***Chapter Sixteen***
Word Count: 4,802

It hadn't taken him going to where they'd gotten married to remember. Sex with her without a condom while sober was all it had taken. He maybe shouldn't have done that either that last time because he swore to God he never wanted to have to use one again. He would, of course. He was still pretty astounded she let him at all. She only had his word that he'd never not used one before. He wasn't sure he'd be so quick to trust someone claiming that.

He twirled his ring around on his finger. He'd evidently taken it off before going to sleep last night or he was pretty sure he would have noticed it first thing when he woke up that morning. She was next to him on the plane, head resting against his shoulder. One of her friends had to switch her seat with his so they could sit next to each other since they'd booked their tickets separately. She wasn't sleeping though he knew. He wasn't drinking this time around. He was pretty sure he wouldn't drink again for a while after this past week.

"Why'd you say yes?" he asked.

"We've already covered this," she whispered.

"No, I know, but what possessed you to want to get married that way? Really? Don't tell me it's just a piece of paper. I don't buy that."

"I love you. You asked," she shrugged.

"Were you afraid I wouldn't ask again?"

She laughed softly at that, tilting her head up to kiss his jaw.

"No, that's not why. There is no reason beyond I love you."

"I love you, too, you know." He'd never said so, not that he could remember. He sure thought it a bunch of times, but he'd been too scared to say it. Those were words he didn't want to come back to haunt him one day in the future. Now it was too late for that. He had more than saying I love you to worry about coming back to haunt him.

"I do."

"I'm sorry if I'm not real good at saying or showing it."

"It's all right."

"I'll work on it."

"You have quite a bit of time to do that."

"I guess I do. Ronda's going to freak out."

Claire laughed at that.

"I can imagine. In a good way, I hope?"

"She likes you. I mean, you know, she seems to think you're good for me."

"I think so, too. See? We agree."

"Great. Next thing I know you'll be having lunch with her instead of me."

"Well, we are married now…"

He scoffed. "I see," he said. "No more sex for John then. Is that it?"

"That would be absolutely no fun."

"I agree. You know I thought I'd dreamt it."


"I remembered. It was there in my mind, hazy and everything all along. What happened. I just thought it was a dream."

"Why did you think it was a dream?"

"Because I never believed you'd say yes. At least not now."

"Oh. Well, I guess you caught me on a good day."

"I guess so. We still haven't decided what we're going to tell your parents."

She shrugged. "Do we have to tell them right away?"

"Uh, you're moving into my house."

"Well, I'm not going to move everything in right away."

"Why not?" he asked with a frown.

"Well, I don't know. I start work on Monday."

"Yeah, that's why doing it now would be a good thing."

"I was kind of hoping to wait until after I started working. Dad would be less apt to be mad or think I was doing something to get out of working."


"Come on. I can still stay at your house. The only difference is my stuff won't be there. I'd have to pack and things anyway."

He sighed softly.

"It just feels so dishonest."

"I'm hoping to talk them out of putting an announcement in the paper."

"Why?" he asked.

She giggled softly.

"What? Why do I think I'm not going to like this answer?"

She shrugged. "I'm curious how long it will take for anyone to figure it out."

"Figure it out how?"

She held her left hand out in front of her. "It's very obvious what kind of ring this is."

"Yeah," he said.

Even he in his very limited experience knew what kind of ring it was. That meant everyone else who saw it would know, too. He'd seen some wedding bands that weren't blatantly obvious that's what they were. He hadn't chosen one of those for her. There was absolutely no doubt hers was a wedding ring. He kind of liked it he had to admit. It was big and shiny without seeming as though he took a second mortgage out on his house to pay for it.

"Come on, it'll be fun. Like a game."

He sighed softly. "We're telling your parents this weekend. And you're not going out anywhere except my house and your house until we have."

"That's no hardship."

"I have to go to work. You have to stay put. I will not have your parents find out by reading about your ring in the gossip column."

"I suppose you're right."

He was quiet for a while, focusing on his ring again. It was so strange that such a little piece of metal could change so much. It was kind of scary in a way. He was committed to her. He'd never been committed to anyone before in his life. He'd never had to be. It was a kind of frightening thought. He was for the first time in his life responsible for someone else. Granted, she was an adult who could take care of herself, for the most part. She was getting better about it. Things he did, though, could affect someone else. If he lost his business or got sued by someone or something that would be embarrassing for her as well. Granted, she had a career about as secure as one could get. Her dad's business wasn't going to fold anytime soon so they wouldn't lose his house or anything. It was still weird to think about, though.

