Chapter Five
Word Count: 6,688

John finished the last of his breakfast while his captain was thinking over what John had just laid out for him. He was going to argue with him. John knew that and was expecting it coming to breakfast to meet him. He knew, though, that John wouldn't make such a request lightly and without having thought about it pretty intensely.

"John. I'm not paying you to have a girlfriend," his captain said. "I'm not sure I appreciate you calling a meeting for this reason."

It was Tuesday before school. He'd excuse him from first period as he usually did. John had requested this week's meeting, though, and that was new.

"I know that! That's not why I'm saying this."

"Really? Going on three years and you've never once been tempted to come out to anyone."

"I think she could be helpful."

"How exactly? Besides showing you a good time in the backseat of her car."

"Very funny. It's not like that. I'm not thinking with my dick. She's not even eighteen yet!"

"So what are you thinking exactly?"

"Well, for one, she might be able to find out if Schepke is involved. I'm not a woman and as hard as I may like to try to be that I can't flirt with a guy who might have a propensity to sleep with students."

"Might is a key word there, Bub."

"I know that! I don't think she would have said something just out of a knee-jerk reaction, though. It took her a month after Penny's death to say this much! I tried real hard that week to convince her if she knew anything I could get her in to talk to someone in a way no one would know she'd talked to cops."

"You did?"

"Yes! I did! I didn't give myself away. She asked me how I'd accomplish that and I told her I just would. She's clearly, a month later, still shook up so I think she might be a good source of information. She's going to think it's weird though if I just press her for information."

Ed sighed. He always bought breakfast when they met. John was sure he was able to write it off on an expense report somewhere, but he didn't have to pay for John's breakfast every time the past two years.

"I'll talk to her in front of her dad if that makes you feel better."

"Her dad?"

John scoffed softly. "Yes. Frank Standish is her father."

"You're dating the Standish girl?"

"I am," John said.

"God, I haven't seen her in years."

"You've seen her though?"

"Well, sure. Her dad's always been very good to the Shermer community, including the police force."

"He's a defense attorney."

"He is. Doesn't mean he's not good to us."

"I suppose."

"I'm not sure telling him would be wise unless you get to a point you need her to do more than see if she can find out if Schepke engages in that type of behavior. I know him, too. He's been at Shermer since he started. Twenty-five years at least now. I know his wife."

"I'm sorry. Maybe it's not him."

"Well, I hope it's not because someone got Penny in the family way and I pray to God it's not the man I've known for decades now."

"She was pregnant?" John asked.

"Yeah. Nine to ten weeks the report said."

Well, that cast a new light on things. Claire had mentioned possibly seeing Penny get out of his car the night of Stubby's party. Had she told him she was pregnant? Was the baby even his? Fuck. That was just twisted, considering Penny went to school the same as they did with one of his daughters.

"I was able to get in on Sunday night and check the main office, finally."

"How'd you do that?"

"Well, let's just say you would have come in Monday morning to finding me in a jail cell for B&E if I'd gotten caught."

"Nothing?"

"No. As much as I'd like to finger Vernon for any of this, he's clean. He's a miserable human being and a horrible excuse for someone in the educational profession. He's not involved, though."

"We're still gathering information on Schepke. If you think she knows something or can help us learn something," he sighed. "I don't want her doing anything risky."

"Risky?"

"Yes, like trying to get him to come onto her, too, or anything where she could get hurt."

"Well, no," John said. That wasn't really what he was suggesting. He just thought she could maybe talk to him. Go to him, upset about Penny's death and see how he reacted.

"Okay. You'd better be right in being able to trust her. Or the past two years will have been for nothing."

"Worst case scenario, though I don't see her doing that. You have to pull me out and next year put someone back in. That may be a better choice than having me not graduate anyway."

"We've worked hard…"

"I'm not saying that I can't stay where I'm at, but from the outside. I'm kind of limited being in school all day sometimes and having the Mom and Dad routine to live by."

"I suppose."

"So, I can tell her?"

"I can't very well stop you anyway, can I?"

"Not really, but I did do the courteous thing and bring it to you first."

"You did," he said, seeming to think on that for the first time this morning. "Do you actually like her?"

"I do. I wouldn't be thinking about telling her if I didn't."

"Even if she might know something?"

"If I didn't really like her I'd hand her name over to you, but then you'd have to deal with her dad. You know it, too. No way would her dad let you just question her."

"Most likely not."

"Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe she's wrong."

"No, the information we have been able to drum up about him does seem a little sketchy."

"Well, I don't know many high school science teachers who can afford lavish trips to Greece." He wasn't sure what a high school science teacher with tenure earned in all actuality, but John knew that Schepke still had two kids in the house and two kids in college. He and Claire were in the same class as one of the Schepke kids. Four kids and a mom who didn't work didn't add up to being able to afford such things. From the pictures on his desk, there'd been more than one trip. Maybe they'd scrimped and saved to go on those trips, but John didn't think so judging by the clothes Martha Schepke showed up to school in.

She wasn't on Claire's level of nice clothes, but she didn't do all of her shopping at Kmart either.

"She may not want to be your girlfriend after you've told her the truth," Ed said.

"Yup. I've thought on that, and that may be true. I do think she legitimately wants the person caught who's responsible for getting Penny that crack. So, yeah, you're right, I may lose my girlfriend out of the deal. I still think she'd help me, though."

"All right. You know her better than I do. If she's like her father, though."

"What?"

"Nothing. He's always been fair, even when he started out in the prosecutor's office years ago. He just always had a thing about the defendant's rights."

"Well, isn't that his job?"

"Not when you're prosecuting."

"I'd think prosecuting or defending you'd want it done right, means less chance of overturning a decision on an appeal."

"You'd think, yes, but you and I both know it doesn't always go that way."

"I suppose not."

Like John getting off on every charge he'd ever been arrested for. The arrests were still there on his record, but he'd rarely had to appear in court. It would look suspicious if anyone ever looked into him and saw a clean rap sheet.

"Thanks for meeting me."

"I was wondering why you were requesting a meet."

John chuckled at that.

"And I'll think about the option you've brought up here today as far as next year. I'm not sure I can get the approval for two of you."

John shrugged. "I'd have a lot more time to move around, work nights and be available all of the time."

"You've got a girlfriend now, John."

"Who's going to know what I do. She hasn't interfered with my doing my job the past month. Believe me, I'd much rather spend my Saturday's with her than serve detentions I don't even need to be serving. I didn't blow them off, though. I went and did my job."

"I know."

"Thank you." John stood to go then. He'd drive back to his apartment and then walk to school, getting there during second period going by the time they were leaving today.

He took his time to get there to correspond with when second period would be over by the time he got his tardy slip.

"Is everything okay?" she asked when he got to her locker.

"Yeah," he said.

"Okay. You sure?"

"Yes. I'm fine. Why?"

"You didn't shave."

"Oh," he said. He very rarely didn't shave. He was able to grow a pretty good beard and moustache and while some high school seniors were able to do that there weren't many. "I forgot, I guess. I was running late."

"I noticed."

"I'm sorry."

"It's okay," she said, pulling her books out for third period.

He reached then, fixing her necklace.

"What?"

"The clasp is down," he said. "I've heard that's bad luck or something."

"No," she said, moving his hand out of the way.

"No?" he asked.

"No, it's not bad luck. It means your beloved is thinking about you," she said, taking hold of the necklace and kissing the clasp before fixing it.

"Huh. Well, I'm here at your locker, so clearly I'm thinking of you."

"So, are you coming over after school?"

"I want to see you after school, yes, but I was thinking we could do something different today."

"Okay," she said cautiously.

He chuckled as they started walking to her class.

"Don't worry, it's nothing illegal or anything. I'll meet you by your car."

"Okay," she said.

He kissed her when they got to her classroom.

"What's that look for?" she asked.

"Oh, just thinking."

"About?"

"Wondering what all of these people would think if they knew where I spent the night Saturday."

"We didn't do anything!"

"Well, we did a little of something, but you're right."

"So what could they say?"

He shrugged. "Nothing, just wondering."

"You're not…"

"I haven't told a soul anything unless someone asks me if you're really my girlfriend. That's the most I've admitted to."

"Would you admit to it if we had?"

"No," he said. "I've got to go or Vernon's going to think about adding another weekend," he said as the bell rang.

She laughed softly, kissing his cheek before going into her classroom so he could book it through the halls to the other side of school.

***

"So you don't want to do anything with me today?" she asked. She wasn't sure what she'd been expecting when he said he wanted to do something different after school today. Driving him home, though, hadn't been in the realm of things to do.

"No, I do," he said. "Drive over there," he said, pointing through the parking lot. She spotted his dad's car and assumed she was going that way even without him telling her to.

