"Why do you get to go to work and I can't do anything?" she asked as he was getting dressed for his day.
He had to admit it was different today getting ready for work with her here. The other days it wasn't something he thought of being an everyday thing. Now, well, there wasn't much more permanent he could get than married to her. It was just different. He'd leave for work and she had nowhere else to go. She didn't have to go home because this was her home now. Her parents weren't going to wonder where she'd spent the night last night because they knew. Well, presumably they knew.
He still wasn't sure she'd thought on that, this being her home now. It wasn't crazy small, but compared to what she'd grown up with it was a shack. It was his shack, though, and he'd done what he could to use the space he had wisely. Her stuff would make it a little more difficult he had no doubt, but it was doable. The family who lived here before him raised three kids here, surely he and his wife could live here.
(That perhaps explained why they hadn't used the garage for their vehicles, they had no extra space to put stuff but the garage.)
"Because I'm not the one anyone's going to care about having a ring on my finger all of a sudden. Until we know your mom knows and that whoever your parents feel the need to tell are told you're just going to have to lay low for a while."
"Really? Staying home with me is a hardship?"
"You're going to be at a wedding Saturday!"
"Yeah, and you are supposed to be busy during that time packing up your things and bringing them here. I don't understand the difficulty. We're talking a weekend or two. You really want your mom even more pissed off than you know she's going to be by her friends or your grandparents reading about it in the Tribune before they can get told?"
"No," she said.
"Besides, I like you being here doing things to make it our house instead of my house."
"I do, too, but I'm kind of afraid of doing things when you're not here."
"Afraid of what?"
"What if I find…things."
He ran a finger along her arm. It bothered him that these things bothered her, but there was nothing he could do about it. It wasn't as though he could change the past couple of years. He probably wouldn't anyway even if he knew he'd be here today having this conversation.
"You're not going to find things. No one but you has left things at my house."
"That you know about!"
"I've only been living here for a year. How many things do you think people were leaving in that time?"
"Well, I know of at least two other people who have spent the night here."
He sighed heavily. She was right, but he was pretty positive they hadn't left anything behind. They didn't bring anything with them but themselves. He didn't invite people to stay the night and generally the people he brought back he'd met out somewhere so there was no forethought involved to them being here for the night. It just happened.
"If you happen to find something, which you're not going to. Do you think I'd give you the freedom to go through stuff if I was really worried? If you do, though, just throw it away."
"Just throw it away?"
"Yes! There's nothing here, Claire. I do think I'm aware of what's in my own house. I live here, remember?"
"Okay," she said.
He leaned down and kissed her. "Are you coming for lunch then?"
"I can, sure. If I don't, just assume I'm immersed in packing things. Or arguing with my parents," she said.
"You could put off going there until tonight and I could go with you. If you think that would be better."
"What would I do with my day then?"
"Work on things here. You say you have dishes and sheets and stuff. Start going through what of mine isn't needed."
"That's not fair."
"I've bought things as I needed them over the years. I'm not a decorator and I didn't worry about things matching. I haven't always bought the best of something because I couldn't afford it at the time and just haven't bothered upgrading since what I have works. There's nothing I'm overly attached to except my stereo."
"Yes. I actually invested in a good one. If you have a better one, we could put mine in the basement, out in the garage, or something. Otherwise, pack all the shit up if you have something that's better or you'd rather use."
"I have no boxes."
"Call around to liquor stores and stuff, see if they have boxes. If you have to spend any money, let me know and I'll pay you back."
"You don't have to pay me back for boxes."
"It's my stuff."
"I'll just go to my house."
He chuckled softly. "Claire, you're not going to find anything!"
"I just don't want to go through your stuff. I wouldn't want you going through my things deciding what gets boxes up and what doesn't."
"Yeah, because you care about your stuff. I don't!"
"I have to deal with my mom sometime."
"You don't have to do it alone."
"No, but it's probably better for this if I do."
"All right. Well, whatever you want to do. It's the last day we'd get to have lunch."
"I know. Unless you come downtown when you have a couple hours."
"I'm sure we'll manage something. Ronda tells me phone calls are a thing."
"Ronda tells you that?"
"Yes, she may have mentioned that people pick up the phone and call one another when they're thinking of each other."
"I do have a job to do!"
He chuckled softly.
"I was just passing on the information Ronda blessed me with."
"How often does she call her husband?"
"I don't know. I don't pay attention."
"No. She does her job. She does it well. She makes me look good and efficient in the process. I could care less what she does with her time."
