He'd been oddly quiet the entire way home from her doctor's appointment. He'd gone along because she was having her ultrasound done and she'd given in and agreed to find out what it was if they could. He wouldn't have gone ordinarily because all her doctor really did is weigh her, listen to the baby's heartbeat and ask her how things were going. She wasn't having any problems, the morning sickness aside, and everything to this point had been going fine.
He was excited. He wouldn't say that or anything. Never until the day he died would he admit to that, but she saw the look on his face when it was plainly obvious they were having a girl. He was beyond relieved. She didn't quite understand it, and probably never would. She wondered, too, if she hadn't pressed him on the issue of a name if his feelings would be different. She had no idea. She wasn't hugely attached to naming a boy after him. She knew any father and son relationship he had with a boy they might have wouldn't hinge upon a name or turn out better or worse because of the one they chose.
He'd stayed in the garage after they got home and she left him alone, knowing somehow he needed that time by himself for whatever reason. She didn't really think it was the name thing either that had him stressing about her having a boy. At least not completely. He just really didn't seem to think a boy of his would turn out all right. Clearly, he'd turned out all right so their son could, too. Sure, anyone who knew him through high school would assume he was currently dead, in prison, living on the streets, or working some dead end job to support his drug habit. That wasn't his fault, though, not completely. Claire wasn't sure what she would've been like if she hadn't had at least remotely decent parents. Even better, their son wouldn't have his father raising it. She knew there was nothing she could say to settle his fears that having a boy would turn out badly.
She grabbed an apple from the bowl on the counter because she was hungry and she wasn't sure how long he'd stay outside. She could cook dinner, but he'd had something specific planned so she didn't want him to think he couldn't still do that. This was one of those times she knew he wasn't going to let her in on how he was feeling, the relief he felt. She'd just frustrate herself if she tried to get him to talk about it right now. He would when he was ready and not a minute before. It was an adjustment for her, because it was innate in her to want to fix things for him. The tech that did the ultrasound seemed apologetic, not understanding John didn't want a boy.
He came in sooner than she expected so he must have come to grips with whatever he was feeling enough that he felt he could be around her. She listened as he took his shoes off by the back door, set his keys on the dish at the edge of the counter there, and then close the door. He'd go to the sink then and get a drink of water. He had a routine. She wasn't home every night to see it, but she knew it well enough from the weekends and her time here before she started working.
He didn't come to the living room, though, going to the spare bedroom he used as an office sometimes instead. He had given up the afternoon of work to go with her to the appointment, so she imagined maybe he had some things to do. She didn't know. He liked to do paperwork here at the house sometimes.
She watched a little cautiously as he came into the living room after a few minutes. Maybe he wasn't relieved now that it was for sure not a boy. Perhaps he was having second thoughts. Not that there was anything they could do about it. Maybe all that back and forth about a boy's name had gotten the idea into his head they'd have a boy and he was disappointed. She didn't think so, though. She knew him, his nuances, better than anyone. She knew that mystified more than one of her friends, probably his friends, too.
"Why are you giving me a check for five hundred dollars?" she asked, setting her napkin and the apple core down when he handed it to her.
"To buy stuff with."
Was she missing something? That was a huge amount of money. She knew he did well and everything and with no mortgage payment and the basement basically done now they both had a lot more disposable income than they did even a few weeks ago. It was still a lot of money and she had no idea what it was for. To buy stuff with was so incredibly vague. Was there something she was supposed to be buying?
"What? I told you until I saw actual physical proof I wasn't sure I'd totally believe it was real. Even I can't deny what we saw today was pretty physical proof. So, I don't know, buy stuff with it."
"But that still doesn't explain why you're giving me a check."
"Maternity clothes. Baby stuff. Whatever you need. Things for our trip. We're getting to the point where I'd think you'd be buying stuff. I know you'll get lots of things at your shower, but there's also painting the bedroom that you have to pick out paint or wallpaper for. I realize I'm the one painting and wallpapering, but I need to know what you want. Now that we know what it is, it seems as good a time as any to start picking stuff out. We're going to be gone for three weeks, coming back to about two weeks before you're due so we need to do these things. Or at the very least think about it."
"This is a lot of money."
"It's not that much money, and besides it's your money anyway."
"The money you've been giving me the past year? I've just been putting it into a savings account. I figured I'd save it for if something urgent happened like the furnace or water heater dying."
"Which you could fix."
