Chapter Thirty-Five
Word Count: 4,159

May 2004

"So her friend is really okay with Sean driving down to Florida with her?" John asked as he looked around the room. He was amazed she was actually seemingly ready to go. He'd expected he'd have to do a lot of the work for some reason. Well, in truth he'd expected to get here and find out that she'd changed her mind and was only going to come down for a couple of weeks or something.

The drive to Florida wasn't a crazy-long drive, but there were some pretty desolate areas. And mountains. John offered to ride with Melissa, but then that would have left Claire alone. Sean overhearing them talking about the arrangements to get both of their cars down to Tampa for the summer made the offer.

Claire would be driving what had been Stu's car down and leaving it there so she always had a car down there. He'd told her that wasn't necessary, she could use either of his cars anytime. She'd insisted. He couldn't blame her, he supposed. He made sure she knew the keys to the convertible would be there any time she felt like using it.

That discussion did make him realize he would need to buy something to have up here to get around when the time came for him to actually be spending a significant amount of time here. He could've used her car, or Stu's though he would probably have felt weird doing that, if she wasn't leaving herself with only one vehicle here now.

John had no idea what Sean knew or didn't know about Melissa's current love life. He didn't think it was his place to tell the guy because if she hadn't been his daughter he wouldn't know. So he'd kept his mouth shut on the subject. Sean had asked him a few things, but John got the impression they were still in touch because the questions were pretty specific. Did she finish school this week or that week? When were they going to Florida? Those types of questions. How is she? What did she do for Spring Break? Does she like dorm food? Those were not questions he asked, which made John think they still talked.

So, that was how the two of them ended up at Claire's house for a few days. Melissa was already pretty well packed since she'd gotten home from school last week. She had things here at the house that she wanted with her in Tampa, though, that weren't with her at Wellesley.

"What can she say? She has friends."

"Well, yeah, but Sean thought of himself as more than a friend, and I think Melissa at least sort of thought of him that way, too."

"I don't know what to tell you, but it's better if Melissa finds that out now than later. Isn't it?"

"I suppose so."

"I think she's planning on coming down to Tampa to visit."


"Why? What kind of question is that? To see Melissa, I'd imagine."

"No, I mean, why is she planning on coming there and not Melissa going there."

"I get the impression her parents don't know and would not be okay with their relationship."


He slid his arms around her, tugging her to him.

"Ready for the million dollar question, Princess?"

"I guess."

"You going to let them share a room?"


"And don't give me that line about being no different than a sleepover. They're in a relationship that's very different than a sleepover."

"She hasn't asked."

"Well, you better think about it."

"What would you say?"

John shrugged. "Well, we're sleeping together and we're not married."

"We're not nineteen."

"Valid point, but I imagine they probably spent the last however months at one or the others' rooms."

"Yes, I'd imagine so."

Claire got quiet, seeming to think on his question. He was glad, because he'd thought on it if Natasha came with Melissa on the bus or something. He had no idea what he'd be expected to do in that situation.

"And you have no thoughts?"

He did, but he didn't want to just say them without being asked. He was still sort of not entirely sure how much power he wielded when it came down to it. He was Melissa's father and he and Claire were in a relationship. He, however, hadn't raised her and didn't know her as well as Claire did. Her nineteen years' experience trumped most anything he'd have knowledge of.

"I guess I'd talk to her about how fair that is, Natasha coming to our house knowing we know. Kind of taking advantage."

"Yet, if Melissa went there Natasha's parents may very well treat it no differently than a sleepover and let them sleep together without realizing."

"True enough," he said with a shrug. "Well, you have a while to think about it. Right?"

"I guess."

He chuckled, kissing her lightly before kissing her cheek. "Hadn't thought on that?"

"No," she said with a slight frown.

"Maybe Sean will stay for the summer to really make things complicated."

"I'm not letting the three of them…"

"Wow, listen to you. I hadn't quite made the leap to a threesome. I was just picturing him there, thinking he could make some time with her. Natasha visiting and him not knowing."

"Well, I'm just saying. I don't know what she's thinking, where she's at."

"She's nineteen. She may not either. Yet she still told you, and you still supported her. So, she knows she's got you in her corner no matter what. That's pretty huge."

"I know. You support her, too."

"Not the same, and probably not as important. Again. I travel with someone who goes both ways, so she probably realizes I don't have a problem."

"Jazmin and your daughter are not the same person."

"True. I could very possibly not have had a problem with Jazmin and had one with Melissa. Except I don't really care. I'm not built that way, and I think she knows that."

"I'm glad Claude was able to get here before we left."

