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Chapter One
Word Count: 5,587

March 24, 1984

John took a sip of his beer, glancing at the piece of paper he'd been telling himself for at least two hours now to throw in the trash. Not calling her would certainly play right into the image he'd been carefully building for over two years now.

Christ when his captain had come to him before he was even out of the Academy with this assignment he'd salivated at it. It was every green guy's wet dream to be hand-picked as John had been. Two years into it, though, he was getting fairly tired of it. His captain was talking about keeping John in for another year if their efforts didn't bear fruit this year. He was getting close, but close didn't get the cuffs put on someone's wrist.

What was the saying? Truth in fiction? People believed what they wanted to believe? No one questioned his cover story or why his parents seemed strangely absent from anything and everything involving school. Certainly they didn't give two shits about someone like him beyond what he had the ability to do for them. No one would think twice at hearing he'd failed his senior year. That was why he was here.

He certainly wasn't here to get a not-even-legal-yet girlfriend. He already had the beginnings of a legal girlfriend, but fuck if he hadn't discovered earlier in the afternoon he might like to have one. Not just any one either. No.

Her.

He'd known from the moment he walked into the library that she'd been into him. To say he'd been shocked to see the likes of her at detention was an understatement. He'd been a particular kind of ass to her, knowing he had no business looking at her. No business liking her.

And yet she'd come to him. He'd never had a girl like her kiss him before. The past two and a half years hadn't been spent at pool parties and shopping excursions. He'd been busy getting as in with the drug-using crowd as he could get. His life before joining the academy hadn't been too far from the image he projected here at Shermer, which was why his captain had picked him.

He'd done pretty well for himself, too, to this point. Being stuck in high school endlessly sucked because he hadn't enjoyed it his first go-around. At least this time he was paid to act like an ass and smoke weed. He had a decent apartment, though, with fairly nice things in it. He had the guest bedroom furnished and decorated as if it was his room in case he ever had reason to bring anyone back here. That hadn't happened to this point, but a handful of people he'd dealt with had dropped him off or picked him up.

"Hello," he said, answering his phone just as his cat Chester came out from wherever he'd been hiding.

He didn't like when John was gone all day on a day that he was usually home. It was the reason he'd gotten a cat versus a dog when he'd decided on a pet about two years ago. Well, he hadn't really decided on the cat, but John had seen him hanging around the apartment building for a day or two. It was winter and he was just a kitten. The second day he decided to take him in when he got home from school and post a note down by the mailboxes just in case he'd been someone in the building's cat. He'd bought a litter box and other essentials with the thinking he'd give anyone in the building who might have been gone or something time to see the note he'd put up.

Weeks went by and he'd found the two of them had come to some sort of agreement. John had never had pets growing up and until Chester had never had to be responsible for anyone else but himself in his life. The kitten seemed to be a fighter, though. He was even missing a small part of his ear, which the vet said could have been from a fight with something. He'd had some frost bite damage, too, but he hadn't lost anything because of it. It hadn't been as cold as it could have been when John had found him, but it'd still been cold enough the kitten probably should have died. So escaping however long he'd been out there with just a bit of his ear gone and some frost bite was pretty lucky.

He was pretty cute when all was said and done John had to admit, as he stroked Chester under his black and white chin. So, that was how he'd become a pet owner.

'Hi,' Amy said. 'You are home.' It was as if she knew he'd just gotten home, too. She had the ability to call him at the perfect moment, considering she had no idea he was in school all day Monday-Friday it was sort of uncanny.

"Yeah, just got home a little while ago."

'I don't understand why you had to work on a Saturday,' she said. If he knew anything about her, she was pouting. She was good at that. Very good at it.

"I have to pay the bills, you know?" She knew he was a cop, which was all she knew about his job. That was all anyone knew about his job except a select few. If anyone ever called Shermer PD they were told there was no one there by that name. His captain and a select few knew about him, but that was about it. It had to be that way considering they weren't sure who was in charge.

'I know, I do. Are you too tired to go out tonight?'

