"Now it makes much more sense," he heard Ronda say from her desk. He was in his office putting stuff away for the night. He'd already closed up in the back. Not even Ronda had a key to get back there. It wasn't that he didn't trust her. He did, probably with his life, but he just felt better – safer – knowing he was the only one who had access to the area with his equipment. Mr. Fitzgerald had done him a huge favor leaving him the stuff he had, John would never forget it or do anything to risk losing those things. He had insurance and could replace everything, but that wasn't the point. The old man had wanted John to have it, John would protect the stuff he'd been entrusted with.
"What does?" Claire asked.
"Well, he went home earlier. I assumed he was just letting Diana out, but he came back dressed in a suit and everything."
"Oh, yes, we're going out for dinner," Claire said.
"Any special occasion?"
"I," Claire said as John came out of his office. He loved when she looked at him like she was currently. Like she loved him. Like she found him more than just a little attractive. Like she wanted him. Then, they always seemed to want each other so that wasn't anything new.
"Hi," he said.
"Hi yourself. You said you were going to change, I knew you meant it, but you look very nice."
"As opposed to the other times we go out for a nice dinner and I don't?"
"No, but you hate that suit."
"I don't hate the suit. I hate that it cost more than probably all of my other suits put together cost. It's a nice suit. I'm not stupid enough to say it's not. It just seems like a waste to wear it while I'm working."
"So, what's the occasion?" Ronda asked.
He smirked a little before answering. "Our anniversary."
"You got married in September," Ronda said, sounding confused.
"Yeah, I'm aware of that. The other kind of anniversary," he said.
"There's another kind?"
"Yes, for us anyway. When our relationship started."
"Oh," Ronda said. "Whose idea was it?"
"Mine," John said, walking toward Claire. "I think I surprised her that I remembered."
"You did," Claire said.
"I pay enough attention to know things like that matter to women."
"How did you remember?" Claire asked.
"It was one hundred fucking degrees! I came home to find you sitting on my porch. It stands out pretty easily even to clueless guys like me."
"I suppose," Ronda said.
"He even sent me flowers," Claire said.
"At work?" Ronda asked.
"What kind?" Ronda asked.
"Finally you got the roses," Ronda said.
"I know. It only took him ten months."
"He's right here. I sent you some before when I was stuck in Rockford."
"I forgot, I guess."
"Really? I thought about doing it again, but was afraid you'd think I did it too often or something."
"There's no such thing as too many flowers too soon, hon," Claire said.
"Yeah, well, I had to be spontaneous with them."
"I'm not complaining. They were gorgeous."
"Good," he said.
"Red?" Ronda asked.
"Red with a couple of white ones in there, too."
"Aw, you are a romantic."
"Don't tell anyone," John said.
"Sam asked me what you'd done wrong," Claire said.
"I told her you hadn't done anything wrong."
"Thank you," he said very relieved to hear that. The last thing he needed was her assistant walking around the office telling everyone who'd listen he was an asshole or an idiot. Or both.
He shut off the light, checking his pockets to be sure he had his keys and his wallet.
"You look very nice, too," he said before kissing her. He lingered a bit longer than maybe he should have considering his doors were still unlocked and Ronda was a few feet away. He couldn't resist.
"But then you always do," he whispered, kissing her ear before drawing away. "If you left this morning not knowing that, let me know and I'll fix it later."
"Tell me that in November and I think I might fall in love with you."
"I'll keep that in mind for sure then."
"How are you feeling?"
"Yeah? You're sure? You're not lying to me so I won't worry anymore?"
She'd been getting sick for weeks. How he hadn't noticed before she'd told him she was late he wasn't sure. It was winter, so he supposed he just chalked it up to her being sick. Or she was just really good at hiding it. Either way, he'd been clueless. Probably because he'd sort of assumed the worst when she hadn't gotten pregnant back in September. He knew pregnant women getting sick wasn't abnormal, but she had a hard time keeping anything down. She threw up after eating lunch more often than not. She hadn't told him that part. He'd overheard her tell her doctor that last week.