Claude had flown with John to Chicago so that they could look at Melissa's studio together. They'd talked about converting some of the space in the basement into a couple of separate rooms. That would give them one extra bedroom on the second floor, the guest bedroom John had spent the weekend in on the first floor, and then two bedrooms in the basement. Plus the couch down there. Considering they were all used to bunking on a bus together and doubling up if they had to in hotel rooms (whether it be due to lack of available rooms or available money) no one would complain about any sort of setup here. Together they would brainstorm on what they'd need to make the basement studio one where they could record. It wasn't going to take much. Claire had really gone top of the line with the equipment, but the stuff was five or six years old now so some needed to be upgraded. They'd need to add things, too.

"Able to get here? You make it sound as if he has a jam packed schedule."

"Well, he said he was going to see his daughters."

"Oh, right, I forgot that was right away. You're right."

Claude was ecstatic that Paula was letting him take the girls unsupervised for two weeks. Claude realized there would probably be nightly telephone calls to the girls, making sure they were okay and in a safe environment, but it was a huge step. He'd been clean for so long now John could barely remember that old Claude who couldn't be trusted with his kids. He'd never used in front of them, ever. That didn't stop him from being under the influence in front of them, though, and that's what had Paula freaking out.

"One thing that has me hesitate about doing your basement," he said.

"What?" She looked a little apprehensive about what he could possibly have hesitations about.

"Well," he said with a shrug. "It won't give Melissa a reason to come see me if she has the stuff available to her right here."

"But you'll be here, right? That's the point? So the next time you want to record during the summer we can be here instead of there."

"True enough," he said with a shrug.

"Hey," she said, touching his cheek. "She doesn't just want to be around you because of your recording equipment."

"I know that on a logical level."

"Then listen to your logical self. She loved the weekends you went to see her."

"It was never really a full weekend."

Three times he'd gotten in early Sunday morning from where they'd played Friday and/or Saturday night and met the band Monday or Tuesday at their next stop.

"It doesn't matter if it was a full weekend or not. You had the time, and you took the time to see her. She said she really enjoyed spending that time with you."

"Those songs she worked on at Christmas were really good."

"She seemed happy with them."

"She should be. I couldn't help but think when I was listening to one or two of them if Natasha was responsible for them."


He shrugged. "Nothing specific, but like you knowing the song I'd written back then was by me about you. Us. Whatever. You hear songs sometimes and know that it's more than just lyrics to the person who wrote it."


"Claude and I are going to try to talk her into doing her own release. Not with us. I'd play with her, anyone in the band would, but release it as her not us."

"I'm not sure she's ready for that."

"I know, but she's good. Playing and writing. She's good. She doesn't need our name behind her. That song last year would have done well on its own."

"Sure. You helped. Playing with her and that you are her father."

"Sure. Maybe. I don't know. She has enough songs now that she could release a single or two while she's at school. Keeping her name out there, but not taking away from her studying. She could play with us our next tour just like this past summer."

"You liked it, didn't you?"

He shrugged. "Yeah, it was nice. Fun. Whatever. I've never had anyone along who was there for me before."

"I suppose not."

"It was different. So, yes, I did."

"So, Sean and Melissa know the name of the hotel we're staying at."

"I'm very glad you're comfortable sleeping with me in the same bed with Melissa in the room."


The four of them agreed for one night the four of them could share a room. They were basically going to do little more than sleep and then go on their way to Tampa.

"Because I absolutely would not sleep with Sean."

Claire chuckled softly at that, kissing his jaw. "No both ways for you, huh?"

"I don't know how to say no strenuously enough."

"What if I…"

"With Sean?"

She laughed softly. "No, I'm teasing. I don't."

"I mean, you know, I'd have to think long and hard about something like that."

"You are long and hard enough for me."

"Ha ha."

"If they were still dating I'd probably be more worried," she said.

"I don't think she'd do anything with him in front of us anyway."

"I know."

"And yet you're not sure what you'd say if she wants Natasha…"

"Is that a double standard? I don't know." She shrugged.

"Just interesting how you see it differently."

"I guess."

"It's probably normal. Hell, if one of them wasn't my daughter…"

"I don't want to even known where that thought is going."

"In that case. You have everything you need to work from Florida for the next few months?"

"Yes," she said.

Her designs at Christmas had done so well she was up to six stores in the Chicago area who were carrying them. None were close enough to another one to infringe on her stuff being a special item at each store. The contacts she'd made over the years helped immensely because all she had to do was design. The lots she was producing were small enough they could be done in between other, larger lots. Or something. She'd explained it, but he understood it about as well as if he'd explained to her the ins and outs of producing a record. He got the gist, though. She'd been a popular, successful name and there were people who small lots or not were willing to be associated with her name.

