***Chapter Five***
Word Count: 3,941

March 1988

John stepped out of the shower at hearing his doorbell ring. He was just about done anyway. He was already running late. It was a good thing he was his own boss so things like being a few minutes late didn't matter as much. Ronda very rarely scheduled him a shoot right when the doors were scheduled to open for just that reason. He tried to be punctual every day, but traffic could be a bitch some days. He went to the front of the house, securing his towel around his waist. He hadn't gotten much sleep at all last night, but as pissed off as he'd been leaving Evanston yesterday afternoon he'd needed to let off steam somehow. A better way to do it he couldn't imagine even if it meant a very long day was in store for him.

"I told you guys I really do have to go to work this morning."

They weren't used to him calling them during the week for just that reason. Sleeping didn't happen when they came over. He'd call them his vice except there was really no downside or side effects to his time with them.

He suddenly felt severely underdressed when he saw it wasn't Lily and Tina at the door, but instead Claire. He didn't call them frequently. It was a once in a blue moon thing when he had a very specific itch and need to scratch. They were more into each other than they were him, but they let him watch and while his participation was generally limited to pretty basic penetration once they'd worked one another to the point of being crazy aroused they needed him inside of them. Certainly spending hours watching them was not a hardship and they weren't shy about taking a break from using their mouths on each other to use theirs on him. Together. Watching them French each other around his hard-on in between their mouths was a damn fine thing to watch. That was more than worth the lack of much else. He doubted many guys in his position would argue with him.

"Uh, hi," he said, glancing behind her.

They were gone, but they hadn't left real long ago. He'd gotten into the shower before they were both dressed he knew that. Had she seen them? He'd never felt embarrassed about his relationship with them before. They started as clients about three years ago who came to him wanting to get into one of the magazines a little more hardcore than Playboy and Penthouse doing a very explicit girl-on-girl shoot. He still wasn't sure where they'd gotten his name, they'd never said and he'd never really asked. As professional as he had tried to remain, as he did for all shoots like that, for whatever reason their shoot had affected him. They had noticed. He hadn't hired Ronda yet so the studio doors were locked and, well, they'd been more than happy to relieve him of his problem.

He'd felt like an asshole charging them for their shoot, but he'd taken rolls and rolls of film that day so he'd had to. They'd paid, and they'd come back more than once. Eventually, they stopped pretending they needed more shoots and told him flat out what they wanted. Unattached and not at all a prude he was more than in. He realized after the first couple of times and as Claire's picture in the paper started to appear more and more frequently that there was a resemblance between the three women that he couldn't ignore. He hadn't seen Claire for years before recently and he hadn't called Lily and Tina for a while, but he was reminded again now that they'd just left and she was standing here that while they weren't her on any level they did kind of look like her. Tina's hair wasn't even naturally red, but evidently for whatever reason it still worked for him.

He felt her regarding him despite the sunglasses and knew this time she was not focusing on the scars she'd been so turned off by their senior year. He couldn't blame her exactly so he hadn't held it against her or anything. Why should someone like her want to be with someone like him anyway? He didn't exactly think that way now, but he sure had four years ago. He'd still place a wager on the fact that she didn't have one scar on that body of hers anywhere. Never mind there were things that he just couldn't give her, things that probably mattered hugely to people like the Standishes even if they made people like the Benders no difference.

That thought process was getting him nowhere because thinking about his dad this morning was not a way to keep on feeling good after his night. That was why he'd called them, he'd needed it. Whatever it was he shared with them, a physical closeness from two people who didn't and never would love him but they liked him well enough. He was pretty sure he was the only guy they got together with regularly, not to say he was the only one ever but they'd mentioned more than once it wasn't really their thing. He wasn't sure why he was their thing, whatever that was, but he had been awful glad over the past three years it was the case.

"What can I do for you, sweets? You lost or something?"

"They were both here for that?"

"I'm not sure what 'that' is."

"You're naked."

"It's my house. I can dress how I want."

"Yes, but they just left here."

"Well, truthfully, if I wasn't running late they probably would've been in the shower, too, and I can assure you I wouldn't have answered my door then."

"Really?" She made a face that suggested very clearly she was not impressed or happy with his confession. He wasn't even sure why he'd said it. Certainly he'd never told anyone about them ever in the past three years. Then he hadn't been caught having just been with the two of them either.

