"This is the best banana split I think I've ever had," she said.
"If you say so."
"I think, Princess, you're a little crazy right now and you just think that's the case. There were plenty of desserts to choose from at the party. Some I'm pretty sure I couldn't even pronounce, but they looked pretty good."
"I know, I didn't want any of those! This is what I wanted," she said, pointing at the dish with her spoon.
"If you say so."
"I suspect they would've made you a banana split if you asked for it."
"Yes, but I wanted this banana split."
"Do you want some more?" she asked.
"I think I'll pass. I know better than to get between a pregnant woman and her craving. If there's any left I'll finish it."
"I wasn't craving it. I just wanted ice cream instead of cake!"
"See, proof you are a little crazy right now. That cake looked pretty damned good if I do say so myself in my layman's opinion."
"You could have had a piece of cake. He's your grandfather. I didn't make you leave to come here! I'm sure I would have had a bite."
John shrugged, taking the offered bite of her banana split. He had to admit it tasted pretty damned good and probably better than the cake.
"I was ready to leave, you know. You mentioned wanting a banana split. It just gave me the excuse I needed to get out of there."
"Did you have an okay time?" Claire asked.
"Yeah, it was okay. Not my ideal way of spending a Friday night. I was sure hoping it'd be tomorrow and I'd have an excuse not to show up."
"I think Wayne said they were leaving for Europe tomorrow or something."
"Phillip said the same thing, so that makes sense, I guess."
"Were you surprised he talked to you?"
"I was," John said.
She had to know that, though. Sol had actually stood and talked to the two of them for about ten minutes. People had to be wondering who they were to take up that much of his time because he didn't talk to many other couples their age for that long aside from his kids and their guests. He asked Claire about work, not surprising since he knew Claire. He also asked John about his work and about his upcoming trip (obviously Phillip had told them about it, which John found he didn't mind).
“Very actually,” he added. “I was even more surprised he introduced me to that guy as his grandson. I wasn’t expecting that.”
“I wasn’t that surprised. You are his grandson. They have nothing to be ashamed of there. Neither do you. They seem to legitimately be proud of you, John.”
"I know," he said. "He said he'd like to see some of my work."
"Really? Where was I that I missed that?"
"Talking to someone," John said. "Uh, a friend of Erin's I think."
"Oh! Sandy, maybe?"
"Maybe. I can't keep track of all the names."
"I know. You're fine. You're not expected to. I just saw some people I hadn't seen in years. Lord knows when I'll see some of them again because I knew them more because they knew Christopher and Phillip than me. You know? I only knew Sandy because she was a little younger than Erin. She dated Wayne in high school or something I think and after they broke up she and Erin remained friends."
"Really? I didn't know that."
"Yeah, Wayne wasn't too happy at the time that they were friends. He thought they were talking about him or that it was Sandy's way of trying to get him to go out with her again."
"It wasn't though?"
"No, I mean, obviously not, years later they're still friends. I'd say it's kind of like Ronda and me, but not quite the same. Just a friend found in an unusual way."
"Ah," he said, sort of understanding.
"Sol and Cecile do seem as though they legitimately want to get to know you."
"I know that, too. I'm getting there."
"Well, yes. It was a lot for me to process you know. I mean, I went from having no one to being married with in-laws, then I found out I had a brother, uncles, an aunt, and grandparents. It was a lot to take in. It still is, I'm still processing it all. I mean, where were these people all of my life?"
"I know," she said, looking kind of pensive. Why though?
"I've made the big decision regarding my mom. I think that was the one I had to focus on first, you know because it is the one that'll affect, well, us most directly. So, once I'd decided that I had time to think about the others. Obviously, I want Billy in my life. Maybe she'll get tired of me not wanting to be involved directly with her and cut me off. I guess that's the chance I take."
"I don't think she'd do that. If for no other reason she'll hope that you'll come around to wanting to be involved with her. I think she wants you to be."
"It would seem so, yes. And I might. Maybe ten years down the road when he's going into high school I will. I don't know."
"Right. I don't think anyone would blame you."
"I think most people would think I'm a little crazy."
"Most people don't have to live with you, John. I wouldn't blame you. She's your mother. She doesn't seem like a bad person away from the drugs and your father."
