Chapter Four
Word Count: 6,515

April 21, 1984

"I should keep you here longer," Vernon said when it was time for John to go at the end of the day.

"Why's that? I didn't realize you liked my company that much."

"Your girlfriend is out front waiting for you."

John rolled his eyes. Of course Vernon would know what car Claire drove. Then he supposed it was kind of obvious who she'd be on a day like today considering John was the only one in the school. Never mind she'd picked him up each of the past three weeks, too.

"What she sees in a low life like you I have no idea."

"My charming personality that I've learned from these years of being around you, I'm sure."

"Watch it. You don't have that diploma just yet, Bender."

John huffed. "That'd mean something if I cared," he said.

"You obviously do care or you would have dropped out and gone about your low-life, criminal-minded, drug-dealing ways. So, something matters to you here. You weren't dating her until recently, so that means school must be of value to you."

"Not really. It beats having to work," he said with a shrug.

"Don't think I haven't heard your pager going off while you're here. People need their fixes even on Saturday afternoons, huh?"

It actually hadn't been that. Amy was still paging him pretty regularly because he hadn't officially told her he was seeing someone else. Seeing someone else seemed absolutely fucking ridiculous, but the more she paged him incessantly the more he realized it was probably a good thing Claire had come along when she did. How much more blatant could he get then barely calling her back and always being busy? Evidently, he needed to actually say the words, which he was dreading doing. Tomorrow. He'd drive to see her tomorrow and do it. Claire was picking him up again for the night and they were doing something. He had no idea what. She hadn't said, just something.

"If I get my diploma do I get to be like you, huh, Dick? Polyester suits and Brylcreem. I think you did more than a dab. Or do you use your wife's Dippity Do."

"Watch it. Three more weeks."

John shook his head with a roll of his eyes again. "You know if I didn't know better I'd think you kind of like me and are looking forward to these Saturdays a little too much."

"Like I don't have better things to do with my weekends, Bender."

"Evidently not because you hand out Saturday detentions like breath mints. Which, by the way, you may want to invest in if we're going to be this close to one another every week for another month yet."

"You think you're funny."

"What can I say?"

"Just wait until she realizes that you're a no good loser like I know you are and see how fast she drops you. She's going to college you know. She has parents who care."

John scoffed. While her parents were all right, they didn't really care. As long as she graduated and didn't get knocked up while doing it that was about all they really cared about. Image. They'd been polite to John, but he knew especially at dinner last month they were measuring him up.

"Parents who won't let you just walk away as you do your other girlfriends when you're done using them."

"Except why wouldn't they?" John said. "They'll be glad when I'm done with her. Right? Going by what you're saying, they'll be relieved. So who cares what they think about me in the meantime?"

"Get out of here," Vernon said, stepping away from the door so John could finally do just that.

John made his way casually through the halls, knowing Vernon wasn't too far behind him. Claire was leaning against her car when he finally got outside. She looked cold, which made him wonder how long she'd been standing there.

"Worried I was going to stand you up or something?" he asked.

"No, you're late. I was debating whether I should go in and get you."

"That would've gone over splendidly. I'm glad you didn't."

"Yeah, that's sort of what I thought. That's why I stayed out here, but I got out of my car. So I really did think about it."

He leaned down to kiss her, kissing her nose and her forehead before pulling away.

"Vernon was his usual charming self today."

"Isn't not seeing him again an incentive not to fail?"

John grunted in response as he got in the car while she did the same. One would think that'd be a huge incentive. If he never had to see the guy again John's life would be just fine.

"Don't ride me today about my grades, okay?"

"Yeah, okay. I was just saying…"

"Yeah, I hear ya," he said, letting his head rest against the headrest. He hated that she thought he was like that, a lazy bum who didn't care about graduating. And, yet, she liked him. It baffled the fuck out of him why. The first week he could sort of excuse, expect even. She'd had a rough week with her friend dying and stuff so not much time to process whether he made a good boyfriend or not. It'd been going on a month now, though, and she showed no signs of bailing on him.

"What do you want to do?"

"Get the fuck out of this parking lot until Monday."

She laughed softly, but put the car in gear.

"I didn't mean to imply we had to go to your house," he said.

"It's fine," she said, getting out of the car once she pulled into the garage. Pulling into the garage he took to mean then that they'd be here for a while.

"Nothing else to do on a Saturday night?"

"There's a couple of parties, but I admit I wasn't really in the mood."

