"Remind me the next time I have the brilliant idea to throw a party when I'm seven months pregnant not to do it."
"Uh, yeah, sure," he said. "I'll get right on that."
"I know you won't, but thank you for agreeing with me here and now," she said, kissing him.
"Yeah, I'm not that dumb. I remind you of this conversation the next time you're seven months pregnant you'll tell me it's my fault you're this way again or something. Nuh uh, not going there."
"It was a great party, though," Ronda said. "I can't believe how nice that basement turned out."
"Right?" John said.
"I thought you were a little crazy for having it completely redone, but it really makes a difference."
"It does. I hadn't really paid it much attention since it wasn't like I went down there much besides washing clothes. After seeing Claire's, though, and the Taylor's. Well, I knew the people had gone for cheap versus something that looked good. Their kids used it from the impression I got so I don't think they cared. You know? Honestly, the paneling was so old we were better off just starting over anyway."
They'd basically had to tear everything down and start from scratch because the paneling the family who lived here before him used was pretty atrocious. Not just that, but they wanted a lot more outlets than what had been put down there. The people obviously had no desire to split it up into more rooms or anything. The way they had it set up now, though, it was basically like adding a second story to their house without putting an addition on to it. Other than John's dark room, a bathroom with only a shower stall in it versus a full tub, and the laundry room being closed off it was one large space. Certainly, though, if they needed to section some space off for a bedroom or two down there they could do that. Or John could move his office down there so both spare rooms upstairs could be used as bedrooms. There was a small sink area with a mini-refrigerator built into it against one wall by their bar, but it was in the part of the basement they'd probably leave as the living area. Despite what her brother, and most of her friends probably thought, she liked living here and didn't want to have to move if they ended up with another child or two.
"I'm glad you guys were able to make it," John said.
"Bill told me we had to come because he was sure I was lying that you were having a costume party at your house," Ronda said.
Claire couldn't help but laugh at that. The only reason she'd gotten John to go along with the idea was because she was pregnant. She knew there was no way he would've given in otherwise. She couldn't go out anywhere because to this point they'd managed to keep it out of the papers that she was pregnant. The weekend before Halloween there was no way she'd be able to go out and not be seen. Both of them were trying to avoid that if at all possible. They weren't ashamed or anything, they just didn't want it broadcast everywhere because much like when they got married Claire just didn't think it was anyone else's business. There weren't many costumes that were going to hide her being seven months pregnant.
"What? You never envisioned me as a Peter Parker-like reporter?"
"I never envisioned you throwing any type of party least of all one involving costumes," Bill said.
"Hey, I'll have you know, Claire has this…"
"John," Claire said.
"What? I'm teasing. Though, you know, since you mentioned it," he said.
"I didn't mention anything!"
One of her friends had been in the paper this week for getting a DWI last weekend, so there was no way Claire would be able to go out this weekend and not get noticed. They'd planned the party before her friend had been arrested, but they'd both been greatly relieved they had when they'd read about Dawn's misfortunes.
It was the first time in years she'd ever purposely been so very careful. If she met friends out, she met them somewhere around here versus downtown. If they did meet downtown, they met somewhere off the grid. It was a stupid way to live, but neither she nor John wanted her pregnancy a focal point of the gossip columns. Even the pictures he'd been taking of her volunteering and stuff he'd tapered off doing the last month or so to avoid it being easily noticed. She was surprised no one had already. A couple of the pictures John had taken of her at a fundraiser she thought made it very obvious she was pregnant, but she supposed she was just sensitive to it.
"I'm glad I wasn't the only one surprised," Phillip said.
"It was her idea," John said.
"I still couldn't believe it," Bill said.
"I'm just full of surprises, I guess," John said.
"Ronda said you'd show me what you did with your dark room downstairs," he said.
"Oh, yeah, sure," John said, leading him downstairs. Phillip followed, which Claire figured was sort of expected. He hadn't seen the dark room either. John was pretty proud of it. Understandably. The guys who'd done it did everything to John's specifications almost exactly. She was as relieved as he'd been because she wanted him to be able to use it as much as he could.
"It was really a great party, Claire," Ronda said.
"You guys helped!" Claire said. She couldn't believe how much Ronda and Elizabeth had helped them out.
"Well, I didn't do much," Ronda said.