"I'm still on the fence on whether she's away from either of them for good. You know? If the old man got out on some technicality tomorrow I just don't know she wouldn't let him come back home."
"We'll probably never really know. She can say she is all she wants."
"Thank you for seeing that."
"I totally understand where you're coming from, hon."
"As far as the Taylor's," he shrugged. "They, her parents, really didn't do anything wrong as much as I might like to blame them or hold them accountable. I can't really. She left. What were they supposed to do? Force her to come home? She would've turned eighteen and probably left again anyway. She clearly loved my dad at the time so they couldn't have convinced her he was no good or that I was better off."
"True," Claire said.
"And Phillip brought up a valid point once."
"What if she stayed out of fear he'd do something worse than hurt you?"
"It's possible. Would it make a difference to you?"
"As far as her involvement with our children?"
"No. I'll be cordial to her, but that's the extent of it. For Billy's sake. If she needs help with the cars or things around the house I'll do them as I can, but only the major stuff like the furnace. Smaller things like fixing a leaky sink she'll be on her own for. That's it. I realize twenty years ago there weren't shelters like there are today, but you can't tell me if she'd asked her parents for help they couldn't have shipped her off somewhere safe from him finding them."
"Yes, but," Claire said and stopped.
"Well, what if she was worried he'd know her parents did that and hurt them, too? I mean, she wouldn't have had any other means to get away so he'd have to know she got help. She wasn't working to hide money like you did."
He sighed softly.
"Well, clearly, with Billy, she's been presented with the necessity of fending for herself and other than the things I've done like fixing the cars and furnace she's managed. I mean, she's more than managed. The house looks good. The lawn was mowed and stuff over the summer. I mean, sure, maybe she could've spent more time weeding or whatever, but I realize with a little kid she doesn't have the time I do to spend all day on the yard. So, she's capable. I just can't buy into that, you know? As much as I'd like to think that was the reason," he shrugged.
He ran a finger along the tabletop in front of him while she worked on the banana split. He'd thought long and hard on this. He knew his mom was waiting for some sort of sign from him that he wanted more from her than the barely-there relationship they had.
"I still can't find it in me to think it's a valid enough excuse. I mean, come on, my grandfather was a judge around the time we were in junior high. Earlier maybe, I don't know. He could've done something! He probably could've had him arrested him for something. Or had the authorities take me away from them so at least I was out of there. Even if she didn't know he was a judge, which I find hard to believe, she sure knew he was an attorney. I bet a restraining order wouldn't have been too hard to get with her dad in the picture."
"True," she said. She hated talking about this stuff with him. He knew that. "You know I'll support you whatever you decide."
"I know. I may change my mind, but I highly doubt it. I don't think I'm a horrible person even though I know what your priest would probably tell me. You know, something about forgiveness being divine. Forgiveness isn't forgetting, though, and I'm not sure I could ever forget."
"Me neither and it wasn't me."
"I hate that you have to see it and I guess that's what drives my decision."
"Me? I don't want to be the reason you decide something like that, John. She's your mother and if she's really cleaned up her life…"
"No," he said, taking another bite of the banana split when she offered it to him. "Not you. I mean, yes. You say what I look like doesn't matter and you worry about what you'll look like on a beach in November. You don't think I worry about and wonder the same thing? People are pregnant every day. That's a valid excuse for what you've got going on. Mine is not nearly as pleasant. You don't think I wonder what people will think about you being with a guy like me? I mean, around here especially I think it. Last summer I was anonymous. I'm not anymore so I think about some fucking reporter catching me out mowing the lawn when it's ninety degrees or something."
"No, I know. I mean, I know you say you don't care, but it's there in my head, you know? I guess when it gets down to it, I care. I care that people might see me and wonder what you're doing with a guy like me. You could have had your choice of any guy in Chicago, rich and well-educated ones who don't have to work six days a week. Guys who didn't have the childhoods I had who you could go to a beach with and they wouldn't get stared at."
"You choose to work six days a week. You could choose to be closed on Sunday and Monday to give yourself a weekend."
"Yes, but I've never had the need to."
"I know that, but that doesn't mean you have to work six days a week."
