"Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed or something this morning?" her assistant, Sam, asked her.
"What?" Claire asked.
"You haven't said a word all morning."
"Oh, I'm just distracted, I guess."
"By all the work you're not doing?"
Claire scoffed softly, but she was right. She'd gotten little accomplished all morning.
"John's stuck in Rockford until he can get his Jeep fixed. I offered to go get him yesterday, but he said there was no point."
"Oh," she said.
"The funny thing is, he could fix it himself he said but he doesn't have his tools or anything so he's at the mercy of a garage who doesn't know him or what he knows."
She'd offered to bring him his tools, even go to his mom's house and get some of his dad's tools if that's was what he needed her to do to get the Jeep running.
"Well, hopefully he tells them what he knows."
"I just don't like him not being home," Claire said with a shrug.
How had that happened? How had she gotten so not just reliant on having the other half of her bed occupied by him, but comfortable with it? So comfortable that she slept like crap last night. Saturday night wasn't as bad because she assumed she'd see him in the morning. She'd looked forward to that. It hadn't happened.
"I can understand that."
"How long have you been married?" Claire asked.
"Three years, but we lived together for two before we got married."
"Really?" Claire asked.
Claire didn't know many people who lived with someone before they'd gotten married. The one or two she did know were absolutely no one she'd introduce to her parents. So she was surprised to hear Sam say that.
"Yes, neither of our parents were too happy with us doing that, but we just wanted to be in the right place before we got married."
"Makes sense," Claire said. She certainly couldn't argue with that.
"And we were engaged and everything. We had the date set. We just refused to move it up when we found a townhouse that we liked and could afford."
"Oh, well, that totally makes sense. You made it sound like…"
"Yeah, I know, but that's how our parents' saw it. You know?"
"I can imagine."
"So, you haven't heard from him this morning?"
"No, he said something about using the delay to look around and take some pictures. There's a river there or something, I guess. He did that yesterday and I imagine he'd do it some more today if he had to."
"Right," Sam said.
"He said he was going to ask the mechanic if he could just fix it himself and pay him for the use of the space and tools, but I'm sure that wouldn't work."
"I know, which is too bad because he really does know his way around cars."
"Well, you could come out for drinks after work with me and some of the others."
"Sure. I mean, if you wanted to. I haven't asked before because you usually have things already planned."
"Oh, well, it's not as if I have anything that important going on."
"Well, we just go down the street for an hour or so before going home. Don't worry we don't spend the hour slamming you, your dad, or your brother."
"That is good to know."
"I think most here like working here. Myself included."
"I'm glad to hear that. I like having you here," Claire said. She wasn't sure what she'd do without her truthfully. Claire knew how to type, but she had so much more to do than to worry about typing out letters. "Anyway, I may just do that."
"Don't want to go home to an empty house?"
"No! Saturday night was bad enough, I knew he was going to be gone. I wasn't expecting him to be gone last night and tonight, too."
"First few nights away?"
"Since you got married?"
"Oh, yeah. Well, I was in Kankakee one night, but that was different I guess. I was busy and we knew about it days before it happened."
"That can be tough, but you'll get used to it. My husband is a truck driver so he's gone days on end sometimes."
"I don't think I knew that. I'm sorry. That's pretty bad."
"It's all right. I was kind of forced on you, you didn't get to hire me yourself, and well, you've been busy. You just got married and started the job and everything. I see that."
"Thank you. I do know his name is Doug, though."
Claire was coming to envy and admire the relationship John had with Ronda. He'd really lucked out with her. He admitted to her he to this day wasn't sure why she applied for the job. She'd evidently never told him. He knew part of it was to get out of her house, but there had been other jobs available at the time she was qualified for. Ronda clearly liked working for him, though, because she stayed and John admitted there were other places out there, photography studios in particular, who could be way more competitive as far as a salary went. She was loyal, though, and clearly wasn't in it for the money.
Claire knew next to nothing about her assistant, Sam. She hadn't hired her as Sam pointed out. She'd been assigned to Claire by her father. It was certainly a promotion for Sam, but Claire couldn't help but wonder if she'd been given the job to spy. She'd never know and she hoped to never give her assistant the need to report anything to her father if that was her reason for working for her.
"Well, anyway, if you decide to come out with us, just let me know. If you need anything you can let me know that, too."
"Are you ordering lunch in?"
"I was thinking about it. I don't feel like going anywhere today."
"Well, when you decide let me know, I may order with you."
"Okay," she said, going back to her desk.
She came back about an hour later.
"Are you sure he hasn't done something wrong?" she asked.
"Who?" Claire asked, glancing up from what she'd been writing.
"I assume these are from him," she said, setting the vase of roses on the edge of Claire's desk.