He glanced at the piece of paper, knowing he had no business calling her. He did, however, have business showing up at Stubby's party. He'd heard rumblings of a pretty big offering coming to town right before prom. He had as of yet not been able to figure out who was in charge of getting the shipments into Shermer and to those who distributed the product, which was why his captain was flirting with John flunking the year. He'd hovered around a D average intentionally. He had two months left to graduation, so his captain would need to make up his mind pretty quickly if he wanted John to tank the rest of the semester.

So, going to Stubby's party wouldn't be out of the realm of falling under his job description. Guys like Stubby were connected financially.

And if Claire was there as a result?

Well, he supposed that wouldn't be a bad thing.

"I actually have plans tonight," he said before he could stop himself. Would she be there? Would she be surprised to see John there? Probably a yes to both counts.

'Oh,' she said.

"Sorry, more work stuff really."

'Tonight? It's Saturday night. You worked all day!'

"I know. It's something that came up last minute."

'John, you work too much.'

"Yeah, I know," he said, taking another pull off his beer. Chester let out a soft meow, reminding John he hadn't been fed since this morning. He was a pig for a cat he'd come to learn. Whether it was because he was on his own for however long or what. John couldn't just leave food out for him like most cat owners could. He had to portion it out. It worked fine for them, but he'd always thought that was the point of a cat versus a dog, lower maintenance to some degree.

"Maybe tomorrow we can see a movie or something?"

'Sure,' she said, sounding entirely too hopeful. He supposed it was sort of a given that she'd see him one of the two nights this weekend. He hadn't been able to tell her why he had to stay put last night and was in the same position tonight. He imagined one day "work stuff" wasn't going to be a suitable explanation. 'That'd be fun.'

He wasn't sure how much fun it would be. He wasn't a huge fan of movies, but it's what people did on dates so he went to them with her.

He'd met her a couple months ago at a restaurant. She was his server. It'd been a slow night, for both of them, and they'd hit it off. She was finishing up her third year at Northwestern and from what he could tell to this point seemed pretty cool. She certainly put up with his weird hours. What was more she was pretty cute, which was why he'd flirted with her to begin with the night they'd met.

"You don't have homework?"

'I can take time away to see a movie.'

"All right. Well, pick something and we'll go to it."

'Really?'

"You bet. I hope that makes up for my being so busy this weekend." He had no idea what he'd just committed himself to, but it was a couple of hours. How bad could it be?

'Well, sort of,' she said.

"I'll try real hard, I promise."

He wasn't even going to tell her that next weekend would be shot, too. The opportunity to spend all day next Saturday, and the next several after that, at the school pretty much unbothered was something he couldn't just walk away from. Today had been a bust for the most part. He hadn't anticipated anyone else serving detention with him. He'd been looking forward to a day of looking through lockers, teacher's desks, and empty offices.

The classrooms and offices were his goal, because a kid likely didn't have the connections. He could only hope that Vernon would mind his own business and keep off Bender's ass. He wasn't sure that'd happen, but thankfully anything he was caught doing Vernon would chalk up to a troublemaker.

He hadn't been too sure why this was such a hot assignment when he'd been approached about it until he'd found out not just the mayor's daughter but a county judge who lived in Shermer lost a daughter to the stuff, too. Both had been students at Shermer, which led to John going back to high school. He'd gotten close, getting names of who the girls had bought from. It was a process, though, especially for someone the age he was representing himself as being. Evidently, the mayor and the judge wanted a good bust, resulting in a conviction that would stick versus a quick arrest on charges that would get dropped for whatever reason.

He certainly hadn't counted on anyone serving detention with him being as attractive as Claire Standish. John had noticed her more than once over the years and, no offense to Amy, found her more than pretty cute. The idea of someone like her even giving John the time of day had never entered his mind. Even if she'd found out what he was really doing there he would have placed bets that it wouldn't have mattered.

He was trying real hard to keep things as casual as he could with Amy. He was mindful that she was going back home for the summer and wouldn't see him for months. He liked her, though. Evidently he didn't like her well enough to choose her over Stubby's party, but that was something else to think about another time.

"I have to go get ready. Okay? I'll call you tomorrow. I'm not sure how late tonight's going to run, so try not to pick something much before one. If I have to pick you up before noon leave me a message on my machine tonight. Otherwise I'll get there around twelve."