"Yes, taking them at night helps a lot. I mean, I still don't feel great in the mornings when I wake up, but that tapers off and I'm not getting so sick after lunch anymore like I was. I wish they'd told me that from the beginning it would have saved me weeks of feeling awful every day."
"Good," he said. "I was beginning to think we should buy stock in Saltines and 7-Up."
"I wasn't that bad!"
"Says you. You're not the one who had to sit there and do nothing."
"You got me crackers!"
"Sure. Big help."
"It was. You went to the store at like four in the morning and did that. That was a big help."
"If you say so."
"All right then. I don't think that was anything out of the ordinary. You wanted crackers."
"You went and got them in your pajamas."
He shrugged. He didn't really have pajamas because he never wore anything to bed, but he had sweatpants that he'd worn the night she'd wanted crackers and 7-Up so badly. He supposed he'd have to look into pajamas one of these days. So would she for that matter since they wouldn't be alone in their house in a few months. Then he supposed it'd be a while before they had to worry about privacy being an issue.
"Have you told her?" she asked. Ronda was in the kitchen now, checking her coffee maker and stuff no doubt. She'd already turned off the copy machine for the night and set the answering machine to answer right away.
"No, I was kind of waiting for you to tell your parents."
"Well, I appreciate that, but you're not going to tell your mom."
"Uh, no, but I told Phillip already. It was sort of an accident, but still…"
"You can tell whoever you want. No one you know is going to tell my parents, except I suppose Phillip if he tells his parents."
"Well, I told him not to for now. I was thinking we should wait. No?"
She shrugged. "It's up to you. You kind of have to tell her eventually if we're going to ask her and Bill to be the godparents."
"You're sure you want to do that?"
"Well, Christopher can't unless we picked just another random person to be godmother."
"And you don't seem to want to ask Phillip and Elizabeth."
"No, that's implies a little too permanent of a relationship than I think I'm ready for. I mean, what happens if I start hating him next week?"
"I know, I understand. I do completely. I don't think that's going to happen, but I understand. Ronda is an objective outsider and she's Catholic."
"Right. Has to be Catholic."
"But I don't?"
"No, I mean, no. If we'd gotten married in a church you would've had to sign something promising to let me raise our kids Catholic."
"Thank God we avoided that then."
"I'm not sure I'd want to make that kind of promise. What would happen if you decided not to bring them? Or what if they didn't want to be Catholic?"
"Well, I think those are things we don't have to worry about with young children. Obviously, if they got older and made those decisions we'd have to listen to them. That would be a little different than you stopping me from raising them as Catholic, though."
"I'm not going to stop you, but I admit on that you're completely on your own. I mean, if you need me to do something, you'll have to tell me."
"I know, hon, I know. It's fine."
"Why are you two still here? I do have keys and I know how to lock the doors."
"Well," John said. "Claire and I had a question for you and Bill."
"Okay," she said cautiously. "You need us to take the puppy or something?"
"What?" he asked.
"Oh, no," he said.
That's why he'd gone home to change earlier. He knew they were going to be leaving right from here so he'd gone home one last time to let the puppy out. It was good he lived close to work so he could go home during the day to do that. She was a pretty cute yellow lab that Claire had picked out a couple of weeks ago. Why they were tackling a puppy when they'd have a baby in the house in a few months he wasn't sure, but he supposed at least by the time the baby was born the puppy would be completely housebroken.
"We were kind of hoping you and Bill would think about agreeing to be godparents."
"Uh, us? I mean, well, you know."
"Get out of here. Really? This is how you tell me?"
"Well, I didn't realize I was supposed to tell you yet. I mean, I didn't know I could."
"How long have you known?"
"About a month," John said. "She's known a little longer than that. We just saw the doctor last week so it's all, you know, official."
"Wow. Well, congratulations! This is good, right? I mean, well, of course it is. That's a stupid question. And I'll talk to Bill. I'm sure he'd be as honored as I would be. You're sure you want us, though?"
