"Tell me again why we're doing this?" he asked as she adjusted his tie for him.
He knew how to tie his own tie. He'd been doing it for years thanks to his job. She liked doing it for some reason so he let her. He'd let her do anything she wanted to for the most part. He wasn't stupid. He knew the key to his being happy was her being happy. Ultimately. So if tying his tie for him gave her that for a few minutes he let her do it.
"Because it will make my parents happy?"
"Is Christopher going?"
"Yes," she said.
That surprised him because other than the couple of times Christopher had come to their house for dinner with their parents he stayed away from family functions. He hadn't shown up for Christmas dinner.
"You were hoping I'd say no?"
"John," she said, sounding incredibly exasperated and he sighed again.
"I hate when you say my name like that."
"Like what?" she asked, putting the finishing touches on the stickpin that he'd only ever worn to their reception until now.
"Like I kicked your puppy or something."
He shrugged as she fixed his collar around the tie.
"You just sound so disappointed. I hate disappointing you."
"Well, I do understand why you don't want to spend the day with my parents."
"Will having Christopher there help?"
"Having you there will help."
"You didn't have any problems at Christmas."
"I didn't have to go to church on my one day off of the week!"
"What? I don't like churches very much."
"Well, it's only one day. Two days I guess if you count Christmas Eve."
"I know that. It's going to be in English, right?"
She laughed softly. "Yes. Christmas mass was in English. They stopped doing Latin masses a long time ago. I'm pretty sure I was still a baby when that happened."
"Well, that's good at least," he said, adjusting his cuffs a bit now that she was done. "But holy shit, Claire, it's like three hours long."
"What? You didn't tell me that part! I mentioned it to Ronda and she laughed at me."
"I'm sorry. I guess I should've. I just assumed…"
He sighed softly.
"You owe me."
"For sitting in church for close to three hours with your parents! At least I sort of knew what to expect from Christmas Eve mass."
"You don't for Easter mass?"
"No. I mean, He was resurrected I guess. Beyond that not much with the Sunday school education."
"Yes, I know," she said with a laugh.
"Stop laughing at me! It's not my fault I didn't do this stuff growing up."
"I know, and my parents know that you didn't."
"I'm not sure that makes me feel any better or helps."
"They understand not everyone was raised the same way Christopher and I were."
"I still say you owe me," he said, grabbing the jacket that went with the suit. He wasn't sure why it was taking him longer than her to get ready today. Procrastination he supposed.
"I don't know," he said.
"How about a Friday night at Mom and Dad's lake house? You know they'd let us use it anytime we want to?"
"I'm not sure that makes up for three hours of mass, Princess. Especially since it's March and we can't swim or anything. There's not a whole lot of snow to snowmobile or anything either."
"They have a hot tub…"
"That they do. That may be worth it."
"It's a hot tub," he said, grabbing his wallet from his dresser. "We're talking three hours of sitting there listening to a priest talk about stuff that could probably be summed up in about twenty minutes."
"Well, figure it out and we'll negotiate."
"Who all is going to be at dinner?"
"Just us. My grandparents."
"Both sets?" he asked as she flipped out the light to their room and headed toward the living room with him.
"Why do your dad's parents always go to your parents' house for things?"
"You'd have to ask them, I don't know."
"Don't they like your uncles?"
"Of course they do. I really don't know!"
"It's just strange. I've been with you now for all the major family holidays and your dad's parents have been at their house for all of them."
"Well, we were invited to your grandparents' house. If you wanted to go there instead…"
"No," he said, helping her into her sweater. "I told Phillip that maybe we'd stop by or something later. Like right before we go home or something later, but no I'm so not ready for that."
"But you're ready to maybe see them later?"
"Maybe. I don't know. Three hours of mass may kill me so I won't be able to ever get to know my grandparents and it'd be all your fault," he said while she checked the door was locked and the lights were off.
"Funny man. I'd feel sorry for you except you go to church all of the time."
