didn't want Stu to adopt her because you didn't want to take that claim away from John. Don't ruin that."
"I didn't…" She put her head on her arms on the table and cried then. Again. She'd been crying all morning it seemed like. "Why does it feel like she tore my heart out?"
"Because you love him, Sweetie," Ally said, moving so she could hug her.
"I don't want to."
"I know," she said, hugging her tighter.
"I told him I never wanted to talk to him again."
"Given the circumstances that's a reasonable reaction."
"Why would he send Melissa home?"
"He probably doesn't want to make you madder. Especially if he really doesn't believe the boy is his."
"Boy! He's a man! He can vote same as Melissa."
"That hurts, doesn't it?"
"Yes! God, if he was older or years younger, but the same age. I thought I was special, you know?"
"You were, Claire. Don't ever believe otherwise."
"Don't say that. Come on."
"I'm so stupid."
"You're not. You're hurt. True or not."
"I'm just glad no one knew we were together."
"Are together, Sweetie."
"I don't want to be with him!"
"Yes, you do. That's why it hurts."
Claire took a shuddering breath. She absolutely did not want to hurt like this.
"Wait and see what happens. Maybe she's lying and they'll find out."
"But people will still think I'm just one of many."
"Then you just have to prove to them you aren't."
"It's too much trouble."
"Yes, yes, it is. Love is trouble, Claire. It hurts and it tears your heart out sometimes."
"I've never felt like this."
"Because you've never loved anyone like this except him."
"No," Claire admitted.
"Call Melissa back when you get home and make sure she knows she doesn't have to come home. See if she needs anything. If she's heard, she could be upset, too."
"Oh, God, I didn't even think about that."
"No, it's not! I'm her mother and I've been sitting here feeling sorry for myself, how I feel. She's about to be put under even more scrutiny."
"Maybe. She knew that going into this, Claire. She's not dumb."
"Just let her know you're here for her. You could let John know you're here for him, too."
"You weren't together, Claire. Even if this child is his, you weren't together. He didn't cheat."
"If he didn't know about it, he didn't lie."
"He said I was the only one."
"Those things do break, you know."
Claire sighed softly because she knew they did.
"How about I bring the kids over and we can swim and stuff?"
"Sure," Claire said.
"Maybe see if we can get some manicure appointments for all three of us girls."
Ally shrugged. "I don't know. He won't care anyway."
Claire glanced at her phone again.
"I'm not going to call him."
"Okay," Ally said.
"Mom said I don't have to go home."
"I think it may be best. She's pretty mad at me."
"Yeah, well," he said.
"You really don't know about this guy?" she asked.
"No! I swear to God, I have no idea who Darcy Singleton is. Maybe we went to school together, but there were six hundred people in our graduating class. You know?"
"I do," Melissa said.
"Right? I mean, your class size has got to be bigger than ours was even."
"No, I mean, I know her. I know him, I mean."
"Yes. I kissed him in sixth grade!"
"I'm sorry. What?"
"Oh God. I kissed my brother!"
"You did not fucking kiss your brother. What the hell were you doing kissing him in sixth grade?"
"It was a party," she shrugged.
"Uh huh," John said. "He is not your brother! Now. You can stay as long as you want to, but know that if this gets too much you can go at any time. I'll put you on a plane."
"I don't want to quit."
"What are you going to do if he is yours?"
John sighed softly with a shake of his head, glancing at Claude.
"He's not, Melissa. No one waits eighteen years to say they've had someone's kid."
"I'm sorry Mom's mad at you."
"I don't blame her, I guess," John said. "Larry better get answers on this."
"And if he doesn't?"
"Then I'll get answers! I'm not going to lose your mother over a lie, Melissa."
"I know she's mad right now. She thinks I lied about a few things right now."
"Besides my being your only child?"
"Yes," John said simply.
"Oh," she said, clearly curious.
"Those things are between her and me, even if she's mad at me. I haven't lied to her, or to you, about kids or anything else. I have nothing to hide."
"Go back and try to get some more sleep. I'll be there myself in a few minutes."
"You're going to be able to sleep?"
"I'm going to try."
"Okay," she said.
"She took that surprisingly well," Claude said.
"Yeah. Maybe she expects me to be a fuck up so it doesn't surprise her."
"Or she trusts you."
"Go to bed, John. There's nothing more you can do. We do have a break between Cincinnati and Detroit."
"Yeah, I'm not sure that's going to solve anything this time."
"Talking to her in person may help."
"Maybe," John said. "I'll think about it."
"See you later then."
"Yeah," John said.
"What are you doing?" he asked when he pushed the curtain back to his bunk to see Melissa laying there.
"When I need to sleep I listen to some classical music."
"It helps you fall asleep?"
She held one of her earbuds out to him and he climbed into the bunk with her. He took the earbud from her as she drew his blanket around them.
"Not exactly how I expected to sleep with an eighteen year old girl."
She scoffed at that, snuggling against him.
"What are we listening to?"
"How do you know it's a he?"
"They were all hes."
She laughed softly, leaning in to kiss his cheek. "I love you, Dad."
"At least one of you Standish women does today. I love you, too,"
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com