"I think you're too nice."
"I think I'm a one-man business who knows finding someone else like her would be difficult to do. You're not the only one who's not too fond of the types of pictures I take sometimes. Ronda doesn't care. Or if she does she's never said a word. I don't make her sit there and watch, but I do think the women feel better knowing there's a woman in the next room. You know? Ronda treats those women no different than she treats the brides who come in. As it should be, because those women pay a lot more than the brides."
"Have you ever taken those types of pictures of men?"
"If someone came to me wanting me to, sure. Why not?"
"I'd draw the line at anything illegal, but otherwise I don't care."
"Good to know," she said with a smirk.
He'd never thought about it actually, because he'd never been approached to do it. Would he have a problem with it? He didn't see why he would. She could be pretty assured if he did he wouldn't come home to her for the purposes of sex afterward. Models were models, men sold things, too. And he knew men had to do something to get into Playgirl that involved taking off their clothes somewhere along the line.
"All right. I'll see you at lunch, or possibly not if you get immersed in something."
He leaned down and kissed her.
"What?" she asked.
"You have a look in your eye."
"A bad look?"
"I'm not sure," she said.
"Well, I can tell you what I was thinking."
"I was thinking that you look very good in my bed."
"Good enough to keep me here?"
"Yes," he said.
"I'd call in sick if I hadn't had the last four days off or if there was someone else to do my job for me."
"I know. I'll be here when you get home, though."
"And I like the sound of that immensely if we don't get lunch."
"No," he said. "I like the sound of both, but I won't get greedy if you go to your parents' house."
"Good. Go take good pictures."
"I will do my best."
He was there before Ronda got there, which wasn't unusual especially being gone all week. So he had a little more than usual to set up. He'd never had days off before. He'd taken a day off here and there over the years, but rarely consecutively and not going out of his way to avoid scheduling appointments. If, say, on a Thursday, Ronda hadn't booked him anything for the following Monday to that point he'd tell her not to. It was how he and Claire had gotten a few days at her parents lake house last month.
"You did come back," she said from behind him.
He chuckled a bit. "You had your doubts?"
"Oh, I don't know, a few days away from here I may not have blamed you."
"Nah. It's too expensive out there and bad for my health."
"Yeah, I'm not sure my gut can take that much liquor."
"So you survived days with her?"
"Uh yeah, you could say that."
"No, nothing bad, though you'll probably be amused."
"Yeah, we kind of got married."
"Shut up," she said.
"No really," he said. "You're probably the only person I know and care enough about to tell."
"John," she said.
"You can call her and ask her if my wearing this," he said, gesturing to his wedding ring, "isn't proof enough."
She laughed then.
"What?" he asked.
"Nothing. You're actually going to wear that?"
"Yeah, well, I'm married. I mean, it's legal and everything. Besides, I kind of promised her I'd at least give it a try before not wearing it."
"So, no wedding, no announcement."
"No. We told her dad last night. I imagine her parents will have some people to tell, but otherwise," he shrugged.
"I guess that's one way of getting around the public relations shit storm that would be her wedding."
"I wasn't thinking of that."
"What were you thinking?"
"I was drunk. I won a good chunk of change at the slots after hours of sitting there. I asked her to marry me. She said yes. We went and got married."
"Just like that?"
"Yes. It was incredibly easy to do. You said yourself I looked at her different."
"I wasn't thinking you'd run off and marry her right away."
"It's not like I just met her."
"No, I suppose. And here I was worried you were going to come back here and tell me not to take her calls again."
"I don't think that would work this time anyway, considering I left her at my house this morning."
"I can't wait to tell Bill."
"I didn't realize he was concerned about my love life."
"No, but we talk."
"I guess you would."
"When does the wife start work again?"
"Is she excited?"
"I think so. I think two months ago she wasn't ready, but she's calmed down a bit. You know?"
"I do. You're responsible for part of it."
"No, I'm not. That you think so is ironic considering what I was like in high school. I just gave her something else to do besides go out and party all of the time."
"So are you having a party or anything?"
"She's talking to her parents about it. I don't know what they're going to want to do. Her dad seemed kind of put out last night. He'd probably been looking forward to his father-daughter dance since the day she was born."
"I bet. I'm sure you'll figure something out."
"I hope so. I don't really want them mad at us."
"People elope, John. Parents deal with it eventually and get over it. And, it has its benefits for people like Claire."