'Okay. Have a good night.'

"I will. You, too."

'Be safe,' she said.

"Always," he said. He had to admit he liked that she cared whether he stayed safe. Even if she didn't know what exactly he did for a living he knew she meant the words when she said them.

He hung up then, finishing his beer and pushing Claire's number out of the way and under the phone a bit. If she wasn't at Stubby's party? Well, that'd serve him right.

He supposed he should feel guilty for kissing her, but he didn't. Not really. A little maybe, but he didn't think of him and Amy as being real serious or anything. He assumed her going home for the summer would put a hold on anything developing between them anyway and had been mindful of that. And the John he'd developed would never walk away from the situation that was presented to him in that closet.

He put some tuna out for Chester, running his hand over the cat's back and tail. John knew nothing about cats, but he'd found Chester to be a pretty odd one. He had patches of fur that were longer than the rest of it, making John wonder more than once who his parents had been. Was he the product of a long and a short haired cat and the longer patches were where the long-hair took dominance? He wasn't sure, but it made him look kind of scraggily at times no matter how much John brushed and combed him.

"All right, Buddy, enjoy your dinner while I go get ready."

Getting ready consisted of changing into clothes more befitting a party than school. He glanced at the diamond earring in the mirror debating about whether he should take it out or not. Not won out, which was probably the reason he hadn't thrown her number away yet. He wondered how much his captain would ride him if he found out he'd accepted the earring. He weighed the possibilities, though, in the two seconds he had to decide on what to do.

He'd never had anyone, ever, give him anything. For any reason. So it had floored him she'd given it to him. When all was said and done, he didn't see how accepting it would hurt anything. He wasn't going to keep it. Once school was over and his job was finished he'd return it to her somehow, and maybe tell her the truth. Maybe.

He drove to the party, parking a couple of blocks away. No one knew he had a car, and he preferred keeping it that way. Nights like this, no one was going to notice how he got there because as long as he had the good dope on him they wouldn't care if he flew in on the one-eyed-one-horned-flying-purple-people-eater.

There was a good reason for him to be here tonight. From what he could tell from his research and piecing things together about various people close to Samantha and Desirae. Well, Stubby's parents seemed to live quite a bit above their means. Not unusual, except they didn't have a lot of debt racked up. Things like that didn't add up. Sometimes it was nothing. People like Stubby's parents could have an inheritance they were blowing through, or a Mommy and Daddy who were helping foot their bill. It was things like this, though, that he had to check out and he'd never before had an in to Stubby's house. His parties were pretty legendary around school, too.

So, John suspected no matter what the results of the night were case-wise, it'd be fun. His captain never questioned John's methods. There was always pot to be had from busts. A few times, John had to ask for harder stuff, which had taken a little more to get but he'd had to be able to come by it or he would've looked ineffective and that would've defeated the purpose of this assignment.

He pushed open the door, eyes scanning the entryway and the living room off to the right of it where quite a few people seemed to be gathering. He was hoping someone he'd had transactions with before tonight was here so he wouldn't seem like a complete interloper, but he was prepared to say Andy and Claire had mentioned the party to him if he had to.

He went down to the basement with a few others where the keg was to get himself a beer. He'd asked his captain a few times what he was supposed to do in situations like this and other than encourage them not to drive home he was supposed to stick to his cover. They really weren't after the people who had keg parties.

He spotted her across the room, talking to a few of her friends. She saw him, too, and seemed genuinely surprised – but not unhappy about seeing him there. She noticed he was wearing her earring, too. At least that was what he was assuming happened when she started blushing after she'd looked at his ear.

He knew better than to go up to her so he took his beer and found a couple of guys he got along with. What was more he had no good reason to approach her. She wasn't part of his job, but as she made his way toward him a little bit after he'd gotten there he couldn't say he was disappointed she seemed as though she wanted to see him again.

"Hi," she said.

"Hey," he said, smirking a bit at the shocked look on the guys' faces he'd been talking to.

"I didn't think you'd come here."

He shrugged, taking a sip of his beer. "Nothing better to do?"

"Your parents," she said, stopping as she seemed to think on the fact that they were alone.

