***Chapter Twenty-Four***
Word Count: 5,141

December 1988

"You're going to be late, you know?" he murmured when he heard her shut her alarm off and do nothing.

She was definitely not an early morning person he was coming to realize, but she wasn't the type to lay there and hit snooze on her alarm endlessly either. A lot of times, especially now that it was pretty cold out most mornings, she'd hit the snooze button once and use the extra seven minutes to get as close to him as she could. Most mornings that resulted in him being inside of her in some way, shape or form. He was quickly growing very used to getting his morning hard-on issue taken care of in a far more enjoyable way than just letting it go away on its own.

"I'm not going in today," she said, pressing herself against his chest. "I already told Dad yesterday."

"Why not?"

"I'm going with you or if you want me to stay here I will do that, but I'm going to stay home in case you need something."

"I'm not sure you can help me with what I'd need."

"I can love you."

He slid his hand along her hip. He loved the feel of her skin. She wore nightshirts to bed, but he'd convinced her a while ago now to forego the panties because they ended up gone at some point during the night anyway. He drew her on top of him, though she went willingly.

"I like the sound of that idea a lot."

"That's not what I meant!"

"You said you were staying home in case I needed something. I need something. Very badly. Can't you tell?"

"John," she said, but she positioned herself over him so he knew she wasn't upset by his idea. If she wasn't going into work and he wasn't either there was absolutely no reason they couldn't start their day off this way. Even better since neither of them had a particular place to be when they were done she didn't have to get up and go to the shower right away as she did the mornings she worked.

He never thought he'd see the day when he actually looked forward to cuddling, wanting to stay in bed with someone after sex. Then he never thought he'd see the day he'd be having sex with the same woman for months either.

"Do you actually own blue jeans?" he asked later after they'd showered. An extra three hours in bed with her unexpectedly was a great way to pass his Friday morning before doing the things he had planned today.


"A sweatshirt?"


"Functional gloves?"

"John! I know how to dress myself, hon."

"I've seen some of your versions of winter clothes. They look nice, but won't keep you warm. If you're going to come with me I want you dressed to stand outside with me for a while. Like a few hours a while. My hope, in a way, is she has a job and won't be home. I'll be able to just quietly fix one of them and she won't even know I was there."

"I understand."

"And if she is home. Well, I think I'd still rather you hang out with me. I don't trust her."

"You don't trust her to what?"

"I don't know! Shoot up in front of you? Tell you some bizarre story about some girl I brought home when I was twelve. I have no idea."

"You brought girls home when you were twelve?"

"Claire," he said. "Really? That's what concerns you today?"

She shrugged. "You wouldn't bring me home."

"Yeah, it was very different."


"You were years later first of all. You were very different. You think I wanted you to see how we lived?"

"You let me drop you off at your house a couple of times."

"Sure, that wasn't going inside. Come on. I'd been to your house, saw all the nice things you had. You would've taken one look at the stuff I had that wasn't at all nice not to mention the stuff I didn't have at all and would have turned right around."

"I would not have! I liked you, it wouldn't have mattered."

"Princess, you would have. You know it. Maybe not right away, but eventually you would've looked at it through realistic eyes. I mean today I don't think you would, but you weren't the way you are now. Now, if you'd offered to come home with me the day of detention…"

"Really? You would've taken me home then?"

He chuckled softly. "I wanted you bad, yeah."

"You were having sex when you were twelve?"

"Uh, well," he shrugged. "Somewhere around there."


"What? I was a horny guy. There were girls willing to help me out. Why is that bad?"

"You were twelve!"


"Do you want your little brother having sex when he's twelve?"

"Well, no, but I didn't have anyone to tell me differently. I mean, I was lucky if my parents shut their door when they were able to do that anyway. Dad had issues sometimes, you know. Too much drinking can make things not work so well."

"You know this?"

"I heard it! Jesus. Our walls weren't that thick. My room was right next to theirs. Every fight. Every squeak the bed made. I heard it all."


"Anyway, you coming with could be good."


"I won't be tempted to get sucked in and stick around to do anything else around there that might need doing."


"I'm not doing it! They let the place go to hell they can deal with that. A car I can fix without investing too much time or money."

"So you think."

"Yeah, I'm not shelling out hundreds of dollars on parts for it or anything, but maybe it's something simple like new spark plugs or a new battery."

"Don't you think she'd know if it's a battery?"

"Would you know?"

"Well, I'd ask…"

"Yeah. You would have asked Christopher or your dad? Now you'd not only ask me but expect me to fix it before you went to work the next morning. Who does she have to ask if my dad's in prison?"