"All we did was bring the keg and cups and stuff," Elizabeth said.
"That was a huge help because John didn't have to stop what he was doing to get it. I certainly couldn't have lifted it and he wasn't sure the guy at the liquor store would help me load it into his Jeep. There's one clerk there who's kind of an ass. Ronda and John did all the cooking. That was a help. Trust me. Both of you. Thank you."
"I just brought some things with me. I offered, he took me up on my offer."
"It was still a big help, and I appreciate it. I'm still learning to cook things like spaghetti so food for this many people was way more than I could do. And desserts, forget it."
"It was just some brownies and cookies. Don't worry, you'll get there," Ronda said.
"Some days I don't think I will. I try, I really do, but everything I try to cook always tastes terrible compared to when John cooks the same thing."
"Just let him do the cooking?" Elizabeth said.
"Yes, but I'm going to be home for weeks."
"With a newborn baby. I think you'll be plenty busy without having to worry about taking over dinner duty, which he doesn't seem to mind doing anyway," Elizabeth said.
"Only because I work downtown."
"Has he ever actually said that?" Ronda asked.
"No," Claire said, slipping out of her heels now that everyone was gone.
She'd gone as Aphrodite, kind of a joke since she was the goddess of fertility and Claire wasn't able to hide anymore in the least that she was pregnant. John had taken one of the old non-functioning cameras of Mr. Fitzgerald's out of storage and gone as an old-time reporter. She was impressed he'd done anything because he'd absolutely hated the idea of a costume party. The costume was great, but her feet were absolutely throbbing. At least at work she could take her shoes off when she was sitting at her desk when she needed to. No one tonight would have blamed her she supposed, but it would've been rude and she hadn't been able to find a pair of dressy flats to go with her costume.
Elizabeth and Ronda helped Claire go through the living room to collect all of the trash and stuff. They'd had close to fifty people so the house had been beyond packed. Of course, Claire accounted for the bulk of those fifty people, but John had more than a few people show up, too. Charlie had even been relatively sober, which she knew had surprised the hell out of John. He'd even brought a date, which John suspected was the reason he'd been sober versus not wanting to embarrass John in front of any of Claire's family who might show up. A few of their neighbors had come, too. Slowly she was making friends here. John was friendly with the neighbor on either side of as well as the one behind them. All four of them seemed to mow their lawn on Sundays. That usually resulted in the four of them ending up in someone's backyard for a beer or two when they'd finished.
She was very grateful they had their basement and that it was nice enough out today that the screened-in porch was an option. There was no way everyone would've fit otherwise. They'd put the keg and everything on the porch so people tended to collect out there anyway. They had a TV in the basement so the few kids that came were able to sit down there and be out of the way. They'd stocked a cooler down there with pop and given them their own snacks. There was a pool table and a dart board down there so it wasn't as if they were stuck down there with nothing to do. A few came up to see the costumes, but most stayed down there minding their business until their parents got them to go home.
John would have his hands full with the porch tomorrow she was sure with the keg being out there. He'd put a few plastic bags around the bucket it was in so hopefully the floor around it wouldn't be too terribly sticky. She'd have to deal with the basement, which she imagined was a mess from the kids being down there. Crumbs and stuff everywhere.
While the living room wasn't too big of a disaster the kitchen on the other hand was more than she wanted to think about. Dishes everywhere. They'd used paper plates and plastic utensils and cups, but there were still serving bowls and platters plus all of the trash. Some people evidently couldn't see the big garbage can John had put in the kitchen and set their plates just wherever. Never mind he'd put a second one by the keg for people to use out there, too, in case they never ventured into the kitchen.
She had no idea where to even start. She was very glad John had bought and installed a dishwasher after they'd gotten married. He hadn't needed one before then since he'd only cooked for himself, but once he realized she was going to be a permanent thing around here and he'd be using more dishes than he usually did he'd bought it. So, really it was just rinsing the things off, putting them in there, and turning it on.
"Do you need your things back tonight?" Claire asked.
The idea of having to sort through all of this stuff tonight was almost too much. She'd never admit how tired she was to anyone, though she knew John knew. She hadn't slept well at all last night so she'd gotten out of bed before five o'clock in the morning and started scrubbing everything. They'd already cleaned every room in the house, but whatever her deal was this morning what they'd already done hadn't been good enough.