"Not here. What they don't know can't kill them."

"Yeah, but you got like two more months of detention."

"Yeah, I'll pay for that later more than likely, but for tonight I'm good."

She glanced at his arm where the scar he showed them was. The scar was real, the history he'd painted for them of his home life hadn't been exaggerated or embellished. He, however, hadn't been the druggie, criminal in high school he was at Shermer. He'd instead gone the other route to deal with his issues and internalized everything. He'd studied everything he could, reading every damned book his school's library would let him read. He'd managed to graduate in the National Honor Society despite the odds, which was one of the things that had led to him getting picked for this assignment. His captain knew he could do it.

"I see," she said. She reached up then, touching his ear and the earring there with her thumb. "You're wearing it."

"If I left it at home and my mom saw it she'd probably pawn it, so yeah."

"Oh," she said.

"You didn't want me to wear it?"

"No, I did," she said with a shrug.

"Okay then. What's the problem?"

"No problem. I just wasn't sure you would."

"Well, you gave it to me. Why wouldn't I?" He eyed her a bit suspiciously. "You didn't want me to wear it in front of people who'd know you gave it to me, is that it, Princess?"

"No," she said.

"Well, what then?"

"I just didn't think you'd want anyone to see you wearing it."

Was there something he wasn't getting here? He wasn't sure.

"It's an earring. It's not like it's blatantly obvious it's a woman's or anything."

"Would that bother you?"

"If it was blatantly obvious?"

"Yeah."

"I suppose it would depend on the earring. And the woman."

"That earring and me."

He wasn't exactly sure what they were talking about here. Was she flirting? Was she teasing? Was she implying his wearing the earring meant something that he wasn't understanding? Contrary to his ability to pick Amy up at the restaurant he wasn't a ladies' man or anything. He'd had zero experience with women in high school, this go around or the first one. If Amy hadn't flirted first he doubted very highly they'd be going out tomorrow.

"No, it wouldn't bother me. Clearly. I'm wearing it."

She reached up then, touching it again. "I like it on you."

"I think it'd look good on anyone."

"I don't," she said.

"I see," he said.

He glanced at the others around them, a few were paying them more attention than they likely would have if she was talking to anyone but him. Claire didn't touch guys as a general rule, though. He didn't have to know her well or have hung out with her before tonight to know that about her. It was why it had shocked him when she came to the closet.

She placed a kiss against his ear just beside the earring.

"How long are you here for?" she whispered?

"I, uh, don't know. I had some business…"

She drew away then, looking more than a little upset.

"What?" he asked. What had he said wrong? And why did he care incredibly so that he could try to fix it?

She's not even eighteen yet, John.

Yeah, okay she was going to be eighteen in a few months, but he had to remind himself while he had free reign to smoke some weed without his boss batting an eyelash as part of his job. He didn't think getting sexually physical with a minor was something his captain would excuse and not kick John's ass out the door for.

"You came here for drugs?"

"Well, not for them, no," he said, patting his coat pocket.

"So not because you heard that I might be here."

"Well, I am here risking pissing off my parents quite very possibly resulting in a pretty bad day tomorrow. I didn't do that for drugs, no," he said.

"But…"

"I have product to sell, Princess, and there are people here willing to pay more than a fair amount for that product."

"Oh."

He slid a hand to her cheek then, leaning down a bit to kiss her. He didn't have to lean down far. He'd noticed that earlier today. She wasn't short by any means.

"What was that for?"

"I have to go do something, but that was to remind both of us that I don't have to leave when I'm done."

"I don't want you to get in trouble."

"I can handle my parents, Claire."

"All right," she said.

"Are you going to be down here or are you going upstairs?"

"You're going to be that long?"

"Depends on who's upstairs and what they want and need."

He was hoping to have a chance to snoop in Stubby's dad's office and whatever else might be upstairs. Parties like this people wandered all over the place so if he got caught he could blow it off easily enough. Unless it was Stubby who found them.

He glanced at his watch then, realizing he could actually use Claire.

"Meet me upstairs in about thirty minutes? Outside of a closet and away from Vernon's watchful ear and eye might be kind of fun to repeat that last couple of hours."

