"That wasn't too bad," Phillip said.
"No, it wasn't," John agreed. "I expected worse."
Claire slid her hand into his, squeezing his before resting them against his knee. She knew he'd been dreading this day for weeks. Billy's fourth birthday party had been this afternoon. Phillip and Elizabeth had been invited, too. John hadn't wanted to go at all, but his mother had actually scheduled the party on a Sunday around John's work schedule. So, he'd felt sort of obligated. It meant seeing some people he'd known, though, and being introduced as her son to people he didn't know.
"Do your parents know where you were today?" John asked.
"I mentioned it, yes."
"Really?" he asked, sounding surprised.
"She went out of her way to invite me to my nephew's birthday party, I sort of felt they should know I talk to her."
"They weren't mad?"
"That they weren't invited, too."
"Oh," he said. "No. I think they hope she'll get in touch with them, but I can't make her. I explained to them the only reason we talk is because of your interference."
"Right," John said.
"They were curious about Billy. What he's like and stuff. I haven't seen him other than that one day I went with you so I couldn't really answer their questions about him."
"I imagine they were," John said.
Their waitress came to their table to take their drink orders. She probably thought John was kidding when he told her to bring him another beer as soon as she noticed his first one was empty. Those at the table knew he wasn't joking in the least. Claire knew he wouldn't get drunk, but taking the edge off of an afternoon spent with his mother and people who knew her was on his mind.
"I was surprised she invited us, truthfully. I mean I've seen her at work a few times since June. We've eaten together a couple of times when our lunches coincided, but we don't really talk about much."
"At least you're talking."
Claire knew John sort of hoped that with Phillip and the rest of the Taylors involved maybe his mom would focus on them instead of John. She hadn't called or anything since he'd been there to fix his dad's car, but she knew John was expecting it. He picked Billy up once a month so every time he did that John was worried his mom would have something more around the house she needed him to work on.
"How did you convince him to let you go along?" Phillip asked Claire.
"I didn't. He decided on his own that it'd be rude if I didn't show up."
"Is it weird having a brother-in-law that young?"
"Yes. Weird to think our child will have an uncle only four years older than him or her."
"She didn't suspect anything, you know," Phillip said.
"I know," John said. "She's not showing yet or anything."
"And I love you for saying that."
She really did, more than he probably would ever understand. She was really trying not to be vain or overly obsessed about things getting increasingly tighter on her when she went to put them on. She knew it was temporary, but she wasn't thrilled. It wasn't just her pants and skirts either, even her tops were snugger than they had been just a couple of weeks ago.
"What? That you're not showing? You're not."
"I can't fit into my jeans anymore."
"That's too bad. That means you just can't wear them anymore. I'm okay with that."
"I have to go to work!"
"You never wore them anyway! You certainly don't wear jeans to work."
Their waitress set their drinks down and took their order. None of them were real hungry since they'd had some food at Billy's party, so they ordered a couple of appetizers to share and snack on before heading home for the night. The food at the party wasn't extravagant or anything, but Claire knew his mom was on a pretty limited income. There weren't hundreds of people there or anything and she doubted anyone expected more than the sandwiches, chips, salads, and cake with ice cream, of course.
"It's not the point."
"Princess, trust me, I know every inch of you, some of them better than others perhaps, you are not showing. I've been looking."
"Why?" Elizabeth asked.
"I'm still not totally convinced this isn't some crazy dream."
"You've heard the heartbeat with me. More than once now," Claire said.
"I know, but I wasn't expecting it to be quite so easy. You know? So, I think until I see the physical, tangible proof. Well, I don't know. I know you're not anxious for that part."
"No," she said.
"And just think, you'll be on maternity leave after Thanksgiving so you won't have to worry about not fitting into your clothes. We'll be in the Caribbean where you don't have to wear any for the three weeks we're there as far as I'm concerned."
"John," she said, knowing she was blushing.
"What? You're pregnant, Phillip's a nurse and Elizabeth is pretty smart. I suspect they know how you got that way."
"I know, but I have to wear clothes."
"Uh, no, you don't. Not if I have anything to say about it."
"She did agree to go?" Phillip asked.