"I do not!"
"You do, too. How many weddings have you done the past four years?"
"I can't even begin to count…"
"Well, that's church. You probably know the marriage ceremony by heart for three or four different religions."
He chuckled softly at that. "You're right."
"So if you want to be technical about it, even though you weren't actually attending as a guest or anything you've been to church probably as much, if not more than I have."
"Your parents are not paying me to be there today!"
"You're going to make me take our kids to church by myself, aren't you?"
"I didn't even realize you went to church. I mean, you've gone a couple of times with your mom I guess since we've been married. I just assumed you were being nice. You know? She asked you to go so you went along."
"I haven't gone regularly since high school, I guess."
"You went then?" He hadn't even realized, but then there was a lot about her he hadn't realized. He'd had her pegged as a type and until that day of detention never paid her much attention beyond avoiding crossing paths with her and her type.
"Yes, every week from the time I was a baby. I mean, I don't remember that far back, but yes."
"You never went?"
"No. A few times when I was little, like Billy's age little."
"No, I wouldn't make you go."
"I'm extremely relieved to hear you say that."
"It's not over two hours long every Sunday you know?"
"I know. It's the one day a week I get off. I don't plan on spending it in a suit that I just took of a few hours earlier."
"I see your point," she said, grabbing her purse.
He regarded the things in the living room and on the door that showed it was Easter. He'd never decorated his house, having a tree this Christmas for the first time that he could remember going back years. Claire had put some things in the window and a pastel colored wreath on the front door. She'd even made him an Easter basket, which had floored him. He had to admit, he liked jelly beans so he wasn't going to complain about the basket. He hadn't done anything for her, but she admitted she'd done it because she knew it wasn't something he'd gotten before.
"Besides, you know, things like mowing the lawn, washing the cars, and other things like that need to get done."
"I can take my car to a car wash!"
"I like washing the cars."
"You help me and I get to get you wet."
"And that's good?"
"When I get to watch you take your clothes off as a result, yes."
"Oh," she said.
"Yes, oh. Anything that involves you wearing less clothes is good."
"Well, I could arrange to wear less clothes when we get home tonight."
"You wear less clothes every night," he said, sliding a hand along her hip. She had clothes on so it wasn't nearly as good as touching her usually was. "It's the only reason I actually enjoy going to bed."
"As soon as we get home."
"Oh," he said.
"Does that give you something to look forward to enough that you'll pretend not to be bored to tears?"
"Yes, I think I can close my eyes and picture that if I have to."
"You can't do that in church."
"Princess. God knows what I'm thinking whether I'm here or in church. Assuming you believe in that, I guess. I'm not entirely sure I do, but that's a discussion for another day. I don't think He's going to thank me for not thinking what I think the other twenty-one hours of the day today just because I'm in church."
"I suppose you're right."
"Because if I'm going to hell for my thoughts about you. Well, He reserved a spot for me that day at school."
"Did you ever think we'd end up here?"
"Nope. Not in a million years. Then I wasn't planning on much of anything beyond getting out of my house alive and in one piece."
"I know," she said, leaning up to kiss him. "I didn't either. I hated that you made me feel that way."
"Something for someone and then you were gone!"
"Yeah, well, I've already told you…"
"I know, and you're right. I'm sure we wouldn't be here today."
"It doesn't mean it didn't bother me."
"We did a pretty good job of living our lives between then and now so I think we both probably accomplished what we needed to."
"I have a job at any rate."
He chuckled. "Yes, because we both know there's no way in hell four years ago I could've even come close to supporting you."
"I don't think we would've been married four years ago."
"You know what I mean. I would've had to choose between you and doing something with my life. I couldn't have afforded you and starting out. I could barely afford starting out as it was without you. No offense, but I'm pretty sure the doing something with my life would've won out at that point."
"I know. I'm sorry it was so bad."
"It wasn't bad. I mean, I could've stayed at my parents' house. I chose to leave so it's my fault that I had to sleep on a rollaway bed that had springs coming out of it for six months and went to bed hungry more often than not."