"Put the car in park," he said.

"Okay," she said, cautiously.

"I have to ask you something. I'm going to take you upstairs with me, but before I do that. I need to know."

"What?" Now he was starting to sort of freak her out. What was the big deal? It was his apartment. He'd made it abundantly clear his parents pretty well sucked, so she wasn't expecting his apartment to look like her house or anything.

"Do you trust me?"

"Huh?"

"Do you trust me? It's a pretty straightforward question, but I'll explain. Have I done anything the past month to make you think I'm being dishonest with you?"

"No," she said. He hadn't. She knew others who knew him, knew about them, who cautioned her against getting involved with him. He himself, though, had done nothing to make her think she couldn't trust him.

"I want you to remember that. Please remember that," he said, getting out of the car then. She turned it off and did the same, following him to the door. He unlocked the door, letting her pass through before going to a set of mailboxes and collecting the mail from presumably their box before they headed upstairs. It wasn't a huge building, but a complex comprised of smaller unit buildings. Judging by the four doors on the second floor, she was betting there were sixteen units per building since there were four stories in each building.

He opened the door leading to his apartment, letting her go through before closing it.

"I had you bring me here because I guess I don't really feel like having to walk home from your place if you get unreasonably mad at what I'm about to tell you."

"Mad?"

"Yeah. I've been trying all day to figure out how you'll react, and I really don't know."

"Okay," she said.

"First of all. I need to come clean and let you know that I was dating someone when I met you."

She felt herself pale at that admission. He was seeing someone else! That's what he was going to tell her. That he didn't want her at all.

"Relax," he said. "This is just me being completely honest with you. I'm not going to lie to you again after today."

"You've been…"

"Just let me finish and then you can ask me questions, scream at me, slap me, or whatever you need to do."

"Okay," she said. "You have a cat?" she asked when she spotted a cat walk out down the hallway.

"Yeah, Chester," he said, going to the cat and picking him up. Him. She presumed it was a him with a name like Chester anyway.

"Chester meet Claire. Claire meet Chester." The cat butted against John's head, trying to get away. "Clearly, he's overcome with emotion at the prospect of meeting my girlfriend."

She snorted softly at that, she couldn't help it. She'd never had cats, but she knew people who did and they weren't the most affectionate animals.

"Anyway," he said, letting the cat down and walking toward the kitchen. She watched him get some food for the cat. He ran his hand along Chester's back before coming back to her.

"Come on, let's sit down," he said, leading her to the living room.

"I saw her a couple of times after that first day of detention. I haven't since Penny's funeral, though."

"Okay," she said.

"She still pages me once in a while because she doesn't seem to get the hint that I'm interested in someone else."

"Oh," she said.

"I just don't want you wondering who's paging me all of the time or seeing a number show up on my pager consistently and wonder."

"I've never looked…"

"I know you've never looked at my pager, but you could've on Saturday night or Sunday morning. It was sitting by your bed and then again on the table at breakfast."

"I wouldn't do that."

"Well, I have nothing to hide from you after today anyway."

"Okay."

He took a deep breath and stood then from the couch.

"I don't know how else to say this without just saying it straight forward and to the point."

"She's pregnant?"

"What?" he spun around, glaring at her. Wow. If looks could kill. Okay, so that idea really made him mad.

"The other girl?"

"Oh, no. No way in hell."

"Then what?"

"It actually has nothing to do with her. Again, I'm just trying to come clean here, and that day of Penny's funeral you'd asked me if my other woman was paging me…"

"I remember."

"I said no. I didn't think of her like that. I knew the day after detention when I went out with her that even if it didn't work with you the fact I was interested in you meant I wasn't all that interested in her."

There was a compliment in there somewhere, she was sure of it. She just wasn't sure where yet.

"So, no nothing to do with her. I'm a cop."

She laughed then. She couldn't help it.

"Yeah, that's what I thought your reaction was going to be." He pulled his wallet out of his pocket. It wasn't the wallet she'd seen him with other times. That one was on the kitchen counter. She'd seen him set it down when he fed Chester.

"See," he said as he approached her with it. "All legit and legal."

"Okay. Say I believe you…"

"I was assigned to this case right out of the academy because I was young, eighteen at the time. My captain figured I'd blend in decently, be able to pull off being sixteen. I don't know much about the two who died before Samantha and Desirae, and I don't really know anything about them but what their case files say."

