"I think we should tell your dad you need to go on business trips way more often."
"Why?" she asked. Was he serious? He wanted her gone overnight?
"Relax, Princess. I simply meant, you got back so late that he let you start late today. That means I actually get to shower and have breakfast with you for a change."
"Oh, yeah, but it probably also means I won't be home until like eight o'clock tonight."
"I know. I think it's a fair tradeoff though. Good morning sex can't be beat."
"Like we don't have sex in the mornings when I have to get up before six o'clock!"
"I know, but I'm not always completely awake and we don't get to be nearly as thorough as we were this morning."
"You have a point," she said. He'd been incredibly thorough from the time she got home last night on and off during the night. She'd laugh at him except she had to admit she missed him just as badly. She'd slept like shit in the hotel because she was used to having him next to her now. Weird to think she'd gotten used to it so quickly, but she had.
She'd been just as needy during the night as he'd been. She couldn't get enough of him and was so glad he'd been on the same page because she would have felt really stupid not to mention incredibly embarrassed if he'd wanted to go to sleep instead.
Their doorbell rang as he was setting her plate in front of her. Most mornings she was lucky to eat cold cereal before leaving the house. Today, though, he'd made her a real breakfast with eggs, fried potatoes, bacon, and toast.
"I'll get it," he said. "I don't have nearly as long of a drive as you do so eat while you can."
"But yours is going to get cold."
"My servings are still in the pans and will reheat just fine."
"Sit. Eat. Listen to your husband on this. He doesn't have the schedule you do. You're going to be there late and won't want to be which means you will be tempted to work through lunch so you can leave that much earlier."
"Fine," she said. He was right. She hated the idea of getting back so late. It just made the evening so short because she'd have to get ready for bed almost as soon as she got home. She, Christopher, and her dad hadn't gotten back into town until after eight last night because everything yesterday had run long. Very frustrating, but she imagined that was the way things worked. She was just learning that.
"Are you expecting anyone?" she asked.
"No," he said. "At nine in the morning? Maybe it's your friend Phil coming to give me another hug before work."
"God. I can't believe he did that. Once was weird enough."
"Right? Maybe he and your brother…"
"He's not gay!"
"I bet no one would say your brother is either."
"John! Go answer the door."
"You're bossy when you're mad at me."
"I'm not mad at you!"
"I'm very relieved to hear that," he said, leaning down to kiss her before walking to the living room and the front door.
She had no idea who'd be coming here at this time of the morning because, well, he was usually about out the door himself. Most anyone who knew him would be aware of that fact. Very few people ever came here for her.
"Hi Johnny." Claire frowned. She'd only heard his mom talk for a few seconds, but she was the only person who not only called him Johnny but was able to get away with it.
"Ma, I fixed your car to be decent so you wouldn't have to drag Billy to bus stops with you when it's below freezing. It was not an invitation to drop by my house anytime you want."
"I know that," she said.
"Then what are you doing here?"
"Billy drew you a picture," she said.
Claire stood then, walking to the doorway leading from the kitchen to the living room. She wasn't going to be able to eat while they were talking anyway. She knew John would be upset by her coming here. If she was using Billy as an excuse somehow, but Billy was with her Claire noticed. His mom reached into her bag then and drew out a piece of paper.
"I told him I wished I had a way to repay you for fixing the car. I can't pay you back for the parts you bought all at once or anything."
"I didn't do it to get paid back," he said.
"I know that, Johnny, I do, but you and your wife took a day off from work," she said and Claire saw when his mother saw her. John glanced at her over his shoulder, apparently not having realized she was there until now.
"So what does that have to do with why you're here exactly?"
She handed John the piece of paper. John stared at it for a little while, clenching his fist the way he did when he got mad at things that were beyond his control. He'd done it the night she came here when she'd been attacked. She'd thought at first it was because he was mad at her, but she'd come to realize now that it was because he was mad that there were things out there he couldn't control. That people he cared about got hurt and he couldn't stop it.
It was one of the things she absolutely loved about him and made her realize that he was nothing like his father.
He lifted his head a bit, glancing at the ceiling with a slight shake of his head.
He stooped down then to Billy's height.
"You drew this for me?"
