"I'm sorry, you did what?" Christopher said with a laugh. Clearly he thought she was playing a joke on him or something. She almost preferred her dad's reaction. Then Chris probably found a lot of the things she'd done over the years funny.
"I got married."
"Yes," she said cautiously. His reaction wasn't what she was expecting out of him honestly. He wasn't always thrilled with the things she did, the publicity she got (and therefore their dad's company got), but usually he at least got a laugh at her expense. She figured he'd find this funny, too.
Evidently not. His laugh hadn't been one of amusement at all.
"You know. I can handle Mom and Dad. I'm a grown up. I don't need to hide behind your skirts every day! I mean, there's keeping the press off my tail so I'm free to do what I do and there's being a little ridiculous."
"I'm sorry, what?" she asked. "I didn't marry him for you! Are you listening to yourself? I got married, Christopher, I didn't wear white after Labor Day."
"So, you married some guy you've been dating for a few months because you're madly in love with him? Come on, Claire, this is you we're talking about. You've never loved anyone in your life but yourself. I don't even think you really love me when it gets down to it. You just enjoy using my … handicap to let Dad allow you to get away with everything under the sun. Except probably murder. He'd probably draw the line at that."
"Christopher! I didn't just meet John. I've known him for years."
"I remember him. I remember you liked him and he didn't seem to return the feelings. So you have to ask yourself, what's changed?"
"Get over yourself. I didn't do this for you or Dad or anyone else. He asked, I said yes."
"It's going to come back and bite you in the ass, you know that? Dad'll be fine until the shit hits the fan and you file for a divorce or start calling in sick because you're having problems. I'm not that much older than you that I haven't heard about him, his parents. You start showing up to work with black eyes Dad's going to flip."
"That's not going to happen!"
"Did you even think this through, Claire? You're married. You get divorced he gets half of everything."
"You sound like Dad. I'd get half of everything, too. He has a business. A house. I have nothing. I have a car. So, he'd get half of it. He has two, why would he want half of mine?"
"Yours is nicer?"
"Than a Trans Am? His car is real nice, Chris. I'm no gear head, but I know a nice muscle car when I see one. It's only like one of three hundred even made."
"Really?" he asked. That seemed to have gotten his attention. Chris liked cars. It was the only real guy thing interest he had. (It was one of the reasons their father held onto the slim bit of hope that he was wrong about Christopher, giving himself the ability to deny the truth about his son.)
"Yes, really. I don't think his is like worth more than mine or anything, but he's pretty happy with it."
He eyed her as their waitress brought them refills on their drinks. He gave her back her wedding ring then, which he'd been looking at for the last little bit. He seemed to think it was fake, costume jewelry, or something.
"You really married him because you wanted to?"
"We were there. He asked. I said yes. I thought about the peace and quiet we'd had for the days we'd been there. No one pushing a camera in my face. No nasty letters showing up at the house because I didn't talk to someone over the weekend. No club owner mad that I left earlier than they expected, making it seem like I didn't like their club. Just us, and my friends. I realized we'd never get that again. Not here. I know what it'd be like if I got married. I wouldn't be able to do anything for months without someone watching me. John wouldn't be able to either. He asked to marry me, not my reputation."
"Do you actually love him?"
"I do. Why is that so hard for you to believe?"
"I really didn't think you had it in you. I may not love who Mom and Dad want me to, but I'm capable of doing it."
"God. Is that really what you think of me?"
"You are very into yourself, Claire. That's not a bad thing necessarily, but not when it comes to making a marriage work."
She sighed softly, taking a sip of her wine.
"Are Mom and Dad throwing a reception for you then?"
"Yes," she said.
She loved the idea. Really. She honestly didn't mind the way they'd gotten married, but there was a part of her. The girl in her who'd been dreaming about what her wedding dress would look like, what song she'd dance with her husband to, and (more recently) just how many times her picture would be in the paper whenever she decided to settle down. She didn't miss the publicity now that she'd actually found someone she wanted to be with. She didn't want their courtship followed in the newspaper. She still wanted the dance, though. And the dress. She wouldn't be able to wear a full-on wedding dress, but she was sparing no expense on the gown she was having made. She would look fabulous.
And her dad would get his dance, too. The idea of a reception seemed to appease him, to make him realize that she was, in fact, taking this seriously. It was real. She wasn't playing a game or getting married on a whim that she'd nullify on another whim. That she was willing to give him something so that he didn't look like he had no clue what was going on with his children. A reception would still allow him to invite his friends and associates to celebrate her marriage.
"Good, I guess."
"Are you going to come?"