"Yes, really. Do you need a visual aid to help you picture it? Because I didn't realize I needed to clear my private life with you now."

"Well, no, but we…"

"We what? Had lunch and you acted like a bitch to me? So you thought what? I'd come home and pine away for what may have been between us yet again? Get over yourself."

"No, that's not what I meant. I just," she sighed, clearly frustrated. "You kissed me."

"You kissed me. People kiss. It is what it is. What of it?"

He was lying, hoping that she wouldn't know that. Kissing was a very big deal to him. He certainly didn't kiss Lily or Tina. Never once had he even thought of doing that with them. They probably wouldn't have either, but that was beside the point. She was the only woman he'd ever kissed, then or now.

"Is that supposed to mean something? I kissed you so. What?" She hadn't answered him so he figured he'd better keep talking. "Your dad doesn't like think I'm going to ask for your hand in marriage because of it does he? I suppose he'd send the suit for something like that, not you."

"You know I actually came here to apologize."

"Well, that was easy enough. See. Apology accepted. Thanks. Great seeing you again. I'm really running late."

"You have hickeys all over your…"

"Yeah, they got a little carried away I guess, but they know I'm a professional and where they can and can't leave them. Like I said that day you came to my studio, you seem to be the only chick I know who doesn't dig and get this Florence Nightingale complex when they see my scars. Trust me when I tell you in a way, my old man did me a favor."

"You are so disgusting."

"And again, my house."

"And you can just go to work after that?"

"After what? Sex?" he shrugged. "Sure. Doesn't everyone? Maybe for you it's a national holiday or something, but for us regular time clock-punching folk it's just another day."

"You are such an ass."

"And you are a bitch. Now that that's settled. I take it you're not apologizing anymore then? I'm crushed, sweets, really. I'm not sure I'll be able to go open up the studio today as a result of the fact you can't apologize for being a bitch."

"You totally misunderstood what I was saying."

"Oh? I misunderstood you?"


"Were you or were you not implying that I was going to take pictures of you and turn around and sell them just as Pete was trying to do?"

"I know it sounded like that."

"Save it. I know what you said. You know what you said. Whenever the lawyer calls, don't worry I'll tell him it's me, my schedule or something. I won't let him know the precious Claire Standish can't even act decent to the one guy who seems to give two shits about her image when she obviously doesn't give one shit about it herself."

"But I do!"

"You sure don't act like it. You're still the same bitch from that day, just with better clothes and a lawyer to buy your way out of jams you get in. I'm sure if your dad had had enough time back then he would have had his lawyer dream up some legal excuse for you not having to go to detention that day. Emotional trauma or something. I'm not going to freeze my ass off any longer standing here talking to you. I have to get dressed now, Claire. I told you yesterday I hope you have a great life and I mean it. I hope you get everything you want and need. I don't know what else you want me to say. Draw you a picture? Send it in a letter? Get a lawyer involved? Is that the only thing you understand? A cease and desist? What? I don't want to see you again. Can I be any clearer?"

"But, I…"

He shook his head. "I'm shutting my door now. I'm going to get dressed and get in my Jeep and go to work. I'd really, really appreciate it if you were gone by then. At least you didn't park in my driveway, so I'm not blocked in."

"Because their car was on it!"

He chuckled softly at that. The look on her face, registering that not only had they been here at the same time but they'd left together. Obviously that meant they'd gotten here together last night, too. He'd let her process that one on her own.

"I guess it was. Not often you have to park on the street, I bet."

"John," she said, sliding her sunglasses off.

"Good bye, Claire. I've already told Ronda to tell you I'm busy if you come in again. I'm done."

He saw the tears in her eyes now and for the briefest of moments as he shut the door in her face he felt bad. He almost opened it again even. Except absolutely nothing good would come out of doing that. He'd be tempted to do something incredibly stupid. Like kiss her to the point she wasn't thinking about crying anymore. Like saying fuck going to work and take her to his bed, never mind she'd probably be all kinds of insulted he'd take her there after what he'd done in it last night.

That was the last thing he needed to be thinking about with regard to her ever again as far as he was concerned. Somehow she'd sucked him back in. His own fault. He could have called someone else to bail him out of jail and gone on his merry way. The pictures would have gotten out and she and her dad's company would have a public relations nightmare on their hands, but he shouldn't care.