"That's what she said! We wouldn't have had a moment's peace from the time it was announced we were engaged. I don't want my life turned upside down and I really don't want my parents to know who I marry."
"You don't think they'll find out?"
"How would they? If they do come around here…"
"I know what to do, John. I know enough to know they have no business being here."
"So, has she told you to stop any aspects of your work?"
"No. I told her a while ago if she wanted to come watch me do one of those shoots I'd ask so she could see that there's nothing to it but my taking pictures same as I would anyone else's picture."
"She's a lot more understanding than some would be."
"I guess that means she loves me."
"Or trusts you, which may be more important."
"Don't give her a reason to stop."
"I have no plans to. As she pointed out to her dad last night I kind of have more to lose right now than she does. Physically I mean."
"That surprises you?"
"In a way. I'd never thought about it until she told him that."
He shrugged. "That'll change once she's been working."
"You still have a house and a business, John. That's nothing to take lightly no matter who her parents are. Even if you buy a better house it'll still be half your doing."
"I know. I'd just never had anyone say it like that. You know? I go to work, I go home, I do my thing. I just never thought about what I was doing."
"Carving a life out for yourself."
"Yeah. I was just trying to survive."
"You've done that."
"Well, I guess I should say congratulations. Has it sunk in yet?"
"No," he admitted. He wasn't sure how soon it would. He'd really never pictured getting married, then he never imagined her being in his life again. "I mean, the ring there is a reminder. I've never worn any jewelry before so I feel it."
"A little. I caught sight of it while showering this morning and it took me a minute to stop staring at it."
"That may take a while, used to being married or not if you're not used to wearing anything."
"Is she coming here today?"
"Maybe. It depends on what she does at her parents' house, you know. I've told her she can't be out getting photographed until her parents have told everyone they need to tell."
"I bet that went over real well."
"Especially since I have that wedding out in Lake County Saturday night."
"Late night for you."
"Does this mean I need to stop scheduling you every Saturday?"
"No, but perhaps we need to start being a little more selective about Sundays. I'll have to see what other studios do. I've heard tell some charge a premium rate for Sunday weddings."
"I've heard that, too."
"I never saw the need to do that, but I guess when you only get one guaranteed day with someone I can sort of see it."
"Can she work Saturdays?"
"I don't know. Just wondering if her dad would let her work Tuesday through Saturday or something so you could both have Monday off."
"Maybe eventually. I doubt right away, no."
"You sure this isn't some sort of real late April Fool's Day joke?"
"I wouldn't do that to you, Ronda."
"And when word does start getting out what do you want me to do?"
"You don't think people will figure out who you are and where you work. Reporters and stuff."
"Tell them what you want. I don't know. I don't want to talk to them. I got married I didn't agree to be fodder for their articles or columns."
"No comment then, good enough."
"You're too good to me."
It was after two o'clock when she showed up. Well, he was guessing it was about that time anyway. Ronda was there by herself when he left. He'd had a senior pictures appointment. It was very strange taking pictures of people who were younger sisters or brothers of people he and Claire had gone to school with. They didn't know who John was, of course, but he recognized the names and a lot of times there was enough of a resemblance that even if the name itself didn't jog his memory the face did.
Today had been one of those people. Claire was probably good friends with this kid's older sister.
"I'm not sure I like this at all," he said when he found them eating together. Claire had brought Chinese takeout, and clearly enough for all three of them.
"Where were you?"
"Out making money," he said. "I didn't realize people could cut school for senior pictures."
"That's what I was doing. I just spent the last like ninety minutes with Kayla Loch's little sister."
"Really? Did she leave?"
"That's too bad I haven't seen Kayla in like two years I bet. She went to," Claire frowned. "She went to Stanford or somewhere out west I think. I don't even think she's been home recently."
"So, you could do that? Skip class to do things like this?"
"If your parents called and excused it, sure."
He shook his head slightly. "Did yours?"
"No. I did mine on a Saturday, I think."
"I seem to have her whole group of friends coming up here."
"Like twenty of them in the next couple of weeks," Ronda said.
"All Krista's friends?"
"It seems so. Ronda says they all booked at around the same time."
"Well, that's good, right?"
"Sure," he said. "So, is there enough food for me, too? Or did you two eat it all?"
"There's plenty. I didn't want to be rude and show up with just food for you."
"I know because Ronda is not at all capable of getting her own lunch."
"Well, I called to find out when you'd be finished and I asked her if she liked Chinese."
"To which I answered of course I do."