He held up his hand when she started to say something.

"Just let me finish, okay. I got permission from my captain to tell you the truth. Not because you're my girlfriend. I mean, that was part of it. I knew I was going to have to come clean to you eventually. I was hoping with Penny dying that I'd get closer to finding out who's being the crack being distributed and ending the case."

"But you're not?"

"No, and if I don't my captain was talking about holding me back."

"Oh," she said, realization dawning on her.

"Yeah, I see you processing that. I was a very good student my first time in high school. I wasn't valedictorian material, but I compensated for my shitty home life by immersing myself in all of the books I could get my hands on. It didn't matter if it was a textbook or a storybook. If it gave me a way to escape I gobbled it up."

"So…"

"That day of detention I knew Vernon was going to ride me extra hard because he had a captive audience. You guys. So I deliberately…"

"Got more detentions? Why?"

"Because it's the only time I have to search any parts of the school!"

"Oh!"

"The only thing the five girls had in common was being students at Shermer. So, we had to start somewhere. Desirae and Samantha's death caused my captain to get some pressure put on him."

"Because of their parents."

"Yup."

"So, why are you telling me this?"

"Because even if you're mad at me, which you're taking this better than I thought you would to be honest…"

"Well, if you'd waited months to tell me…"

"Yeah, see, and I was looking at months, if not longer. I did bring up to my captain today the idea of letting me graduate and keep working things afterward and him putting someone else in the school for the daytime information gathering."

"Is he?"

"I don't know. He said he'd think about it. I don't think holding me back is going to accomplish anything. Not really. I can still work the case and get out of there."

"How old are you?"

"Twenty-one," he said.

"Is John Bender your real name?"

"Yes. I'm not from around here, though. I grew up in southern Illinois, which was why my captain thought I'd do well for this case."

"I guess."

"So, I was hoping you'd talk to Mr. Schepke."

"What?"

"You know, talk to him. See if you can get him to say anything about Penny. See if you can get him to offer you drugs. Anything. I don't want you to buy the drugs without talking to me first."

"You want me to…"

"You were friends with her and if what you said about Penny having a thing with him."

"Which ew, I throw up in my mouth anytime I think of it."

"Yeah, me, too, but some girls dig that I'm told."

"He's old enough to be her father!"

"And then some."

"We go to school with his…"

"I know!"

God. Did his daughter know? If what they thought was true. Did she know her father was that kind of a guy? A creep?

"I don't know it's him. I really don't, or I'd be more proactive. Right now we're gathering information on him. Based on what you said Saturday about him and what I found in his office."

"What did you find?"

"I can't tell you that! Nothing incrementing like a crack pipe, just things that don't add up to him being a high school science teacher who supports his wife and four kids."

"Oh."

"Oh? That's it?"

"I don't know what else you want me to say."

"Well, I want you to say you're not mad at me, don't hate me, and aren't going to break up with me because I haven't been honest with you the past month."

"I think I'd be mad if I was the only one who didn't know."

"Yeah, you're the only one who knows the truth. That's huge you know that, right?"

"I do."

"You can't, under any circumstances, tell anyone. Even if I do graduate, chances are I'm going to be working this for a while so no one can know."

"I know."

"It means, too, that you're going to get nasty comments like Vernon's for a lot longer."

"God, it bothered me that you would willingly subject yourself to the possibility of dealing with him for another year."

"Yeah, me, too, believe me."

He sat next to her then.

"So, you live here by yourself?"

"Yup," he said. "Me and Chester."

"I didn't know you had a cat."

"I'm not sure anyone has cats, I think it's the other way around."

She laughed softly, leaning against his shoulder. "I've heard that."

"And now you know the real reason nothing happened between us Saturday than what did."

"I'd never tell…"

"I'm still a cop, Claire. I can't knowingly break the law, you a willing participating or not."

"I suppose."

He moved so she had to move her head from his shoulder. He kissed her then.

"That doesn't mean we can't have some fun between now and July 5."

"You remembered?"

"Counting down the days, Princess."

"I'm not going to…"

"Have sex with me the moment you turn eighteen?"

"Yes!"

"You know how to let me down easily, don't you?"

"John!"

He chuckled, kissing her again. "Relax, Princess, I'm teasing. Now, July 6…"

"Right," she said, rolling her eyes. She knew he was teasing now.

"July 7?"

"John! Stop!"

"Now you know where I live and that the car I have is mine."