"Yes! It took her a while, but she came around."
"Well, good, I'm glad," Phillip said. "That'll be good for both of you. A chance to get away and have a break together before the baby comes."
"He's going to be working."
"Yes, but it doesn't sound like his time is going to be booked all day every day from what he's told me about it."
"No. I just have to be there at Suzanne's beck and call basically. I may have days of nothing followed by a day or two of hours and hours of work. I have no idea what to expect, but at least she'll be there with me."
"Have you found a place to stay yet?" he asked.
"Yes, thanks to the travel agent Claire's company uses we found a nice timeshare right on the beach. Someone had booked it I guess and then backed out."
"Even better, it looks like it's pretty remote, not right in the thick of things so Claire should be able to just relax. She can read, keep her feet up, or whatever."
"Who's taking your dog?"
"Her brother and Ronda will split up the time between the two of them. I think Ronda will get her the bulk of the time since Christopher doesn't really have anywhere for her to run around in."
"Well, if I can help out let me know. I have a yard."
"I know, thanks," John said.
"And if you need anything around your house done, shoveling or whatever so it's not obvious no one's home for three weeks I can help out."
"I still think he overestimates the appeal of me in a swimsuit eight months pregnant."
"I don't at all. I've seen pregnant women. I've photographed them. I know what to expect. You'll be gorgeous."
"Yes, because compared to all of the models there I'll be stunning."
"Princess, you are my own personal model. You're always stunning."
"Thank you," she said. He said things like that and she knew he was in a way being a little sarcastic but she still liked hearing them.
"How are the wedding plans coming along?" Claire asked Elizabeth.
"Good so far. I think I finally found my dress."
"Oh, really?" Claire asked.
"I recognize that tone," John said. "She's about to be in her element, Elizabeth. Be careful. And remember, Phillip's not supposed to know anything about it until the day of the wedding."
"I know that," Claire said. "I can't wait to see it, though."
"Well, that was kind of the reason Elizabeth and I both went to the party today. I mean, well, I probably would've shown up for a while but Cindy and I are still getting used to one another. Seeing each other at the hospital while on lunch breaks is a little different than being at her house surrounded by people."
"I hear ya. So why did you go?" John asked.
"We were sort of hoping you two would be in our wedding. I promise I'm not going to announce to the world who you are or anything. Claire will have had the baby and recovered by then. I'd just really like you to be and Elizabeth thought the same thing."
"You do remember you want me to be your photographer, right?"
"Well, I'd rather find another photographer if you'd be a groomsman. I mean you know other photographers you could refer us to."
"You just know I'll give you your deposit back."
"You caught us," Phillip said with a laugh.
"When are you getting married again?" John asked.
"Not until next winter."
"Wait, next year?"
"Oh, for some reason I thought it was this winter."
"No. Believe it or not, we couldn't have gotten a spot in our church this year."
"I suppose," John said.
"December fourteenth," Elizabeth said.
"Well, I can't speak for Claire, but sure I'd do it."
"Me, too," Claire said. "That'd be so much fun! I can't wait!"
"Yeah, you need help shopping for dresses or anything she's your woman."
"I like shopping! That's not a crime."
"Yeah, I know. She's just saying yes because it's an excuse to get another new dress to add to our closet. And if you're getting married in December, the baby would be almost one by that time so that shouldn't be a problem. I'm sure Ronda would babysit if we can't find someone else. I think there are a couple of neighbors with older daughters who might be willing."
"I'm not going to leave him or her with a stranger for hours," Claire said.
"Well, no, I wasn't thinking we would, but certainly we could start out with an hour here and there to know we're comfortable with someone before the day of the wedding."
"Oh, right," she said.
"There's also Christopher and your parents. I somehow don't think we'll lack for volunteers."
"They'll hopefully be at the wedding, too, though," Phillip said.
"Oh, right," John said. "I sort of forget sometimes."
"Have you picked out any names?"
"He's still not entirely convinced I'm pregnant and you think he's let me talk about names?"
"Anything but John," John said simply. "You could name it George Paul Ringo Bender for all I care. I don't care as long as it's not John."