"Nah. You guys go through what you have left and John can bring them back to me next week. I'm in no hurry for them, trust me. I have plenty."
"How about you, Elizabeth?" Claire asked.
"Mine are just Tupperware containers, bring them back whenever you need to. I won't need them for anything anytime soon."
"And you're sure you don't want any of the food?"
"Positive, sweetie," Ronda said.
"Us either," Elizabeth said.
"I swear I'm going to gain too much weight with all these leftovers. The brownies you made are really good." Ronda had brought a couple of salads as well as desserts. She'd asked, John had taken her up on her offer. Desserts weren't really his thing. He hadn't been expecting the salads, too. They were very good, though. Elizabeth had brought some baked beans and a casserole. She'd made them at Phillip's house and then heated them up here, which had worked out very well.
"You haven't gained hardly at all. You look great," Ronda said. "And there's nothing wrong with a brownie or two."
"It's the more than two I worry about," Claire said, eyeing the plate in question. "And thank you. John says that, but you know, he has to say that."
"No, he doesn't. I mean, he could say nothing at all," Ronda said. "John doesn't say things he doesn't want to say, even I know that."
"He could, I guess."
"So have you decided on names now that you know it's a girl?" Elizabeth asked.
"No," she said with a sigh. "I have a feeling as much as we can't decide on even one name that it'll be the day she's born when we finally come up with one."
"That's okay, too," Ronda said. "I can't wait for your shower next month. Baby showers are so much more fun than bridal showers."
"I've only been to one before," Claire admitted.
"Not much fun?"
"I guess I didn't get the excitement at the time."
"Do you now?" Elizabeth asked.
"Yes," Claire said. "You know I was surprised Phillip's parents showed for a while."
"I was, too," Elizabeth said. "I knew Erin and Wayne would, Erin told me they were planning on it. She said they were really surprised you invited them. His parents coming really surprised me."
"It was a huge thing for John to invite all of them," Claire said.
"I think that's why they came," Elizabeth said. "I think they all knew that so wanted to at least make an appearance."
"It's still so weird to think the people I grew up down the street from were his grandparents and aunt and uncles."
"So you would have met him anyway," Elizabeth said.
"I guess I would've," Claire said. "I'm not sure I would've liked him if he was different than he was, though."
"Why?" Ronda asked.
"I don't know. I liked him then because he stood out. He was different and wasn't afraid to be that. I was so the opposite, afraid of doing anything different. Afraid of being alone. Afraid of being shunned. Too afraid to talk to him when I really wanted to because my friends would laugh at me."
"So things worked out the way they were supposed to," Elizabeth said.
"I guess," Claire said.
She'd thought on that more than once over the past year and a half. Things happened for reasons. She firmly believed that. She knew John was right in that five years ago had they gotten together they likely wouldn't be here today. They weren't ready for each other. She just hated that he'd had to grow up the way he did. That part would never sit well with her and would never fall under the "things happen for a reason" category. There was no reason for what he went through. True, it made him who he was and was probably hugely responsible for his being as possessive over those people who fell under the umbrella of ones he wanted to protect and take care of. He wouldn't like seeing anyone he loved get hurt so he'd go out of his way to be sure that didn't happen. Even someone like Billy. The things he did to help his mother were for his brother not for her.
Erin and John's grandmother were both invited to her shower next month, too, of course. John's mom was not. Claire felt a little guilty about that, but she wasn't going to invite her without John's permission or knowledge. She thought about mentioning it to him, but decided against it. She didn't want him to feel guiltier about his decision not to want to be any more involved with her beyond seeing her when he picked up and dropped off Billy than he was.
"And Billy spent the night last weekend?" Ronda asked.
"He did," Claire said.
"How'd that go?" she asked.
"It went all right. It was an adjustment for all of us, but probably good for us to see what putting a child to bed is really like."
"Big difference between a four year old and a newborn," Elizabeth said.
"Oh, I know, but still. John had to work the next day so he brought him home pretty early, but it was a start. I wouldn't care if he had him here some Sunday for the night, but I think he was seeing how a few hours went before taking on a whole day like that. He had fun, though, I think. We made our own pizzas, played some games, watched some TV, and then John read to him."
"Who did I read to?" John asked.