"I can't fix everything! I'm good with my hands and tools, sweetheart, but even I have my limitations. The furnace and water heater are both pretty old and I don't know what's been done to them already. I know what's been done to the stuff at Ma's house because I lived there for eighteen years and know what my old man did as far as maintenance and rigging stuff to get by until a new one could get bought."
She nodded a bit. "Valid point."
"I figured, you know, I should help you pay for some of this stuff, too. I am responsible for you needing it."
"Responsible for it? It was my idea. I wouldn't be pregnant right now if I didn't want to try. I know that and so do you. We kind of did it together, though. Didn't we?"
"Yes, but you said after we got married you didn't think you were ready. Admit it, you didn't think it'd happen this soon either. I sure didn't. I was, honestly, pretty convinced I couldn't have them."
"I know you were. And you're right, I wasn't sure I was ready. I'm still not. I mean, God, it's scary as hell, but we were in a good position to at least start trying. We don't have money problems. We both have stable jobs. I mean, you'll probably be scared no matter how many we have so if being scared is going to stop us we wouldn't have any. I wanted to try! You didn't make me. That was my idea. You seemed fine with pulling out."
"Fine may be overstating it a bit," he said with a little laugh. "It was that or rubbers. You knew what my choice was going to be."
"And it's not like I got pregnant the day we got married."
"No, we sure did try that night, though."
She blushed at that and he chuckled softly.
"Obviously the timing was wrong."
"Right," she said. "John, I can't take this."
"I want you to have it."
"Why aren't you using the money for things?"
"I don't need things! I mean, it's not like the electric or gas bills have gone up hundreds of dollars a month because you're here now. Now, add a baby into the mix that may change a little, I realize that. I understood why you wanted, needed, to give me money. That doesn't mean I wanted to take it. I really didn't want to take it, so I figured this was a way around it. You give me money but it'll go to stuff for us or the baby. I'm good at work and everything. Your dad bought the building and land that I'm currently occupying space in and suddenly my rent dropped pretty drastically so, you know, I'm good. I wonder sometimes how he's making money on it he dropped my rent so much, but that's not my business and I have to admit I didn't complain or question it so I guess I don't mind some favors being thrown my way."
"I still feel wrong…"
"I want you to have it! Geez. You're my wife, that's my kid. I want to contribute to what you need. If I knew what you needed or wanted I'd go out and buy it, but I don't have the first clue on shit like that. So, rather than fuck up I just figured I'd let you do it. Hell, if you wanted to buy a couple more of those nice night-time things for our trip I wouldn't complain."
"God, the fact you want to see me in one of those things let alone more makes me kind of cringe."
"Fuck, Claire. I want to see you in those things anytime. All the time! Why does my wanting you make you cringe? Plus, you're going to need pajamas for after she's born."
"I have pajamas."
"Those are not pajamas. Those put ideas in my head that I won't be able to have for a while afterward."
"I still don't like that you're just doing that with the money I give you."
"Well, if nothing else she can use it for college."
"True," she said.
"And I know college being paid for probably won't be an issue, but I'm probably not going to make as much as you even if I get more jobs like the one next month. So it makes me feel like I'm doing something. You mentioned sending her to private school. We could do that with it, too. We could save it for a down payment on a bigger house. I don't care."
"What? A bigger house? I haven't said I want a bigger house. I like our house."
"Sure, now. I like it, too, obviously I bought it. One kid won't be so bad, but if we have another one neither one of us may feel that way anymore. I mean, the basement being completely done helps but I still wonder how the people before me did it with three kids."
"I didn't tell you before because I didn't want you mad at me. You were as equally insistent you had to give me money as I was you didn't need to give me any. I understood why you needed to, though. I don't need the money, I was surviving fine before you moved in here. Call me old-fashioned or weird, whatever you want to label it as, but if I can support the house without your help I think I should. So saving it seemed fairly logical. We put the money we saved by not having a mortgage toward getting the basement completely finished and furnished."
Part of that finishing and furnishing was a complete dark room so he had access to everything he needed here at the house in case he wanted to work from home sometimes. There were times during the winter after Christmas where he had no appointments for days. So there was nothing saying he couldn't bring things home with him to work on, spending more time with her and the baby before she had to go back to work. She couldn't believe how much some of that equipment cost. He'd brought the stuff already at his studio here and put the new stuff there, which made sense.
"I know, it just seems like I should pay for my share of things, too."
"You do! We're taking a nice vacation. Even if I'm working it's still a vacation. You think I just have that money available to me normally? I have some saved up, sure. I sure don't have enough to foot the bill for three weeks on a Caribbean island."
"I hadn't thought of that."