"Yes, but…" Claire said.
"I don't want a Fourth. I'm not part of a monarchy."
"Yes, but, just think how nice it would be to name someone after you instead of, you know, your dad."
"He'd still be named after my dad! He'd still have to sign his name with the 'IV' after it, meaning there are three more with the same name. You don't think he'd be curious to know who the other two are? Well, son, John Junior is in prison and we have no idea who John Senior is. Enjoy being named after that!"
"Yes, but, you'd be a good example."
"I'd be just as good an example if we named him Tom or Harry or Marty."
"So, you haven't decided on boys names. How about girls?" Elizabeth asked.
"No," Claire said. "We go round and round about the boys names. He gets frustrated and we stop talking about it altogether to even get to girls names."
"Maybe he's convinced you're going to have a boy."
Their waitress evidently had believed John because she brought another beer to him minutes after he'd finished his first one. Phillip wasn't even close to being done with his yet. Elizabeth was sipping her wine and Claire was doing the same with her Sprite.
"We have months!" John said. "Geez, I'm still getting used to the idea this is going to happen and you expect me to think logically about what we give our kid that's going to be with them for their entire life."
Phillip chuckled softly, which probably didn't help. She knew John was processing all of this, getting used to the fact that he could actually have kids. He'd been so thoroughly convinced the doctor was giving an actual diagnosis that he really didn't think they'd be here without a lot of effort.
"So who knows you're leaving for three weeks?" Elizabeth asked.
"No one. I mean, my parents and Christopher. My assistant, Sam. Ronda obviously on John's part. You guys."
"You haven't told any of your other friends?"
"No," Claire said. "Why?"
"Well, someone will need to know you're going to be gone then to plan a shower for before you leave."
"Oh," Claire said.
"Please tell me it's not going to be one of those co-ed showers," John said.
"You wouldn't go?" Elizabeth asked.
He sighed softly with a huff and Claire laughed, kissing his jaw.
"Men never like those things. I don't know why you women think we want to sit around a room with a bunch of women, talking about baby things and watching the mom unwrap different versions and colors of the same bib."
"You've been to a shower?"
Their waitress came back to the table with the appetizers they'd ordered, setting enough plates on the table for each of them along with some extra napkins.
"I've unfortunately been hired to photograph more than one of them. I can honestly say I'd rather go to the dentist than do those jobs."
"John," Claire said.
"What? I would! And every man who has been at one would say the same thing. It's absolutely ridiculous. I'm not the sit around a room and talk to your friends' type of guy. You knew this marrying me. You knew this dating me."
"Come on, Phillip. You're telling me you'd want to spend your Saturday or Sunday afternoon listening to a bunch of women exchanging baby war stories?"
"Well," Phillip said.
"You're a horrible example because you hear and see baby war stories every day as part of your job!"
Phillip laughed. "You have a valid point, though. I've always thought they were really for the women, including the men seems a little odd."
"I have nothing to do with it. You know that, right?" Claire said.
"I know, but surely your friends wouldn't even want me there."
"Because they're your friends. It's not like they're going to send an invitation to Glen or Charlie or Bill."
"Your brother?" Elizabeth asked.
"No, Ronda's husband," he said.
"Oh," she said.
"I will try and drop hints," Claire said.
"Are you going to find out what it is?" Elizabeth asked
"I don't know yet. John seems to want to know, I'm not sure I do. It sort of seems like it's ruining the surprise. As long as it's healthy I really don't care."
"Do you have a preference?" Elizabeth asked John.
"Oh, I'd love a girl who looks just like her mother."
"That's sweet. I don't hear that often. Men usually want a boy."
"Yeah, well, just like the naming him after me thing I'm not overly anxious to have a boy. The men in my family seem to produce men that look alike. Four of us walking around looking alike is enough I think."
"I don't think your father is doing much walking around," Phillip said.
"True," John said. "Still."
"Have you thought about finding his parents?"
"I've thought about it. I did after you told me I was a Third, but I decided against it. Maybe one day. For now, I have enough to handle with you guys."
"Speaking of us," Phillip said, sounding a little cautious.
"What?" John said, sounding defensive.