"Oh, yeah. Ma sent him over with a couple of books. He picked Peter Rabbit so that's what I read to him."
"Good choice," Ronda said.
"It was all right," John said. He hadn't been too thrilled. Claire suspected somehow she'd be the one reading to this baby the bulk of the time.
"Your first time reading it?" she asked.
"Uh, yeah," John said. "I don't know, I guess I shouldn't say that. Maybe I'd heard it when I was little, but I don't remember it if I did. It wasn't my book she sent with him I know that, it was new."
"I'll bet that was kind of cute," Ronda said.
"Me reading a bedtime story to my brother?"
"Well, yeah," she shrugged. "You know, tucking him in and stuff."
"Why?" he asked, sounding so suspicious.
"Because I bet the majority of the people who know you couldn't picture you doing that."
"Oh, well, he's my brother, Claire shouldn't have to read to him and stuff just because he's here for the night."
"I never said I wouldn't," Claire said quickly.
"I know you didn't. I didn't ask because I sort of figured it was my thing, you know. I mean, it's a bedtime story it wasn't painting nails or tying ribbons in hair. I could handle it."
Ronda chuckled softly. John's response was so typical. He didn't want anyone to know he had kind of liked reading to Billy, that bit of time when they were alone. Claire hadn't eavesdropped or anything, but she knew John stayed in the bedroom with Billy longer than it took to read Peter Rabbit. He never told her what they did or said during that time after the book and she never asked, it wasn't her business. She just knew that he'd liked having Billy there and she assumed he would be staying the night again sometime.
"You sure you don't want me to help you in here?" Ronda asked.
"No, I'm fine. We have all day tomorrow to get things back to normal."
"You're good for him, you know that. This is the first Saturday I've ever had him tell me was off-limits. He should do that more often."
"Well, he likes doing the weddings so I wouldn't do things like this often."
"True. He's good at his job, too," Ronda said.
"I would hope so by now," Claire said.
"Very nice," he said, but he knew she was teasing.
"Well, I suppose then," Ronda said.
"You don't have to go," Claire said.
"Oh, we know, but it is getting late and I can see you're tired. It was good to meet you two," she said to Phillip and Elizabeth.
"You, too. I appreciate all of your help over the phone. I told John how many questions you answered for me," Elizabeth said.
"And then we went and ruined everything by asking him to be in the wedding," Phillip said.
"He'll enjoy that, too, I suspect," Ronda said. Claire and Ronda both thought John was a lot more flattered Phillip had asked him than he let on to anyone. John had asked her once if she thought he wouldn't ask her again and there was a part of her that wondered if he would've asked her again if he knew they would have had to go the big wedding route. He had no one to be in a wedding for him. Not really. Glen. Charlie, but he wouldn't have wanted Charlie. If they hadn't eloped he wouldn't know Phillip or Wayne, or even Billy. So, she supposed in a way she was kind of afraid he wouldn't ask again because the idea of a large wedding might have seemed a bit daunting to him.
"Except the tuxedo," John said.
"You'll look good in it and get to dance with your wife who will look equally as good. What's to complain about?" she asked.
"Well, put like that nothing I guess."
"Yes, because you love dancing," Claire said.
"With you it's enjoyable."
"Okay, well, we should go. Church in the morning early so Bill can head to the golf course since it's so nice out, but thank you again for a great time," Ronda said.
John and Claire walked with them to the front door and out to the porch while Elizabeth and Phillip stayed behind in the kitchen.
"I really like what you've done with the house, you two."
"Yeah?" John asked.
"Yes. There was nothing wrong with it before, but it was obvious someone single lived here."
John chuckled softly at that. "Yeah, I imagine it was. She's doing a good job making it into our home."
"You know, Ronda is a great name."
"I'll keep that in mind," John said, laughing again. "I'm not sure the world could handle my having two Ronda's in my life, though."
"You may be right."
She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. "See you Monday." Then she kissed Claire on the cheek. "And I'll see you next month if I don't see you for lunch before then."
"Yes, you sure will."
"And then you'll be gone for weeks."
"When I come back though I won't be working until after the baby comes so I'm sure I'll see you then."
"I'd better see you at least a couple times with the baby."
"I'm sure bringing her to have lunch with John will happen once or twice."