She blushed again and he chuckled. "Is that a yes?"

"It is."

He knew she probably thought he'd kissed lots of girls before, and he wasn't in a position to be overly honest with her about that now anyway.

"All right. I'll see you then." He paused then, reaching into his coat pocket and the baggie there. "You want more?"

"No," she said, shaking her head. "I don't really do that very often. I just," she shrugged. "I was at school on a Saturday stuck with four other people, three of whom I didn't really like."

"And now?"

"Now what?"

"The three you don't really like?"

"Allison is still bizarre."

"I noticed Andy was here with her tonight."

"I saw that, too."

"Is that why you let me kiss you?"

"What?"

"He's throwing caution to the wind so you can too?"

"I wanted you to kiss me. I don't care what Andy does or who he dates."

"I find that hard to believe, but okay just wondering if I should save you some."

"No," she said.

He walked upstairs then, setting the baggie down on the desk. He spilled a little bit on the desk. If he was caught he'd use spilling it as an excuse for fiddling around in any drawers or anything. Two of the bedrooms were occupied, but the parents' bedroom was not. Not untypical of a party like this. Girls would use the bathroom and stuff but people weren't rude enough to fuck around on Mom and Dad's bed.

The room was nice, John noticed. Very nice. He couldn't see the other bedrooms up here, but he had no doubt the rooms belonging to Stubby and the other kids were equally as nice. He recognized the bedding as being something pretty costly. Ralph Lauren or something like that. Not out of the realm of affordability for most people in Shermer. Still there was something off about Stubby's family. He'd never had a wide-open in to the house before tonight.

He took a couple of pictures of some papers that looked kind of interesting. They appeared to be bills of lading or something, but John didn't think anyone in the family dealt in that kind of business. He'd turn them in and let his captain make heads or tails of them. He glanced at his watch, realizing he had about five minutes before Claire was going to come up here looking for him. Assuming she actually did.

He closed the drawers, making sure everything was as he left it beforehand. He glanced at the phone on the desk there and wondered for a second if Amy was sleeping and what movie she'd picked out for them to see.

"You're alone in here," Claire said, tearing him away from his thoughts.

"Not anymore," he quipped. "I thought you told Andy you weren't sure you were going to be here tonight."

"My parents were both being obnoxious, so I had to get out."

"I hear ya," he said.

"Sorry, I bet you do."

"It's all right," he said with a shrug. He'd gotten out so he didn't need or expect apologies for his childhood.

He stood then, ensuring he slid his stuff back in his pocket. He had to account for it so leaving this much behind wouldn't go over well. He wasn't responsible down to the last ounce or anything, but that baggie held about a week's worth of product so that would raise eyebrows.

"So you found me," he said.

"You weren't hard to find since all of the other rooms seem to be occupied."

"I noticed that, too." One of the rooms hadn't been until a little while ago when they saw John come upstairs. They followed him and got some stuff out of the deal. They were probably on their way to having a good time now.

"What would you like to do with me now that you did?"

"I don't know," she said. She didn't look so confident or in control right now.

"Well, we don't have to do anything."

"A lot of fun that would be."

He shrugged. He sat on the floor by the foot of the bed, patting the spot next to him on the floor. She closed the door then and made her way to him.

"Did you get in trouble when you got home?" he asked, taking her hand in his.

"No. Not really," she said, lacing her fingers through his. "My mother lectured me, again, about my being so careless. Dad told me to ignore her, she was in one of her moods."

"Sorry," he said, squeezing her hand a bit.

"It's okay. I can't wait to get out."

"Where are you going?"

"DePaul."

"Really?" he asked.

"Yeah."

"That's not that far."

"I know, but I don't have to live with them anymore. Next summer I hope to get an apartment or a job or something so that I'm not home all day."

"You don't have a job?"

She scoffed softly and he supposed it was a ridiculous question. She turned then, looking at him.

"What?" he asked.

"Just wondering why I kissed you."

"I've been wondering the same thing, so if you expect me to have the answer to your question I don't."

"Why you?"

"I could ask you the same question." Certainly why now was there in his mind?