"If I wanted a roof over my head, a car in my garage, food on my table, and things like electricity it did."
"I think about our kid, kids. Am I going to have to put a shirt on to mow the lawn? What about when they're older and have friends spend the night? You know? Do I have to make sure I put a shirt on to go to the kitchen in the middle of the night for a glass of milk? Would their friends see me and tell their parents and then not be permitted to come over anymore? Who knows how it would be described by a kid. I think about these things. Not like every second of the day, but I have time on my hands or I see kids interacting with their parents now that you're pregnant and I can't help it. She stood by and did nothing and it affects me, us, because it does you, too, whether you want to think so or not, in ways I never thought of four years ago. I mean, what if he or she is scared of me? Ashamed of me? What if he or she doesn't want friends around me?"
"I see your point. I don't care. In November, when our kids are older, when you're mowing the lawn. The fact that you worry about it, that it crosses your mind…"
"Yeah, see, that's on her."
"Our kids aren't going to care either, John, because they won't know any different."
"They'll know you! They'll see their friends' dads. They'll see Phillip or Wayne or Billy."
"I don't walk around without shirts on."
"That is a crime in itself."
She sighed softly. He was changing the subject and she didn't want him to yet. He knew that.
"I mean, it's on him, of course, but she had resources at her disposal, powerful legal ones even. She can't claim she didn't know about them or have someone to ask questions at her fingertips. That's what gets me about her marriage, too. She could ask her dad what would go into getting a divorce and certainly he'd be able to help her or at the very least give her the information she needs. She won't do it, though. Any forgiveness I might have been able to come up with pretty much flew out the window when I thought on that."
"I know," she said.
"So, I'm sorry I didn't really answer your question. It was a surprisingly good time. I didn't feel hugely out of place, just somewhat. People knew you so that helped I think not make me feel like an outsider. I'll get used to it. I realize those types of things are in store for me for the rest of my life. It's just an adjustment being a guest at something like that instead of the hired help."
"You know, a part of me thinks all of this is my fault."
"Well, everything that's happened to you it's kind of my fault."
"Your fault? How in the world do you get that?"
"Well, I convinced you to go on that trip to Las Vegas."
"Claire. I wanted to go."
"Sure, after I practically begged you to go. You didn't want to. You told me at first you thought it was too soon. Remember?"
"I thought it'd be fun. I didn't see it as too soon. I saw it as a few days away from everything with you and my friends."
"I remember. I was there for our conversations and the trip."
"So, we went on the trip that was my idea. We got married. Fine. We had the party, which led to your mom getting that present of ours by mistake," she shrugged, licking her spoon of some whipped cream that she missed. He chuckled a little at her, but he was listening.
"I mean, that led to you finding out about Billy. The reception led to you meeting Phillip and your grandparents," she sighed softly. "I should've just been content with being married to you."
"That's what you get out of all of this?"
"You were happy without any family, though."
"Sure, I was happy without a wife, too, but I have one now and I want to keep her."
"Yup, pretty badly."
She leaned in and kissed him.
"Yeah, that's me."
"So you don't blame me?"
"Blame you? For giving me a family? I mean, Jesus, Claire we're going to have a kid in a few months. You have me excited about that idea."
"Would I rather my mom not be in this? I guess, but then I wouldn't know Billy and while we're not close now I hope that'll change as he gets older and we can do more stuff together. I'd love to do stuff with him that my dad never did with me. You know? Play catch or take him to a Cubs game. Or take him and our kids to the zoo in a couple of years."
"I know," she said.
"So, sure, you're right. If we'd just settled for eloping and not done the reception my life would be easier. Easier isn't always better, though."
"I'm glad you think so, and hope you always do."
"Oh, I'm sure there will be times I think things would be easier without all of them, but other than Phillip no one's really pushing me. They seem to understand I need time."
"They do. I was sort of surprised they invited you tonight."
"Me, too. Man, I can't believe how young they are. You know? I can't even imagine being married at nineteen. I mean, they had to get pregnant right away for Mom to be forty coming up here."
"Me neither," she said. "You know one thing I never understood."
"The night we got married."
"Why were you playing the slots?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you told me you were going to try black jack or poker or something so when I started looking for you, that's where I started."
"Oh," he said with a shrug.