"So touchy," Phillip said.
"You said us, meaning a collective us, which I assume means all of you Taylors. So, yeah, I get a little defensive. So what?"
"Mom is going to invite you both to Dad's birthday party next month."
"Okay," John said.
"He's going to be sixty and for some reason Mom's making a big deal out of it."
"Yes," Phillip said.
"I didn't realize he was that young."
"Well, yeah, he was twenty when your mom was born."
"Thank you for that, I can count."
"Don't get defensive, I was just clarifying. Mom just turned fifty-nine. Cindy turns forty in October, right?"
"I don't know."
"Jesus. You think we did things like celebrate birthdays at my house growing up? I can promise you today is the first birthday party I've attended at my house ever in my lifetime. So, I have no clue. I didn't even know her last name when I first met you to have a clue who you might be! I think you underestimate how much of a shit I didn't give about my parental units when I got old enough I could stop caring."
"Yes, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have sounded surprised. Anyway, it's a surprise party at the country club. It'll be pretty large I think. You're not expected to be there or anything, but I know Mom would really like it if you could."
"Is my mom going to be there?"
"I doubt it since no one but me has spoken to her yet."
"Well, that improves the chances I'd go."
"John," Phillip said cautiously.
"You can't make me want to get along with her. I understand to you she's your sister, but if you knew half the shit about her I know. Forget knowing, that I lived through, you wouldn't be so quick to want to be all lovey dovey with her either."
"I'm not! I mean, she's my sister. You know? And think about Billy. Think about what your life would've been like with my parents involved."
"I know," John said.
Claire and John had talked about that. It was the reason he hadn't gone into any detail with Phillip what life was like growing up. He wanted Billy to have the chance to know his grandparents, something John had been deprived of. Even things like being invited to his grandfather's birthday party, he wouldn't be there as a grandson. No one would know him or anything. He'd basically be just another guest to everyone there except Phillip's family. John realized Phillip could probably figure things out, but there was suspecting and there was knowing.
It tore Claire up every time John went over to his mom's house. He'd gone the times before today because she'd needed something. Well, the time he'd gone to fix his dad's car had been because he'd told her he would. She hadn't needed the second car fixed, but John was (as much as he hated anyone to think so) one of those people who was true to their word. Bad or good.
He'd been in a pretty bad mood the past few days and she'd tried not to take it personally, knowing it was Billy's upcoming birthday party that was upsetting him. She wouldn't have blamed him for claiming to be sick or something when he woke up this morning, but he hadn't done that.
He'd gone and pretended to be a happy son for the people she had there that didn't live on their street and know what life had been like at his house. He'd spent most of the afternoon talking with Mr. and Mrs. Henderson who Claire really liked because they seemed to be happy John had gotten out and done well for himself.
She saw the evidence every night and first thing every morning of what life was like for him. There were times she hated Phillip's parents for not making more of an effort to find John's mother and therefore him. She understood they had other kids to raise, small ones who took up a lot of time, as well as Mr. Taylor's career goals. It still bothered her, though. She dealt with it every day when John truly believed her doctor was going to tell her at the next visit it was a false alarm, there was no baby. He didn't say it, but she saw it when she woke up each morning. His hand was always settled possessively against her belly as if he was trying to protect the baby.
She wasn't complaining, she loved that he was protective like that about her and the baby but it was upsetting. It bothered her to see him go through all of this, but there wasn't anything she could do really except let him talk to her when he wanted to. He rarely did, that wasn't the kind of guy he was. She knew that. His confessing how deeply hearing the baby's heartbeat the first time had affected him was more than she ever expected out of him.
He wasn't great at saying he loved her. There were days, moments, she wished he was better about it, but he showed her and she was learning to be happy with the physical signs versus the words. Anyone could say they loved someone, but not everyone could demonstrate they meant the words.
"You don't have to stay long or anything."
"I'll think about it," John said.
"I was just warning you it was coming so you weren't taken by surprise."
"I appreciate it."
"You are driving home, right?" Phillip asked Claire as the server brought John his third beer.
"I am," she said.
"Good," Phillip said.
"I gave her the keys as soon as we got out of the car to come in here," John said.