A logical question because Christopher didn't do a whole lot with the family these days. He was invited, of course, but it was sort of a given unless it was something necessary he'd be absent. She doubted that would change now that she was married and he was not. People would start wondering where his girlfriend was. She hadn't done him any favors by marrying John. He hadn't shown up for Christmas dinner in December because he'd been in New York. Over Thanksgiving he'd been down in the Caribbean. He always had a legitimate excuse so no one could talk about the elephant in the room that was her brother wasn't really welcome in the home he grew up in.
"I'll be there. Mom and Dad would get upset if I didn't show for that, I think. Besides I kind of have to see if it's real."
"What? Sue me for being suspect."
"Are you going to bring a date?"
"Uh, no," he said quickly.
"Is there someone you would bring if you could?"
He shrugged at that. "Maybe."
"Nobody I'm even close to running off to Vegas and marrying."
"You couldn't do that anyway."
"If I could."
"So, you haven't mentioned Mom in all of this yet," he said. He knew why, too. He knew their mother as well as she did.
"What can I say? She's not happy with me."
"She's afraid you're going to embarrass her."
"I know. I did ask her to come with me to decide on a dress."
"You're not wearing a wedding dress, are you?"
"Did she go with?"
"Yes. It seemed to settle her down a bit, but she still hasn't talked to me much. I figured after the appointment with the dressmaker we'd go to lunch, but she just drove back to the house."
"Well, I don't know what to tell you there as you know she hasn't talked to me much in years. I doubt that's going to change now."
"I know," she said. It bothered her that her mother cared so much about what other people would say versus seeing her kids happy. Wasn't that the ultimate reflection on whether she and their dad had done a good job raising them?
"If you love him and are really doing this, she'll come around when she sees that as unconventional as what you've done may be you're really invested in it."
"I'm invested in it!"
"You say that, and I want to believe you, Claire. I do. And I'm sorry, I guess, my knee jerk reaction is a negative one. You've done a lot for me, I won't forget it."
"I don't want you to remember it or think you have to."
"Yeah, well, it's my fault in a way you got to this point anyway. So, when do I get to meet him?"
"Well, we're having Mom and Dad over for dinner Sunday night. I figured you could come if you wanted."
"Eat dinner with you, Mom, Dad, and your husband?"
"Are you sure you want that?"
He sighed softly, fiddling a bit with his coaster. "All right. If it's too uncomfortable I'll leave."
"You won't have to leave. It's our house, not Mom and Dad's."
"And you're sure he's not like his parents?"
"Chris, really. Do you really think I'd do that?"
"No, but if you actually love him…"
"I'm not going to fall in love with someone who hits me."
"I'm betting every woman who has been in that situation has said the same thing."
"He's not! He's not like his parents at all."
"I guess the fact that he's gainfully employed should be enough to tell me he's not."
"Yes, it should if my word isn't enough."
"I just. God, Claire, this is the rest of your life we're talking."
"If I hadn't liked him back in high school…"
"I remember. I remember all of the questions you asked me about guys all of the sudden your senior year. You'd never asked me anything like it before. It's probably the only reason I remember him and ever cared to find out who he was."
"You did what?"
"Oh, I didn't like walk up to him or anything, but my little sister shows interest in a guy for the first time ever. I was curious who the guy was."
"Oh," she said, mulling that over. An eighteen-year-old John probably hadn't left her brother with that great of an impression.
"You saw him at his parents' house?"
"Yes, and them."
"But you didn't say anything to him?"
"No, believe me, I was tempted after I took a look at him. I wanted to tell him to stay away from you. He was clearly not good enough for you, but it seemed he did that on his own. I was very relieved, sorry he hurt you, but relieved just the same."
"You didn't need guys like him hanging around you back then. I'm still not so sure you do now."
"He's not that guy!"
"I want to believe you, I do. At least tell me he takes better care of his house than his parents' did of theirs. That place was a wreck."
"It's a nice house. Old. It's from the forties, but it's nice."
"Yeah? Nice enough for you?"
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know. Say Dad gets pissed off at you after he really has time to think on this and you don't get the business either. Say he decides, instead, to leave it to one of the cousins. A male cousin makes much more sense than you, we both know that Claire. He doesn't want to, we know that, too. Handing it down to you he can say that I'm not interested. Handing it to a cousin, though, that implies that there's something wrong with his kids. If there's something wrong with his kids that means there's something wrong with him and his marriage. Is the life he can give you what you'll be okay with? Nice things not good things?"
"If we were having ten kids, maybe I'd worry about it, but we're not doing that. The house is fine. There's a basement that is finished and could be split up into smaller rooms or something, too."