"I can't wait."
Claire went back into the kitchen while John waited for Ronda and Bill to get in their car and drive away. It wasn't real cold, but it was in the fifties now and she wasn't wearing much in the way of clothes due to her costume.
He slid his arms around her when he came back into the kitchen where Phillip and Elizabeth were sorting through some of the things on the counter.
"Hi," he said, kissing her neck.
"Hi," she said.
"It wasn't so bad."
"Yeah?" she asked, surprised.
"Not yeah enough I'm ready to do it again next year or anything."
Phillip snorted softly at that.
"I'll keep that in mind," she said.
"You guys don't have to do that," Claire said as Elizabeth was finding lids that matched bowls to put them away.
"I was just trying to help so you guys didn't have to be up half the night putting stuff away," Elizabeth said.
"It was good to see your brother and sister here," John said.
"I was glad you invited them," Phillip said. "You knew they'd come, didn't you?"
"I wasn't absolutely sure, but yeah I sort of figured if the invitation was made they'd show."
"You weren't glad my parents came?"
"Well, sure, you know, but they'd come to work and stuff before. Erin and Wayne hadn't really come to me before tonight."
"True," Phillip said.
"He still looks at me like he thinks I'm my old man."
"He sees what he sees," Phillip said with a shrug. "You look like him. They knew him. That's what they see."
"I know. Who was the guy with Erin?"
"His name's Randy," Elizabeth said.
"He wasn't at your dad's birthday party last month." Claire hadn't noticed him either, but she wasn't really paying much attention to Erin. They'd always gotten along and everything, but they were never friendly.
"No, Erin thought that would be a little too much too soon I think."
"Oh? So he's a boyfriend?"
"Kind of. I think they're still trying to figure that out. He's a professor at the same college and I think for now they're engaging in more intellectual dates than anything else."
"Intellectual dates?" John said with a soft chuckle.
"My sister, your aunt, is probably one of the smartest people I know. If not the smartest. It's, I think, one of the reasons she has problems getting and maintaining boyfriends. They don't understand her."
"Huh. And this guy does?"
"He seems to. Like I said, I think they're still getting to know one another."
"And the girl Wayne was with?" John asked.
"I have no idea."
"Phillip, you're terrible. Don't you listen? Her name is Stacey," Elizabeth said.
"I'm not even sure he told me that much about her," Philip said.
"I asked her," Elizabeth said.
"Oh," Phillip said.
"I thought he was dating someone that you guys knew," John said.
"I thought so, too," Phillip said. "That wasn't her, though, so I guess not."
"Oh," John said.
"Yeah, I hadn't heard, but it's not like I was going to ask him at Dad's party."
"Right," John said.
Claire sighed softly at his hand at her belly. She loved it there, especially times like now when she was really moving.
"She's really moving tonight," John murmured against Claire's ear.
"I know," she said, settling her hand over his. She could feel her kicking without her hand there, of course.
"That must be so weird," Elizabeth said.
"It was at first, but now it's just pretty neat. And pretty cool," she said.
"It is," John said. "It does make me wonder what she's pregnant with in there sometimes the way she moves."
Claire reached for her hand then and set it next to John's. She hated when people asked if they could touch her, but Elizabeth was her friend so she didn't mind so much. John slid his hand out of the way a bit as Elizabeth moved hers with the baby's movement.
"Wow," she said. "That's so amazing."
"It is," Claire said. "It almost makes it worth feeling like I'm getting as big as a house."
"You are not," John said.
"Says the man who told me my name was a fat girl's name."
"You did what?" Phillip asked.
"Shit, really? It was five and a half years ago when I said that. I didn't really mean it. I was trying to get a rise out of you. You knew her then. You think she'd have given a guy like me the time of day if I didn't get her attention somehow? The ones who were nice to her and gave her whatever she wanted got blown off. It got your attention, didn't it?"
"I told you, it was a family name."
"I know what you told me. I'm very glad they gave it to you. That means we don't have to give it to our daughter. Why do you think I call you Princess all of the time."
"John," she said.
He chuckled. "I'm teasing, Princess. I love your name. It's part of you."
"I kind of like the name Laura," Claire said.
"Laura is nice," John said. "Makes me think of the Dick Van Dyke show. Wasn't that her name?"
"It was," Phillip said.