"God, I really hate hearing that every time you talk about it."
"I'm here. It was worth it. If I'd stayed at home I would've had to find a way to hide what I was doing and the money I was earning."
"Yes," he scoffed softly. "I used to have to hide what cash I had in books. It was the only way I could be sure the old man wouldn't find it."
"Well, my sock drawer was out. Mom would find it in there. Dad looked under my mattress for everything he thought I'd hide: money, my drugs, magazines."
"Yes, the kind I'd have gotten really embarrassed about my mom finding so I hid them under my mattress."
"Oh," she said and he chuckled softly at the blush that was currently on her cheeks.
"He wasn't much of a reader so money was safe in books. He never found it anyway, but I'd have to remember which book I put the money in."
"That's how I grew up. I learned early on at any rate."
"I'm not sure I pegged you as a reader."
"Why because I wasn't fond of Moliere?"
"You didn't know how to say his name!"
He chuckled. "It got you to talk to me in a nice way, didn't it, Princess?"
"That was intentional?"
"Oh come on. Like I could have sat through years of Mrs. Delacroix's English classes and not know who Moliere was. Did she know authors that weren't French?"
"And you never thought of that? Really? You thought I was that much of an idiot?"
"Well, no. I wouldn't have expected Andy to know how to pronounce his name either."
"And you just lumped me in with a jock. Thank you."
"No, just," she shrugged.
"That snobby side coming out, I get it. No one else at Shermer could be as well-read as you."
"I certainly never pegged you…"
"Yeah, well, I had to do something when I was holed up in my room avoiding my parents. Funny thing about libraries. They give you this card that lets you check things out for free. Needless to say I got lots of use out of that old library card."
He shrugged. "So, anyway, having a job with income never mind the equipment. It was better for me to get out. I got a better couch about six months later and a bed. And before you ask it is not the same bed we had before you moved yours in here after we got married."
"I wasn't going to…"
"I could see your mind processing. I actually bought a new bed when I moved in here."
"Oh," she said.
"Yours is much better."
"I like it."
He chuckled softly. Much better was an understatement. Hers was a huge step up from the barely one-step up from as cheap as he could get bed he'd bought when moving in here. The mattress was decent, but the frame was pretty awful. They'd already replaced it, in fact, with a new one. They'd put his old bed in the basement to store it since they already had a bed in the spare bedroom and had no need for a third spare bedroom yet.
"All right," he said, opening the door for her. "Let's go get this done with. Just don't elbow me too hard if I nod off, okay?"
"You got to go to sleep last night. I was out until after midnight."
"You woke me up when you got home."
"Because I like waking you up. Sue me. I wasn't sure being Easter Sunday and all if there was some rule about not having sex in the morning."
"Yeah, but aren't you taught sex is for the purpose of babies?"
"Well, true. We're not not trying. I mean if my parents asked…"
The not not trying hadn't answered his question to this point, but it'd only been a little over a month. Even he knew with his minimal knowledge on the subject that it could take a while for people without potential issues. He almost thought he was more disappointed than she was when she didn't come up late a couple of weeks ago.
"Your parents would actually ask something like that?"
"I don't think mine would, but I know people who, yes. I mean, remember Tammy Collins?"
"She was one of nine. Her oldest sister turned thirty like eleven months after their parents celebrated their thirty-first anniversary. They teased them that they didn't wait very long and her mother said they thought for a while she couldn't get pregnant."
"You're not intending for us to have like ten kids, are you?"
"What? Where is that coming from?"
"Well, you know people who that was normal for them to have huge families."
"You know them, too!"
"Okay, but as an only child, well, I thought I was an only child until recently. Those people were very strange to me. I was friends with one when we were in junior high. Todd O'Mallory. I just couldn't wrap my head around how busy their house was all of the time. Yet everyone seemed happy and normal. I didn't stay friends with him for very long."