"I think we should tell them tonight. Get it done with. Then you can spend tomorrow and Saturday while I'm at work packing your stuff up. How much stuff are we talking anyway?"

"Not much. I mean, my bedroom furniture is mine, but I don't need it obviously. I mean we could move it into your spare bedroom eventually if you wanted to. It's not like I have to take it with me, Mom and Dad could use it in that room. Otherwise, it's clothes. I have some things in my hope chest. You know, dishes and stuff."

"You had one of those things?"

"Sure. My parents were pretty old-fashioned. You know. Dishes. Cloth napkins. Stuff for the kitchen like a mixer and cookbooks. I think I have a pillowcase that my grandma made for me with my initials embroidered on it. There are some mixing bowls that Grandma gave me, too. The Bible and cross I got when I went through confirmation. Stuff like that."

"Better dishes than mine I imagine?"

"There's nothing wrong with your dishes. The dishes I have were actually the china set my parents got for their wedding. And I have a plain white set, too, you know functional that will go with anything."

"Why don't they use the china?"

"Because Mom didn't like the pattern," she said softly.

"Why not?"

"I don't know. She never explained it to me. I've loved the pattern since I can remember. One day, I don't remember how old I was. Eleven or twelve maybe. She told me it was mine."

"Have you ever eaten off them?"

"No," she snorted softly. "I tried! She'd always change it out for another set."


"Yeah. I don't know the story behind it."

"You know I won't get to work on making room for you until Sunday."

"I know. It's fine. It's not like I can't just bring some clothes there for now."

"I hate that. It seems so temporary."

"Well, it's not."

He ran a fingertip over her ring. "Do you like it?"

"Yes," she said.

"I'm not sure it's what I pictured you wearing when I thought of you getting married, but it suits you."

"That's why I like it actually. It's gorgeous without being pretentious."

"I'm not sure I could afford pretentious in Vegas."

She laughed softly. "You did very well."

"You helped."

"You gave me choices. I chose from them."

"Well, I'm glad there was one you liked."

"You seemed to like this one best, too. That helped me choose it. Are you going to wear yours?"

"What?" he asked. "I am, aren't I?"

She shrugged. "No, I meant when we get back."

"Oh, yeah, I guess. I hadn't thought it was an option. If I'm overhauling my engine or something I might take it off. I mean, aren't I supposed to?"

"Some guys don't."

"I don't know. I guess I'll see how I feel after wearing it for a while. I've never worn anything before."

"I know."

"It'd bother you if I didn't?"

"No," she said.

"Yeah it would," he said. "I recognize that tone."

"Well, I mean, I guess I'd want people to know you're married."

"People, huh?"

"Yeah, you know, people."

"I could just tell people I'm married."

"You could," she said.

"The shock factor?"

"Kind of."

He chuckled softly. "I admit, there are a few people I'd almost pay money to see the look on their face seeing me wearing it."

"Me, too, actually."

"Don't worry, Princess, I'm not going to seek any of the people out."

"That is good to know."

"Though, you know, I've heard tell that a wedding ring can actually be a good tool to attract some types of people."

"You have huh?"

"Uh huh."

"From men you know?"

"Maybe," he said.

"I don't want to know about it if it's someone you know and I might meet them. I don't plan on giving you a reason to use it for that purpose."

"That's a pretty tall order."


"Keeping me happy could prove difficult."

She laughed softly at that. "That goes for both of us."

"So true."


"I'm sorry, you did what?" her dad asked.

"Got married," Claire said. Not that she had to repeat herself. Her dad heard what she'd said the first time.

"In Vegas?"

"Yes," she said.

"To someone I've never met."

"Well, Mom's met him." Okay, meeting him was a slight exaggeration, but she'd seen him. "And you know who he is."

"I am aware of who he is, yes."

"Dad," she said.

"How do you know he didn't plan this months ago?"

"Plan what? Pete making those pictures? Come on, Dad."

"It's awful convenient, don't you think? Months later he ends up married to you."

"Dad, we didn't just meet. I've known him for years."

"Yes, I know who he is. His parents, too."


"What do you want me to say? That I'm happy? I'm not going to lie to you. I think you've made a mistake."

"But it's my mistake to make!"

"I guess I shouldn't expect any better from you than eloping on a whim."

"Dad, come on, that's not fair."