"It's your GI Joe, isn't it?" John asked.
He nodded again.
"I told him it was yours."
"It was, sure, but he's yours now," John said. "This is real good. Those are the Army guys around him, aren't they?"
"Yeah. I remember playing with them, too. They were GI Joe's troops, you know? You do the same thing? So he has guys to boss around?"
He reached for him and then seemed to think better of it, grabbing onto the picture with his free hand instead.
"Thank you, Billy. This was really nice of you. I've never had anyone draw a picture for me before." He glanced at Claire then. "You remember Claire? You met her the day I was fixing your mom's car?"
"Let's see if she has some tape or something for this so we can hang it on the fridge. I don't have any magnets or anything, I'm afraid since I've never had a picture to hang there before."
He stood then, glancing at his mother. "You can come in while we find something to put this up with."
She stepped in then as Billy did the same thing. Claire went to the room they used as a kind of office. John used it more than she did, but she imagined as she got further and further into working she'd use it, too. She grabbed the tape dispenser he had on the desk and brought it with her to the kitchen.
"We interrupted your breakfast," his mother said.
"Yeah," John said.
"It's all right," Claire said. "I should be going anyway. Here's the tape," she said, handing it to John.
"You didn't even hardly eat!"
"I will take lunch, I promise."
"You won't, but thank you for saying you will."
"Billy, where do you think I should put your picture?"
Billy pointed to a spot in the middle of the fridge and John took some tape off to put the picture there.
"Good enough spot for me, thanks."
John stood again and glanced at his mom.
"The car's running all right I take it?"
"Yes, thank you."
"Maybe when it gets nicer out again I can come over to get the other one running. You have problems with this one, though, in the meantime, call my studio and leave a message or whatever."
Her lips tightened a bit at that and Claire wondered if she really thought John would give her the number here to their house. She knew he was never going to do that. Talking to her like this was probably as far as he was going to go.
"I have to go," Claire said.
"I know," he said.
"We're sorry we interrupted your breakfast."
"It's okay. I should've been at work hours ago anyway."
Claire knew she blushed profusely once she realized what she said probably sounded like. John chuckled softly and shook his head, as if reading her mind and stopping her from feeling the need to explain herself.
She went to the foyer then, getting her coat and stuff.
"I'm sorry, Johnny, I thought she'd be gone already. You mentioned she worked downtown."
"It's all right, Ma. I wouldn't have gotten my picture of GI Joe otherwise."
The picture wasn't bad. It wasn't great, but he was three. Claire could tell it was supposed to be GI Joe. She wasn't sure how John knew the things at his feet were Army guys, but she imagined it went without saying that GI Joe would be surrounded by Army guys. She remembered the Army figurines Christopher had when they were growing up and imagined John had similar ones.
She thought of that at times over the past few months especially, but even back in high school. What was his childhood like? Were his parents ever good to him? Did he have toys? Did he have things like a sandbox that Christopher and Claire just took for granted were normal?
He had a GI Joe and Army guys. She knew that much now. Did he have Tonka trucks? Did he have Lincoln Logs? Did he have an erector set? Christopher had loved those things. In truth, Claire thought he still did. He'd probably love hanging out with Billy so he could play with his GI Joe and Army guys.
John met her in the foyer, working a couple of buttons on her coat for her tugging her toward him a bit.
"Why don't you ever button your coat?"
"I don't know," she said.
"You're going to get sick."
"I just go from here to the car and from the car to work."
"It's still cold."
"I know," she said. "I have my scarf. I'll be better about it."
"Thank you," he said.
"You don't wear a coat."
"I do too!"
"Not like mine."
"No, I suppose. I zip mine up though. I don't care if I get sick, though. I care very much if you do."
"Well, I care if you get sick."
"Thank you," he said, leaning in to kiss her. "You have a good day. I'm sorry you didn't get to eat your breakfast."
"It's okay. I'll stop somewhere on the way and get something."
"Now I really feel bad."
"Don't! Have a good day. I'll see you later."
"Yeah. Call before you leave so I don't start worrying you're dead in a ditch somewhere."
"That'd mean something if there were ditches in Chicago."
"You know what I mean."
"Maybe I can have dinner waiting for you."