"I was just hoping there's a cutoff at how many we stop not not trying for if, you know, we have any."
"No! I mean, I don't want too many kids. Two would be nice, maybe three if we wanted to. You know, both of us."
"That relieves me to no end."
"My parents only had two so clearly they didn't think that way."
He shook his head. "See, and there's something I don't even want to think about. Your parents, my parents, doesn't matter. I just prefer to go through life assuming they had sex twice and that is that."
She smiled a little at that.
"And yes, I realize our kids will probably say the same thing about us one day. Except I hope that we manage to be a lot more affectionate than our parents obviously were when we were growing up."
"Yeah, my parents weren't really good like that."
"You know," she said once they were in her car. "It's not my fault you had to work last night."
"I don't think I ever said it was. I have to work, though. I mean, weddings happen on Saturdays, even the Saturday before Easter I guess."
"You could stop taking jobs that no one else will touch!"
"And you'd want me to be the guy that tells a couple getting married they can't have wedding pictures? Or they have to go with some third-rate guy who bought his camera out of a Sears catalog two days ago?"
The couple who he'd photographed last night lived way out in Huntley. The couple whose wedding he photographed in Rockford a few months back knew them and referred them to him when they couldn't find anyone locally willing to take on a wedding the night before Easter. Ronda originally hadn't wanted to give him the call, he supposed because she knew he'd take it and that Claire wouldn't be completely pleased he did.
"Well, put like that…"
"See. You have a heart, too. You'd be just like me and as long as they were willing to pay the premium I tacked on you'd do it, too."
She sighed softly.
"See," he said. He leaned in, kissing her ear. She was wearing a dress today with a neckline that covered the love bite he'd given her last night. He hadn't been thinking about the fact they'd be sitting in church this morning when he'd woken her up. "I didn't hear you complain last night about me waking you up."
"Well, of course not!"
"You're not really going to fall asleep, are you?"
"I will do my best not to, Princess. I may not want your parents mad at me, but I want you mad at me even less. I don't live with them."
"You're right you don't."
"And I've slept on my couch before it's not at all comfortable."
"I'm not sure I'd make you sleep on the couch."
"I hope I never find out if you would."
He came close to dozing off in church a couple of times, but Claire was aware enough (and paranoid enough that he would in front of her parents) that anytime she thought he was getting close to doing that she slid her hand to his or set her head against his shoulder. Or just slid her ankle against his. He had not had a good time. She couldn't blame him she supposed. She'd been to the full Easter mass before so she knew what to expect. Considering it was only the second time in his life he'd ever really gone to church for the purpose of attending church. Well, she could understand it was probably a bit much.
Dinner was crazily uncomfortable. Claire didn't know that her uncles were coming to her parents' house. She knew that John hadn't been at all prepared for all of her uncles, aunts, and cousins. She suspected the amount she owed him increased drastically when a dinner for nine turned into one for close to forty. They were nice enough to him, asking him questions and trying to include him in the conversation. He just wasn't good at making small talk and she knew that. He knew how to run his business, but he thought somehow that because his business was as small as it was that it wasn't the same. That wasn't true. Certainly there were different issues and situations to deal with in a company his size versus one her dad's size. It was still a business. In fact she'd wager none of her uncles had ever had to work a Saturday in their lives. Like her dad they got their paid vacations every year and every weekend off plus the major holidays like New Year's Day, Independence Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.
Claire vaguely remembered a time when she and Christopher were young that her dad had worked Christmas Eve. He'd work a half a day and take his staff out for a nice lunch afterward. He'd stopped doing that a while ago, usually closing the office for a couple of hours the Friday before Christmas and had lunch brought in for everyone instead. As the company grew taking everyone out just had become impractical.