"No?" he asked, surprised.

"No. I guess I still can't shake Penny being gone!"

"I suppose," he said. He could understand that. Come to think of it, they'd only been to one party since Penny's funeral and that had been last weekend. Evidently she hadn't had a real good time, or did but felt guilty about it later.

"Was Vernon bad today?"

"I didn't actually see him hardly at all except in the morning and when he let me go for the day."

It hadn't been a fruitful day, but he'd gotten work done that he'd wanted to get done anyway. There was a teacher John was going to suggest his captain take a close look at. Things on his desk, pictures of things in them, just didn't add up for a high school science teacher whose spouse didn't work that John knew of. (Then John didn't know everything about every teacher.)

He'd, surprisingly, been able to get quite a bit of searching done the past month. The main office was proving difficult, though, because that's where Vernon's office was. The rest of the school, though, he was pretty free to roam.

"Well, that wasn't so bad then."

"Had I known he was going to leave me alone all day like that, I would have suggested you sneak in and spend the day with me."

"We would've gotten caught."

"He didn't catch us that Saturday you were there, too."

"That was only a couple of hours."

"Pity."

"Would you really have asked me?"

He shrugged. No, he wouldn't have because he really needed the in the day of detention gave him to search things he didn't have access to during the school week. It seemed like a good thing to say, though, and. Well, if she had shown up he wouldn't have been too disappointed at the interruption.

He still had plenty of rooms to search through, though. Three more weeks. He sighed at the idea of it. Out of desperation today, he'd jimmied open one of the windows in the auto shop area. His plan was after Claire took him home tonight to swing by there and see if he could gain access to the office. He knew how to pick locks, and Shermer High's locks weren't state of the art or close to being new. Getting the main office done would make him feel infinitely better about himself.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing," he said. "Just thinking about spending next weekend there, too."

"I told you to stop!"

She had. That's when he had known without a doubt she was into him.

He shrugged again. He had no response to that. "Beats sitting at home with my parents', I guess."

She sighed a bit and he knew it was probably frustrating to her.

"So. What are we doing here then? No parties? What?"

"I cooked dinner for you," she said.

"I'm sorry. You what?"

"I had nothing else to do today," she said with a shrug.

"So, you made me dinner? Your parents didn't care?"

"They're not home today."

"Really?" he asked.

"No. They left for Hawaii."

"Hawaii," he said.

"Yeah."

"How long are they gone for?" He was pretty sure it was a good haul to Hawaii from Chicago, like a good chunk of almost half of a day. So, they wouldn't fly there for an overnight. Then what her parents did he had no clue.

"Until next Sunday."

"Wow. They must really trust you."

"They do."

"No one knows?"

"That's why they trust me."

"Huh," he said. "So, you go to people's parties…"

"I don't want them here. I'm not a moron. I don't go to friends' houses and destroy things. I know that other people do that, though. My parents would kill me. They told me before Christopher went to college that if I threw a party and they found out they'd send me to boarding school."

"I'm sorry. For a party?"

"Well, it's worked! I don't want to get sent to Switzerland!"

"I suppose," he said. Did parents' really do that? "Is that why you haven't had any boyfriends either?"

"No. Well, sort of."

"Sort of?"

She shrugged as she looked in the oven. He had to admit it smelled fucking amazing.

"I just hadn't met anyone I wanted to be my boyfriend."

Hadn't. She'd used hadn't.

"No?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"I don't know. Why? None of them," she shrugged. "I don't know what it is about you, but you don't seem like you really belong here. You never have. Even the way you live, you know. I didn't know you until that day beyond a name and a vague face to go with the reputation that went with that name."

"Right."

"Just watching you the past month. You are so self-sufficient. You cared about being at Penny's wake with me. None of those guys wanted to be there. They were there because it was expected of them to be there with their girlfriend. I mean, you were probably there for the same reason, but you went out of your way to get your dad's car." She shrugged. "I listen to the way you talk. I know that bothers you. When I mention that I know you're not dumb. I'm not sure why that bothers you, but whatever. I haven't told anyone that you not just use words like letch but know what they mean."

"That's not that hard of a word."

"No. There've been others. I can't remember them all, but that one stood out."

He shrugged. "Listen."

"Don't go freaking out or anything okay. I'm not marrying us off or telling you that I expect to spend the rest of forever with you."

"Why not?" he asked.

"What?"