"That's the first name you've said was nice."
"Because you've mentioned kind of weird names before now. Crystal and what was the other one?"
"Yeah. Come on. Crystal sounds like it belongs to a stripper and I'm not sure about Simone."
"Crystal does not sound like it belongs to a stripper."
"She wanted to name her Crystal Marie," John said.
Phillip laughed then.
"What?" Claire asked
"That totally sounds like a stripper name."
"Oh my God! It does not!"
"Have you ever been to a strip club, Claire?" Phillip asked.
"Well, no, of course not!"
"Then how would you know?"
"Trust us, it's a stripper name," he said.
"I liked it, though."
"Still a stripper name," John said.
"But Laura is okay?"
"Yeah, Laura is nice. I don't think I've met any strippers named Laura," John said.
"Me neither," Phillip said.
"Simone was just too… I don't know. Not right. Simone Bender just sounds wrong."
"I guess," she said.
He chuckled kissing her neck. "We'll find one we both love, don't worry. We have time yet."
"I know. I just feel like we should be calling her something besides her or she now that we know what she is."
"I don't think she cares," John said.
"You're probably right," she said.
"You two sticking around? We don't have to stand around the kitchen if you are." John asked.
"Nah, we should go. Claire looks tired," Phillip said.
"Don't leave because of that. I'm fine," she said.
"It's late and you guys will have your day full tomorrow. You picked a great day for a party, though."
"I know," John said. "We were lucky it got into the seventies. It made being on the porch bearable for a lot longer than it would've normally this time of the year."
"It's a great porch," Elizabeth said.
"You know, I think that's one of the first things Claire said to me when she saw it. What is it with you women and my porch?"
"It's nice!" Claire said. "It's probably my favorite room in the house during the summer. I expect I'll love sitting out there with the baby next summer."
"Yeah, I'm going to have to figure out a way to put a lock on that door that she won't be able to undo."
"The screen door leading from the porch outside. That handle is going to be too easy for her to turn when she's not much younger than Billy is. I'll have to put something up higher to secure it so she can't get out."
"Oh, I hadn't even thought of that."
"I thought about it all summer because you love having the front door open all of the time, which is fine but trust me that screen door can be real quiet opening and closing."
"I know," Claire said.
"I'll figure it out, don't worry. I have a little bit of time before she's walking and I have to concern myself with it. By that time I'll have the perfect solution dreamed up."
"You will, huh?"
"You guys can stay, though, really. There's still beer left," Claire said.
"I don't want to know how you know that," John said.
"Bill told me a little while ago because I think he thought they were supposed to bring it with them tonight to return it."
"Oh, right. I told him I'd take care of it tomorrow."
"I don't need any more beer," Phillip said. "I'd probably take another burger, though."
"Oh, God, help yourself," Claire said, gesturing to the kitchen. "Whatever you guys want. You want to take some with you?"
"No, no, though John's burgers were pretty good."
"Thanks," John said.
"You'll have to show me next time how you make them."
"Come early enough and I will."
"All right, Aphrodite, let's get you sitting down then."
"But I should…"
"I can get them anything they need if they can't find it. Go, sit. Off your feet. You were awake before the sun came up this morning and have been going ever since. I may have been sleeping, but I know when you leave the bed. We'll be in the living room in a minute."
"Fine," she said.
"You know I have to admit how seldom I use that thing anymore," John said when Phillip put the burger in the microwave to heat it up.
"I just rarely cook a TV dinner or anything because I want to make sure Claire eats right. You know?"
"I do," Phillip said. "I'm glad to hear that."
"Do you ever stop being a nurse?"
"Nope," he said. "There's nothing better than a mom taking care of herself to produce healthy babies. She's not drinking or anything."
"No, as soon as she suspected she stopped."
John pulled the toppings from the fridge Phillip might need for the burger that weren't already out on the counter.
"That's one of those things that's so easily preventable yet I see kids come in with the effects of drugs or booze all of the time. You just want to ask the mom why they didn't not do it for nine months. You can't, though."
"I guess I have that to be thankful for," John said.
"That it wasn't until later Ma started with those things."
"Oh," Phillip said. "Sorry, I wasn't thinking."