The plan was that she wouldn't come back up here unless she had to for business until the spring. He supposed her mother might guilt her into coming back up for Thanksgiving, but he hoped he could convince her to have Thanksgiving with him instead. She hadn't seen her parents or Christopher since January. She hadn't explained why, but she said her father hadn't pressed her on the issue. So, maybe he knew they at the least suspected he was behind it. No one else had come forward accusing him of fathering their kids. He was pretty relieved about that. He wasn't sure Claire would tolerate a second accusation.

The monkey in the wrench for Thanksgiving was Melissa. Melissa hadn't been told what was going on. Claire and John agreed she didn't need to be, and it wasn't up to them to make her think less of her grandfather. Oh, John would love to see her tell him to get lost, sure, but that was the vengeful dick in him and he didn't want Melissa to get that way. One day, though, they both figured Melissa would ask why John never saw Grandpa.

"I love hearing that."

"I'm not so sure about spending the summer in Florida."

"It's one summer, Princess. It will just mean you have to live in your bathing suit. I like that thought very much."

"You would."

"And, hey," he said, taking hold of her hand and bringing it up so they could both look at it. He ran a fingertip over the ring there. As far as he knew she hadn't taken it off since he'd put it on her finger at his house in December. "Ultimate goal, right? That's what we're doing this for. Adding the wedding band to this."

"Yes. I know. It doesn't mean I love heat and humidity, though."

"It'll be worth it."

"At least you have a ceiling fan over your bed."

"Our bed and you're going to be naked every night, you won't need it."

"If you say so."

"I know so."

"Even after we're married?"

"Unless there's something you aren't telling me about you after we get married."


"And no more kids, right?"

"No," she said.

"Why not?"

"Because I'm almost forty years old!"

"No, not now. I get why not now, but before."

"I don't know. I didn't want to start over with a baby again. I've spent all of my adult life being a mom. I'm thirty-eight and my child is a sophomore in college. Maybe that was selfish. I don't know. If I'd gotten married younger maybe."

"So, it wasn't the pregnancy?"

"No! I actually didn't mind being pregnant aside from feeling like a freak and pretty embarrassed."

"I'm sorry."

"I didn't say it to make you feel bad."

"I know. I do, though."

"You don't want one do you?"

"No, I mean," he shrugged. "If you did I would, but no."

"Thank God."

He chuckled. "I'd say we did pretty well. I'd be worried if we had another one it'd turn out like me and I wouldn't want that."

"You turned out just fine, John. You were fine then, too."

"I think you were one of the few who'd say that, and the fact you can is pretty amazing."

"I loved you. My heart wasn't wrong."

"I suppose I can't argue with that."

"We shouldn't talk about that tonight," she whispered, kissing his cheek.

He knew that. Talking about that shit led to thinking about her father. Of course, they both knew there was nothing saying they would be together today if they'd made a go of it back then. Who knew? She certainly wouldn't have put up with his boozing and drugging, but then if he'd had her and Melissa. Well, he could play the "what if" game for a million years. Claude had Paula and kids. John saw how that turned out for him. They'd been dating before the oldest kid came along, too. John and Claire wouldn't have even had that going for them.

"Where are they?"

"They went out for pizza with some of her friends."

"Oh," he said. "Introducing him to her friends?"

"I'm not sure she's ready for some of them to know she has a girlfriend."

John chuckled at that. "I suppose not. Does Sean know?"

"I haven't asked, and it's none of my business."

"So, he could be thinking…"

"I have no idea what he's thinking. They agreed to time away from each other."

"They did."

"I don't know what they talk about. He's an adult. She's an adult as much as I may hate thinking of her like that."

"Tell me about it."

"Maybe Natasha is just a phase. Maybe she does want to be involved with both of them. I have no idea. I'm not going to tell her she has to do anything. If she was cheating or something."

"Right. I get it."

"I honestly have no idea how they left it when they left school either. I know she wants to come visit, but I'm not sure that's cast in stone or just a hypothetical."

"I get it, I do. As long as she's not leading him on. Or her I guess. I guess we'll find out."

"I guess so."

"So, you're packed and ready to go then?"

"I am."


They'd get down to Florida and have about a week before everyone else got down there. Dominic was already stocking up on stuff John was sure. He knew what everyone liked and made sure they had access to that. Everyone kicked in money and John always made sure Dominic got that money to put toward the stuff while everyone was there. Any overage went to the bills because things like electric bills were a hell of a lot higher with eight people there than when it was just him.

"Why? I do know how to pack, you know?"

"Packing for a trip and to prepare to split residency is a little different."

"I guess."

"Besides, I want to hear about this fantasy."

"I didn't say I had a fantasy."

"That's probably best."


"I think I'd get pretty fucking jealous if anyone else ever touched you."

She snorted softly at that.