"Why aren't you saying that? You haven't felt like this about anyone else. Why wouldn't you think that way?"

She shrugged again, going to the fridge.

"Are you hungry?"

"Uh, yeah. I had the same thing for lunch this week as the past months' worth of Saturdays there."

"Oh," she said, blushing profusely.

"I didn't consider you my lunch."

"No?"

He chuckled. "No," he said. "Listen," he said. "Before I forget," he said.

"Yeah?"

He shrugged, pulling a box out of his coat pocket.

"I was at the mall this week."

"You went to the mall?"

"Yeah. I needed something," he said.

"Oh," she said.

"Anyway," he said, taking a deep breath. "I, uh, bought this for you," he said, holding out the box for her.

"John," she said, taking the box. It wasn't small enough to be a ring, so she couldn't be thinking that's what it was.

"Oh, it's beautiful," she said. It was nothing hugely fancy. A gold chain with a heart shaped pendant. There was a small diamond in the middle of it where the two halves of the heart came together.

"Yeah? You really like it?"

"Of course I do!" She took it out of the box, holding it up as she looked at it. She undid the clasp and handed it to him. "Put it on me?"

"Uh, I don't know…"

"Just try it," she said, lifting her hair away from her neck as she turned to face away from him.

It took him a couple of tries. His finger and thumb just weren't meant to work dainty things like the clasp was on this necklace. "There," he said, moving it so it was right at the nape of her neck.

"Be right back," she said, walking in the direction of the hall that led to the garage. And a bathroom.

She came back in a few minutes later.

"Thank you," she said, leaning up to kiss him. "It's gorgeous."

"I'm glad you like it."

"I do," she said. "I, uh. All right. Well, sit then," she said, gesturing to the table. He slid out of his coat, draping it over one of the chair backs.

"So, I shouldn't go telling anyone you're all alone here?"

"No," she said.

"No one will find out?"

"No."

"Isn't it Easter tomorrow?"

"Yeah," she said.

"And your parents just left you here alone?"

She shrugged. "I'm not it even occurred to them it was Easter."

"Wow," he said. His parents had sucked, but he didn't think they'd have ever left him alone on a holiday like hers had done. There was going to a bar or something and flying to a state that was like four time zones different.

"Where'd you learn to cook?" he asked as he watched her. She clearly knew what she was doing so this wasn't the first time she'd cooked.

"Are you kidding me? You've met my parents. You were in the same room as them. How can you ask that? I was raised to know how to be a proper housewife."

"Okay. But you're going to college."

"Sure, things have changed a bit in the past eighteen years, but Mom would still have taught me I'm sure for when I have kids and stay home."

"How many kids you plan on having?" he asked.

"I don't know," she said, blushing at that.

Huh.

"I suppose two."

"Logical number I suppose," he said.

"You're an only child?"

"Yup," he said.

"This was really good," he said when they were done. "I feel bad that while I was stuck at school you were here cooking this and I didn't have a clue."

"Why?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. I had no idea."

"I think that's the point of a surprise."

"It was a nice one," he said. He finished the last of his bread. She'd made lasagna. The bread wasn't homemade, but she'd warmed it and coated it with butter so it was pretty damned good. He'd had two pieces of the lasagna, and they weren't small pieces either. He hadn't eaten since breakfast, though, and clearly she cooked for him to eat the food.

"Thank you."

"Thank you," he said, standing from the chair and going to her so he could kiss her. "Do I get dinner next Saturday, too?"

"You can have dinner any night this week."

"Really?"

"Sure."

"I may just take you up on that."

"I wouldn't mind. I have to eat you may as well eat with me."

"One of those nights I'll buy you pizza or Chinese."

"Okay."

"Do I get to help you clean up?"

"If you want."

"Sure," he said, taking her plate to the sink.

He rinsed the plates off while she put the pan of lasagna in the fridge. He had a dishwasher and a decent kitchen for the most part at his apartment, but it was pretty old. Everything in her kitchen was pretty new and very nice.

That done, he slid his arms around her and drew her to him. He lowered his mouth to hers, kissing her.

"Hi," he whispered.

"Hi," she murmured.

"What's your plan for the rest of the night?"

"I don't know," she said with a shrug.

"No ideas?"

"No," she said. "Not really."

"TV? I suppose air hockey's out?"

She laughed softly, settling her head against his chest. He liked it there. He kissed the top of her head.

"I don't suppose you have anything on you?"

"Anything?" he asked, cautiously.