She closed the distance between them then, eyes fluttering closed as their lips met. He groaned a bit as he released her hand and slid it to her cheek to draw her closer. She slid hers inside of his coat. He shifted a bit so she wouldn't come into contact with the camera. That'd be an interesting thing to explain since it wasn't your normal run of the mill Canon, but very obviously something meant to be discreet.

She gasped as their mouths opened, his tongue found hers, and she shifted a bit against him. She smelled exquisite. She hadn't smelled quite so good at school so must have put whatever perfume on she wore to come to the party. Hoping she'd run into him? Or did she just do that going out? He had no idea. Her hair seemed freshly styled, too, so maybe she'd taken a shower all over again after getting home before coming here. Who knew with women?

He slid his hand down from her cheek over her shoulder to the front of her blouse, groaning softly at the feel of her against his hand. She pressed into him, helping him move them so he was on top of her on the floor.

She's not eighteen.

He wasn't sure how many times over the next little while he repeated that to himself as he touched her, wanting so badly to take it further.

You have a girlfriend. One who's legal and at least knows you're a cop.

Clearly that didn't matter because he never wanted to stop doing this ever. He stopped kissing her when the door opened for a second. He glanced at the intruder, Claire did, too, and didn't seem any happier than he was by the intrusion.

"Hey," Stubby said, seemingly okay with the fact that they were in here just not using his parents' bed. He shut the door almost immediately. Maybe he knew that he and Claire weren't going to move to the bed? Who knew?

"Sorry," he whispered, kissing her neck.

"Why are you apologizing?"

"He saw you in here with me. He knows it was us."

She shifted her head a bit, allowing him better access to her neck. He took the hint and kissed her there.

"I don't care," she whispered.

He scoffed as he kissed her there, his thumb stroking along her peak as it hardened under his touch.

"John," she whispered as he drew his mouth away from her neck.

"Yeah?"

"Why'd you stop?"

"It's going to show."

"I don't care."

He chuckled softly at that. "Yeah, well, it's dark enough without my doing that any longer."

"Oh," she said, running a fingertip over the spot he'd been kissing and sucking on.

"Never had one before?"

She scoffed at that. "No," she said, nipping at her lower lip as she watched him.

"I haven't given many myself," he admitted with a shrug as he drew his hand away.

"You're stopping?"

"Uh, yeah, I think my carriage is about to turn into a pumpkin, or whatever that saying is. I've got to get home."

"Oh," she said.

"Sorry."

"Can I see you tomorrow?"

He almost said yes, remembering he couldn't.

"I don't think I can tomorrow. I can call you and let you know."

"Sure, you have my number."

"I do," he said since he hadn't thrown it out after school today as he should have.

"Do you need a ride home?"

"Nah, I'm good walking. Gives me time to think."

"What do you need to think about?"

"Gives me a chance to, uh, stand down?"

She blushed again and he leaned down to kiss her.

"I had fun."

"Did you?" she asked.

"Yup."

"Enough to do it again?"

"The party or here in this room?"

"This room."

"Yeah. You know, I'm game."

"Maybe you could come home with me Monday after school?"

"Sure, I could do that," he said. He had nothing going on. He rarely did.

"Okay."

"I'll call you tomorrow." He kissed her again, standing then before offering a hand in standing up.

He walked to the door then, opening it. She followed him and walked out before him, ladies first and all that.

"Your top looks like we've been doing exactly what we've been doing for the last little while."

She shrugged. She seemed more concerned about her hair then the blouse.

"Trying to cover it up?"

"No. I told you I don't care."

"And when your parents see that?"

She shrugged.

Fuck. Was she going to get in trouble for him giving her a hickey? He hadn't thought about it, just done it.

"I'll be fine."

"All right. Be careful driving home," he said, biting his tongue after he'd said it. He hadn't finished his one cup of beer, getting it to blend in more than anything. He had no idea how many she'd had though.

"Thanks," she said, following him downstairs. He kissed her again at the door before leaving and walking toward his car. He glanced around him a few times as he made his way over to the other block, ensuring no one followed him.

Fuck was he in trouble.

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Chapter Two
Word Count: 4,067

He didn't drive to school since he wasn't supposed to be able to afford things like cars, so her giving him a ride to her house after school wasn't problematic.