"As long as you've thought on things like this. The life he can provide for you can't be in the same league as the one you can have together if you're gainfully employed for Dad."
"I know that. I could still work somewhere. I still have my degree. I did graduate cum laude from Northwestern, you know."
"I am aware. I'm not exactly sure how you managed to do that and why no one ever seems to talk about how smart you are when they print things about you."
"Because that doesn't sell," she said with a shrug.
"No, I suppose it doesn't. He has taken some nice pictures of you the past few months around town, doing things. I've had friends comment on them."
"Yes. It's a good thing. You need to do more of it. Get your picture out there not associated with partying."
"I know. I'm still working on it. If you'd like to come over before Sunday you could. Or we could go out if you want. He's free Friday night. He has a wedding Saturday."
"You're all right with that? Someone who has his weekends booked?"
"It's Saturdays. We still have Friday and Sunday together. Occasionally he has something on Fridays, but very rarely. It's his job, and he's good at it."
"He takes pictures, Claire. How difficult can it be?"
"Wow. I know you know better than that. Remember that family portrait we got done when I was like nine?"
"And you can't to this day look at it and think it was pretty awful?"
"Whose fault do you think that was?"
"Claire, come on. It's still not that hard."
"Neither is investing in the right companies or the right buildings, but somehow Dad is a genius."
"That's not fair."
"You're being judgmental and rude and I'm not fair? He's done well for himself. He didn't have the ability to go to college like we did. He didn't have parents to buy him things like we did. His company wasn't given to him. His camera wasn't even given to him. He had to earn it, save for it. He didn't grow up knowing he would have something to do. He grew up thinking he'd have nothing. No one in the school system ever told him or encouraged him to think differently either. Not even me, really, and I liked him. Everything he has he earned and worked hard to get it. What's not to respect about that? Not everyone has a hugely complicated job, that doesn't mean it's not important or worthwhile. You take your car to that mechanic out in Evanston. The one you found when you were in college. It's out of your way, yet you still go there because he's good and fair. You know when he works on your car he'll do what he says he will and it'll be done right. So not all of anyone is the same."
"I guess you do love him."
"Did you actually hear what you just said? I've never heard you defend anyone like that in your life. I don't think you'd even defend me like that."
"You were testing me?"
"I was seeing what you'd do, yeah."
"You're an asshole."
He shrugged, sitting back a bit in his chair. "I had to know, Claire."
"You think I'm mean. Just wait until word starts getting out and they start printing stuff about him. What I said is going to seem tame compared to those comments. You know it or you wouldn't be hiding from everyone you're married."
"That's not why. We want to make sure Mom and Dad have time to tell everyone."
"That's the only reason?"
"Yes. Like I've ever shied away from anything before. You know me better than that."
"This is different. He's not who anyone saw you ending up with. He will be scrutinized, criticized, and probably called some very negative names. Opportunist will probably be the kindest thing said about him."
"Those nasty letters you get. He'll start getting some, too."
"It's not going to be easy."
"I know that."
"It could get pretty ugly for a while."
"That's why I had to be sure you actually love him, that you can actually give the right answers to the tough questions."
"He will elect not to comment."
"Not a bad way of operating."
"I think he'd just rather not say something wrong and stay out of it."
"How's work going?"
"Fine," she said.
"Dad hasn't complained about me?"
Christopher chuckled softly. "Actually, no. He hasn't said much of anything, which I take to mean you're doing just fine. I'd hear about it if you weren't, I'm sure. I just haven't seen you much so wasn't sure how you thought it was going."
The only reason they were here now, having dinner after work was because he'd called her at the office. She'd been so busy the past couple of weeks that she hadn't had much of a chance to breathe let alone go out to lunch. Whoever thought working for her dad would be easy had no idea that her father planned on making her earn her way to the keys of the company. Oh, she'd get the company eventually, but she and her father both knew she had to prove her worth until then. And that meant people had to respect her, feel she earned it even if it was a given. Her dad wouldn't want people jumping ship from his company like it was sinking because of a lack of confidence in Claire's abilities. For all Claire knew their father would have a change of heart about Christopher when it came time to retire and Claire would be left with little more than she had now as far as her position in the company went. Oh, she'd have a better title and position, sure. Her dad wouldn't leave her with nothing, but she knew that there was a chance he'd reconsider giving Christopher nothing.
"I'll come to dinner on Sunday if you really want me to, but be sure you've thought about it. That may be more uncomfortableness around your dinner table than you want for one night. Maybe Mom should have a chance to get to know John before she has to deal with me being around, too."