"Yeah, you know, like you had at school and at Stubby's that weekend?"

"Oh," he said, very relieved that was what she was asking about. He didn't have any rubbers on him because he didn't even want to be tempted with her. "Yeah, sure. That's what you want to do?"

"Sure," she said.

"All right," he said. "I suppose with Mommy and Daddy gone they're not going to smell it."

"No," she said with a soft laugh. She stepped away from him and grabbed his hand.

"I need to get it from my coat," he said, gesturing to his coat at the chair.

"Yeah, sure," she said.

"Uh, Claire," he said when he realized instead of the basement she was leading him to her room.

"Yeah?"

"I assumed we were going to go downstairs."

"You're complaining because I'm bringing you to my room?"

Well, put like that, he would sound like a ridiculous idiot. "No," he said.

She had a TV in her room, which shouldn't have surprised him he supposed. She didn't go for that, though, instead turning her stereo on. She had some records in the basement, but had a few up here.

"What's up here?" he asked. He'd flipped through the collection downstairs and had been impressed with her taste in music. Some he could do without like Culture Club, but he knew they were popular.

"Things I listen to in my room."

"I guess," he said with a slight frown.

"Well, I mean, sometimes I'm in here and in the mood to listen to music."

"I get it," he said. "How about the Stones?" he asked, pulling out her copy of Tattoo You.

"Sure," she said. "You want me to do it?"

"I think I can manage to put a record on a turntable."

"Yes, but I don't think you want me to roll…"

"Ah," he said with a soft chuckle. "No good?"

"No," she said.

"I think I'm glad that's the case."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah," he said.

She watched him once Mick Jagger and the guys started singing Start Me Up.

"You really like it," he asked, pointing at the necklace with his pinky as he licked the paper.

"I do," she said.

"I've never bought something for a girl before," he admitted. He wasn't lying either. His mom, he supposed as a kid.

"No?"

"No."

"You did fine."

"Good," he said. He'd looked at a bracelet, but had gone with this instead. A bracelet seemed like something she wouldn't wear every day where a necklace she could.

He found his matches and got it going before offering her the first toke.

"I can't believe my parents left the day before Easter," she whispered a while later. They were just about done with the joint he'd rolled. They were lying on her bed, which to this point hadn't posed any problems. He'd been on beds with girls before.

Never to not have sex, but there was a first time for everything he supposed.

"I was wondering when you were going to be honest about it," he said.

"What about your parents?"

"They're doing their usual thing."

She turned onto her side then, propping her head up with one of her hands as she did that. He couldn't help but think she looked gorgeous like that. A little buzz going, the heart pendant he'd given her dangling a bit because it was just long enough to do that, and looking at him as if he had the answers. He passed the joint to her. There was enough left for two hits, maybe three.

"Which is?" She took a hit then.

"Drinking," he shrugged.

"You don't drink, do you?" she asked.

"Not really." He had the occasional beer, but not to excess.

"Me neither," she said, handing the joint back to him. He'd never just sat around getting stoned with someone before. He was here to do a job, smoking up was part of what he was supposed to do as his job. Sitting around bullshitting with her, though, while getting stoned wasn't really part of his job.

"I think Mr. Schepke might have had something to do with Penny's death," she said.

He coughed as he inhaled, surprised at her saying that. Surprised she'd said it, surprised because Mr. Schepke was the teacher John was going to tell his captain to dig deeper on.

"Why?" he asked.

"Swallow wrong?" she asked.

"No," he said. "Just surprised you'd say that."

"I know, right?"

"Why him?" John frowned as he thought over what he knew about Schepke. Not much. He was pretty unassuming.

"Not much, but he," she shrugged, turning onto her back.

"What?" he prompted softly.

"I saw her talking to him more than once and she doesn't have him for Science this year."

"Yeah," John said.

"It just seemed weird. You know. I swear he was flirting with her one day."

"Flirting with her?"

That was kind of creepy. The guy was like forty-five.

"Yeah." She shrugged. "It's probably nothing, but you asked a while ago. Now you know why I didn't want to say anything."

"So, they talked and you think he flirted with her."

She sighed a bit.

"I swear I saw him on the street the night of Stubby's party."

"Okay…"

"He doesn't live anywhere near them!"

"Oh," John said. How the hell would he know that? Other than clearly Schepke's income bracket wasn't near Stubby's.

"I can't be sure, but I swear I saw her getting out of his car."