"Oh," she said. "I guess."

"Anyway. I'll get some tools together while you get ready."

"Doesn't your dad have stuff?"

"Yeah, but I can't trust she didn't do something with the things if she needed money."

"She'd pawn your dad's tools?"

"She'd pawn anything that's not nailed down if she needs a fix."

"Do you think she's still using?"

"Is the sky blue? Maybe it's nothing illegal or just booze. She never shied away from going to a doctor for fake ailments, her or mine, to get prescribed a pain killer if she had to. I honestly can't remember a time she wasn't on something."

"You haven't been there for years. Maybe having a baby…"

"Yeah, like having me stopped her? I mean, I guess she wasn't always so bad. I have some memories of her being decent and sober."

"But you left! Maybe she saw the error of her ways."

"I doubt it, but you can hold onto that glimmer of hope for both of us for his sake."

"Would you call anyone if she's using?"

"You mean like DCFS?" he shrugged. "I'd have to see her with him. See the house, I guess. She at least put a coat on him to get the mail the other day. I think I could have gone to school this time of year in shorts and she wouldn't have cared after a while."

"She'd never forgive you."

"I owe her nothing! I'm not even sure why I feel as though I owe him something."

"He's your brother."

"I don't know him!"

"No, but I think just like you want to do with me it's instinct for you to want to protect him. I know you don't like it. I know you didn't want to care about me, but you did, and that feeling led to," she shrugged. "Well, where we are today." She touched his cheek then, running her thumb along the scar there from the fight he'd gotten into with Pete. "Even if you don't know him you still care and want to protect him. That makes you a good person not a bad one."

"I guess. Come on out whenever you're ready."

"Okay," she said.

"You sure you want to do this?" he asked her when they pulled up in front of the house.

"I'm as sure as you are."

"I'm not sure at all."

"You're worried that she's going to take it as a sign that you want to be involved?"

"I'm worried that I'm going to want to get involved."

"Would that really be bad?"


"No, really, would it? Forget her. Think about him. You said yourself she never actually hurt you."

"She stood by and let it happen!"

"I know," she said softly.

"Do you? Can you imagine that? Really? Think about those scars you touch. She was home for about ninety percent of them. Home. Heard it. Saw it. Stood by and did nothing. Can you imagine letting me do that to our kids?"

"No, but I'm not her and I'm not using drugs or drunk! She was. I'm not excusing it. I'm not. What she did was just as horrible. Believe me, I think those things every time I touch you, John. That doesn't mean you should forget you have a brother. I doubt you could see him without seeing her somewhat."

"I know. I thought of that all week. Even if I like got her to agree to let me take him on a Friday night or something, I'd still have to interact with her."

"You'd do that?"

"I thought about it. I mean, I'd talk to you about it first, you know. I wouldn't just do it."

"It's your house."

"It's our house. I wouldn't invite a kid to spend the night without talking to you about it first. I have thought about it, though. Saturdays are kind of out."


"I mean, I wouldn't do it every weekend or anything, but I thought about whether I'd want to do that."


"I guess it depends."


"Him? Me? He may hate me. I may not be able to handle a kid that age. Her, too, I suppose. I don't know. You."

"It'd be weird."

"No weirder than me finding out I have a brother. I mean, I honestly didn't think that was even an option."

"We're here, hon, let's go and get it done with."

"You in a hurry?"

"Well, I took a day off."

"To be with me you said."

"That doesn't mean we have to be here all day."

"Yeah? Hmm, did I do something wrong this morning?"


"Yeah, you know, we already have twice this morning and you want to again just a couple of hours later."

"I always want to again."

"Hmm. Always?"


"That's certainly incentive for me to finish working on her car quickly."

"You need an incentive?"

"I'm a guy, sweets. We like to fix things. What can I say? It's innate."

She rolled her eyes at that.

"My father doesn't have the innate desire to fix things."

"I don't think your father is a guy. Not the kind of guy I'm talking about. You know, the type to get his hands dirty by changing the oil on his car or lawnmower. There's a difference."

"I suppose you may be right."

"Let's get this over with then."

"If you really wanted me to stay home…"

"It's kind of late now, isn't it? We're here. I'm not going back home to drop you off. I'm just really not too sure how I feel about her meeting you."


"The same as Charlie," he shrugged. "I don't know. I worry that she'll show up wanting something from you."

"I do know how to say no."

"I know you do, to someone like Charlie. This, however, is my mother, and I worry that somewhere in the back of my mind you'd think I'd get upset or something if you told her to get lost."