"I want you there. You're my brother. You're his brother-in-law."
"Well, if you change your mind, you know how to get a hold of me."
"I do. I won't, though. I think John would feel better if you were there, too."
"Why? Because proof there's a worse way to disappoint your parents than eloping in Vegas on a whim would be sitting right there?"
"No. Because you'd be a third person there to know how the night went so if Mom complained or made some snide remark you'd know the truth."
They made their way back to the office where their cars were. Chris gave her a kiss on the cheek.
"Drive safe," he said.
He didn't have as far to drive since he lived downtown. She'd always assumed she'd move downtown, too, once she graduated and moved out of her parents' house. It was the best place to be close to everything. He didn't have to hire Dad's car service or anything else like that to go places. He could just hail a cab and go if he didn't feel like driving.
"Good night," he said, opening her door for her.
"Good night, Christopher. We should get into the habit of having lunch once in a while."
"That'd be good. When you feel like you can actually start taking an hour once a week to do that, let me know. Otherwise, dinner works, too."
"We'll give you a call when your proofs are ready, Daniel," John said as Claire walked through the door.
"Thanks, man. That was pretty painless."
"I do my best," John said. "I'm sure your mom will have some in there she's happy with and you'll have some you're happy with."
"Yeah, because our ideas of a good picture don't exactly mesh."
"They rarely do," John agreed.
"Hey, I know you," the guy, Daniel, said when he regarded Claire.
"Hi," she said.
"You were, like, prom queen and everything."
"I was," she said. How did he know that? That was years ago.
"Hottest prom queen ever," he said.
"Thank you," she said, glancing at John who was obviously not happy about an eighteen year old guy saying that about her. "That was a long time ago, though."
"I know! I'm just shocked to see you walk in here, man. Your picture used to be all over the papers, but it hasn't been so much lately."
"No, it hasn't. I have a job and everything now."
"Kind of," Claire said. She couldn't deny responsibility kind of sucked some days. She could deal with the job just fine, but the waking up before six o'clock every day in order to get downtown on time kind of sucked.
"Well, good night then."
"Good night," John said, following him to the door and locking it behind him. He turned to Claire then. "How was dinner?"
"It was nice."
"Yes. He says he's going to come for dinner on Sunday."
"Well, that's good, right?"
"Yes. I want him to be there."
"I know you do."
Only after Daniel had left did he kiss her. He was so very careful about things like that. It bothered her in a way that he felt he had to be. She understood it, but she hated that he felt as though he had to think about whether he could even kiss her.
"So, is you being prom queen ever not going to be a topic of conversation, Princess?" he asked.
"I don't know. He goes to Shermer, I assume?"
"You assume correctly."
"I suppose my picture is still up there somewhere in the halls and with my picture being in the paper and on TV over the years," she shrugged.
"I suppose. Why are you here?"
"What?" she asked.
"I'm sorry, that didn't come out the way I meant it. Why did you come here instead of going home?"
"Oh, you said you were working late. I thought I'd come see you. If you're hungry we could go get something."
"You just finished eating."
"That doesn't mean I can't have a glass of wine with you while you eat."
"You'd do that? Just sit there while I ate?"
"I don't know. Sure, why not. Let me just finish up."
"What's the jukebox for?" she asked when she followed him into the studio.
He chuckled softly.
"What's so funny?"
"It's for something I'm doing tomorrow."
"Why is that funny?"
"Well, you wouldn't believe what I had to go through to find this thing."
"You bought a jukebox?"
"Well, yeah, I found one I could rent and I found one I could buy. It wasn't that much more to buy it, and it's mine."
"To do what with?"
"Use it as a prop. Put records in it and play music. Whatever I want to. I don't know. It's mine."
"It's a prop tomorrow?"
"Yes. This woman wants to make a calendar for her husband as his Christmas present."
"Yes, you know, like a, um, pinup calendar. Only with her as all of the months. Thus, the jukebox."
"All of that for twelve pictures?"
"Well, they won't all be of her in front of the jukebox. She and I kind of had fun brainstorming ideas for different things. The jukebox was my idea, I told her I'd see if I could find one. Her dad has an old Ford she can use, too." He slid his arms around her once he was by her again. "I thought of offering her my car, but I kind of like the idea that just you has been on the hood of my car."
"Oh God," she said.
"I don't know what you're embarrassed or shy about. That was probably one of the hottest things anyone's ever done for me."
"Well, I can't think of any others off the top of my head."
"There better not be others that rank higher."
"I don't know. You in a shower ranks pretty high."
"Just pretty high."