"Oh!"

"You hadn't thought on that?"

"No, I recognized it when we pulled into the parking space, but no, I hadn't thought about the fact it was really yours. That must suck."

"Sometimes. You picking me up has been worth the suckage."

She kissed him. "I'm glad."

"I'm very glad you're not mad."

"Why?"

"Well, I thought about it today while at school and realized if I'd known I was having this conversation with you I probably would have held off giving you the necklace."

"No," she said, clutching it.

"I'm not taking it back. I really did buy it for you, and I've never bought anything like it for anyone else."

"Who was the girl?"

"She's someone I met one night. It was a weekend and the parties had all finished for the night. I was wound up, so I went to a Denny's a few towns over so no one would see me."

"Oh," she said.

"She was my waitress. She was cute, flirted, so I flirted. I'm really not a big ladies' man. If you hadn't come to me."

"Really?"

"Yeah, no, we wouldn't be sitting here right now."

"Huh," she said.

"Anyway. I wasn't that serious about her anyway. She's going home for the summer and everything."

"Home?"

"Yeah, she goes to Northwestern."

"Oh," she said. God, he was dating someone in college.

"What's that 'oh' for?"

"Nothing. I must seem incredibly immature…"

"You have your moments, but so did she and she was twenty. Who doesn't? It's not a competition, and even if it was you won."

"Why?"

"I don't know. I mean, if you know how the heart works let me know, but she's who I went to see Splash with and I spent the day wondering what you were doing," he shrugged.

"That's kind of sweet."

"For you!"

"Well, yeah, not for her."

He chuckled.

"Why do you get high?"

"What?"

She shrugged. "If you're a cop."

"Well, I don't usually recreationally use it. I have product that I sell as part of my job, who I am. You can't get in with the drug dealing crowd without dealing really."

"That makes sense."

"Are you referring to Saturday at your house?"

"Yes."

"You asked. My captain isn't going to drug test me because he knows as part of my job I'm going to get my hands dirty."

"Have you used crack?"

"I did, yes, last summer. Ed, my captain, he helped with that. I sort of had to, didn't want to, but it was to a point where if I didn't I was going to lose face."

"It was just the once?"

"A couple of times and Ed had stuff waiting for me to detox me right away."

"That's lucky."

"Yeah. He's had a couple things like that go bad. That was heroin not crack, crack is a different beast altogether."

"And you haven't had to since?"

"No. I think it was some sort of initiation, test, you know to see how serious I was."

"And heroin?"

"No. I won't do that. I snorted it a couple of times because someone was being a real dick about it, which yeah never want to do that again, but I don't do needles."

"And the pot?"

"I like it. I'm fortunate I'm a cop who has a job that allows me to use it without getting fired. I realize, too, eventually I won't be a cop with a job that allows me to use it. Then I'll quit. If you were eighteen… Well, it does tend to make me horny."

"Really?"

"Uh huh."

"You stopped though."

"Yeah, I stopped. I wasn't that stoned at the time and, again, I don't break the laws that aren't part of my job description anyway."

"I was going to say."

"Why? You want to again?"

"I wouldn't mind."

"Me either. July fifth."

"Ha ha."

"I'm not sure I'm kidding."

"That's over two months from now!"

"I'm aware. I was infinitely aware of how far off it was Sunday morning."

"So, do I get to see the rest of your apartment?"

"You can, sure. There isn't that much to see. You realize you can't tell anyone you've been here, right?"

"I do," she said. "Does that mean I can't ever come here again?"

"Well, no, but you just can't tell people who you're here for."

"No one else knows where you live?"

"No. People have dropped me off down the street or at the entrance to the complex like you have in the past."

"Oh," she said.

"So, is this what your room looked like in high school?"

"No," he replied when they were in the room he had fixed up to be his in case he ever needed it. "I suppose the posters aren't too far off. I'm a classic rock guy, I'm fortunate that fits in with the burnout image, I guess or I'd be in trouble."

"I guess."

"Where are your parents?"

"Down south, living the dream. I don't know and I can honestly say I don't care."

"Sorry, I guess I didn't process that you said you weren't from the area."

"It's okay," he said with a shrug.

"No, really, I didn't mean to be so thoughtless."

"It's okay, Claire. I said it's okay, it is. I have parents, it's a normal question to ask."

"All right."

"Why did you get a cat?" she asked.