"And you showing up here days before you start working dropping this bombshell in my lap is?"

"Well, no, but. It happened. We're not undoing it."

"He's signing a prenuptial agreement."

"We're already married."

"I don't care! I'll have Mr. McMillan draw one up."

"As long as his stuff is included in it, too."

"His stuff?"

"Yes, his business. His house. You know, his stuff. I mean, Dad, really what does he have to gain by marrying me?"

"More money."

"He's doing fine on his own!"

"Not as well as he will be now."

"I'll sign it," John said. He'd been strangely quiet through this whole conversation, as she supposed he should be since it was her dad.

"No, John, you shouldn't have to."

"I shouldn't have to do a lot of things, but I do them when they're necessary. If it'll make your dad feel better I'll sign it. Whatever I need to sign."

"Dad, come on," she said. "He has more to lose than I do."

"Claire," he said.

"He does. I own nothing. He owns a business and a house, which he could lose half of if I was going to be a scheming bitch about things. He has nothing to gain. My paycheck? I still won't own anything. Maybe one day a nicer house? Sure, but that's not what he'd want for himself anyway. That'd be because I want it. So he'd probably let me have it anyway."

She'd hit home with that comment, she could tell. She could see him backing down a little bit.

"I won't sign it, Dad. I won't. That makes it seem like we're going into this with the expectation it's going to fail. I'm not doing that."

"You are going to be at work on Monday?"

"Yes," she said. "Nothing's changed."

"And you're not going to be going out on maternity leave in the next six or seven months are you?"


"You're sure."

"I'm positive."

"Because if you got married because of that…"

"We didn't!"

"You've been staying at his house an awful lot."

"How did you…"

"I make it my business to know things, Claire. You may not realize how much I know, but I'm aware of things like where my limo service drops you off."

"Oh," she said, not having thought of that. Of course her dad paid for the service so he'd probably have pretty detailed billing information from them. "Then you must realize, too, that I've been serious about him. I haven't been going out as much or staying out as late when I do."

"Yes, I'm aware you've been curbing some of your more outrageous behaviors. I can't say I'm not a bit relieved that you'll be sleeping there legally now."

"I wasn't doing anything illegal before," she said.

"You know what I mean," he said.

"I do," she admitted. Contrary to what the entire city of Chicago thought she didn't spend the night at men's places. John was the only guy she'd ever spent the night with. She supposed her dad was worried they'd get caught and it would reflect poorly on him somehow.

"Your mother isn't going to be pleased at all."

"I know," she said. Her mother wasn't home. Claire debated on leaving and coming back, but John had insisted telling one of them was better than neither of them. She suspected John felt better about dealing with her dad than her mom altogether.

"I can't say I understand it."

"I know that, too."

"You could've had a wedding."

"I know," she said.

They would have had a huge wedding and would have gotten John's house furnished with new everything from floor to ceiling probably twice over. It would've been the stuff of fairy tales. And neither she nor John would've had a minute of privacy from the time their engagement was announced until after they got married. It was, deep down, the reason she'd said yes when he asked. She thought he was kidding initially, but he'd asked a second time. For some bizarre reason she'd said yes, knowing she would be disappointing her parents' all the while. In the back of her mind, though, was exactly what her dad had just said. Sure, it would have been a fantastic wedding, but it wouldn't have been the wedding she'd imagined growing up. Her own fault, but there was no going back and undoing the past few years of behavior. So, she'd agreed to marry John knowing it was the only way they'd be able to do it quietly.

"It was much more peaceful this way, though," she said.

"I imagine it was," he said. "I'll smooth things over with your mother, but making some gesture like inviting us over for dinner one night in the not too distant future might go a long way toward easing her concerns."

"We will."

"She says you've called her for help with cooking."

"Yes," Claire said cautiously.

"I guess I should've known something was going on when you started showing an interest in doing anything for anyone but yourself."


He shrugged and she supposed she couldn't blame him for thinking that. Saying it, though. Is that what he really thought about her?

"Well, I guess I can quit worrying about you embarrassing me anymore."

"Wow, really? I was an embarrassment?"

"That's not how I meant it, Claire."

"I know what I heard."

"I meant, at least one of my kids is married like they're supposed to be."

"Oh," she said. Christopher. She supposed that would be on her dad's mind.

"I noticed you had the car wait for you."

"Yes. We have to get to John's house somehow."

"Your car?"