He settled his back against the door for a moment. It was cold this morning so the door was chilly against his bare back after standing with it open while talking to her. It felt good, though, grounding him a bit, keeping him in reality. Reality was good because a world where he could be anything Claire needed him to be was pure fantasy.

Fact was, he did care. He just didn't like her not trusting him. As if he'd done anything to indicate he wasn't deserving of her trust. Okay, maybe her coming here today and seeing Lily and Tina was in some remote way a violation of her trust. They resembled her, surely she'd see that unless she was blind. She was right, he had kissed her. More than once. The time or two she'd kissed him first he hadn't told her to stop. That first night here at his house after she'd bailed him out, he hadn't wanted her to stop. He'd even asked her to stay the night.

He'd never claimed not to be involved with anyone else, though. She'd never asked either.

Likely that was why she took her sunglasses off, knowing the tears were there trying to sucker him back in, feel sorry for her, and give her what she wanted. Well, he wasn't her daddy and that shit didn't work on him. She could find someone else to cry tears in front of. He doubted she lacked for candidates.

He stepped away from the door once he heard the screen door shut, indicating (hopefully) she'd at least left his porch. Suddenly, he wasn't feeling so great about going to work on no sleep. It was going to be a long assed day.

He got dressed, stripping his bed and throwing his sheets in the washer before putting his coat on. He didn't always wash the sheets right away after a night with them. He certainly didn't mind, but somehow it seemed a little different today knowing someone knew what he'd done. Or at least guessed what he'd done. He doubted Claire's imagination was quite as vivid as his was, but he was pretty sure she could put the respective parts on the three of them together with where they needed to go for things to work.

He got to work not super late. Fortunately, he didn't have an actual shoot scheduled until eleven o'clock. It was one of his endless Easter sittings at this time of the year. He didn't mind graduation sittings and dealing with the kids. God he hated the Easter pictures with the stupid fucking backdrops of bunnies and cute little chicks. And the kids who didn't want to be wearing their Sunday best on a day that wasn't Sunday so they wouldn't stop fidgeting or crying in the case of some of the younger ones. Fortunately, this was one of the last weeks of them because Easter was a month away. He couldn't guarantee pictures being ready much closer in time frame than that.

The shoot today was a family of three, all under the age of four. Hopefully no crying would ensue, because he wasn't sure he could handle it today. The parents were getting their pictures taken with the kids, so hopefully they'd keep their kids in check.

"You look like shit," Ronda said when he opened the door.

"And a good morning to you, too," he said, but he smiled as best as he could with the stupid cut on his lip. Damn it all if he hadn't forgotten to put Vaseline on it this morning and unless he had a spare jar here he was pretty sure he'd forgotten the Carmex at home.

He liked Ronda. She was way overqualified for the job, and he almost didn't hire her because of it. She was married, though and didn't have to work. She just wanted something to get herself out of the house eight hours a day while her husband worked. He did something for Motorola. John had no clue what but the impression he got was that Bill was pretty high up in the chain of command and Ronda was here merely for something to do not out of any necessity for a paycheck. The fact that she very rarely put in eight hour days fit right in with her schedule. She usually got there about half past nine in the morning to turn everything on and get his calendar of appointments printed off for the day. She always had all of the paperwork right there ready for the people when they came in. She was efficient, always on time, very rarely ever called in sick, and the customers loved her. She loved them, too. She was one of those genuine, bubbly people-person people.

One day she'd have kids he imagined and then he'd have to deal with that. He had spare rooms that were really supposed to be offices. He could turn one into some sort of baby's room if he needed to. He'd do that, too, if it meant she stayed put because he honestly wasn't sure what he'd do without her anymore. Right now there was nothing in there but files and stuff. He could certainly move those to his basement if he had to or streamline things a bit so they weren't so scattered. Until that happened things like that just weren't a priority to him and he wasn't going to make Ronda do it. In part, he'd want it done a certain way, his way, so if she did leave he'd know where to find shit.

"Long night?"

"It was," he said.

"Judging by the smile, not a bad one, though?"

"Nope, no complaints. The morning could have gone better, though."

"I'm sorry to hear that. Didn't she leave fast enough for you?"