Christopher tried to include John more than others, seeming to sense what John was feeling. Claire appreciated that and she knew John did, too. He was ready to go home hours before they finally got ready to leave for the night and said goodbye to her parents. She hoped one day he'd be more comfortable here on days like this. She really didn't want him to dread coming here because then she'd feel bad or as if she'd have to choose between him and her parents. It wasn't such a big deal now, but if they ever had kids she wanted to have holidays with her family. She wasn't sure John would ever get to the point with his mom he'd want to do that. She suspected seeing her as a result of seeing Billy was about all he was interested in.
She leaned in and kissed him when they were sitting in her car waiting for it to warm up for a few minutes. He was driving. He always did when they went out together. She drove downtown and back five days a week, sitting in her car for over an hour each way. She didn't mind him wanting to drive. She didn't draw away immediately, which she could tell surprised him since they were in her parents driveway.
"Thank you," she whispered.
She shrugged. "I know that's not the way you'd prefer to spend your Sunday."
"Let's arrange to be somewhere else."
"I don't care. Anywhere but this."
"John," she said cautiously.
"I'm sorry, Princess. I am, but I just. I just spent the last few hours with more people than I've probably spent time with ever in my life altogether."
"I know," she said. "I love you."
He sighed. "You say that and you know it'll make up for the pounding headache I have."
"Yes! Constantly being afraid I was going to say the wrong thing or use the wrong fork."
"You did fine."
"You know how?"
"I watched you! You grabbed a fork so I grabbed it."
"There's nothing wrong with that."
"I know. I just, Christ, that's more stress than I really want in my life."
"We can't not see my parents."
"Why do we have to go there? Why can't we have them over to our house?"
"I don't know. Maybe sometime we can. I didn't know everyone was going to be there."
"I know. I believe you just didn't think about the mass being as long as it was. I don't think you intentionally withheld the fact that we were having dinner with your entire fucking family."
"What do I owe you?"
He chuckled. "I'm not sure I've decided yet."
She'd been incredibly surprised when he pulled onto the Taylor's driveway after leaving her parents' house. They didn't stay long, but Phillip seemed genuinely glad they'd stopped at all. She'd spent lots of time at the Taylor's house growing up, so them seeing her was nothing new. Seeing John, though, she could tell was obviously very new.
It wasn't completely uncomfortable, but she could tell when they left about an hour after getting there that John was very relieved.
"You didn't have to do that."
"Phillip seemed to kind of want me to. I would've felt like the worst kind of asshole if we didn't because they'd know we were at your parents' house."
"True," she said.
He shrugged, sliding a hand over her knee once they were on the street driving back to their house. He slid his hand a little higher along her thigh. He drew the hem of her skirt up a bit as he did that. It had been close to eighty today so neither of them wore coats.
"I've been waiting to be able to do that all day," he said.
"The way I wanted to, yeah."
"You can touch my knee in front of my parents."
He chuckled softly. "It's not your knee I have in mind touching, Princess, and if I started it would have been entirely too tempting to try and convince you to go up to your room."
"I wouldn't have gone up to my room with you."
"Hmm," he said chuckling a bit as she shifted on the seat so he could touch her easier. "Would you have gone somewhere with me?"
"I'm sure we could've come up with a reasonable sounding excuse to go to the basement together for a little while."
"Now you tell me!"
She laughed softly.
"I guess I don't have to ask what's on your mind for when we get home."
"Do you ever have to ask that?"
"Well, no, I guess not."
"After hours with your family especially I want out of this suit and you out of your dress."
"And neither of us work tomorrow."
"I know. Remind me to thank Ronda for that on Tuesday."
"That not not trying we're doing?"
"I plan on doing a lot of that tonight."
"That means we'll be sleeping during the day tomorrow then?"
"Maybe if you're lucky I'll let you for a while."
"Come on. Where's the party girl who was up all night every night?"
"She got married and got a job."
"It sucks to grow up, Princess."
"I don't know, I think your version of keeping me up all night may be more fun."
She set her hand over his, sliding it higher along her thigh. "I think you will probably have to convince me."
"Huh," he said. "I'll do my best."
"I am counting on it."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com