"Wait. She didn't drive there?"

"No," Claire said. "She got a ride from…"

"Yeah?"

"I can't even remember who."

"And you don't think it was them?"

"No."

He didn't find anything incriminating searching through his desk, but he hadn't looked real hard either because he was trying to cover as much ground as he could. He figured he could double back and look more closely at anyone of interest in his last week or two of detention. Now, though, he wondered if there was something to find.

"Why'd you tell me?"

She shifted a bit then, moving so she was partway on top of him, her chest against his side. She slid a hand along his chest to his arm.

"I don't know. What if I'm right?"

Indeed. What if she was right?

"Were your other friends around him?"

"I don't know. I really don't remember," she said. She leaned up then, looking at him. The arm on the record player had moved back to its spot beside the album quite a while ago. They'd never gotten to the second side.

"What?"

"I don't think I want to talk about it anymore."

"Yeah, sure. I'm not trying to make you. Sorry."

She laughed a bit at that. "No, that's not what I meant."

"Okay," he said. She kissed him then. Ah. He caught on pretty quickly after that, sliding his arms around her to bring her on top of him as he deepened the kiss.

"I love when you do that," she whispered against his mouth.

"Do what?" he asked. He didn't think he was doing anything special.

"Touch me."

"Well, yeah," he said. He liked touching her, so of course he was going to do that.

"No, like you want to touch me."

"Well, yeah, because I do!"

"No, I mean, like you're okay just touching me like this. Not a means to an end to get under my shirt."

"Oh," he said, kissing her again. Better to kiss her than to talk more about that.

Her shirt stayed where it belonged. His didn't, though. Probably toeing a line he shouldn't be blurring especially with her parents gone. He found, though, that he wanted her to look at him where with girls like Amy he could care less if they did.

"What happened here?" she asked.

He snorted. "The same thing that happened pretty much everywhere else. I got in trouble for something and the old man made me pay for it."

"Oh," she said.

"Hard to imagine, huh?"

"Yes. Makes me feel bad for complaining about my parents leaving for Easter weekend."

"I can imagine for most people that's a big deal."

"Still…"

"Hey," he said, shifting them so they were side by side and he could kiss her.

"Why do you do that?" he asked when he stopped.

"Do what?"

"Make what you're feeling mean anything less…"

"Because my parents haven't beat me or burned me with cigars!"

"So that means your life is perfect?"

"No," she said.

"All right. Have I told you that my life is worse than yours so I don't want to hear you bitching about it?"

"Not since…"

"Yeah, okay. I said a lot of things that day. Since then!"

"No."

"Stop trivializing what you experience and feel."

"There you go using words…"

"Jesus."

"And it occurs to me."

"What does?" His eyes fell closed as she ran her hand over his shoulder.

"We're lying here together on my bed, stoned, your shirt is off, but my clothes are intact."

"They are," he said. He wasn't that stoned.

"Why is that?"

He chuckled softly. He slid his hand up from where it was at her hip to graze a breast, skimming over a nipple with his thumb.

"Because I'm not here to get you out of your clothes tonight."

"Oh," she said.

"I didn't give you this," he said, reaching for the necklace and running a fingertip over the pendant. "As a way to get you out of your Calvins."

"I know."

"Do you?"

"I do."

"Good."

"Have you ever bought jewelry before?"

"I think I already told you that, but no."

"Your pager has been unusually quiet tonight."

"I turned it off," he said.

"Really?"

"Yup," he said. "About the time you told me you cooked me dinner." His captain would ream him a new one if he needed John for something important, but that didn't usually happen on Saturday nights. He liked to think Ed had a life of his own away from the precinct and staying on top of John and other cops like him.

"Thank you," she whispered.

"Thank you for dinner."

"They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach."

"I don't know who says that, but I'm sure it's probably pretty accurate."

"So if I feed you…"

He chuckled. "Princess. You can feed me anytime."

"Okay."

She got up then and went to her stereo, turning it to the radio before going to the bathroom.

He went after her, knowing he should have her get him home pretty soon. It seemed a shame to waste a good buzz, though, so he'd wait a while yet.

***

Claire opened her eyes, realizing they'd fallen asleep in her room. She hadn't turned her stereo off never mind locked up downstairs. She'd forgotten to do that because…

"Oh my God, John," she said, regarding him sound asleep next to her. His shirt was off. He had to be cold because they hadn't gotten under the covers or anything.