"So, I was surprised when I found you at the slots."
"I tried both, yeah, but I lost too much money right away. I don't know shit about cards. Black jack, I figured how hard could it be? You try to get as close to twenty-one with the dealer getting lower than you. It's not as easy as it sounds, though. Maybe if I had time to, you know, learn the ins and outs, but I had way too much to drink at the time to contemplate strategies. Poker wasn't any better. Who the fuck was I going to play poker with before that night? So, it's not like I really knew anything about the game. So, after losing more than I felt comfortable losing I figured I'd take my drink and some money and wait for you there."
"I was not going to that show with you and your friends. I went to one and I didn't complain. That was more than enough for me."
She sighed softly.
"Yeah, I know. Sorry, just isn't my thing."
"You didn't like looking at the girls?"
"Uh, yeah, and you wouldn't have delegated me to the extra bed if I did?"
She laughed softly.
"Maybe I would've."
"I know you would've. I'm not stupid, Princess. So, I gave myself a certain amount of money to put into the slots."
"I don't remember. I'm sure if I'd been sober I wouldn't have allotted myself nearly as much. It wasn't a huge amount I know that."
"Well, you got your monies worth."
She set her spoon in the dish, running her finger over his left ring finger and his wedding band.
"You still wear it."
"Yeah, I told you I would."
"I know, I expected you to…"
He shrugged. "I'm used to it now. It didn't take as long as I thought it would."
"And those people who don't mind wedding rings?"
"I have the people I want right here, Princess. Two of them, in fact, going by that heartbeat I've heard."
"See, there you go, saying sweet things again."
"It's the hormones getting to you. That wasn't sweet."
"It was, too."
"You done with your ice cream, Princess?"
"I am," she said.
"You polished it off pretty good. I'm surprised."
"It's ice cream. I'm pregnant, are you kidding me?"
He chuckled softly, drawing the dish toward him so he could finish the last few bites. It was pretty good.
"I haven't had a banana split in years," he said.
"You like them?"
"This was pretty good."
"Well, we have four more months of my being pregnant…"
"I'll come with you for a banana split anytime, Sweets, you know that."
"Then, you know, if you're in the mood for whipped cream…"
"It wasn't just the whipped cream!"
"You might be able to convince me."
"That is very good to know."
"You know," he said.
"I was thinking about a camera."
"You need a new camera?"
"No, but I'm going to want to have one at the house to have handy for taking pictures. One that I can teach you how to use so you can take pictures, too. I mean, I have some spares, sure, but I'd like to get you one that you'll be comfortable using without me around and, well, you know there's a reason that I don't use the cameras I don't use."
He didn't have a million of them or anything, but he had a few. One he'd bought and it just didn't take the quality pictures he expected. He tried returning it, but the store were assholes about it because he'd used it for a couple of months. He got it. He wasn't sure he'd take something back after sixty days either, but he hadn't abused it or anything.
"Oh," she said. "Sure, I'd use it. I'd like to take pictures of you two together."
"Yeah, I figured that might appeal to you."
"It would," she said.
"We'll do that then. Go shopping for one that you'll like that will be portable enough you can take it with you if you're out or whatever."
"Well, it's not every day I have a kid. I want pictures."
"You can take them, too."
"I know, but as great as this trip is a great opportunity for me it's not going to turn into work immediately."
"So that means weddings on Saturdays and you being around him or her when I can't be for hours and hours."
"I understand, hon."
"Thank you," he said.
She leaned in and kissed him. "Take me home."
"Maybe I'm not done with the ice cream."
"I promise you I'll make it worth the sacrifice."
"Will there be more whipped cream involved?"
"Yeah, yeah, likely story."
He set enough money on the table to cover the banana split, her coffee, and his Coke plus a tip while she slid her jacket on. It wasn't real cold, but they knew they were going to be late so she'd worn one since her dress had short sleeves.
"Thank you for taking me for ice cream."
"You don't have to thank me."
"Well, you might have wanted to stay…"
"Nah. I was good leaving when we left."
She leaned up and kissed him. "Well, still thank you."
"I just said I'd come eat ice cream with you anytime."
"I suspect I'll be taking you up on that offer."
"I imagine so."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com