Chapter Thirty
Word Count: 3,131

John thought he was seeing things when he saw her number come up on his phone. He'd assumed he wouldn't be hearing from her again until this shit was settled and he could talk to her with proof there was no other kid.

"I'll be back," he said as way of excusing himself from the dinner table.

"Hello," he said cautiously.

'Hi,' she said.

He was quiet not sure what to say. Was there a right or wrong thing to say given the circumstances?

"I don't know why you called, but I'm so fucking happy to hear your voice," he said.

'I have a question.'

"Okay."

'If you'd found out I was pregnant because I told you what would you have done?'

"Come again?"

'If I'd told you like I should have been able to do. What would your response have been?'

"And you're asking me this why?"

'I need to know your answer.'

"Uh, well, I don't know. I guess I hadn't thought about it since it didn't happen that way."

'John. I need to know.'

"I probably would have told you we should get married. I mean, right? That would have been what we should've done? At least live together."

'You wouldn't have told me not to have it?'

"No," he said with a scowl. Not to have it? What did that even mean? Then it dawned on him what she meant. "No! What the fuck are you getting at Claire? If you're implying I wish she wasn't here or something."

'Not quite,' she said.

"That's better than a flat out accusation of my meaning that, I guess."

'Something Darcy said the other day bothered me.'

"Well, I hope everything she said bothered you. Larry's hitting the ground hard to get to the truth on that."

'She said you told her she had to have an abortion. You gave her the money to cover it and she took the money, but didn't have the abortion.'

"And only part of that bothered you?"

'Well, no.'

"Thank you." He was immensely glad to hear that. That whole fucking statement should have bothered her.

'You could have, after my dad told you, come to find me and told me to have one.'

"I could have, sure. It would have been a little late then since your parents knew, but I couldn't have afforded it anyway, Claire. So, I would have had to tell you to get one and pay for it yourself."

'I know,' she said.

Ah.

She was doubting the story.

She didn't believe Darcy.

She believed him!

Thank fucking God.

'She said that she never told you because she was scared you'd find out she took your money, didn't have the abortion, and you'd hurt her because of that.'

"She said that? On the fucking radio?"

'She did.'

"I think I may be talking to Larry about more than finding out facts. Like a slander suit."

Fuck. She was saying that shit publicly? Forget the kid part. Rumored kids were nothing and easily proven to be his or not. Paying someone to have an abortion who was pregnant pretty shortly after Claire from the sounds of things did not look good. At all. Even he knew that.

'I don't think she can afford anything.'

"I don't give a shit. Forget the kid factor. I don't ever, fucking ever in this lifetime, Melissa's lifetime, or any of her kids' lifetime, want to be thought of as anything like my old man. I can't have that shit said about me, Claire, and let someone get away with it. You shouldn't want me to let her either."

'I know. I hadn't gotten that far yet. I just needed to know what you would have done.'

"I'm going to say it again. Hearing your voice is the best thing ever."

'I was so hurt, John.'

"I don't blame you."

'It's so hard doing this. I'm away from you. No one knows we're together. I'm surrounded by stories about you and Melissa.'

"I know, Princess. I'm not hiding anything from anyone. I'm trying to protect you from getting more shit than you'll get by being Melissa's mom. None of those reports about me should be saying anything disparaging. I'm being a very well-behaved boy."

'I know.'

"You want me to include talking about us when I'm asked about Melissa and stuff, I will."

'No, that's not necessary, and that's not what I'm complaining about. I'm not really complaining. I'm in a relationship, but not completely.'

"Uh, I don't know how much more complete we can get, Claire. You've got me contemplating winter in Chicago, which is something I never thought I'd think about again."

'You know what I mean. I don't get dates or breakfasts or walks. There are no hugs if I have a bad day.'

"We'll be done soon and I'll give you all of those things."

'You're going to make me breakfast?'

"Dominic can make us breakfast."

She laughed softly.

'What are you doing?'

"We were eating."

'I'm sorry.'

"Fucking don't be. Ever for calling me, but especially tonight."

'Where are you?'

"Outside of Cleveland."

'Then Detroit?'

"Yup. Then up to Mackinac Island for some thing that they're doing. Next is Green Bay I think. We'll do Milwaukee and then we'll be back your way."

'Are you going to bring Melissa home?'

"Is that still an option?"

'It is.'

"Then yes."

'Do you want company in Detroit?'

"Yes."

'I'll look into it.'

"All right."

'I love you.'

"Do me a favor?"

'I can try. I think I owe you one.'

"You don't owe me a God damn thing, but if you'd do me this I'd love it."

'Okay.'

"I understand why you reacted the way you did, but know this. I haven't lied to you about anything. I haven't given you every last detail of the past eighteen years, and I don't think you want to hear it any more than I want to relive it."

'No.'

"But I haven't lied to you. No kids. No marriages. No fiances. No live-ins. No nothing. There is not a single thing anyone could dig up on me that's true, other than stuff you already know about like my dad."