"So it will be used for us if we need it. If not, for her."
"You're lucky I'm too tired to argue with you."
He chuckled a bit. "Why do you think I waited until now to give it to you?"
"Very nice," she said.
"That's me," he said. "You hungry? Or did that apple fill you up?"
"I could eat."
He smirked at that. "You could eat, huh?"
"I was letting you do what you needed to do," she said.
"I appreciate that."
She was quiet as they watched the football game on TV much later after dinner. John had grilled some steaks and baked some potatoes for dinner. He liked experimenting and trying different things, but when it came down to it he was a pretty basic meat and potatoes kind of guy. Pork chops and mashed potatoes. Steak and baked potatoes. He made a delicious meatloaf, which surprised her the first time he'd made it because the meatloaf her mother made tasted about as good as eating sandpaper would taste.
"You haven't said much about it being a girl," she said. He had, in fact, said absolutely nothing about the fact it was a girl.
"What can I say? I didn't really care, I just knew I would've liked a girl I think."
"Does that mean we won't try again in a couple of years for another one?"
"I look forward to trying again whenever you want to. My family's track record seems to indicate boys are the majority. Ma told me one of the times I've picked Billy up and we were talking that Dad only has brothers. So, if you have your hopes up for two daughters I wouldn't set them too high."
"I'd still try again."
"Oh, I look forward to trying again, for sure. I'm just saying," he shrugged.
"I guess we don't have to worry about whether you'd let me use John as a middle name for a while then."
He was quiet for a while, so long in fact that she thought he wasn't going to answer.
"We can name him whatever you want, Claire. When the time comes for a boy's name anyway. I don't want him named after my old man I know you understand why and whether he never meets him or I'll be a good example to offset him finding out his grandfather is serving time in prison doesn't matter to me. It's still his name."
"Whatever makes you happy, though. If John as a middle name makes you happy then that's fine."
"It's hard to find a name that sounds good with John as a middle name."
"That's because it's so awesome of a first name it's not supposed to follow another one."
"I know right, the truth hurts."
"Did you ever wish you were Jonathan?"
"Nope. Why would I?"
She shrugged. "I don't know."
"It never occurred to me, honestly. I guess in grade school I had teachers who didn't believe I was just John, but overall I never thought about it."
"Hmm," she said.
"You're thinking of a way around this Fourth thing, aren't you? Naming him Jonathan Frederick is really devious."
"Would you do it?"
He sighed softly.
"We have time."
"Seems we should be focusing on other, more feminine names right now."
"We definitely should."
"And somehow I suspect you'd use your womanly ways to convince me."
She glanced at the check he'd given her on the table next to her, sighing softly. She wanted to be mad at him. He hadn't told her what he was doing with the money she gave him every month. She'd presumed it was going toward the bills so he had more disposable income for himself to do things like even just buy better groceries. She couldn't be mad at him, though, because she knew he was only taking it to avoid an argument with her to begin with. At least he understood why she'd needed to contribute to their household. She rested against him, placing her head against his shoulder. His hand went to her belly and she sighed softly. She loved when he touched her this way, possessive and yet gentle and caring, almost afraid or cautious at the same time.
"How are we tonight?" he asked.
"I said we. That includes you."
"I'm good, too, just tired."
"Well, you want to go to bed you know I'm okay with that."
"It's barely eight o'clock."
"Princess, going to bed early with you is never a hardship."
"That doesn't help my being tired."
"You sleep real well afterward, though."
"I do," she said, laughing softly.
"Are you starting to look forward to our trip in November?"
"God, yes. Three weeks of doing nothing is the most appealing thing I've heard in months."
He chuckled softly.
"Hmm. That's not what you said this morning," he said, encouraging her onto his lap. He didn't have to encourage too hard.
"Out of our bed," she said, kissing him before kissing his neck.
"Nice save, Princess."
"Thank you," she said, finding his ear.
"So, are we telling people it's a girl?" he asked
"I don't know. Should we?"
"Well, she didn't hide the fact she was. I mean the woman seemed as positive as she could be that there was not much room for error where she was concerned."
"I suppose for things like gifts and stuff people would like to know."
"Yes," she said.
"Why does it seem as if you don't want to talk about this right now?"
"You're the one who mentioned going to bed," she whispered.
"I did, didn't I?"
"You did, and we're still sitting out here."
"That's a shame."
"I know it is. I'm trying to give you a subtle hint."
"Maybe you should stop with the subtle."
She laughed softly.
"When is your shower anyway?"
"The Saturday before we leave."