Chester had been following them around since they left the living room together. He was trying to be coy about it, pretend he was disinterested but as John had never had visitors before the cat couldn't disguise his curios nature. There might have been a bit of jealousy in there, too, as he couldn't recall Chester ever rubbing against his leg this much in so short a time span as he had the past few minutes.

"Uh, I found him outside a couple of years ago I guess. It was cold. I brought him in and put up some signs, and here we are."

"Aww, that's sweet."

"I guess. He suits my schedule better than a dog and I'm never completely alone."

"I'm glad. It must be kind of lonely, living like you do."

He shrugged. "Kind of," he admitted. "I've always been kind of a loner, though, so that doesn't matter much."

"But I mean you don't really fit in, do you. You can't, like, go to a bar around here because someone might see you."

"Yup," he agreed.

"And you can't really have any real friends…"

"Because everything I say for the most part is a lie? You got it."

"Why do you do it?"

"Because people have died and it got enough attention that they wanted something done about it. I was offered a job, I took it. I can't complain for the most part."

"I suppose. What will you do when the assignment's over?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. I hope a narcotics unit versus being a traffic cop, but I guess if I have to start over at the bottom I will."

"Thank you," she said.

"For what?"

"Doing it."

"That mean you're going to see if you can get any bites from Schepke. Not literal bites, mind you. That's my department."

"I'm glad to hear that."

"That it's my department?"

"Yes."

"Me, too."

"And, yes, I'm not really sure how I can go about doing it without him being suspicious. It's not as if Penny would have told me, or anyone…"

"Well, I've been thinking of that because yeah, you walking up to him distraught would be weird versus a female teacher."

"Or Miss Townsend."

"Yeah, or her," he agreed of the school counselor who was probably Claire's. Different letters of the alphabet had different counselors so he with a B and her with a S would not have the same counselor.

"Okay."

"Well, you walk by his class. Maybe you can time it with one of your friends and be talking about her, how you can't get over it, can't go to parties, and stuff. You know, be a despondent friend."

"Oh," she said, eyes brightening at that.

"Sound doable? And again, I'm not asking you to talk to him, encourage him to try to sell anything to you or anything. I just want to see if he does do anything when he hears you're despondent. Maybe that'll make him think you're vulnerable. Maybe he overhears an argument between you and me that I won't provide you something."

"That kind of argument, though, people may talk if they hear it, too. I don't know that there's any way we could have an argument he could hear that others wouldn't hear. So, you think on that last part for a bit. Work on the first part, though. I'm going to try to get to school early the rest of the week and stay after last bell for a little bit, see if I can get a feel for what time he comes and goes every day. Maybe if he's an early guy we could do an argument then, less chance of fallout from someone running their mouth off you want crack."

"I'm not sure that'd go over well."

He scoffed at that. "Likely not, considering who your father is, no."

"Well, and most anyone knows pot is the only drug I've touched."

"I hope it stays that way."

"I have no plans on changing that."

"Good. So, you took my news pretty well. My captain is hoping I'm right about you because it'd be a lot of man hours down the drain if you were to get pissed at me and tell the school I am really a narc."

"I don't think I'd do that anyway," she said, scrunching her nose a bit as if thinking on that. "If someone's selling bad drugs or not caring that people are dying from the drugs they're selling I want them caught."

"Yeah, see," he said, shutting the light off in the room. "That's sort of what I assumed. Hoped anyway."

"And if I'd left?"

He shrugged. "I was getting to the point I wanted to buy you jewelry, I figured it was time to stop lying. I knew if I waited until I was done with the job you'd be beyond pissed at that point. I wouldn't have blamed you. I haven't lied to you about anything else, but I realize it's still a pretty significant difference. You walk away from me not understanding I didn't purposely set out to lie to you. Well, I couldn't help that."

"Vernon sure would have loved that."

John scoffed at that.

"I was sure hoping he was involved in this. I really was."

"He's not?"

"No. I was able to get into the school on Sunday night and get into the main offices. If he's involved, there's no proof at the school he is. I think he could give a flying fig about the students there, I don't think he wants to see them strung out, though."

"No," Claire said.

"That would sully his reputation as an educator. He likes that Shermer is one of the top districts in the state."

"I know he does," Claire said with a roll of her eyes.

"I suppose, you've been spoon-fed that garbage since you could walk."

"Yes."

