Christopher opened his door, staring at her as if she was an intruder or something. She'd obviously woken him up. She felt bad for that, but she wasn't ready to go home yet.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"Mom and Dad?"
"Are fine," she said, not even thinking what a late-night visit from her might mean to him. Though why he'd think she'd be the one called if something happened to their parents versus him she wasn't sure. Unless he thought she'd been out with them or something.
"Claire. It's after eleven o'clock. Did you and John have a fight or something?"
"You sure? It's okay if you did. People argue. It doesn't mean the end of the world is eminent or anything. Remember the house we grew up in?"
"We didn't argue!"
"I was just bored."
"So you showed up here?" he asked, clearly confused. "No offense, but I think John could find ways to entertain you far better than I could."
"He's gone for the night."
"He had a wedding up in Rockford so is spending the night."
"Wow. He traveled to Rockford for a wedding?"
"Is he even making money then if he has to pay for gas and a hotel room?"
"Well, they offered to pay him for the hotel room, but he said no."
"Why did he do that?"
"Because he didn't have to spend the night, but since he had to get up before seven to be there on time he decided it'd be best."
"Right. I get it. Sort of, still doesn't seem very economical to not be compensated. That's none of my business, though. Clearly he's done fine without my input. So, no offense, but I have to ask. Why are you here exactly?"
She shrugged. "I went out for a while."
That wasn't shocking news, especially to him certainly.
"I decided to leave hours before the club closed."
Clearly, she wasn't explaining herself properly if he wasn't getting it.
"I didn't want to go home!"
"It's Saturday night."
"So you woke me up?"
"Well," she said, put like that it sounded kind of ridiculous. More than kind of. Totally ridiculous. She nibbled on her lower lip a bit not sure how to explain it.
"I've never been there alone before."
"What?" he asked.
"I mean, I've been there by myself, you know, during the day, but never overnight."
"Oh," he said, stepping aside then to let her in.
She was glad it made sense to him because it made absolutely no sense to her. John said he'd call her later, but the reception was at a restaurant or something it sounded like. That meant there were no time restrictions beyond how late people wanted to stay. So, she had no idea what time he'd be done. He'd booked a room near the reception site she knew, and he'd called her briefly before she'd left for the night using the phone card he had for just that reason.
Her day had been pretty normal, for them anyway. He'd woken her up before getting up for his day. Saturday was the only day he ever had to do that. During the week it was her who had to wake him up. Sundays neither had to wake the other up. She had to admit, she loved the way he woke her up most Saturdays. Today was no exception. He'd actually been inside of her before she was completely awake, which probably should have bothered her but it wasn't as if she'd ever told him no to this point. He'd certainly made it worth her while to get woken up that way. She didn't join him in the shower today because it was hours before she had any intention of getting up for the day. He'd known that, though, even if he'd laughed at her for going right back to sleep afterward.
She'd woken up hours later. He was probably already working by the time she took a shower and had some breakfast. She'd spent the day as she usually did on Saturday. It was the only day she could do things like clean the bathroom and stuff. He didn't lay all of the stuff on her, but he cooked, did the grocery shopping, did her laundry ninety-nine percent of the time, and did dishes, too. She figured cleaning the bathroom, washing their sheets, and vacuuming was only fair.
He'd told her more than once that he'd do those things with her on Sunday if she waited, but it was the one day, the only day that they had all day together. She didn't want to spend it doing household chores. Cleaning her bathroom wasn't anything new. Her mom had cleaning people come in twice a week to clean the house, but things like her bathroom and bedroom she'd been responsible for every other day of the week. And her mother wouldn't allow her to leave a mess and expect the people to clean up after her.
She was lucky, she supposed, in that John wasn't a huge slob. Oh, sure he left socks on the floor sometimes or didn't get all of his shaving cream off of the sink once in a while. Overall, though, he picked up and cleaned up after himself. She didn't think he'd always been like that, but assumed at the very least when he'd moved in here he'd realized he had no one to keep a house clean but himself. She got the impression, though, from things he'd said or hinted at that his room growing up had been the one thing he had some control over so he'd taken care of not just it but his things in it.
Eventually, she'd gotten dressed and met her friends downtown for dinner before going out to a couple of clubs. Dinner had been nice. The friends she'd eaten with were people she actually did things with in everyday life like shopping or lunch with the few that worked downtown, too.