"Well, now I may wonder," she said, but she knew he hadn't.
"They're beautiful," Sam said.
"They are," Claire admitted. She plucked the card out of the middle of the bouquet, realizing it was attached to a silk lily that looked almost identical to the ones he'd given her during the summer.
JUST SO YOU KNOW I REALLY WOULD RATHER BE HOME THAN HERE.
She wasn't expecting a romantic note or anything, so she wasn't disappointed with what it said. His reason for her not picking him up was valid. He'd have to go back there to get his Jeep anyway so there was no sense her wasting gas to go there and back twice. He also didn't want to have to deal with explaining in detail what tools she'd need and where in his garage they'd be located. He absolutely did not want her dealing with his mother without him with her. It didn't mean she wouldn't rather he be home.
She also knew the opportunity to take some pictures in an area he hadn't taken any before appealed to him. Evidently even though it was January, the bride and groom wanted some outdoor shots taken and had chosen the river area. So that was how John knew it was there and how to get there. She didn't pretend to completely understand because she didn't do anything artsy or anything like he did. So the need to do that just wasn't innate in her as it seemed to be in him.
She could tell a difference in him now that his hectic Christmas schedule was done. He liked his customers, but she knew the endless Santa, reindeer, and North Pole backgrounds got tedious for him. She sensed when he needed to just go out and take pictures. They'd done that a couple of Sundays, driven somewhere and he just shot picture after picture. Her dad loved his idea of taking some pictures of Claire in front of different Standish properties. They weren't done yet because to this point they'd only done pictures of her in front of the modern, current things. John wanted to get some black and white pictures of her at some of the older Standish properties and land, too. She was kind of excited because she knew after seeing the modern ones he'd do a fantastic job on the older ones, too.
She took the chance when Sam left her office that he'd be in his hotel room. The place he was staying at wasn't a great place by any means. When he'd made the reservation he'd anticipated being there for an overnight so he hadn't invested in something better.
She hung up, frustrated that she couldn't get through to him. Leave it to him to send her flowers and then not be around for her to call and tell him how gorgeous they were. Or that she missed him. Or simply to say thank you.
She took her scissors out and snipped the stem of the silk lily down so it would fit perfectly in the pen holder on her desk. It probably wasn't what she was supposed to do with it, but she liked it there. She loved the roses, but the lilies he'd given her had been incredibly special to her. She'd never gotten flowers before and she knew he'd never given them before. It wasn't just that, though. It was because he'd gone himself and picked them out. She realized he couldn't do the same with these today, and she certainly didn't hold that against him. It just made the lilies stand out somehow.
Maybe he knew that, too. Maybe that was why he'd included the silk one. She had no idea. He thought of and did things she didn't always understand. She was coming to realize that was just how men were, all men not just her man.
"I thought you were ordering in," Claire said when she noticed Sam putting her coat on as she set something on her desk she needed her to type.
"I, well, decided to go out."
"I can order you something when I get back if you still want me to."
"Sure, thanks, maybe I'll see what my brother is doing."
"I think I just saw him leave."
"Oh," she said, sort of disappointed. Working through lunch wasn't a new thing for her, but she was kind of hungry today. She hadn't eaten very much this morning for whatever reason. "Well, have a good lunch."
"I will, thanks. Sorry. I just kind of decided last minute."
"No, it's fine," Claire said.
"Wow, someone must really think you're pretty incredible."
Her eyes shot up at his voice. She'd been writing a letter to Mr. Klein for Sam to type up and hadn't heard him even come into her office. His cocky smirk told her he was aware of that fact. She couldn't help it. She wanted the letter to sound perfect!
"You think so?" she asked.
"I'm pretty sure that must be the case."
"What are you doing here?"
He shrugged. "Coming to see my roses."
"Is that all?"
"Well, you know, I had to be sure you got them."
"How did you get here so fast?"
"It turns out the mechanic at the garage my Jeep was towed to was a guest at the wedding I worked Saturday night. We got to talking because I went in there first thing this morning to talk to him rather than do it over the phone. I wanted him to know I was fully aware of what the Jeep's problem was."
"So, my idea of paying him to use his tools and facility didn't wash."
"You were surprised?"
"No, but he knew I wanted to get home so he moved the Jeep to the front of the line. So, I was out of there before eleven o'clock. I checked out of my room and," he shrugged. "Here I am."
"That's why I couldn't get a hold of you."
"You tried calling?"
"Well, yeah. I got these beautiful roses. Did you think I wouldn't?"
"I guess I didn't think about it, no."
"Thank you, by the way."
"I had to do something with my morning."
"Well, it was still nice."
"Nice enough I can get a kiss out of you?"