"That means I couldn't go even if I wanted to and it was a co-ed thing."
"Yes, I know. I think Elizabeth may have had some input on the date."
"I knew I liked her."
"I know you do. I'm glad. I mean, I'm glad for you and Phillip, you know? That we get along."
"Me, too. I like spending time with him."
"You think she's pretty."
"Well, sure. I mean, she doesn't look like any accountant I've ever seen."
"I can tell."
"You look at her different than you do, say Kelly."
"Well, I think also because I've known Kelly since we were like twelve and she's always been Glen's girl so I never looked at her that way."
"I don't mind or anything."
"I hope not. I don't want her or anything."
"Oh, I know. The first time it sort of bothered me."
"The first time?"
"Sure, I noticed it the first time the four of us did something together. It bothered me a lot. You know," she shrugged. "You told me about her, but you left out the part about her being very pretty. I thought you'd done it intentionally, like you didn't want me to think you thought about her that way or something. You didn't stare or anything, but I can tell when you see someone that interests you. She's blonde, beautiful, quite smart, and…"
"Not you. She's not you, Princess."
"I know, just I know the kind of woman you …"
"I didn't have a type. You were my type, there's only one of you. And other women do not interest me, attractive or not."
"Well, like I said, it doesn't bother me now. I realize that you can find someone attractive and it doesn't mean anything."
"Christ, I'm glad. I didn't realize that it was even up for debate. I mean, people are attractive. Surely you run across guys you find attractive."
"Well, sure, but it's different because I never looked at guys like that anyway."
"I suppose. Sometimes I see people, though, and it's not even that I find them attractive in a coherent way. I just think I'd like to take their picture. You know? Does that make sense? Elizabeth is one of those people who'd take great photos. I almost wish I wasn't in their wedding so I could be the one to take her picture."
"The photographer they hire will do fine."
"I know that. I'm just saying. Some people are just naturally photogenic. She's one of them. She has a nice personality and for whatever reason that just comes through in her body language."
"I agree," she said.
"I wouldn't date her."
"Well, that's good to know. Besides, she's your uncle's fiancée."
"Yeah, even I'm not that big of a dick."
"You're not going to help me pick out wallpaper?"
"Nope. Whatever you want. I know nothing about that stuff. I've never seen a baby's room in my life. I have no idea what little girls like. Things like Minnie Mouse I suppose? If you notice, Ma didn't even change mine up for Billy so I'm pretty sure it's the same as it was the day they moved into that house."
"You buy whatever you want and I'll paint it or hang it. Make it as pink as you want because I know you want pink!"
"Okay. I just want you to have some say, too."
"Whatever you want is good, more than good I'm sure."
"You're too good to me."
"I'm just trying to keep you happy, Princess."
"Taking me to bed would make me infinitely happier."
"I'd keep you in bed if I could get away with it."
"I know, I can't wait. Trust me. Weeks of time with you. I'm going to get spoiled, then you're going to have her and have to go back to work and I'm not going to know what to do with myself anymore."
"You really want me to buy a couple more of those?"
"You don't have to, I just threw it out there as an idea. You know I like you in the one I bought you."
"Yes. I just feel so…"
"Yes, and I'm going to be more pregnant then."
"Funny, I love you pregnant, so that works. You're giving me a daughter. That works very well."
"If you say so."
"I know so, Princess. You look very good to me and I know you will then, too."
"I will want to it hear it a lot then."
He chuckled softly. "Yeah, I imagine you will. You can beat me over the head with a stick if I forget to tell you, okay? Just know that I think you look great every day."
He leaned in and kissed her then, shifting her a bit on his lap.
"And in case I haven't said it in the last little while I'm very glad you're going with me."
"No one minds?"
"What can they say? They're not paying me, she is. It's not like you're going to get in the way or compromise the time I'm needed to actually work."
"No, I wouldn't do that. I understand you're there to work."
"Then we're good. She knows you're coming with me and everything."
"I'm glad she was okay with it."
"Well, there wasn't anything not to be okay with. It's not like she was hitting on me or asking me to share a hotel room with her with the intention of hitting on me. She's just familiar with me because I've been working with her since she got her first headshots done."
"I guess I didn't realize that."
"Actually I redid her first set of headshots for basically free."
"They were awful. She was sixteen and someone totally took advantage of her. They charged her a crazy amount and gave her pretty shoddy work in return."
"How did she find you?"