She leaned up, glancing at her alarm clock. It was only a little after three o'clock. So, he hadn't spent the whole night. Technically. She imagined it'd only been a couple of hours since they fell asleep. She wasn't watching the time.

"John," she said again.

"Hmm," he mumbled.

"John! You fell asleep at my house."

"Yeah," he murmured.

"Oh my God. John. You're going to get in trouble."

"Nah," he said.

She stared at his chest and torso, both saying differently.

"John. It's early enough I can get you to your apartment before they wake up."

He rolled over then, sliding an arm around her and tugging her to him. She went, which frightened the hell out of her. Not the fact she went, but the fact she wanted to go to him.

"Waking up here is good," he said, sliding a hand along her back lower to cup her ass.

He couldn't be serious! They were lucky her parents weren't home. Of course, she wouldn't have brought him up to her bedroom to get high if they had been in town.

"John I don't want to be responsible for your parents' getting upset with you."

"Haven't lived with them in years. Don't worry about it."

She pushed against his chest then. "What does that mean?"

"What?"

"You don't live with your parents?"

"Nope," he said.

"I've dropped you off…"

"Yup." He nuzzled against her neck, kissing her there as he got bolder with his hand. A lot bolder. Holy shit was she responding, too, as he slid his hand lower along her ass. "Feel nice."

She couldn't agree more. He felt very nice doing that. Nicer than she ever imagined it would feel to have someone feel her up in any way shape or form. She moved her hand to his chest again, finding one of his nipples and touching it with a fingertip. He groaned softly at the contact before finding her mouth with his.

He shifted them a bit, drawing his hand away from her ass and the spot between her legs he'd been touching with the tips of his fingers as he rubbed her there. She groaned a bit in frustration at that until she felt his hand against her stomach.

Under her shirt.

She stopped responding to his kiss and stopped breathing for a second as he slid his hand further under her shirt. She moaned against his mouth, couldn't help it, as his hand found her breast and touched her there.

"All of you feels nice," he murmured as he broke the kiss and moved to her neck again.

"Uh huh," she said. Was she supposed to answer him?

He drew away from her neck after a couple of minutes. He had to have left her another hickey. He hadn't since the night at Stubby's house for some reason. She wasn't exactly complaining because if her mother never found out she fooled around with a guy Claire would be very happy about that.

His mouth found a breast and she cried out at the feel of his mouth there. She'd never felt anything like it. There was that feeling between her legs, too. She understood what it was, but hadn't been prepared for what it would really feel like.

She slid a hand over his shoulder as he moved so he was more on top of her. She gasped as he took a nipple into his mouth, running his tongue over the tip of it.

He drew away then, moving a bit to settle his head against her stomach with his hands at either side of her.

"You okay," he whispered after a few minutes.

"Uh huh," she whispered back. She wasn't sure why they were whispering when they were alone. She supposed something about it being the middle of the night lent itself to whispering.

"Good," he said.

"Why?"

He shrugged, kissing her stomach and brushing his cheek against her there.

"I just know you haven't done anything like this before."

"Oh!" How embarrassing! "I'm fine," she whispered.

"You are definitely that."

She laughed softly.

"I think the same about you."

"I'm not sure I understand that way of thinking, but I'm not complaining you think so."

She loved him. Somehow in the past month she'd managed to develop feelings for him. She had no idea how and she knew deep down as cordial as her parents were to him that they'd frown on her having any sort of lasting relationship with him. She couldn't help who she loved, though. She ran her fingers up from his shoulders, along the nape of his neck, and higher to his hair.

"Aren't you?"

"Huh?"

She wasn't sure how to ask the question that was on her mind.

"I… Is that all?"

He laughed at that, lifting his head from her stomach. "What were you expecting?"

She shrugged.

"While your bed is nicer than anything I imagined our first time being able to be in given our circumstances, that's all."

"Why?"

"Why?" he asked.

"Yes. Did I do something wrong?"

"No! What could you possibly have done wrong?"

"I don't know. You don't want to."

"Oh, I do want to. That doesn't mean I have to."

"How come?"

He shrugged. "Because even if it was a couple of hours ago now we were both stoned. I don't want there to be a question…"

"I'm not going to accuse you of raping me."

"I hope not. That wasn't what I was thinking. I just don't want you to regret it later, you know? If you hadn't been stoned we wouldn't have or something."

"Oh," she said.