What a difference a week made. Last Saturday night John had been out with her because it'd been New Year's Eve and he had no weddings that night. She'd been surprised he would've done one if he'd been approached about doing it. He'd told her he had done a Christmas Day wedding a couple of years ago. The couple wasn't Christian so to them it was just another day. He'd been willing to work it, they'd been willing to pay him an extra fee for working a holiday that he didn't care about celebrating (not that he told them that). It was probably the unkindest thing she'd ever heard him talk about doing, and she certainly didn't think it was unkind at all. There were some days that it just went without saying were off-limits.
A couple of pictures of them had made it into the paper this past week as a result. Why she was newsworthy now that she was married she wasn't sure, but evidently people were surprised that she was still married. She had to admit she was a little surprised herself when it got down to it. She and John didn't have the best track record as far as getting along seeing each other sporadically let alone every day. She'd expected him more than once the first month or so to wake up one day and say he hadn't meant it, he didn't remember any of it, and wanted her gone. She did kind of wonder if the interest on New Year's Eve (and the resulting pictures) were because John was with her. She typically went out to the clubs on Saturday nights when he was working so he wasn't with her real often. So maybe people thought they were already on their way to a divorce so his being with her again was newsworthy. It was the only thing she could really come up with because there were certainly lots of other things going on New Year's Eve to focus on than her and John.
Christopher was right. They'd had an argument here and there, but it was usually over something stupid that they both laughed about later. It was all part of adjusting. She'd actually gone to bed mad at him one night. It was in the beginning after she'd gotten her first paycheck and she'd tried to give him money for bills. He'd refused to take it, saying he didn't want her money.
She understood pride, but she was working. She wasn't going to let him pay for all of the household bills. That was just ridiculous. He'd insisted he'd been able to do it before she moved in. Well, of course he could, she never doubted he could. True, her mom never had a job to pay her father for the bills, but she wasn't her mom. Things were different now. She couldn't just let him pay for things. He'd insisted she needed more things than he did like new clothes for work. She put mileage on her car going downtown and back every day so she'd need money to keep her car maintained. He couldn't argue gas because he drove around a lot, too, especially during the summer. True, it wasn't downtown and back every day five days a week, but still. That certainly didn't add up to being unable to pay for half of the electric, gas, mortgage, cable, and utility bills. Especially when things like the electric and utility bills increased because there were now two people in the house using those things every day instead of just him.
She hadn't been able to sleep, though, and had gone back to the living room to sit with him. He seemed to understand she didn't want to argue with him about it anymore. Evidently, he saw things from her point of view, she didn't just want to help pay for these things. She needed to. She needed to feel as if she was contributing something. She'd never had anything to be responsible or accountable to anyone for. She didn't want him years later, or even just a few months later, thinking she expected him to support her as her parents' had. Or that she was free to spend her money frivolously while he had to put all of his income toward the house. It had taken him a couple of weeks after that night, but eventually he started telling or showing her how much everything was.
"Dinner was fine," she said.
"Okay," he said, leading her to the living room.
"Then we went out afterward and I just didn't want to be there."
"There's nothing wrong with that, you know."
"No, I guess I don't know that."
"It just might mean you're growing up and outgrowing your need for that shit, Claire."
"I'm only twenty-two!"
"Yeah, well, you've had a lot of changes the past six months or so. You started working, you're married, and you have a house that you're at least partially responsible for the upkeep of."
"Some of your friends don't have jobs. Some of them are still very single, which is fine. Maybe you should find some new friends who have more in common with you now."
"You sound like John."
"He tells you to get new friends?"
"He's been telling me that for years it seems."
"He's not wrong."
"What am I supposed to do? Tell them I don't need them anymore?"
"No, you don't have to do anything that permanent or drastic, but you can certainly start phasing things out of your life that aren't necessary any longer. What do you need to go out clubbing for anymore anyway?"
"I like it!"
"Obviously you don't anymore if you're showing up at my house at this time of night because you were having a boring night."
"I don't even know why!"
"I saw those pictures of the two of you from last weekend during the week. I think everyone around the office saw them actually."
"Yeah?" She wasn't sure what they had to do with anything. She was aware a lot of people she worked with saw them. Some commented on them, some just looked at her a little oddly after they'd been printed. She wasn't sure why, her being out wasn't anything new or unusual.
"You looked like you were having a good time."
"John did, too."
"He was," she admitted.
They'd taken a car downtown so they'd both been able to drink as much as they wanted to. One of the pictures that had made it into the paper was of them kissing, and it was very obviously not just a quick one either. She'd actually kind of liked the picture where John kind of hated it. She thought it showed they actually loved one another where he thought it was an intrusion. They could've published a picture before or after the kiss, but had chosen that for a specific reason.
"Maybe his not being with you is the reason you were bored."
"I don't know, I've gone out without him before."
