"So, that's it?" Ally said after listening to Claire's story.
"I don't know what else there is to do."
"Well, you said he'd talked about a slander suit."
"She doesn't have anything to go after her for. I think his lawyer agreed with me that he'd look pretty petty. She clearly needs help or something."
"I hope she gets it. God, what would make someone just make up a father for their kid like that? And that poor boy."
"I know. He knows Melissa. I don't think real well."
"Well enough to kiss him."
"Yeah, in sixth grade. How many people were you friends with senior year from sixth grade?"
"I didn't have any friends in sixth grade."
"Okay. Me, then. Normal people. I didn't have many from sixth grade."
"Normal people, huh?"
"Yes. You know, those of who were not weird."
Ally laughed, taking a sip of her wine.
"I saw his interview."
"Well, I know you did. I thought he sounded very reasonable. He didn't sound upset."
"He even sounded like he liked your parents."
Claire laughed at that.
He'd done an interview last week with a radio station while they were here in Chicago. It wasn't the same radio station Darcy had made the accusations with. He'd explained simply and to the point that he'd had a DNA test done, which came out negative. He reiterated that he'd known about Melissa all along, just because reporters and people didn't know about her didn't mean John was in the dark about having a child. He and Melissa's mother weren't together and John wasn't together as a person to shoulder the responsibility of being a father. Melissa's mother had done an outstanding job of taking on the responsibility by herself other than the monetary support he'd provided over the years. He'd extended gratitude to her family for taking on some of the responsibility, too, while Claire finished school and got her business running. He knew Melissa wouldn't be where she was today, how she was today, without them as much as Claire. He assured the show's host that there were no other children. Just the one. He'd also driven home the point that questioning him was fair game, but Claire and Melissa were off-limits. Now that Melissa was done touring with them she had the right to just be a student.
"And Melissa? How did she respond to finding out he'd been paying child support all of these years?"
"She said she already knew that. How, I don't know, but she wasn't surprised or upset. Maybe Mom or Dad told her. Maybe she just presumed. I mean it's sort of expected. Those first few years, I needed the money, but once she was in Kindergarten."
"I know," Ally said. "Andy and I are a little jealous, honestly. Not in a bad way, but God, we'd love to know our kids were set like that."
"It was tempting. To just be frivolous and spend it on crazy stuff, but that wouldn't have done her any good."
"No, you've done so well with her. She has always had nice things, but she's never been snobbish about them."
"Yes, she has," Claire said with a slight grimace.
"Okay. No more than any other girl her age in Shermer with parents' who have money."
"I guess not, no."
"I really wish I knew what would make her do that. It's so random. Eighteen years later to decide he was the kid's dad."
"John says that happens. One scandalous, or potentially scandalous, tidbit comes out and the opportunists come out of the woodwork."
"I hope you remember that for the next time."
"I hope that there's not a next time, but yes, I learned my lesson not to jump to conclusions."
"I can't blame you. I understood why you reacted that way."
"Think twenty years ago there were no reliable DNA tests. From what John's lawyer said, the kid could've been John's dad's and there wouldn't have been a way to tell conclusively between the two."
"Well, it's a good thing it's not twenty years ago."
"And the condo thing?"
"I don't know. I figured when I take Melissa there I can look through some listings, see what's even available in the area. I can't imagine there's anything cheap there with as much as tuition costs."
"Are you excited or nervous?"
"Honestly, wondering where my head is."
"I'm thinking about living with someone."
"Is that bad?"
"I don't know. I didn't let Melissa even meet a guy I was dating, and now I'm thinking about living with one."
"Yes, but I still can't help but think I'm supposed to be setting an example for her. Marriage. Stability. Morals. Not to sleep around."
"She's seen you haven't done that, and from what you've said she seems okay with you and John being physical."
"In theory. She's never seen us do anything but kiss and sleep together."
"That's enough, isn't it?"
"I don't know. I just can't help think it's not right."
"You have keys to his house. He has keys to your house. He's talking about you keeping stuff at one another's places, Claire. How is that any different?"
"It's my house. It's my mortgage. That's his house and his mortgage. This would be ours, together. If we end up hating each other we'd fight over it."
"Do you think that's going to happen?"
"I don't know! It all happened so fast."
"Eighteen years is not fast."
"You know what I mean."
"I do, but I don't think it was fast. I liked Stu, you know I did, but I never really thought you should have married him."
"I know," Claire said. "It wasn't fair to him."
"No, that wasn't why. Only Andy and I saw what you think everyone else saw. Anyone else saw a decent couple. Maybe your parents," Ally shrugged. "I doubt they paid you two that close of attention, though."