"Did I disappoint you? You weren't expecting…" He frowned, as if thinking that over. "Oh," he said. "Is that what you invited me here for? Cooked dinner and stuff for me?"

"No, I just," she shrugged. "We're here in my room. My parents are gone."

"Well, you know, there's such a thing as getting what we just did here tonight down pat before we move onto the rest."

"You did that just fine."

"I'm glad you think so."

"Me, too," she said and he laughed again.

"I bet you are."

"Yes," she said. "I always thought there was something wrong with me or something that I didn't even want to. I wasn't even really curious about any of it."

"And you are now?"

"Yes!"

"I see," he said.

"With you! I mean, not just in general."

He chuckled again, kissing her stomach before drawing her top down and back in place.

"That's good because I don't think I'm a sharer."

"You don't think?"

"Never really been in a position to know, I guess."

"No?"

He was quiet for a second and she wondered if maybe she shouldn't have asked the question. Did he think she was challenging him? Didn't believe him?

"You ever hear about me having a girlfriend before now?"

"No," she said.

"Well, then…"

"What about all those girls…"

"Not girlfriends. Not girlfriends like you are."

"Huh."

"Yeah," he said with a shrug. "Anyway. I can walk home…"

"No! Are you crazy? I'll drive you."

"Nah. I'll be fine. Really. The walk will do me good anyway."

"You could just stay here," she said after a few minutes of silence between the two of them. He didn't make any effort to get off the bed and she didn't want him to.

"Yeah?" he asked.

"If you don't think you'll get in trouble," she said.

"Nah." He stood from the bed then and grabbed his shirt from where it'd fallen to the floor.

Why was she severely disappointed he wasn't staying?

"One condition," he said, grabbing her foot.

"Okay," she said, suddenly no longer disappointed at all.

"I get to cook you breakfast in the morning."

"You cook?"

"I can hold my own, yes."

"Okay," she said.

"Two conditions, I guess."

"What's the other one?"

"You need to move so I can get under the blanket."

"Oh," she said, helping him push the covers down.

"I'm impressed you actually made your bed even though your parents are gone."

"Habit," she said with a shrug.

He chuckled as he joined her.

"You don't make yours?"

"I do," he admitted. "Not because of my parents, though, just," he shrugged. "I don't know. Believe it or not, I like order."

"No, I don't believe it."

"Maybe one day I'll show you."

"I'd like that."

"Yeah," he said.

"How does this work?"

"What?"

"Sleeping together?"

"We both close our eyes and go to sleep."

"Very funny."

"I'm not sure I was joking. What kind of a question is that?"

"I don't know! What do we do?"

He leaned in, kissing her.

"Just go to sleep, Claire. I'm not going to do anything while we're sleeping."

"I wasn't worried you would."

"Hmm. Should I be worried about you doing something while we sleep?"

She scoffed, rolling her eyes. Not that he could see her do that.

"Why'd you put your shirt back on?"

"It seemed the safe thing to do."

"I thought you were going to leave."

"Oh, I probably should, but I only live once. Right?"

"If something bad happens to you because you stayed here."

"Nothing bad's going to happen to me, Princess. Don't worry your pretty head about me. I promise I'll be fine."

"Okay," she whispered.

"Now sleep," he whispered.

"Thank you again for the necklace."

"You're welcome again for the necklace. I really hope you actually like it and aren't just saying that you do."

"Why would I do that?"

"So I don't feel bad?"

"But if I tell you I like something when I don't you'll think I will and buy things again thinking I do."

"Wow. You expect more things? Doesn't my buying you that free me up for a while?"

"No," she said. "There's prom…"

"I have to buy you something in addition to the tux?"

"Yes," she said.

"Hmm," he said. "Had I known, I would have saved that…"

"No!"

"I'm teasing, Princess. I'd have to be living under a rock not to know the rules for these things. I'm aware."

"Really?"

"Really."

"So, you got me the necklace anyway?"

"I did," he whispered.

"You're sweet."

"Don't let that get out, okay?"

"I'll try to refrain. I'd have competition then."

He snorted at that.

"I'd have to want anyone but you for there to be able to be a competition."

She had no idea how to respond to that. She knew how she wanted to respond, but there was no way she could tell him she loved him already. He'd absolutely freak out. She'd never been in a relationship before, but she knew others who had been and knew how things worked well enough. Telling a guy you loved him was a good way to get him to run for the hills.

Claire didn't want him running anywhere.

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