"What?" he asked.

"It just sounds ridiculous coming from you considering how many women…"

"None of them were you and I didn't love or want to marry anyone else."


"Now, depending on what the fantasy actually entailed, we could probably pretend."


"Yeah. I mean. I can't get a second mouth so if you had this vision of two men going down on you or paying attention to your incredible breasts with their mouths. I can't do that. But if it's the part of me you were just very complimentary about there are, you know, things that could be used in lieu of that."

"You'd do that?"

"Uh, I'm not rushing out to, no, but if it was something you wanted to do."

"Why?" she asked, narrowing her eyes a bit.

He shrugged. "I want you happy. We're adults. If adding a toy into the mix once in a while makes you happy. Now if you couldn't come without it I'd maybe sing a different tune."

She laughed softly at that.

"Have you ever done that?"

"Used one on someone?"

"Well, yes, I suppose. But, you know, you and another…"

"With a girl? Sure," he said with a shrug.

She looked like she was thinking on that.

"Was I supposed to lie?"

"No," she said. "I asked."

"Don't ask the question if you don't know the answer?"

"Something like that. I suspected the answer. You're just so nonchalant about it."

"Because it wasn't a big deal. You asking me to do that would be a big deal."

"Lucky for you I'm not then."

"Very lucky for me because I'm not sure I'd say no."


He shrugged. "You'd obviously want to do it if you asked. I want you happy."

"You make me happy."

"All long and hard of me?"

"Yes, exactly."

"Fantastic. Come to bed then and prove to me that's true."

"I can do that. I should turn the light on…"

"I think Melissa knows the way around her own house. She'll get Sean to the guest room just fine."

"I just hope they don't do what we did in that room."

"That was a very enjoyably frustrating night."

"You and me both. It'd been so long I really wanted to."

"I was right there with you."

"Has Sean been with anyone?"

"Not that I know of. I don't keep track of his every move, but as far as I know he's still pure as the lily white snow."

"I'm glad he's not a jerk anyway."

"Oh, I would have said something if he was before I found out he was still a virgin even if it violated some sort of guy code thing."

"It's tough being honorable and a dad."

"It is. I'm not thinking very honorably right now."

"You and me both. I missed you."

"Right back at you. But months. Just think of that. Months."

"I know."

"That does have a nice ring to it."

"It does."

"And the pool is yours to use as you wish to keep cool."

"We'll never have privacy to use it just us, though."

"They won't be there forever. They should be gone by July. Melissa will be gone late-August. Besides, for now we have my tub."

"There is that."

"And you ever get the desire to skinny dip with me, tell me, I'll send everyone out for the night."

"You would not!"

"I would, too!"

"I may hold you to that."

"I look forward to it."

"I'm kind of excited."

"Only kind of?"

"Not about skinny dipping."

"Good. What then?"

"It's just so strange. Different. I don't know what to expect. I never in a million years imagined I'd live with someone."

He hadn't really either. Not for the same reasons she hadn't, though. He just hadn't ever expected to find someone he wanted to live with.

"Well, I hope you'll be honest with me. If it's too much. If September rolls around and you need some space or something. Tell me. Please don't stay there and be miserable."

"You want me to take a break?"

"I didn't say that! But I want you happy. I really do. I know this happened very quickly. Maybe you'll think twice on just leaving like you are. Maybe you'll reconsider your relationship with your father."

"Not going to happen."

"Your mother…"

"Mother knows all. She may not have known about it at the time Daddy did what he did, twenty years ago or with Darcy more recently. She learned about it, though. He tells her everything. Well, anything to do with the family. He doesn't tell her business things. Loose lips sink ships and all that."

John shook his head.

"I know, it sounds bizarre to you."

"No, it doesn't really. It's bizarre to me that you kept them in your life as long as you have."

"I had no other choice! I wasn't in a position to cut them out entirely."


"John. Melissa already had enough to feel different and stand out. I wasn't going to make her have nobody but me."

"I know. I'm sorry. I'll say it again, at least they seem as though they were decent to Melissa."

"They have been."

"There is that. Your dad's going to wonder what's going on."

"Let him wonder."

"And Stu's nephews?"

"They know how to get a hold of me. There may be some functions I have to come back for, but I'll know about them enough in advance so we can make them."


"Yes. We."

"I didn't realize I was included."

"Why wouldn't you be?"

"That's his business."

"I'm not going to go by myself."

He scowled a bit.

"I go by myself the single men are going to think I'm…"

"Yeah. I'll go when I can."

She laughed softly, kissing his jaw. "You're cute when you get jealous about faceless men."

"Faceless single men. You're quite a catch if you haven't figured that out, so yeah, I'm jealous and want to keep you all to myself now that I have you."

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