"Is there. You didn't notice that it's been gone all week?"

"No, I guess I didn't pay attention."

She rolled her eyes with a shake of her head. He hadn't even paid attention to the fact her car was gone for days? Had he even noticed she hadn't been home since last week?

"You will make sure she's at work Monday morning, right?" he asked John.

"Me?" John asked.

"Yes, you. Her husband."

"Uh, well, I'm not sure I can make sure she does anything, but I have no plans on doing anything to stop her from going to work. I kind of want to see it for myself truthfully."

"I'll be at work Monday morning, Dad. I have to go upstairs and get some things, though."

"Is that why you came here? To get things? Not to actually tell us?"

"No. Well, I wanted to wait, John didn't think that was right."

"John was right."

"I wasn't going to wait months or anything!"

"John was still right. You get married you tell your parents. At least you do," he said, glancing at John. Yeah, they wouldn't be telling John's parents anytime soon and evidently her dad knew that.

"I know. I just figured you could actually meet him first maybe."

"You should have thought about that before you decided to elope."

"Can we go up to my room now?" she asked.


"To get my things? I need clothes for next week unless you want me to show up at work like this."

"Right, sure," he said, walking up to the bar and pouring himself a drink.

"Dad, I'm sorry."

"No, you're not, Claire. You don't do anything you're really sorry for. I just hope you haven't made a mistake and won't be doing anything to embarrass me."

"Like what?"

"Like get a divorce just as suddenly."


"We can hope," he said.

"You'll tell Mom?"

"Yes," he said. "You might want to take your phone off the hook if you don't want to get an earful tonight because she will call repeatedly until you answer I have no doubt. I'm reacting calmly. She will not."

"I know," Claire said.

She could just imagine what her mom would think and say. She was dreading that. Her dad was the calmer of the two of them. She was relieved in a way her mom wasn't home, telling just him was so much easier.

She took John upstairs with her so she could grab two armfuls of stuff. He knew the way to her room, having spent the night with her here once before. She was still sure to this day her mom knew she'd had someone spend the night. She'd never said anything, though. It was just one of those feelings Claire had for a week or so after that night, like her mom was waiting for her to tell her something. John was the first guy she even entertained the idea of bringing home with her.

He was still in his den when they came down from her room. She didn't need to take a whole lot of things with her, but not knowing how her mom was going to react she wanted at least to have clothes to get her through all of next week. That meant shoes, too. She had her makeup and everything packed and with her already because of the trip. So, it was really just clothes and shoes suitable for work.

"I'll be by tomorrow and Saturday I guess to put things I want to take with me in boxes."

"We'll be here."

"John has to work," she said. "So, it'll just be me. Maybe you can prepare Mom for that so she doesn't think he's avoiding her."

"I can tell her. I can't help what she'll think."

"I know."

Her mom would think all sorts of crazy stuff no doubt. Claire didn't get the impression her mom hadn't liked John the one or two times she'd seen him. John was just different than they were. Than she was. His scars were the obvious sign that was true, but that wasn't the only way he was different. Claire never doubted her father worked hard. She knew he did, but he'd still known growing up he'd have a job. A place in the business just like his brothers did who weren't cut out for more than what they were doing. They still had jobs, though. John hadn't had that. John had to work long hard hours for everything he had. She couldn't deny she was proud of him and a huge part of the reason she loved him.

Claire wasn't sure what else to say. She didn't like that look in her dad's eyes. She'd disappointed him. Disappointed was probably the wrong word but she didn't know what else it could be.

"You know," she said in the back of the car once they were on their way to his house.


"I never thought about the fact my dad may have wanted me to have a wedding."

John snorted at that. That meant he had thought of that?

"You find that hard to believe?"

"That he'd want you to have a wedding? No, I know he would. Come on. He's your dad. He's proud of you even if you've put a bit of tarnish on the Standish name the past couple of years. I suspect he knows your reasons for doing it even if you've never talked about it. Loyalty I imagine is important to him and you were loyal to your brother and your family. He may not have liked the extremes you took, but he still knew your reasons were solid. I'm sure he was looking forward to walking you down the aisle and dancing with you."

"I'd ask how you know about these things."

"I know about them only because of the countless weddings I've done."

"I've deprived him of that."

John shrugged.

"You also saved him a lot of money."

"Yes, but, he looked so…"

"Yeah, I noticed that, too."

She sighed softly, glancing out the window.

"You changing your mind, Princess?"