"Yes. We want someone we know we can count on. There's no one else I could say that about without a doubt but you."
"And we're Catholic," she said.
"And you're Catholic."
"Wow. And you," she said to Claire. "I've seen you. I've had lunch with you and you didn't say a word!"
"Three home tests weren't enough for John, he wanted to be sure."
"Understandable I guess, considering. So you heard the heartbeat and everything?"
"Yes," he said.
He didn't know what to say to that question without sounding like a fucking softhearted idiot. It was probably the most amazing thing he'd heard in his life. Well, besides Claire telling him she loved him. That was different. A totally, completely different thing than hearing the steady beating of their baby's heartbeat. He'd gone to the doctor with her and listened to the two of them talk, thoroughly convinced she'd tell them that the pregnancy tests she'd taken had been wrong. He'd heard of those things happening. Not with three tests, but what did he know?
Her doctor had spread this blob of gel-like goop on Claire's stomach and put this wand-looking device over the goop and after a few seconds, maybe a minute she'd found the heartbeat. Her doctor probably thought he was an asshole because he'd had to leave the room after that. Claire was the only person he'd ever really been able to show emotion to. He still wasn't very good at it even with her he knew. He'd certainly never cried in front of her. He wasn't sure he ever could do that. His own issue because he knew she wouldn't mind or think less of him for doing it.
"It was cool," he said.
"How far along are you?" Ronda asked.
"Like eleven weeks."
"So, that's why you weren't sure about going on that trip," she said to John.
"Kind of," John said. "I'm trying to convince her to go on maternity leave early and come with me."
"Like I want to go down to a Caribbean island eight months pregnant!"
"I want you to come with me to a Caribbean island eight months pregnant. I'm the one looking at you, I don't care what anyone else thinks. I'd want you down there nine months pregnant."
"You say that, but…"
"No buts. I want you there. I have to pay my own way, may as well pay my own way for two. It's a perfect excuse to get your dad to let you go on leave early."
"I only get twelve weeks."
"Right. Like he's going to give your position to someone else. It's not like you couldn't go in part-time for a while or something. And," he shrugged. "We can work around your schedule with mine if we have to. If you go in in the mornings, I can schedule stuff in the afternoons and evenings. Or whatever works. You know that I'm willing to do that. It's not like my schedule is concrete. I think Ronda would clear my schedule completely if she thought it'd help."
"I would!" Ronda said. "I'd also babysit!"
"See. Come on, Princess. Three weeks of nothing but beaches and sunshine. I'd say Pina Coladas, but you can't drink those right now."
"Don't remind me."
"I'm sure we can find some tropical virgin drink for you to overindulge in. When are we going to take a vacation together just the two of us for the next eighteen years?"
Claire laughed. "I will talk to my dad about it after we've told him I'm pregnant."
"Finally! Thank you."
"Yeah, yeah," she said. "I still think you're going to regret it."
"I think you underestimate how much I am thoroughly taken by you that I haven't noticed another woman, bikini or not, in a year. And how much the idea of us on a beach appeals to me."
"Again, tell me that again in November."
"I'll tell you that whenever you want me to. It'll be true."
"Let's go eat," Claire said.
"All right. It was nice of your dad to give you a ride today."
"He was kind of surprised I asked, but he was fine with it."
"I'll lock up," Ronda said. "You two go on now."
"See you tomorrow, Ronda," John said, flipping the last of the lights off as they walked to the door.
"So, Diana was okay when you got home?"
"Yes. She's fine. I had time so I let her run around in the yard for a little extra while I got ready."
He opened her door for her, but stopped her from getting in right away.
"What?" she asked.
"It was more than cool," he said.
"Hearing the heartbeat."
"I know," she said.
"I didn't," he shrugged. "I wasn't expecting…"
She reached in and kissed him, running a fingertip along his lips. "I know, John. I do. It was pretty more than cool to me and I didn't think there was an issue with me until the moment of hearing it. I understand."
"Now feed your pregnant wife."
"Yes, ma'am," he said, closing the door behind her when she slid onto his seat.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com