That was another thing about her he liked, she didn't pass judgment on his – very – single lifestyle. She didn't judge, she didn't become a bitch and try to get him to change his mind about talking to someone he had told her to take messages from once he'd gotten to that point in the relationship that he needed to break it off. She was polite to them, too, but she never undermined him either. He listened more than once to see what she'd say. It wasn't as if she got an influx of spurned lovers calling here for him. He didn't give out his work number, but occasionally he stayed with one for long enough that where he worked eventually came out. The number wasn't difficult to find once that information was revealed.

He shrugged. "What can you do? Beggars can't be choosers, right?"

"I guess not."

"Hey, did Bill ever find takers for those Bulls game tickets?"

"No, believe it or not. Usually he can't get rid of them fast enough."

"If he truly can't find someone, I'd take them off his hands."

"I'll let him know. I think it's because it's a Monday night. Wives want their husband home on Monday nights."


"Heck if I know," Ronda said.

"You don't want your husband home on Monday nights?"

"I want him home every night, John, but we're married we're not joined at the hip."

"I think he doesn't deserve you."

"You know someone who does?"

"Well, clearly, I do, and I at least pay you to make me look good."

She laughed at that.

"I made coffee, by the way."

"That'd mean something if I drank the stuff, Ronda, but thanks for the offer."

He stopped in the little kitchen area he had there to grab a Coke from the fridge. He had to admit whatever kind of coffee she made did smell good, but not good enough for him to try to taste it. The stuff just tasted foul to him. Someone told him to put cream and sugar in it, but to him what was the point of drinking something you had to load up with additives to make it taste good?

"Hey, Ronda," he said, opening the can and taking a sip.


"You can scratch what I told you about Claire Standish. I'll see her if she comes around."

"Do you think she will?"

"Uh no, I doubt it, but just for the record."

"She's not the one who couldn't leave fast enough this morning, is she?" she said, her tone sounding more like she was warning him that he better fix it if she was than judging him.

"No, she wasn't." Well, she was in a way, but not the way Ronda meant.

"Okay. She sure does class the place up. I couldn't believe it was her when she came in that one day."

"You really knew who she was?"

"Well, not right away, no. Then I saw that picture of her the Tribune published over the weekend. It clicked. I even told Bill she'd been in. I went over in my head what I'd been wearing and what I'd said to her the day she was in here."

He rolled his eyes at that. "The one of her holding back her friend's hair?"

"Yes! I realized then who she was."

"You haven't asked me about her."

"What's there to ask? You know her. If you wanted to share more you'd tell me."

"I went to high school with her."

"Oh," she said.

"What?" he asked at the look she was giving him.


"No, what? I know you well enough to know when there's something on your mind."

She shrugged. "Nothing. I just saw the way you looked at her that day she was here. If I'd known who she was I probably would've paid closer attention."

"How'd I look at her?"

"It was a dangerous look for someone like you, John."


"Because the look told me you like her."

"How is that dangerous?"

She shook her head. "If you need me to explain it to you, John."

"I'm not in love with her."

"Maybe not, but you look at her as though you'd like to entertain the emotion with her."

"Yeah, well, maybe once upon a time and given the right set of circumstances I could've. Anyway, it doesn't matter. She kind of saw me in a fairly compromising position this morning so I don't think she'll be coming around anymore."

"Were you two-timing her? I'm not sure the Standishes are someone I'd want to get on the bad side of, hon."

"No! I would have to be one-timing in order to two-time someone. It's a long story."

"I think I might like to see that."


"You one-timing, as you put it."

"Not going to happen," he said with a shake of his head. "Find someone else to get your hopes up about."

"Okay. I will disregard your orders then."

"Thank you," he said, smirking at that. He knew damned well if Ronda really wanted to let Claire in to see him she'd do it his 'orders' be damned. Chances were she was dying to know why he'd not want someone like Claire here.

He took another, longer sip of his Coke and stopped in his office to check out the details of his day. She always had it laid out right there front and center on his desk every morning. It was awesome, to say the least.

"Hey, Ronda, the next time it's time for your review, remind me of this moment."

"What moment's that?"

"That moment when I realize you're the best."

"Oh, I won't wait until it's review time to remind you of that."

"Fair enough."

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