"Well, you know there's inside you without a rubber and there's the rest. For now, anyway, that tops them all."
"Really? Just that?"
"Really. Just that."
"So, she's not taking any clothes off?"
He sighed softly and she knew what he thought she was asking. She wasn't really. He told her he'd be honest and tell her in advance of any shoots like that. She believed he would.
"No, Claire. She's not. That's the point of a pinup calendar. You know? Enticement, teasing without showing anything."
She walked up to the jukebox, running a hand along it and pressing a couple of the buttons.
"There are records in here?"
"Yup, bought it as is. I have no idea what you just pushed is going to give us."
"So, you got a jukebox and records for the same price as renting one?"
"I didn't say the same price. Just not that much more, and maybe there'll be some good music on there. It's like Christmas in September."
"Uh huh," she said as Benny Goodman started playing. She knew the song only because of her grandpa. She couldn't remember the name of the song off the top of her head, but she could picture Grandpa's phonograph and the scratchiness on the record from years and years of being played. It didn't skip, though.
"Why haven't you asked me since February to take my picture?"
"I've been taking your picture for months, Princess."
"Not the kind of pictures you mentioned taking of me in the spring."
"Well, that led to an argument and our not talking for a while so I guess I figured why bother stirring that subject up ever again."
"So you wouldn't do it?"
"I'd do it, but I have to warn you."
"In February I could've taken your picture and stayed objective. Not to say I didn't find you attractive then, I did, but there's a big difference between finding you attractive and knowing things about you no one else knows or will ever know. No way would I be able to do that now."
"Not a chance."
"And no one but you would see them?"
"Claire. Come on, really? Are you really asking me that question?"
"No, that's not what I meant at all, John. I mean, Ronda wouldn't stumble across them or anything?"
"No, and even if she did she wouldn't care. She'd laugh and probably say good for us for having fun."
"Uh, yeah. You think I would take pictures of you like that and not have lots and lots of sex with you in the process?"
"Oh," she said, blushing deeply at that thought.
"In fact, I'd love to take a picture of you just before you come."
"Why?" she asked with a frown.
"Because it's gorgeous the way you react, your whole body gets flushed. I'd love to capture that."
"John," she said cautiously.
"Hey, I'm not making you. You brought it up tonight. Not me. I haven't asked you because I didn't think you wanted me to."
"Take the pictures or ask you to?"
"Well, both, I guess. You didn't seem to like the idea and you got kind of pissed off when I came home to you that one day so I sort of chalked it up to not your thing. I sure hope you wouldn't ask someone else to take them."
She laughed softly at that.
"What? I'm serious. If and when you let me do that, they'd be for me. You. Us. I don't want anyone else seeing you like that."
"I don't want anyone else seeing me like that either."
"Well, good, because I never realized I had a jealous bone in my body until you."
He chuckled softly at that, offering her his hand as he pushed the buttons on the jukebox she'd pushed again. She took it and went into his arms as the song started over again.
"I didn't know you know how to dance."
"Well, you do a very good imitation of it," she said.
He shrugged. "I just kind of like the song."
"Funny, so did my grandpa."
"Yeah? Which one?"
"Did he dance with you?"
"He did sometimes, sure. I was his only granddaughter. I used to stand on his feet and he'd dance with me that way."
"I bet you were cute."
"He always said so."
"Want to skip going out to dinner, order in a pizza and see what other records are in this thing?"
"Are you serious?"
"Why not? I can go to the liquor store across the street and buy us some beer. Well, me some beer and you some wine."
"You've been here all day, though."
"Not with you I haven't, Princess."
"Are you sure?"
"Well, I figure I have two months to at least pretend I know how to dance. We've got a jukebox, no one's watching. No better time like the present for you to give me some lessons. It sure beats our living room."
"Yeah? You'll sit here with me, listen to music, and get drunk?"
"I thought you weren't going to get drunk anymore after Vegas?"
"Six beers isn't going to get me drunk. Besides. We're already married. What more can we do?"
She reached up and kissed him, sliding her arms around his neck. "There's always that no protection thing."
"You're supposed to be the voice of reason as far as that goes. Remember?"
She laughed softly. "I am. I will be."
"Good. You call and order the pizza while I go across the street. Just have them charge it to my account," he said.
"You have an account with Jake's?"
"Sure. It's the only place in town to order pizza from and I told you I didn't always know how to cook. Sometimes I'm working late or I have to work through lunch so Ronda orders a pizza. Sometimes she just wants pizza for lunch and I help her eat it so I don't make her pay for it."
"I'll be right back."
"Okay," she said.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com