"Sure, but tonight's different. You were out and knew you wouldn't go home to him for the first time in a long time. Even before you were married I bet."
"I'm not stupid, Claire, I know you spent way more nights at his place than you did at home last summer. I think that's why I was able to convince Dad not to do anything irrational or drastic."
"I'm really not sure what he had in mind, but I know for a while he was intent on finding a way to quietly get your marriage annulled."
"I didn't want it annulled."
"I think he was going to convince you, but I told him to let it play out. I don't think he realized how big of a deal it was you were sleeping at his house five or six nights a week."
"And you did?"
"Sure. Again, I'm not stupid. Believe it or not, I know you and I know how you are. I know you weren't sleeping around. The nights you didn't come home before John you were crashing at some friend's house not with guys."
"How did you…"
"Because I know you! I told you before I remember when you asked me questions about him. You never did again."
"So you assume that means…"
"Are you telling me I'm wrong?"
"Well, no," she said.
"I can handle Dad, you know. You don't have to keep doing the ridiculous things you did just to keep people from thinking about me."
"I know until I convince him that I'm normal he's not leaving me the company. I can't change that, I realize this."
"I'm not marrying someone to pretend I'm what Mom and Dad want me to be."
"Why not? Do you hear yourself? Would you want some guy to marry you who had absolutely no interest in you beyond maybe being your friend?"
"Really? You'd be all right with that."
"I wouldn't have known any different!"
He chuckled softly at that. "I guess you wouldn't have, but you are aware enough of how things work to know what to expect."
"Not even to have kids?"
"I don't want kids! I didn't think you did either. I can't say I'd be surprised if John wouldn't either judging by how he was raised."
"Well, I want them, sure, you know, one day. I just don't want to be like Mom and Dad were."
"And yet you're telling me to marry someone I don't even love."
"I'm not telling you to do anything, Christopher. I was asking a question."
"The company isn't worth that to me. It's not like you're going to fire me."
"Maybe he'll surprise us and leave it both of us."
"I wouldn't mind."
"I know you wouldn't."
"I just wish I knew why I was having such an awful time tonight."
"I can't really answer you. It's your first night without him. That's got to be weird. You do know they'll still find you equally as interesting married, Claire, if you want them to. Trust me. You've gotten their attention too drastically over the past four years for them to just forget about you, but eventually they'll move onto someone else. Those pictures John takes of you. Why not use those to do things?"
"I don't know. It's a little late now, but things like toy drives for Christmas at our church or something. I have a friend who's an elementary school teacher and he says he has to buy a ton of things he shouldn't really have to because some kids can't afford the stuff. You know, basic stuff like crayons. Maybe you could do some stuff like that."
"You're not working all of the time. You have Saturday's to yourself most of the time. You could turn that attention into something good and worthwhile if you wanted to. Mom would help you, she does stuff like that all of the time."
"Because she doesn't work!"
"That may be true, but you could still do something. Don't let working stop you. May as well while they care because they will stop if you don't go out every weekend anymore."
"See, and there's where my problem lies."
"You're not sure you want them to stop caring?"
"Kind of," she admitted. She hated the attention at times, but there were times it was incredibly … heady. It really made her feel important, even if she knew deep-down she wasn't.
"They still haven't figured out John's name."
"No," she said.
"If they do and find out what he does and that he's behind the pictures of you that have been showing up the past few months it may mean more business for him."
"Or freaks coming out of the woodwork."
"True. How is it they haven't figured out who he is yet?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe my friends, the ones who know his name that is, actually realize maybe we want privacy."
"Those friends I'd keep."
"I don't hang out with the rest of them anyway. You know? Most of them don't even have my number at the house. The ones I just see out I mean. I have that answering service they use to leave me messages."
"You mean some of them never even had your number?"
"No! I'm not completely stupid. I may have hung out with them out places, but I didn't want many of them to know where I lived or anything."
"Yet they found out anyway."
"Sure, but I never invited them over or anything."
"You just need to figure out what you want, Claire. I can't tell you, neither can John really. There's nothing wrong with going out the nights he's working. There's nothing wrong with going out the nights he's not working if that's what you want to do. You're married not chained together for the rest of your lives."
"You don't want to go home when he's not there tonight?"
"Yes. I mean, I'm used to coming home from being out and I know he'll be home or if he's not soon after I am."
"Tonight's different. He won't be there."
"Does he do that often?"
"Not that I know of, but I don't know. I imagine things like this come up. They were willing to pay him."
"He really needs to learn not to turn down those offers."
"Maybe he doesn't want to. You know? They live here, the couple, but she's from Rockford. That's why they're getting married there. You don't think they'll remember he didn't gouge them and come back for things like baby pictures or whatever?"