"It's all right. Billy seems all right and everything. Maybe she wanted to get pregnant again and started cleaning up her act, planning for it. Maybe my leaving made her want another kid around the house. I have no idea what was going through their heads when they made him."
"He does. Seem fine, I mean," Phillip said. "And I admit, I don't know the whole story, but I have looked for any signs of stunted developmental growth or anything."
"Listen to you," John said.
"What? He's my nephew. If he had any signs he'd need to get help I'd make sure Cindy got it for him. I'm not stupid, John. You don't have to tell me about your life for me to get it wasn't pleasant."
"I know you're not. I just don't want to," he shrugged. "You know, what you and her do is your thing and totally independent from you and me or her and me. So, I don't want to influence you and how you feel for her."
"Agreed. She asks me about Claire when I see her," Phillip said, taking a seat at the kitchen table. John pulled them each a bottle of beer from the fridge. He didn't mind keg beer, but after sitting out all day it was pretty warm by now and that didn't appeal to him.
"Thank you," Phillip said when John set the beer in front of him.
"Sure," John said. "What do you tell her?"
"That she's fine. I tell her that's all I feel comfortable saying."
"Are you going to tell her it's a girl?"
"Once she's born maybe, sure. Billy would tell her anyway I imagine when he comes around here and sees the baby."
"True," he said.
"I mean, I guess she has the right to know."
"That was nice of you, taking him last weekend."
"It was just Friday night. I picked him up after work and had him home before lunchtime on Saturday since I had to work."
"I bet he still liked it, though, and maybe your mom did, too."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know. Maybe she did something with her Friday night."
"I have no idea."
"You didn't ask?"
"Nope, not my business what she does with her time. I didn't take him to give her that ability, I took him because I wanted to hang out with him for a night."
"Reasonable. She said you gave her the names of some lawyers."
"That doesn't sound like someone who doesn't care."
"You're right. I do care. I don't want to. Caring doesn't mean I'm going to let her into my life. She's married to a convicted murderer. I figured, maybe, she'd like to get a divorce so never mind her and how it affects her. Billy doesn't have that hanging over his head for the rest of his life. I mean it's bad enough Claire has to deal with that shit in the newspapers."
"I've noticed they've stopped doing that, mentioning your dad I mean. The first few times your name was mentioned his was, too, but it stopped."
"Yes, I have a feeling their lawyer had something to do with that."
"Must be nice."
"I certainly don't have the kind of money to pay off newspaper reporters, gossip columnists or any other kind but I can't say I mind. But that's one of the reasons we've been pretty careful about them finding out she's pregnant. We really don't want my dad's name floating around out there again in connection with something good, you know?"
"And the trial?"
"We're done for the most part. We've both testified. I may be called back if they have more questions about the technical aspects. You know, redirect or something. I don't know. They told me not to be surprised."
"I can imagine. It must have been nice for them to have someone who takes and develops pictures for a living basically fall into their laps as a witness."
"Yes, they had a couple others, too, you know, so our explanations of how those photographs of Claire would have been made would jive."
"Right. Sounds like they did their jobs right this time."
"I hope so. I doubt he'll see much jail time. Most of the women were too embarrassed, a few were willing to testify but there were many who weren't."
"That's a shame."
John shrugged. "Can't make them, I guess. I can't really blame them. Some it was a while ago, you know, they've moved on. They were in college and aren't anymore."
"I can see that, I guess. Still, a shame to let him get away with any of it."
"Oh, I agree."
"How did you know those pictures weren't Claire?"
John chuckled. "I just did. She wouldn't do that, first of all."
"Really? You hadn't seen her in years and you saw all the same blurbs about her I did over the years."
"Sure, she drank and danced and flirted. She didn't pose naked. Nowhere was there ever a story about her getting caught skinny dipping or dancing topless at a bar or anything else that suggested to me she'd taken to shedding her clothes at the drop of a hat."
"She didn't then either?"
"Five years ago? Uh, no."
"Christopher just told me that you were pretty adamant they weren't her."
"Oh, I was. I liked her well enough. You have a crush on someone you observe them. I knew what she looked like. The body he'd put with her face wasn't hers. She hasn't changed that much."
"Something tells me you're leaving things out."
"Something tells me you might be right."
"It was five years ago. You know, it was what it was. I knew they weren't her."