He took the seat between them. The table really wasn't big enough for all three of them. They fit, but barely. He'd never had a reason to have a real table in here for more than Ronda to sit around. During the winter she sat in here and ate sometimes. He never could quite figure out why some days she ate at her desk and others she didn't. When it was nice out in the spring and summer she'd eat outside or eat at her desk quickly and go outside for a while.
"Where are you going?" he asked Ronda.
"To my desk."
"You don't have to get up on my account."
"I don't want you to think there's some conspiracy going on between us."
"Oh, I'm fairly sure there is and you'll just continue plotting it another time so you may as well sit and eat with us, too."
"You didn't tell me you didn't remember marrying her," Ronda said.
"I didn't think I was supposed to say something like that to anyone."
She patted his hand, handing him a box of rice. "See, you'll do just fine."
"Great. Did you go to your parents' house?"
"I did. I left not long after you did and was there until about an hour ago."
"Yeah? How'd that go?"
"Mom's not talking to me."
"Nope. She didn't even say hello to me."
"She saw you?"
"Was she sober?"
"I don't think so."
"Dad left a note in my room telling me not to bother her and she'd come around."
"I sure hope so."
"It's going to take me forever to move stuff, though."
"Why don't you take my Jeep?"
"Are you sure?"
"Sure. It'd save you a couple of trips anyway. I have nothing else until Monday that is going to require me leaving here so you may as well."
"Don't you need something bigger than your car for a wedding?"
"I can make do."
"That's not right."
"It'll be fine. I've done it before when the Jeep wasn't working."
"That's still nice of you. You could take my car. It's not as big as the Jeep, but is certainly bigger than your Trans Am."
"Sure. That's fine. You take the Jeep with you when you leave here I'll drive your car home tonight."
"That'll leave your car outside all night, though."
"It wouldn't be the first time. I didn't always have a garage."
"Oh, right. Okay, as long as you're sure."
"I am. I want your stuff as moved in as it can be before you start working Monday because somehow I suspect you're not going to have a whole lot of time to do it until next weekend."
"And there are words I never thought I'd hear come out of your mouth in a thousand years," Ronda said.
"You and me both," John said.
"You never told me you gave her a box of lilies."
"I told you I settled on lilies."
"Not a box of them!"
"What did you think I was going to do? Get her one?"
"Well, no, but that may have been overstating your intentions a little bit."
"Well, obviously it worked so I'm not complaining."
"As long as those aren't the last ones you give her. Wives like flowers, too."
"You caught me. I married her to get out of having to give her another flower again."
"You never know," Ronda said.
"You were going to get me roses?"
"Jesus. Am I going to have to stop talking to you now, Ronda? And, yes, I assumed, incorrectly I guess based on Ronda's comments that night, that was what a guy should get a woman when they fuck up. I didn't realize there was some sort of protocol and actual meaning behind flowers."
"You do weddings for a living. How can you not know?"
"I don't ask the florists what the flowers mean. I tell the people where and how to stand and I take their pictures. I'm not there to ask them the meaning of life or why they chose roses over daffodils or carnations."
"Do you even know what daffodils are?"
"They're yellow," he said, fairly sure he was right in that. He wasn't sure, but he was pretty confident he was.
"Now you could get her roses," Ronda said.
"Thank you for that insightful bit of information. Are you sure she won't get the wrong idea now?"
"I imagine it's safe."
"Good to know. If you two are going to start ganging up on me and sharing information I'm in trouble. You realize she's the closest thing to family I have, right?"
"Not anymore, hon," Ronda said.
"That's different and not what I meant at all."
"I know. I've grown pretty fond of you, too." She stood then. "And now, I am going to go to my desk. You have someone coming in at three don't forget."
"I like her," Claire said.
"I know you do. I wasn't sure what she'd think of me if you'd even told her."
"Of course I told her."
"I didn't know for sure."
"I don't really have anyone else to tell and she would've been mad at me if she noticed I was wearing a wedding ring and didn't tell her first."
"Well, she is your employee."
"She is, but she's been more than that and well we probably wouldn't be sitting here right now if it weren't for her."
"I mean, I don't have brothers or sisters. She's as close as I'm going to get. I've even thought of what I'd do when she and Bill have kids."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I have rooms that are supposed to be offices I imagine that I'm not using. I've thought I could make one of them into a baby's room if she ever has them and wants to keep working."
"You'd do that?"
"If it would mean she doesn't quit? In a heartbeat."
"That's very nice of you."