'People don't know?'

"Uh, no. I don't talk about them, and as far as I know they've never been interviewed about me. If they have, it's been years ago now."

'I see.'

"So just know that. Okay? There may not be another kid thing, but it may be someone saying they saw me with someone. Or they saw me snort a line. Or whatever. I can take a lot of shit. I've taken it. You know that, see it every time we're in bed together. I can't with you. Not ever with you, Claire. Having you doubt me crushes me. I've never had that before, trust. I have it with you. I want you on my side."

'I'm sorry.'

"No need to apologize. Again, I get it. I know it's not easy what we're doing, living like this. If we're going to do this, though, make this work for real. I need to know you're with me. Same as I'm with you. I don't want to worry that this or that is going to divide us, tear us apart. Stronger together, right?"

'Presumably.'

"That's what I need. The strength of us. I want to know I can call you and tell you about a shitty day the same as I want you to call me and tell me about your shitty days. I can't give you hugs when you need them all of the time, but I want to listen."

'I'm trying.'

"One last thing."

'Okay.'

"I absolutely have never been with anyone else without a condom."

'And you remember? You've never forgotten?'

"No! Once. That's it. Never again. Even if a woman said they were on something, I still used them."

'Okay.'

"Your daughter is pretty awesome, by the way."

'Why?'

He shrugged. "That morning after you'd hung up I needed to go to sleep. We were up late because of that party I told you about and we had to play that night."

'Right.'

"She was in my bunk waiting for me with some music that helps her sleep."

'Mm. Something classical.'

"Yes. That was one of the nicest things anyone's done for me."

'She's our daughter.'

"You raised her. That part is your doing, and she's awesome."

'I'm glad you think so.'

"Do me another favor?"

'Wow. That's two now.'

"This one is far more enjoyable."

'Oh?'

"Uh huh. Go on to our website and take a look at our tour schedule for dates shortly after Melissa has gone to school."

'Why am I doing this?'

"Because you're going to fly out to see me the night before we have a little break. You're going to see that night's show, and then we're going to go stay somewhere just the two of us. No cell phones. No band. No nothing for a couple of days."

'Yeah?'

"Yes. You pick the place we stay. I don't care. Some place that offers room service so we don't have to leave our room if we don't want to would be nice."

'All right.'

"That a good favor?"

'Pretty good.'

"Yeah, all right."

'How is Melissa?'

"She seems fine. Confused and a little scared maybe by this stuff. Turns out she kissed the kid."

'What?'

"Yeah, that was sort of my response. Some sixth grade boy/girl party is what it sounded like from how she described it."

'God. I didn't know that.'

"Trust me, I could do without knowing she was kissing boys at that age."

'You kissed girls at that age.'

"I did whatever girls would let me do to them at that age, Princess."

'You never tried with me.'

"In sixth grade? No. I knew you weren't the type."

'You never even talked to me.'

"Didn't need to. You gave off a vibe about being unapproachable in waves."

'Really?'

"Yeah."

'I didn't know that.'

"Yes, you did, Claire. You know damned well how close you actually were to anyone."

'I guess.'

"How are your designs coming?"

'Oh fine. I had lunch with the owner of one of the stores I'm hoping to interest today.'

"How did that go?"

'Fine. She said she was more than interested in anything I'd have to show her.'

"You knew that already, though."

'Sure. Except that this is freelance. I mean, I still have my LLC active that I started with years ago. So, I'm fine that way. It's just all I have to go on is my name here.'

"I'd say that's more than enough."

'We'll see.'

"You know I'm not going to be able to take her to school with you, right?"

'Yes. I figured that out.'

"Okay. I've told her I'll get there for a visit as soon as I can and that if she wants to come out with us on weekends that we're nearby she can."

'She'd like that.'

"I think so, too. It's probably better right now that I don't go with you guys anyway."

'Maybe.'

"Anyway. I'll let you go, I guess."

'I interrupted your dinner.'

"That's not why, but I do want to call Larry and my lawyer about this shit you told me tonight."

'It's after six o'clock at night.'

"Larry won't care and I pay my lawyer to hear me out on shit like this."

'Okay.'

"I love you, Claire."

'I love you, too.'

"See you in Detroit?"

'Yes.'

"Excellent. Melissa will be ecstatic."

'I'm ecstatic to see Melissa, too.'

"Good to know."

'She's doing all right and everything?'

"Yes. She seems to be having a real good time. She's doing real well and her song is pretty popular."

'I hear it a lot on the radio.'

"That is fantastic news."

She laughed softly.

"Sleep well, Princess. I know I said it at the beginning of the call, but it was fucking good to hear your voice. I'm glad that was bothering you and you called to ask me."

'It was really bothering me.'

"I'm not my father."

'I know.'

"Good."

'It was good to hear your voice, too.'

"You'll hear it up close and personal in Detroit."

'That sounds nice.'

"I'll make it better than nice."

'I'll hold you to that.'