"That sounds wonderful."
He kissed her again. She drew away faster than he wanted her to she knew. She couldn't kiss him like he wanted her to in front of his mother. She just couldn't.
"Love you," she said before opening the door and heading outside.
His mom had parked on the street in front of their house he noticed. Hadn't she noticed there were still two cars on the driveway? Maybe she didn't know.
He regarded his mom who was standing about the same spot Claire was when she was watching John talk with her at the door earlier.
"You look nice," he said, unable to censor his thoughts. It slipped out. He couldn't help it. She looked put together. Again her hair looked nice. So did Billy for that matter. He even had boots on not just shoes.
"Thank you," she said, clearly as surprised as he was by the compliment.
"Sure. Are you working?" he asked.
"I work in the cafeteria at Shermer Memorial."
"Really?" he asked. How odd that he'd just been talking to Phillip who worked there, too.
"That surprises you?"
"That you have a job? Well, kind of, but no, just weird. I was just talking to someone the other night who's a nurse there. A friend of Claire's came by to get some information on my business."
"Oh," she said. "It's a big hospital."
"Sure it is," he said. "Where does he go?" he asked.
"They have a daycare there."
"Really? That's nice," he said. He'd never paid attention to businesses that did or didn't offer such things, but he supposed a hospital would want to.
"He likes it. He has friends there."
"Good. He draws pretty well. I had no problem knowing that was GI Joe."
"He does," she said, sounding proud.
"Anyway. I have to get to work."
"Sure," she said, looking disappointed. What did she expect?
"Thank you again for the picture, Billy. My first picture being from my little brother is pretty awesome."
"He worked very hard on it."
"I can tell."
They walked to the door then and he let her out.
"I'll come by in the spring to look at the other car."
"Yeah, well, worse comes to worse you'll have it in case this one craps out again or something and I can't look at it again."
"I appreciate it, Johnny. Money's pretty tight."
"I bet it is," he said. Never having a job before she couldn't be earning that much. "Obviously you're doing decent. He has clothes, a coat and boots. That's more than I got sometimes."
She looked wounded then and John felt kind of bad, but he didn't want her to think he was softening or changing his opinion of her. She'd still been one of the world's shittiest mother's. There was no forgetting that, no matter how well she may be doing with Billy.
"I'll see you in the spring then."
"Ma," he said. "I'm not doing this. I did you a favor, please don't make me regret it."
"Yeah, I still haven't figured that out. When I do I'll let you know. I'm not ready to have you in my life, though. I don't know I ever will be. You know?"
"It's years too late for apologies, don't you think? Is your sorry going to undo it all? Anyway, I have to go. Thanks for bringing Billy by, but please don't use him as an excuse again. I appreciate the picture, but you could've mailed it. You have the address, obviously."
She left then. John watched from the front door as she and Billy walked to the car. She helped him into the seat she had for him in the backseat and then got in and drove away.
He went to the kitchen to put the things away from the breakfast he and Claire didn't get to eat. The eggs wouldn't reheat, but the potatoes and bacon would. Maybe he'd wake up early tomorrow morning and make her breakfast again to use it up. He glanced at the picture on the refrigerator. He had friends who had kids, not many and not ones he was real close to, but he was familiar with artwork on refrigerators and what it meant. He never thought he'd have something like that on his refrigerator. It was different because he was his brother not his kid, but John couldn't help thinking that he liked seeing the picture there. It made his kitchen seem lived in, like it was part of a home, a family. Things he never realized until recently he even wanted.
Something he still wasn't sure he'd be able to give Claire. Well, the home part he could. The family part was inconclusive. He knew her not getting pregnant in September didn't mean his junk wasn't working. He didn't understand the intricacies of it, but knew the timing had to be right for the sperm to find an egg and become a baby. Claire had mentioned starting to try after the first of the year. He wasn't sure he was ready for that, but he couldn't deny not having to use rubbers ever again wasn't a horrible concept. Not that they used them every time now. He tried to remember, but sometimes she joined him in the shower or on the couch in the living room and they didn't want to stop to get one. She knew when she was safe or not so he took her at her word that she was when she said so.
He sighed a bit before finishing getting ready for the day before leaving.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com