"I wouldn't! I'd talk to you about it, but I wouldn't!"

"You say that, but you know if your dad or mom came to me for something that I could give them I'd do it."

"Yes, but that's different. You can't give my parents money."

"You can be very brutally blunt when you want to be."

"You know what I mean!"

"I sure do," he said, getting out of the car.


"Relax, Princess, I'm aware of what I do and don't bring to the table. Money is not one of the things I'm rolling in. If your parents ever came to me it wouldn't be for that. I'm not mad at you."

He walked to the front door while she waited in the car. They both agreed it'd be better if they did it that way. He didn't want his mom focusing on her or anything. John figured even if his mom saw her standing outside or in the garage with him by the cars she wouldn't venture too close to him. Maybe he was wrong, he had no idea.

Her eyes widened in surprise when she saw him standing there.

"Johnny," she said.

"Don't get too excited," he said quickly. "I noticed you didn't drive when you came to drop off that package. I thought I'd come see if I can get one of the cars running."

"I don't know what's wrong with them."

"Yeah, I get that you probably don't. So, I need the keys unless you like taking the bus."

"Are you going to come in?"

"Nope. I'll wait right here while you get the keys."

"Okay," she said, looking kind of hurt by his rejection of her offer. She shut the door, coming back a few minutes later with the keys.

"This is…"

"Yeah, I know who he is. Mrs. Henderson told me."

"You saw her?"

"I did," he said.

He regarded Billy with far more interest than he did his mother to this point. He knew what she looked like, though he had to admit both the day at his studio and today she looked decent. Her clothes weren't great, they never would be, but they were clean and she'd brushed her hair. The other day hadn't registered because brushing it to leave the house wasn't completely out of the question for her. It wasn't even eleven o'clock in the morning, though, and she looked presentable. That was different. Then he hadn't seen her in going on four years let alone spent time with her to know what was different for her anymore.

Billy looked just like him so that left little question in John's mind who his dad was. Unless his mom slept with someone who was the spitting image of both of the John's in her life. The couple indiscretions he knew about from when he was in high school were about as far removed from him and his dad as she could get.

"Does the heater in the garage still work?"

"Yes, it's not on."

"That's fine. I remember how to turn it on. I'd say he could come outside with us, but it's pretty cold."

"He has a coat and snow pants."

"Well, that's up to you. If he knows enough to stay out of my way it's fine. The tools are still out there?"

"Of course," she said, sounding insulted he'd suggest they weren't. He didn't have close to the number of tools his dad had so it was probably good his stuff was still here. It was one of the few positive things he could say he learned from him. It would take him a while to get all of the things his dad had, but it had taken him a while to accumulate those things, too. If John worked on cars for a living he'd get the stuff sooner, for sure. His dad had things John to this day wasn't sure how to use. He knew what they were for, what they did, but he'd never used them.

"All right. I think that's all I need to know then."

"Your wife can wait…"

"No, she's not coming in here. She'll be fine with me."

"I'd like to meet her."

"I'm sure you would."

"Johnny, she's my daughter-in-law."

"In theory, sure. Daughter-in-law implies you have a son, I never saw myself as much of one in your eyes growing up. Not sure what's changed."

"That's not fair."

"Maybe not, the truth isn't always fair. Anyway, I'll let you know when I'm done."

"Do you want some coffee?"

"No," he said. "I'll let you know when I'm done."

"Why'd she come with if you don't want me to meet her?"

"To keep me company? To spend time with me? As you probably guessed, based on getting a gift and all, we just recently got married. Married people hang out together outside of bars and bedrooms sometimes, you know? At least that's what I'm discovering, I certainly never would have known that going by the example you guys set for me."


"I'll stay out of your way. If he can come out that's fine, but otherwise I'd appreciate it if you stay out of mine."

He took the three steps to the sidewalk leading away from the house. He regarded the keys she'd given him. The key ring was his old man's. He remembered it vividly. God, John couldn't remember a time his dad didn't have this key ring. The Chevy logo was worn, parts of it were chipped, but it was the same one. He could remember the first time his dad had let him turn a car over. He couldn't have been much older than Billy was, maybe he was four or five, but he knew he hadn't started school yet.

"You look mad," Claire said.

"Sorry, just thinking," he said.

"About things that make you mad?"

"This whole situation makes me mad. Coming here makes me mad. Doing this for her makes me mad."

"We could go home."

"We could, but then I'd feel like shit for coming here, getting her hopes up that she may have a car running by the end of the day."