"I meant what I said earlier, too, by the way. If our not coming clean about being together somehow contributes to your doubts we can do it. I'm honestly thinking of you. I'm trying to save you from being hounded more than you already are. I'm not hiding or anything."

'I know. They've been at the house a few times since Tuesday.'

"You haven't said anything?"

'No! I'm not an idiot. I know how to handle the press.'

"Good. Be sure to keep that doggy door locked until this shit blows over."

'They're not going to sneak in my house through a doggy door.'

"No, you'd think not, but there are some people out there pretty desperate for a scoop. I wouldn't put it past them to put a camera on Scotty or something."

'Oh God.'

"Just be careful."

'I will. You, too.'

"They can't really get to me. I'm not alone either."

'Can I ask you something?'

"You can ask me anything."

'Would you have stayed away?'

"No. I was planning on waiting until this has been settled, but I wouldn't have stayed away. I figured there was no sense coming to you with denials and no proof of my denial being true."

'You're going to get proof?'

"If I have to take a DNA test to prove it I will. The kid's not mine."

'Thank you.'

"It doesn't mean someone else won't come out of the woodwork. You know? One starts then more can get the idea."

'I know. I just, hearing it on the radio like that.'

"I can imagine, and I'm sorry."

'And the abortion part. I thought of Melissa and you telling me that.'

"I wouldn't have told you that. If that's what you wanted to do I wouldn't have strong-armed you to convince you otherwise, but I never would have told you not to have her."

'I think deep down I knew that, which was why I called tonight.'

"I'm immensely glad you did."

'I'm sorry about dinner.'

"Melissa or Claude will be sure it's boxed up for me."

'Okay.'

"You could make it up for me by cooking me a home cooked meal the next time we're there in August."

'I can do that. Should I plan for the others, too?'

"You'd do that?"

'Sure. With some notice.'

"They'd love it, yeah."

'Then it's a date. I'll make spaghetti or something that's pretty easy for two or twenty people.'

"You've done that often?"

'Had to cook for people? A few times, sure. Stu liked having a wife who could cook. So sometimes he'd have business dinners here instead of out.'

"Ah," he said. "He was obviously lucky and knew enough to show it off."

'Thanks.'

"I'll see you the day after tomorrow then?"

'Yes.'

"You'll text me which hotel you're staying at?"

'Yes. You're going to tell Melissa?'

"Yes, I won't make that mistake again."

She laughed softly.

'Maybe she'll take pity on you and let you come see me first.'

"Maybe. After this week, though, she'll probably want to see you. She's pretty sure I'm going to send her home at the sign of any trouble or problems."

'I want to see her, too.'

"I know you do. I'd expect no less."

'Night,' she said, hanging up.

He hung up, sliding his phone into his pocket while he glanced at the sky. He wasn't a religious person and didn't pray, but he couldn't help but glance up there and whisper "thank you" to whoever, or whatever, planted the seed of doubt in her mind that led to the phone call.

***

Darcy thumbed through the envelope, salivating at the thought of having so much money in her hands.

"This ain't what we agreed on," she said. She wasn't real good at math, but she knew how to count and this was not one hundred thousand dollars. It wasn't even half of that.

"You strayed from what we agreed on," the private detective said.

She had no idea who he worked for or why she'd been chosen. He'd found her about a month ago, and upon confirmation that Randy had no father involved or on record anywhere made her an offer that seemed too good to be true.

"I did what you asked."

"You embellished from the script."

"I thought it worked. Was convincing."

"We weren't paying you to think."

"I didn't stray that far," she said belligerently. There was only a fourth of the money she'd been promised for simply saying John Bender had fathered Randy. No hardship as she'd always wanted to get with him in high school, but for some reason it had never happened. She was pretty sure he'd never even known she existed despite the fact their paths crossed more than a few times at parties during high school.

"Far enough. Once my employer is certain the desired results occur despite your altering of the story the rest will be paid."

"Right," she scoffed. "You're swindling me."

"You have twenty-five thousand dollars that you didn't have yesterday. I'd say you've made out fairly well on the deal. You'll likely get some interviews out of the deal before he gets a DNA test."

She'd already had two interviews. Nobody anyone listened to for reliable news, gossip rags, but he was right she'd been paid for her story.

"How will I know when I get the rest?"

She was confident she'd get the rest because she hadn't strayed that far! Good grief, saying he'd paid her to have an abortion fit right in with his image back then. Anyone who knew him would believe he'd do something like that. It did make her wonder. Was the other kid of his made up, too? None of her business, but someone sure seemed to be going to a lot of trouble over a closing in on forty year old guitar player.

"I'll be in touch," he said, stepping away from the spot at the bar he'd been occupying for the brief exchange. She shoved the envelope deep into her purse, glancing around at those around her. She'd end up with no money if any of them suspected what he'd just given her.

She tossed back the rest of her bourbon, tempted to order a glass of the good stuff instead of the house stuff she usually got. She didn't want to draw attention to herself, though, so she ordered another of what she always had before heading back home.

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