"She's been loyal to me and probably has fielded some calls over the past few years she'd rather not have dealt with. That deserves to be rewarded I think."
"So, did you talk to your dad at all?"
"No, he was already gone. I figured I'd go back there after lunch and take my time until he gets home."
"Are you okay?"
She shrugged. "I knew Mom would be mad. I just wasn't expecting this reaction."
"She'll get over it. People elope. It doesn't mean you don't love your parents."
He glanced at the clock on the wall.
"I really have to get ready for my next appointment."
"I know," she said. "This watching where I'm going stuff isn't very fun."
"I was going to go see someone, but I realized I can't really even do that."
"You don't have any friends you can trust?"
"Not really. I mean, to trust not to tell someone I got married? I don't think so."
"Princess," he said, leaning in to kiss her. "You really, really need to analyze why you're friends with some of these people."
"I know," she said. "What about you? Charlie and Glen?"
"I'll tell them eventually. I actually thought it'd be kind of fun to meet them, say nothing, and see if either one of them notice I'm wearing a ring."
"You don't think they would?"
"Glen probably would, Charlie I'm not sure."
"They won't think you're crazy?"
"Crazier than they thought I was before? Probably not."
"I was surprised you remembered Kayla."
"I remembered the name more than anything. If her sister's name hadn't started with a K too I may not have remembered."
"Yeah, they have a brother, too. His name is Keith."
"Huh. Promise me if we have kids we won't do that."
"Sure," she said.
"Not even if they're twins."
"Okay," she said, trying unsuccessfully to hide a smile.
"Glad I could offer you some amusement."
"You're just cute sometimes."
"Uh huh. If I say all the time that would go to your head."
"One of them anyway."
"Thank you for lunch. How late do you think you'll be at your parents'?"
"I don't know. Why?"
"Well, since you slaved over lunch I'll cook dinner."
"You just don't want me to cook."
"I'm not sure I'm ready to rely on what you've learned from your mother over the phone yet. If you're home when I get home you could help me."
"Yeah?" she asked.
"Yes. I might want you in less clothing than what you're wearing now."
"Only if I get the same."
"This surprises you?"
"That you'd agree so easily."
"Seems kind of silly not to now. You wouldn't have married me if you didn't want to see me every day."
"I didn't need to be married to you to want to see you every day, John."
"Well, somehow it makes me feel a little more secure about the whole thing."
"She's seen my back. Once. She knows my parents aren't to ever know anything about me. She suspects."
"Sure. I like knowing you've had someone looking out for your well-being."
She helped him put the food away. There was some left, which he'd probably let Ronda take home for her and Bill.
"Were the lilies really a bad idea?"
"No! They were gorgeous, but positively way more expensive than necessary."
"They were just flowers."
"You were worth every penny."
"What kind do you like anyway?"
"Flowers? You know. For reference."
"Oh, well, I don't think there's any kind I don't like."
"That's very vague."
"Because I don't want you to get me flowers because I like them."
"Well, that would sure help."
"But I like them all. That's my point. If you bought them I'd know you saw that arrangement and liked it so I'd like it."
"All right. You're not real easy, you know that."
"Women aren't supposed to be easy. What's at three o'clock?"
"Umm, birth announcement."
"Yeah. I think Ronda said he's like a week old."
"They're kind of a challenge that little, but they're pretty cute."
"Well, good luck then. I hope he doesn't cry your ears off."
He walked with her to the waiting area and out to his Jeep.
"You do know how to drive a manual, right?"
"Yes. My grandpa taught me."
"Good man. We have kids, they're learning. I don't care if they never need to use it, they should know."
"Okay," she said, laughing softly.
"How many loads do you think you'll have in this thing?"
"A few more at least. I don't know. It's weird. I'm going through stuff so much differently than I did when I packed stuff up after high school."
"I'm sure a lot of stuff will stay there in the attic."
"I have an attic."
"I know. Christopher's stuff is there, too. It doesn't seem like my parents are in a huge hurry to have us take it."
"Okay." He leaned in through the window, glancing at the gas gauge making sure it was full. He hadn't looked at it when he took Kayla out earlier. "See you later then."
"Plan on it."
"Thanks for lunch."
He kissed her then.
"Love you," she said.
"You, too," he said.
Man, that was going to be an adjustment, too. She was going to expect him to say that with frequency. Once on the plane back here was hard enough. He'd never said those words to anyone. Maybe his mother at some point in time, but it'd been so long and the words got to be pretty hollow as time went on and she allowed the shit to go on that did.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com