"It's a good thing the defense attorney doesn't know you as well as I do or they'd know there was more to your story."
"You're probably right. I wasn't going to embarrass her or admit to doing anything I wasn't asked about."
"So, I have to ask," Phillip said as he finished off his burger.
"You can fix just about anything."
"You can cook."
"Is there anything you can't do?"
"Lots of things. Cooking and fixing things aren't hard."
"You can cook. I've had dinner at your house before."
"Sure, but I try and make burgers myself and they never turn out like this."
"I've made my share of bad burgers over the years. Trust me. I just have learned. Next summer I'll show you, really. It's no big secret."
"All right. I look forward to it. You'll have a daughter to bring with you then."
"I know," John said.
"You're glad it's a girl?"
"Yes," he said. "I mean, I wouldn't have been upset about it being a boy or anything, but a girl will be nice."
"You're afraid of things that are pretty baseless."
"Maybe so. The fear's still there."
He stood then, patting John on the shoulder. "You'll be a good dad, boy or girl."
"I hope so."
"I see how you treat Claire, Diana, and Billy. You'll do fine."
"I'm not sure how my treating Claire and Diana has anything to do with it."
"It has a lot to do with it. Pets, women, and children I think tell a lot about a person. How they treat them, I mean. She was really good tonight, by the way."
"Yeah, we thought about keeping her in our bedroom, but she would've just scratched at the door so we just let her have free reign to do as she pleased."
"That dog door is going to be cold this winter."
"I know. I may see about sealing it up somehow."
"You can do that, too?"
"Sure," he shrugged. "Put some Plexiglas over it or something. I have to look at it more closely."
John stood, following him into the living room where Claire and Elizabeth were talking. Claire looked exhausted. Phillip obviously saw it, too.
"Elizabeth, honey, you ready to go so these two can get some sleep?"
"Me? You're the one who wanted another burger."
"Yeah, well, I didn't want to insult the chef or anything by not eating seconds."
"Is that your excuse?" she said, standing. "Don't get up. I can see you're about to fall asleep sitting up."
"I won't think you're rude, really. John will walk us out and then he can put you to bed."
"I doubt she'll be awake at five o'clock in the morning anyway," John said wryly, watching her.
"She'll be fine," Phillip said.
"See, I told you, I see how you are."
"Thanks," John said. "And thanks for coming."
"Sure. It was fun."
"One day you'll have to explain to me who exactly you were."
"You don't know?"
"No," John said.
Phillip laughed then. "We're Sonny and Cher."
"Oh, nope wouldn't have guessed that in a million years."
"Yours was too obvious."
"I know, I had to stick with what I knew. Cameras. That's what I know."
"She wouldn't let me go as her husband."
"Imagine that," Phillip said.
"I know, right? I tried real hard to convince her, too."
He walked with them to their car, Diana followed him out for one last trip to the backyard before he locked everything up.
He checked the garage and everything to make sure it was locked with Diana following behind him. She was pretty loyal already for as young as she was. Then he'd never had a dog before to know how they took to their owners. She was definitely more John's dog than Claire's because he was the one who fed and trained her. No fault of Claire's, he just worked in close enough proximity to their house to come home frequently and let her out and work with her.
He made sure the screened door leading to his porch was locked so that none of the neighbor kids could sneak in and have access to the keg before shutting the front door. Claire, not surprisingly, had fallen asleep on the couch. He carried her to bed as carefully as he could. It was different carrying her this far along and he had to be a lot more careful than he normally would be. Diana stayed behind on the floor in their room as he went to lock up the house.
"You really had an okay time?" she asked when he finally joined her in bed.
"I did," he whispered, kissing her shoulder.
"Mm, good," she whispered.
"Quit worrying about me and get some sleep. You both need it."
"'kay," she murmured. "Love you."
"Well, you are the goddess of love, so of course you do."
She laughed softly, pressing against him but in a way that very plainly told him she wanted him close but nothing else from him tonight. She'd been up for going on twenty-one hours so he wasn't even thinking along those lines anyway.
"That's me all right."
"Well, you got me to get married and about to be a dad, so you must be something."
"I'm just Claire."
"Well, then, I love just Claire a lot."
He settled his arm around her as he did most nights, feeling the baby moving a bit under his palm. He had to admit it was a pretty nice way to fall asleep.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com