"I just meant that he wasn't who I saw you ending up with."
"And John is?"
Ally sighed softly, taking a sip of her wine again. "I tried! I tried to get you to talk to him once you'd graduated."
"I know, I didn't want to, and likely he wouldn't have wanted to then either."
"So, yes, John is. Call me a romantic, you loved him. I wanted you together with someone who you loved back. Stu was great. He treated you like a queen, and probably John wouldn't have had the tolerance for that. I can admit that."
"No, I don't think he would. He sure doesn't mind when I get rooms at nice hotels, though."
Ally laughed. "No, I'm sure he doesn't mind."
"Where are you going to go in September?"
"Nantucket. I actually had to get John to book the hotel because they insisted they were full."
"And he got a room?"
"He did," she said with a scoff. "Does that make me a bad person?"
"That you used that advantage? No. Why would it? I would've done the same thing!"
"Hey, use what you have. And Melissa knows?"
"And Melissa knows that her father is remodeling one of the rooms in his house to accommodate your designing?"
"I'd say she'll be okay with you going in on a condo together. Especially one she'll be living in for the three years. If she goes on to graduate school, maybe five or more."
"I know. It just surprised me he brought it up. Well, and then," she shrugged, running a fingertip over the rim of her goblet.
"Does he just want to live with me?"
"Have you asked him?"
"No! I don't want him to think I expect marriage."
"But you'd like marriage."
"Well, yes. I think that's a logical assumption."
"I think you should maybe talk about that when you have a chance. You've had a disadvantage with the distance and this stuff. I still worry about that boy and what his mother saying that stuff did to him. Can you imagine? Thinking your father was the lead guitar of a famous band for a little while?"
"Where is Missy anyway?"
"She went to Cindy's house for a couple of nights."
"Yes. Trish and Stacey have been giving her a hard time."
"Oh God. Why?"
"I don't know. Why are any girls the way they are? She didn't call them enough while she was gone."
"And Cindy's not mad at her?"
"No! I was surprised when they started competing against each other that they remained friends, but they've been able to keep riding separate. She didn't care that Missy didn't call her every day or anything."
"I always liked her."
"Me, too. And then there are the boys."
Ally laughed. "I bet there are lots of them coming around now."
"The phone hasn't stopped ringing since she got home."
"How do they know?"
"I suppose it was announced on the radio or something that she was done."
"That is so bizarre. I mean, not that they're calling her, but that they're calling her now."
"She thinks so, too. So, she just wanted to get away and Cindy's house is pretty private."
"People would be hard-pressed to find her there anyway. Unless they knew she rides."
"Well, no one seems to know yet, and I don't think anyone there would give out details. I mean, there are some pretty well-known people who have kids that ride there."
"You're right. That's good that you feel safe. Did he leave anything when he left here?"
"Not really. He did give me a list of things he prefers. Shampoo and razors, stuff like that. I'll pick some up for the next time he's here, but he probably won't be here again until Christmas."
"You're going to be here for Christmas?"
"I don't know. We haven't talked about it. I think my parents would be upset if we weren't here for Christmas."
"You don't owe your parents anything. Just remember that. If you and Missy want to be here, that's great, but don't do it out of expectation."
"I know. I've just never been away from them on Christmas."
Eventually, Ally left because she had to get home and see to dinner. Andy had taken the kids to the zoo for the day so that Ally and Claire could catch up without kids around.
"The Singleton woman called, wanting to know when she's going to get the rest of her money."
'Did you find out where he stayed when he was in town this past week?'
"At the house."
Likely he knew that already as there had been a picture of the three of them eating lunch out together somewhere in a local newspaper.
'Don't give her another dime.'
'You heard me. I wanted him gone from the picture. He's being seen in public with them. That's not gone from the picture.'
"All right. She won't like that."
'You tell her she was not paid to go off-script. The boy was John's. Nothing was said about him paying her to have an abortion.'
"I know, Sir. I've told her."
'Tell her again. What's she going to do? Sue me?'
"Well, put like that, no, of course not. But she could go public and say that she was paid to make the claim. That wouldn't look good, regardless of who thought was behind the payoff."
'I don't care. She doesn't know who paid her.'
"Of course not," he said.
'Take care of it. I don't want to hear her name again.'
"Yes, Sir," he said.
He hung up, sighing. If it was up to him, he'd pay her just to keep her quiet. There was no guarantee paying her off would buy her silence, but in his experience the best way for secrets to be revealed was not to do your end of the bargain. He wouldn't put it past her to announce she was paid to say it. She liked the attention. He thought she liked the attention more than the potential windfall.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com