"No, I just never thought about what saying yes to you would mean to them."

"You didn't?"

"No. I just knew I wanted to."

"I'm still wrapping my head around that part, but I get it I guess. You do know I would've asked again, right?"

She glanced at him.

"I didn't want you to ask again, John."

"All right," he said.

"Now please tell me there's a dry cleaners by your house."

"Uh, yeah," he said. "Why?"

"Because I'll at least need to get all of these things pressed."

"You hadn't thought about that before tonight?"


"Why not?"

She sighed softly. "My mom always did it."

He snorted at that.

"Welcome to the real world, Princess."


"We'll get you fixed up, don't worry. I promise. Set out what you need for Monday and Tuesday and I'll take it with me tomorrow morning on my way to work."

"I need more than two days' worth of clothes."

"Let me finish. Set aside what you must have for Monday and Tuesday. Then give me the rest, too. I'll get what you need Monday and Tuesday done quickly. The rest I'll put in for Tuesday."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome."

"You have a dry cleaner?"

"I do," he said. "I have suits. You have seen me come home from work, right? I mean, you've actually paid attention to the fact I don't go to weddings and stuff in jeans and a T-shirt."

"I have, I just wasn't thinking. I'm sorry."

"It's all right. I can't say where my mind would be if I had to tell my parents what you had to tell yours tonight."

"Your cleaners is going to freak out that you're bringing in women's clothing, aren't they?"

"They'll be curious, I'm sure."

"I can do it."


"You don't have to bring my cleaning in."

"I know I don't have to. I'm offering to do it. It's fine. I'm perfectly capable of helping you out. You'd still give them my name and phone number so what difference does it make if it's me or you who brings them in."

"You shouldn't have to."

"I'm offering, you didn't even ask me so obviously you weren't expecting it." He slid his arm around her, drawing her to him. She went without much effort on his part. "It'll be fine, Claire. Your mom will be fine eventually."

"I hope so."

"I think nine months from now they'll feel a lot better about our situation."

"We don't know that!"

"We don't, you're right."

"You're hoping not?"

"You're right there, too."

"Because you don't want them?"

"No. I mean, no. I just don't want them right now. You know, a couple years from now maybe when I've actually had some time to process I could have one."

"You need time to process that?"


"Is it scary?"


"Me, too," she admitted.

"That's why I'm hoping not."

"I don't think I'll ever not be scared."

"Me neither I suppose. I suspect that's probably normal."

"Yet people do it."

"They do. I'm not going to start down the road of trying for a while yet," he said. "Do me a favor?"

"I can try."

"The next time I'm drunk and come up with that bright idea tell me I'm crazy."

"Which idea? Marrying me?"

"Uh no. I'm not going to come up with that idea again. The other part, later in our room."

"What if we run out?"

He chuckled a bit at that. "Then pour cold water on me or something."

"Hmm," she said.


"I don't know you sure did like it."

"Well, of course I did. I like a lot of things, doesn't mean I'm going to do them." He kissed the top of her head.

"You should talk to your dad."


"Well, just thinking about the dance thing. Maybe there's a way for him to still get that."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, couldn't we still have a party? Or would that imply we expect gifts? I mean, people have quiet weddings and then have big receptions. I've photographed weddings that were very intimate. You know, just a handful of people at the ceremony but the reception was huge."

"I don't know."

"It might make him realize you at least thought of him and how he feels about all of this."

"It might."

"And that way it wouldn't seem so much like we were hiding anything. We just wanted to be discreet."

She laughed softly at that.

"I'm not sure getting married in Vegas is discreet."

"Well, no, but it was certainly more private than anything we would've had here."

"True. I'll talk to him. You'd do it?"


"Get dressed up?"

"Sure. If it'd help make them happy. I know they're never going to love me, but I'd rather they not hate me."

"And if he wanted us to do an actual wedding?"

"No. We're already married."

"No one else knows that."

John sighed.

"I guess, but I wouldn't like it. That would make it seem like you were just living with me between now and then. That would also mean we'd have to walk around without these on," he said, wiggling his finger. "You seem to not want me to take it off. And if I have to take mine off you have to, too."

"I like mine!"

"I like mine, too. I never said I didn't. I'm just not used to it."

"You think I've worn a wedding ring before?"

"Well, no, but you've worn rings."

"Never on that finger."

"I've noticed that. Why not?"

"Because I wasn't taken."

"I sure fixed that."

"You did."

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