"Well, sure, I guess, but there's being fair and nice and there's being impractical."
"A one night hotel stay is not impractical. He didn't have to stay the night. It's not that far of a drive. He just decided it'd be safer this time of year."
"Valid point," he agreed. The weather was fine earlier today when he left. This was Chicago in January, though. Everyone knew that could change in the blink of an eye. There was also no telling what the weather in Rockford was going to be like. It wasn't hugely far, but far enough that they could've gotten bad weather and Chicago wouldn't have.
"He can write it off anyway."
"True," he said. "Being that it's the beginning of January that's a long time to wait for that expense to be deducted."
"He doesn't need to worry about it, Christopher."
"He hasn't asked you for money, has he?"
"What? No! I'd give it to him if he asked, though."
"I know you would. I sense he's not the kind to ask anyway."
"No. I had a hard enough time getting him to let me pay for half of the bills."
"Phil Taylor sure seems to like him."
"You've talked to Phillip?"
"A couple of times since your reception. I'd sort of forgotten how much I liked the guy."
"And you've talked about my husband?"
"No! He has! Believe it or not, I don't sit around talking about you or John, but Phil asked me about him so I answered his questions."
"What kind of questions?"
"I don't know. The usual. At the reception he asked about his job, his family, you know the usual stuff. Now it's if I'm adjusted to having a brother-in-law. If I'd use him as my photographer if I ever got married."
"Well, sure. That'd be kind of rude, wouldn't it?"
"I mean, I don't dislike him. I admit I was, and still am, a bit cautious as to his motives but as you've said he has more to lose right now than you do."
"He thinks there's something off about Phillip's interest in him."
She shrugged. "I don't know," she said, explaining about Phillip's visit to their house and then the Taylor's showing up at the studio with Phillip and his fiancée.
"I could ask him."
"No, that's okay. He was going to wait until the holidays were over and see if he wanted to meet him for a beer or something."
"Oh, good idea. He does like him."
"I get the impression John likes him, too."
"And that's strange?"
"Yes, he doesn't make friends real easily."
"He doesn't trust people."
"No, he doesn't."
"Understandable considering the two people he should've been able to trust let him down pretty drastically."
"You don't know the half of it."
"No, I don't imagine I ever will."
"He has a brother."
"He's three. He didn't know about him until about a month ago when he went to see why his mom was taking the bus."
"Oh, that's weird."
"Yeah. A little."
"How old is his mom to be having kids again?"
"Thirty-nine or something I think he said. She was like sixteen or seventeen when she got pregnant I think."
"I know. So young."
"How's he handling her being in his life again?"
"Well, she's not really."
"Claire. He fixed her car. She's bringing him pictures his three-year old brother drew. Whether he wants to admit it or not, that's involvement."
"I know. I can't tell him not to do it. He feels bad I think because she never worked or anything so his dad being in prison has left her in the lurch."
"Yeah, well, she kind of left him in the lurch for years didn't she?"
"She did, but again, it's not my place."
"No, I suppose it's not. Has he asked your opinion?"
"No, the only thing he said he'd ask my opinion on is if he got to the point of wanting to have Billy over for an overnight some time."
"Would you be okay with that?"
"I don't know. It'd be weird, but am I supposed to say no? He's his brother."
"I suppose. Very bad situation all around. I feel sorry for that little kid."
"I know, me, too. I just hope that with the dad being gone…"
"Yeah, I hope so, too."
He yawned and she felt bad again about waking him up.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"No you're not, but it's all right. I'm glad you came here instead of doing something stupid."
"I don't know what I would've done."
"I don't either, but I'm sure you could have found something!"
"Thanks," she said.
"You're welcome to my guest room if you want it."
She glanced at the clock on Christopher's VCR and realized it wasn't even one o'clock yet.
"I should go home in case John calls."
"You could just tell him you were here."
"I know, but I want to talk to him."
He chuckled softly.
"That's nice to hear actually."
She stood then and so did he. She slid her coat and stuff back on, grabbing her purse. She reached in to give him a kiss.
"Good night," she said.
"Night Claire. I hope you get some sleep."
"I'm sure I will eventually."
"Do you have a phone by the bed?"
"Yes, usually we keep the ringer off but I'll turn it on tonight to be sure I hear it ring."
He smiled a little at that. She was glad she could amuse him.
"You should come over for dinner some night. Mom and Dad, too, maybe."
"Sure, just tell us when. It wasn't so bad eating with them the last time."
She left then, letting her car warm up for a few minutes before heading home.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com