"Wow," he said, taking it in. Stubby's house had been nice, but the Standishes was nicer than nice. Her dad was a lawyer John knew and evidently good at his job.

"Thanks. Well, my parents thank you, I had nothing to do with it." She parked in front of a garage stall but didn't pull into it.

"What did you end up doing yesterday anyway?" she asked?

"I actually ended up seeing a movie," he answered. "I forgot I'd told a friend if I could go we would."

"What movie?"

He grimaced at the question. "Splash," he replied. He hadn't hated it, but he would have much rather have seen Police Academy. That had been sold out anyway, so they wouldn't have been able to see it.

"Oh! I saw that last weekend."

"Yeah? What did you think?"

He didn't really care when it got down to it, but if she'd loved it as much as Amy had he wouldn't put it down. Truthfully, while he hadn't hated it he'd been bored for about ninety percent of the movie. That's what he got for telling her to pick anything she wanted to he supposed.

"It was all right," she said with a shrug.

"That's sort of the opinion I walked away with."

She laughed softly. "All of my friends loved it and I just thought it was sort of silly."

"Me, too."

She glanced at him then after she'd let him in.

"Who dragged you to see that?"

"No one from around here," he said.

"Oh," she said. "That's a relief. I was trying to picture any of your friends…"

"Yeah, no," he said with a soft laugh. No one he hung around with at Shermer would have been caught dead seeing any movie let alone Splash. Maybe they'd see a movie, but he didn't think many of them did.

"What did you do yesterday?" he asked, realizing that was probably the polite thing to do since she'd asked him.

"Nothing much. Went to the mall for a little bit with some friends, but that was about it."

"Ah," he said, closing the distance between them once she'd set her book bag and keys down. "Mom and Dad gone?"

"Yes," she said.

"Mom works?"

"Yes. She's a nurse."

"Really?" That surprised him for some reason. He didn't think mom's like hers worked. He certainly hadn't had her pegged as a latchkey kid like he'd been.

"She doesn't work full-time. She works a couple of days a week at a pediatrician's office. Sometimes she works a week or two at a time, filling in for others in the office who have vacations."

"Ah," he said. "Enough to keep her skills fresh and get a little mad money coming in when you kids were running wild and taking all of Daddy's paychecks?"

"Something like that," she whispered as he leaned in closer to kiss her. He'd seen her a couple of times in the hall this morning. She'd seen him, too, and looked kind of confused when he didn't say anything to her.

He hadn't known what to say really. He still really wasn't sure what she was expecting from him after Saturday. They kissed, twice now, and everything, but that didn't mean they were at the point he should be carrying her books to class for her or anything.

Did it? God, did it? Was that what he'd signed up for kissing her and taking the earring?

Fuck if he knew. He supposed he'd see tomorrow how she acted when seeing him and go from there.

His captain was curious about Stubby's family as well and wanted John to work at getting closer to him the next couple of months left of school if he could. He could. He had an in right here in front of him, but fuck if he wanted to use her as part of his job. And, yet, if spending time with her allowed him to do his job, was that using her?

He moved her so her back was against the door, sliding his hands to her arms as he deepened the kiss and pressed into her. She gasped a bit, but didn't push him away. He thought for a second she might when he felt her hands go to his chest. He waited for it, not that he stopped kissing her or would until she gave him some indication he had to stop.

It never came, though. Instead she worked her hands under his shirt. She didn't do anything with her hands there, just set them there. He imagined she wasn't sure what to do and he wasn't in the position to show her right now. Well, he supposed he could show her plenty without breaking any laws, but he didn't want to.

Eventually, she moved a hand of her own doing, a small movement of a thumb against his stomach as he broke the kiss and found her neck and ear.

"Did your mother see this?" he asked, kissing the hickey.

"No. Well, I don't think so. She may have, but she didn't say anything and if she did it was only for a second when I took my scarf off after church yesterday and scratched my neck, forgetting about it."

He chuckled softly at that. "Do you bruise easily or something?"

"Why?"

"It's just so dark."

"I don't know. Maybe because I've never had one before?"