"Thank you for coming with me today," John said when they were in their living room.
"You don't have to thank me."
He shrugged. "Still, thank you. It was much better with you there."
"Then that goes without saying because everything's better with you there."
"John," she whispered when he reached around her and worked the clasp and zipper on her skirt.
"What? You don't like my compliments, Princess?"
"You know I do," she said, gasping softly when he kissed her jaw, lower to her neck. And, "oh," she cried out when he nipped at the skin there before sucking on it exactly the way she liked.
Her skirt at her ankles now he focused on her blouse, unbuttoning it. He stopped focusing on her neck, groaning softly once he'd had her bra undone and could touch her without it in the way. Then his mouth was there and she moaned softly at the feel of his mouth and tongue around her there.
"What does it say that all afternoon I wanted to be doing this exact thing instead of being there?"
She laughed, gasping softly as his tongue slid over one of her peaks. He slid his fingers between her legs, inside her panties and inside of her.
"Well, you were dreading going there so I'm not sure…"
"Oh, God, don't say it doesn't mean anything. I hate giving up my Sunday's with you."
"I was still with you," she whispered.
"Not my idea of a good Sunday."
"I know," she whispered as he prompted her to turn around. His picking her up and being inside of her that way with her legs around him wasn't so comfortable anymore. She imagined that would get progressively worse. His being behind her like this wasn't bad at all either. He knew that, too, and exactly how to get her off this way.
There was always a difference in their sex when he'd been drinking. He hadn't had too many, but enough that he was buzzed and a little more selfish than he usually was. Selfish for him where they were concerned wasn't anything to complain about. He always made sure she came and everything, but she definitely knew the difference when his focus was more on himself than on her. She knew he'd wake up in the morning feeling bad about it and more than make it up to her before she had to get up for work.
He kissed her shoulder when he'd finished, rubbing his cheek against the spot as he slid a hand along the curve of her ass.
"I needed that."
"I guess so," she said, laughing softly.
"You have no idea how much sitting there for hours playing nice with her drove me absolutely insane."
"I know. You're a good big brother, John."
"Thank you for saying so. He's the only reason I subjected myself to that."
He lingered against her shoulder, kissing her lightly as he slid his hand from her ass to between her legs to stroke her. He wasn't really doing it to get her off again, he was far too leisurely for that but she knew he liked touching her sometimes.
"I guess that answers your question about her being involved with the baby."
"Yeah, not going to happen. I'll have Billy here or take him to lunch with us, including the baby, like we do now but no."
"No one would blame you."
"I know, I just feel…"
"Don't! Don't you dare feel bad about it. First of all, you're protecting your child. Our child. No one can fault you for that."
She turned around then, sliding her arms around his neck and kissing him. "You wanting to be there for your brother does not open the door to your mom. He's going to get older and stop living with her."
"If you change your mind, no one would blame you for that either. For now, though, your decision is fine, John. She won't be happy. She'll probably be mad and hurt, but that's not your fault."
"I know," he said, kissing her. He lifted her up.
"John," she said cautiously.
"Just taking you to the bed this time."
"I think I like when you've had a few beers."
He chuckled softly. "Like convincing me to have sex with you two times in a row requires beers."
"No, but you're a lot more…"
"Forceful about it."
"What does that mean? If you don't want to…" he said, setting her on the bed.
"No, just, uh. Bold about showing me you want to again so soon."
"Oh," he said, kicking off his shoes so he could catch up to her on the being undressed part.
"You left me a hickey, didn't you?"
"Yes, sorry," he said.
"You are not."
"I don't do it often!"
"I know," she said softly. "Sam will tease me, but it's worth it."
"Uh huh. I tell her that every time, too."
"I'm not sure I want Sam to know these things."
"Sam, I think, thinks you're incredible in bed."
"Why else would I have ended up married to you versus anyone else?"
He chuckled softly.
"Well, it seems I have a reputation to live up to then."
"You live up to it very well," she whispered as he joined her on the bed.
"Well, still…" he said, sliding a hand along her belly, lower between her legs again.
"No complaints here."
"I didn't think so."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com