"Does that matter to you?"

"Yes," he said, not at all happy about admitting that. "Let's go put your ability to follow directions to the test, Princess."

"I can't wait."

"Somehow I sense that's sarcasm, but it's good for you to take directions from your husband. Lord knows you don't know how to cook and I end up doing your laundry the majority of the time."

"Because you wash it for me, I don't ask you to!"

"You'd let it pile up for weeks if I didn't."

"I wouldn't for weeks! I'd run out of something."

"Yeah, I thought of that, if I let it pile up you'd run out of underwear. While an appealing idea I don't like the idea of you leaving our house that way so I shelved that idea for the next vacation you have."

"You want me to run out of underwear?"

"I want you to run out of everything."

"You shouldn't say stuff like that to me in front of your mother."

"She's not here."

"But she's inside the house!"

"She won't know you're blushing, Princess, she'll just assume you're cold. Our conversation is safe. Besides, we're married. We're allowed to say stuff like that to each other."

He sent her to a parts store with a list of some things after he'd looked over both cars, writing down his mom's phone number just in case she had questions or problems getting what he was looking for. He was going to focus on the car he knew was hers, but he'd get the parts for both just in case.

He rang the doorbell again. It felt weird doing that. The last time he'd been here he'd been able to just walk in the door because he'd still been living here. He moved out and hadn't been back since other than to drive by a few times.

"I think I'll be able to get one of them going for you. I'll change the oil and everything, too, so it'll be good to go for you. She should be back in an hour or so with what I need. You're going to have to do that on your own from here on out. I don't know how long he's going to be away, but you can't count on me to come around and do this stuff."


"I really wish you'd stop calling me that. I'm not your little boy. Something tells me he'll hate being called Billy just about as much."

"Did you want to come in while you're waiting for her to come back?"

"I was going to push the car into the garage so I can do the work on it in there."

"You've been outside for over an hour. It's barely thirty degrees, you can come inside and warm up for a little bit."

"I suppose in case she calls with any questions about what I need her to buy."

"Does she know about cars?"

"No, beyond how to drive one."

His mom did know about cars, a little bit anyway. Like John she hadn't had much choice in the matter where his dad was concerned. He wasn't much into allowing anyone to have interests beyond his. She hadn't gotten nearly as hands on as John had, but everything on the list he'd given Claire she'd know what to look for and probably where in the parts store she could find those things.

"Wow," he said, regarding the living room from the front entryway.


"It's actually, like, clean in here. You expecting company or something?"

"No," she said cautiously.

There wasn't anything in the living room that wouldn't be seen in any normal, run of the mill living room. No trash. No clothes. No cans. No cigarette butts. No booze bottles. No drug paraphernalia. No ashtray even. He glanced to the corner by the TV, knowing there'd be a hole in the carpet there. It'd been there since as long as he could remember. It wasn't a huge hole. His dad had pushed his mom into the table there, knocking over the ashtray and the still lit cigarettes in it. John had been pretty little then, which was why his dad had been taking his bad day out on his mom instead of him. He couldn't remember exactly what age John had been that he'd started focusing on him instead of his mom.

At first, John had been glad the attention was off his mom. He'd seen it as protecting her or something. Eventually, though, he realized she had quickly stopped trying to defend or protect him and while she'd never hit him herself she hadn't thought twice about hurling some pretty nasty comments at him as well.

He looked at Billy again who was on the floor, playing with a toy. John recognized that, too.

"I didn't realize you kept anything from when I was little," he said. The GI Joe had seen better days, but it still functioned. John had taken pretty good care of his stuff because even when he was little he had known replacements wouldn't be easily gotten.

"Some things, sure. You know, in case we had another one."

"I guess you did."

"He was an accident."

"I hope you never tell him that. Believe me, I got told that enough for the both of us. At least one of your kids should believe he was wanted."

Billy walked up to them then, showing John his GI Joe.

"You like playing with him?" John asked.

He nodded a bit.

"Good," he said simply.

"He looks just like you."

"I can see that," John agreed. "Is that good or bad for you?"

"I don't mind."

"Does he even know he has a brother?"

"I've told him about you, sure. He has your room and toys. He's seen your picture."

"God, I hope you tell him who I am and don't let him assume I'm our dad."

"No, I wouldn't do that!"

"You say that, but I'm not so sure about you."