"I think so," she said, walking up to him then and doing just that.
"I think I like it better when I come here and you're by yourself," he said with a soft chuckle as she drew away pretty quickly.
"I know. I'm sorry."
"Don't be, but you can make it up to me later."
"How? You need to ask me that? I haven't seen you since Saturday morning. That's a very long time, Princess."
"That's a very long time for a lot of things where we're concerned."
"I know that, too."
"You could pick up some take-out on your way home."
"That's how I can make it up to you? You don't want to cook dinner?"
He chuckled. "I wasn't done yet."
"Oh," she said.
"That nice, satiny white number you wore the night we got married."
"I remember it."
"You do? That's good. I don't remember it too clearly because I haven't seen it again since that night."
"You haven't asked!"
"I didn't realize I had to ask. I liked you in it, didn't I?"
"Well, yes, I just," she frowned a bit.
"That's what I want."
"Why am I stopping to buy take-out then?"
He chuckled softly.
"I have to make it sound as if I plan on letting you eat."
"Even if I don't want to?"
"Well, in that case, I leave the take-out portion of the evening up to you. You want to skip it I'm okay with that. The other request. That I want. I'm not letting you skip it."
"Hmm. What if I didn't know where it was?"
"Yes," she said.
"If you really didn't know where it was I would do something to fix it."
"Stop somewhere and buy a new one, but you may not like what I buy for you if I start down that path."
"I have a feeling what I would enjoy seeing you in and what you'd enjoy and be comfortable my seeing you in may not be the same thing."
"I think I'd give you a chance."
"I'll keep that in mind for next month."
He smirked a bit. "Hmm. Yes, that holiday I swore I'd never celebrate in my life."
"Oh," she said. She honestly hadn't even thought of Valentine's Day yet. "I guess you gave me the roses a little early."
"I felt bad. I know you weren't happy I didn't let you come get me."
"I wasn't mad or anything. I just wanted you home."
"No more than I wanted to be home, Princess, trust me."
"That's good to know. Did you get some pictures taken?"
"I did. I'm going to go back to the studio and develop some of them while I'm patiently waiting for it to be your quitting time."
He leaned down and kissed her again, lingering a bit which he knew bothered her since she was at work. He didn't kiss her forever or anything, but it was certainly longer than the one she'd given him.
"We are still newlyweds, you know. We're allowed to kiss," he said when he drew away.
"I know, but I work here! Like for the rest of my life!"
"Well, you can come kiss me at the studio if you want to balance it out."
"You wouldn't care!"
"You're right. I wouldn't at all."
"So that wouldn't work."
"Are you really mad at me?" he asked, stepping away.
"No," she said.
"Walk me to the elevator?"
"I wish you didn't have to go."
"You have to work! I have nothing on my calendar since I had Ronda reschedule the couple things I had for today and tomorrow for later this week or next week."
"Were they mad?"
"I told her if they sounded irritated or anything to let them know I would waive the sitting fees."
"That was nice of you."
"Well, if I'd had my tools on me I would've been home yesterday. The Jeep has always been reliable, though, so I never thought to have any with me."
"About you leaving…"
"Yeah? I'm daring, Princess, but I'm not sure I'm quite daring enough when there's people around."
"That's not what I was talking about! I was going to say I haven't taken lunch. Sam was going to order in and changed her mind. Christopher was already gone and then you got here."
"Hmm. So, I could have lunch with you. Is that what you're saying?"
"I'd love to have lunch with you."
"I'd love to take you to the back of my Jeep for the next hour, but something tells me that wouldn't go over very well."
"Not today. Maybe when it's, you know, not below freezing out."
"While you're working?"
"Like that's stopped me."
"You weren't still working that night."
"No, I suppose I wasn't, but I was here."
"You were. Well, get your coat then so I can take you to lunch. I don't want you starving especially if you're not going to pick up anything for dinner later."
"So, I get home at six o'clock and put that on…"
"I see no reason why you'll need to get out of bed again until your alarm goes off tomorrow morning."
"Now I want to go home."
He chuckled softly. "It sucks having responsibilities, doesn't it?"
"It does. It's very inconvenient. I don't like you being gone for two nights."
"I'm glad you missed me. Or at least parts of me anyway."
"I missed all of you."
"That is wonderful to hear and the feeling was very mutual."
"Where are you taking me?"
He chuckled at that. "You tell me, Princess. It's your lunch hour. Wherever you want to go."
"All right," she said, grabbing her coat. He helped her into it as he did sometimes. He didn't all of the time and she certainly didn't expect him to, but it was nice when he did it. Things like opening her car door for her he did more often than not. It made her wonder where he learned those things from. She didn't see his father doing those things for his mom, but what did she know.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com