"I ran into her at a show. I wasn't looking for a model. I was just looking to drop off some business cards and samples of my work. She'd been hoping for a bigger role in the show she was participating in. I couldn't even tell you what it was anymore. Some car show I think, or something. You know, one of the many conventions that come to town. She found me before I left."
"I'm the lucky one, really, because man if she'd found someone else they'd be going on this trip instead of me."
"Why for free, though?"
"Well, she already shelled out everything she and her parents could afford for the headshots she had done. So, I redid them and she paid me what she thought she owed me after her first job."
"What was it?"
"She got into the Montgomery Ward Christmas catalog."
"And you never slept with her?"
"Jesus, Claire she was sixteen. Did you not hear that part?"
"I was not going to go to jail for a piece of ass! No, I didn't have sex with her. She was pretty and everything, don't get me wrong. Honestly, I think of her now almost as I would a sister or something because I've known her since before she could vote. I don't even see her like that. Honestly, that possessiveness you speak of my having."
"I kind of have it for her. I'm almost positive if I see some smarmy guy trying to latch onto her down there I'll react."
"Does she still live with her parents?"
"Yes. She's going to school. From this shoot she's hoping to do something for one of the men's magazines finally."
"She didn't get it before?"
"No. There are so many girls who try for those things it's hard to get noticed, but she's hoping having this swimsuit stuff under her belt will get her noticed."
"I hope so for her sake."
"Would you do those pictures, too?"
"Probably not. Magazines like that are headed by huge corporations. They don't usually let their models choose their own photographers. It doesn't mean she couldn't suggest me, but that'd be their call."
"Would you do it?"
"Would you let me?"
"Yeah. Would it bother you?"
"I don't think it would."
That answer totally surprised him. He was sure she'd be bothered by the idea of him doing a nude photo shoot somewhere that wasn't his studio. No Ronda on the other side of the door.
"Because I've seen the way you are when you've taken my picture the last few months."
He'd been taking her picture every week since she told him she was pregnant. It took her a few weeks to actually take her top off and even with it off at first she used her arm or something to cover her breasts. She didn't anymore, though. No one else was going to see the pictures and she realized that. It was just for them, a pictorial of her pregnancy.
"You don't look at me like that. I mean, you know, you do, but I can tell when you're actually thinking about the picture versus me."
"You can tell that?"
"Yes, you're worried about lighting and shadows and stuff. You're not looking at me as you usually do when I'm sitting in front of you without my top on."
"That's because I want to take good pictures of you. You're letting me do that, I want to be sure they turn out better than decent."
"I know, I've liked them. I could do without the evidence that I'm getting fatter."
"You're not. Stop it. You still fit on my lap just fine."
"Thank you. So, no it wouldn't bother me. I told you, my issue with the trip next month was more my being so far along than anything else."
"I realize that I wouldn't be able to come with you for that if she were to get it."
"Oh, you could probably come with me wherever I had to go, but the actual shoot, no I'm sure not."
"Yeah, almost twenty now I think."
"Why does she want to do that?"
"Because it's good money. She wants to be a pilot, it's expensive to do that. Getting that type of opportunity would pay well."
"Oh," she said.
"Her parents aren't real well off. You know? She'll have loans to pay off when she graduates from college and stuff."
"Where does she go?"
"Uh," he paused. "University of Chicago, I think. Maybe University of Illinois at Chicago, I honestly can't remember. She mentioned it once in passing."
"She's actually pretty smart. You'll find that out when we're down there because I'm sure you'll talk to her a few times. As much as I may not want to share you I realize you'll probably come see what we're doing and she might come see us since she doesn't really know anyone else going down there. She's one of those people who realizes she was given the looks so she may as well use them to get what she wants. For her it's not sex or anything, she really does have goals."
"That's nice to hear."
"She's pretty nice. I mean, she has her shallow moments, don't get me wrong. There are times she's definitely a model."
She laughed softly. "You're so bad," she said, kissing his jaw before settling herself beside him again so they could finish watching the game.
"What? She does."
"Have you ever met her parents?"
"Once. She's been able to drive since I met her so I've never had a reason to. Once, though, her mom came with her to one of our shoots. Not the headshots one, but pretty shortly after it. And, no, I don't think they do. She's legal so she doesn't have to tell them. They know about this shoot, obviously, and that I'm going. You, too."
"That relieves you in some way, doesn't it?"
"That her mom just didn't trust her with an older guy? Yes."
She got more comfortable against him. She'd probably doze off on the couch long before the game ended and he'd carry her to bed, but that was all right. She didn't mind and he didn't seem to mind doing it. He always felt as though he had to come to bed when she did.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com