It bothered him more than he realized it would seeing the inside of his house again, and seeing it look as it should've looked all along. What was it about this kid that had her doing these things when she couldn't do them for him? He supposed it had taken a while before she'd stopped giving a shit. He remembered vaguely a time their house was decent. It didn't have the latest TV or anything, but it was maybe a little below average. Somewhere along the line that had changed. And while the living room today was clean, neat the paint on the walls needed to be redone. The carpet needed at the very least cleaning if not replacing as did the curtains on the windows.

And he had no business thinking of these things, wanting to help her with things like painting the walls. She had done absolutely nothing to help him. She'd left him basically to fend for himself. There were times when he'd gotten to be nine or ten he thought she forgot about him, and he was probably better off for that.

"All right. I'm going to go back outside and get the car into the garage," he said, wanting to stop thinking about these things.

"I could make you a sandwich."

"No, thanks," he said. He leaned down a bit then, looking Billy in the eye. "You have fun with GI Joe there and be good for your mom, okay?"

"I'll let you know when I'm done. If she calls just come get me, but my list was pretty simple and self-explanatory so she shouldn't have any issues."

"All right. And thank you."

"Yeah," he said. He was wondering if she'd ever say that to him. It wasn't why he was doing it, but it was nice to hear. To realize that she understood he was doing something he maybe didn't want to be here doing.

Once Claire got back with the things he needed it didn't take him long. It'd been a while since he'd done these things. It was good for him to do this stuff. It grounded him, made him remember who and what he was. Maybe he shouldn't want to remember. He wasn't sure. He'd always been good with his hands, though. His father had pushed him, too hard, but there'd been a reason. John was good. It wasn't that he forgot or anything either, but John had always felt most at ease when he had a tool or something like it in his hands. Claire didn't help much, but she talked to him. By the time she'd gotten back while not real warm, the garage was at least bearable with the heater his dad had turned on.

"I still can't believe you can just do that," she said once he'd made sure everything in the garage was put away and turned off. He'd returned the keys to his mother, too. He hadn't made a mess on the floor that required much clean-up, which impressed him because it'd been a while since he'd changed his own oil.

"Do what?" he asked.

"Just get a car running."

"It wasn't that big of a deal."

"To you!"

He shrugged, sliding his arms around her. "You need further proof I'm good with my hands, Princess? I'll be happy to demonstrate. It seemed to me you said something about a rather nice way to pass the rest of our day off."

"You know I want you to show me."

"Yeah?" he said. "Let's go then before she comes out again and I feel as if I have to talk to her again."

"Are you going to come back and fix the other one?" she asked once in his car.

"Maybe. I set the parts she needs on the front seat. Maybe some other sucker will come along and help her with that one. I did my good deed now let's go home."

"She wanted you to accept something."

"Yeah, coffee, which I don't drink!"

"She tried."

"I'm her son. I bet your mom would know you do or don't drink coffee."

"Well, yeah, but…"

"But nothing. She wants to make an effort she can make an effort with something that indicates she has an inkling about anything I like."

"You've been gone for four years."

"I haven't changed that much."

"I suppose not. I'm glad she brought Billy out for a few minutes."


She shrugged. "I wanted to see him."

"I guess I didn't think about it from that point of view. Sorry."

"It's okay. I understand. He looks just like you."

"I noticed that, too. Not much doubt my dad's his dad."

"No, I'd say not. That really surprises you?"

"A little. I mean, no, but you know, nineteen years is a pretty huge gap."

"Do you think they had any, like miscarriages in between you and him?"

"I," he paused, thinking on that. "I guess I don't know. Shit. I sure hope not."


"Because that means that they were trying for more. She admitted Billy was an accident."

"You'd think after nineteen years they'd know how to prevent those."

"Right?! That's exactly what I was thinking. Who knows?"

"They probably know."

He chuckled a bit at that. "Probably so."

"So, you went inside?"

"I did. Not for long or anything."


"Man, I hated being in there again. I really did. On the other hand, I was glad to see he wasn't living in filth or in a pile of crap all around him."

"I'm glad to hear that."

"Me, too. You know, I didn't even see an ashtray," he said.



"Maybe she quit."

"Maybe," he said with a shrug. "You probably wish I would."

"I wouldn't argue with you if you wanted to, no."

"Thank you, Princess."

"For what?"

"For taking the day off and coming with me. For standing out in the garage when I know you'd rather have been doing anything but that."

"It wasn't so bad, hon."

"Well, thank you just the same."

"I'm glad I could do something for you."

"You do lots of things for me."

"I feel sometimes like I don't do enough."



"Well, when we get home," he said, turning to kiss her at a stop light. "You can do enough of anything you want for me."

"I can, huh?"


"I'll keep that in mind."

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