That was the other reason John had been assigned this job. Drug overdoses didn't happen in clean-cut, preppy areas like Shermer. They wanted them nipped in the bud before it got out of hand. Problem was, John wasn't sure there was any nipping. He knew Shermer PD did their fair share, but unless they were going to blockade the streets getting in and out of Shermer entirely bad stuff was going to get in. Chicago wasn't that far away.

"So… I promised you pizza or Chinese one night this week. Want to take me up on that offer tonight?"

"Sure."

"I figure I owe you something."

"You don't."

"All right. And I can actually drive you like I should be doing every time we go somewhere."

"I don't mind."

"I know you don't, but I do. It bothered me."

"Why?"

"Actually, that didn't bother me so much," he said, checking to be Chester was okay on food and water. "I mean not everyone has a car."

"What did?"

"Honestly?"

"Yes."

"That you gave me the time of day at all!"

"I wish I could explain it."

"Me, too. And that's why I went out with Amy the day after detention."

"Why?" she asked with a frown.

"I shouldn't have gone to that fucking party. I really shouldn't have. I went to see you, not for any other reason, and I just really thought it was better if I stayed away."

"Why?"

"Because it's hard to actually like someone when I spend my entire existence living a lie."

"I suppose."

"I enjoyed spending that time with you, both in that closet and that bedroom entirely too much. I thought," he shrugged. "I don't know, I thought realism would set in at a movie with someone who at least knew a few truthful facts about me."

"It didn't?"

"No! I spent the entire movie thinking you probably wouldn't have made me sit through Splash."

She laughed softly at that.

"I'm glad you can laugh and not get pissed off that I told you I went out on a date the day after kissing you."

"Oh, if we'd done more than kiss…"

"And you'd have been within your right to get mad if we'd done more than kiss."

"I'm not sure I can understand what it'd be like to live a lie, but I do know that I like knowing I can be myself with you."

"Back at you. Let's go get something to eat before Chester's food seems appealing."

"Are you that hungry?" She pressed up against him, sliding her arms around him.

"Kind of, yeah. Worrying about what you'd say and do all day didn't leave me much of an appetite."

"I suppose," she said, leaning up to kiss him.

"So, yeah, I'm pretty hungry now."

"So, after dinner…"

"My evening is pretty free," he said, kissing her back.

"Do you want to come back to my place?"

"Well, I could, but then we'd have to drive back here to get your car."

"Or we could just take my car."

"Then you'd have to bring me back here."

"Or you could just come to school with me in the morning."

Wow.

"I surprised you."

"Yeah, but yeah. I mean, all right, yeah," he said. "I'm not going to say no to that offer. Let me grab something to wear then for tomorrow."

She walked back to his room with him and stood in the door as he grabbed some clothes and a couple of things from his bathroom he'd need in the morning.

"I actually think we have razors at my house."

"Why?" he asked with a frown.

"Every once in a while Christopher will stay at our house unexpectedly so we just keep a package of the disposable kind."

"Oh, well, I like mine if that's all right?"

"Yeah, it's fine."

"So," he asked as he finished up and walked to her again. He liked her in his room. A lot.

"Yes?"

"How hard was that to ask me?"

"Honestly?"

"Uh huh."

"Really hard. I wasn't sure you'd say yes."

"Why not?"

"Because Saturday was an accident."

"It was a very nice accident."

"It was," she said, blushing profusely at that.

"All right, well, I guess I'm your guest until you tell me to leave. I have to come here a little, though."

"I know. We don't have cats, or I'd tell you to bring him with you, but no litter box and if he made a mess in our house my parents would freak out."

"I imagine they would. It's all right. We'll take it day by day. Maybe tomorrow you can come home with me after school and I can actually cook you dinner."

"You knowing how to cook makes a lot more sense now."

"Doesn't it, though?"

"Yes."

"I can think of lots of ways I could impress you, Princess."

"Can you?"

"Yes."

"A necklace was a good place to start."

"I thought so, and before you go thinking that was part of my story, too. I really haven't ever bought anything for anyone before."

"I didn't think you'd lied about that."

"Good. Now some of them have to wait a couple of months, but the ideas are still there."

"Not all of them?"

"Well, no, not all of them."

"Good."

He shook his head slightly at that.

"All right. Let's go get some food then. Chinese?"

"Sure."

"There's a place on Highland, right?"

"Oh yeah, that's a good place and on the way to my house."

"That's why I thought of it. I've never been there."

"I have. We order from there a lot. It's good."

"All right, good to know I made the right choice then."

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