"Maybe," he whispered. He was no expert either. He'd given a few, gotten a few but that was about all and his parents sure as hell didn't care what he did for the most part.

He worked a button on her blouse, kissing lower along her throat along her collarbone.

"John," she whispered.

"Hmm?"

"I didn't…"

He kissed the top of one of her breasts before drawing away.

"You didn't?"

"I didn't ask you here for that."

"Really, Princess? What did you have in mind then for our afternoon until Mom and Dad get home?"

"I don't know. I just thought you'd like to come over."

"You thought right," he said.

"I wasn't thinking you'd want to."

"Why wouldn't I?"

"It's three thirty in the afternoon!"

"It was earlier than that Saturday."

"That was at school, and totally different. Not a conscious decision."

"You leaving the library and searching for me until you found me was pretty conscious, sweetheart. I don't know how to break that to you."

"It wasn't that difficult to figure out where he put you."

"You tell yourself that if you want to."

"So, is that the only reason you came here?"

"Is what the only reason I came here?"

"To get laid?"

"Uh, I haven't even really touched you and you think I'm trying to have sex with you?"

"Well, I don't know…"

"I like kissing you. Sue me."

"I don't want to sue you."

"Fantastic to hear that. So, you don't want to make out with me. What do you want to do?"

"I don't know! I just thought we could, you know, hang out."

"Hang out?"

"Yeah. You know, like two people who like one another might do."

"Princess," he said. He knew he liked her. A lot. More than was right considering the many obstacles that existed. Her age wasn't even the biggest one. He was stopped from saying more to her, though, by his pager going off.

"You have a pager?"

"Yup," he said, sliding the device off his belt so he could see who was calling. It was a voicemail, and likely from his captain because he was the only one who left him voicemails on the pager system. Amy had the number, but she just typed her number in for him to call her back.

"Can I use your phone?" he asked.

"I'm sorry. What?"

"Someone left me a voicemail, they wouldn't do that if it wasn't important."

"Yeah, sure," she said.

He could tell she didn't quite believe him. He couldn't blame her. She had to be wondering who would be paging him. She led him to her kitchen and a phone on the wall there. "I'm going to go hang my coat up and stuff. I'll be back. Unless you don't want to stay here anymore?"

"Claire," he said, exasperated. "That's not what I said."

"You came here to get laid. I don't want to do that so you might not want to stay."

"I didn't come here to get laid. Did I try anything to suggest my goal was to get you out of your panties?"

"No!"

"Okay," he said, as his pager went off again. This time it wasn't a voicemail message, just the number to call back. His captain knew he was out of school by now. "Then what the fuck is the problem? Jesus. I've never had someone get mad at me before for not being a letch."

"I want you to!"

"You just said you don't want to do that!"

"I know."

"Am I supposed to understand what you're saying? I'm not if I am."

"You're supposed to want to!"

"Who says I don't?"

"You wore my earring. You came to the party on Saturday."

"So that means I'm supposed to try to fuck you?"

"No! Yes! I don't know."

"Okay. When you have an actual answer to that question let me know. I really have to use the phone now, though," he said as the pager went off again.

"This is Bender," he said, watching her leave the kitchen.

'You get lost on your way home from school today or what?' his captain asked. Ed was, well, he was a pretty nice guy when all was said and done. Most everyone warned John away from taking this assignment because of Ed, but John sort of liked him. He was certainly a better role model than his old man ever was. He was tough, for sure, but John could handle the kind of tough Ed was in spades. He just wanted the job done right. The first time.

"No."

'Then what took you so long?'

"I'm busy!"

'John. That's not an answer.'

"You've never asked me to account for my time before. Jesus. I put in my eight hours the same as everyone else. I get downtime, too."

'There was another overdose yesterday, John. Penny Franklin, you know her?'

Know her? Sure. She was in with Claire's crowd and had been at the party Saturday night. She was in one of the bedrooms he was pretty sure, but not with the stuff he sold because he didn't go to parties equipped with hard stuff. The only time he'd gotten anything harder than pot was when he'd been asked to get it as a test, to gain trust.

"Yeah," John said. She wasn't a mayor's or judge's daughter, but her dad was a banker or something if he recalled correctly. Investments? Something like that. He wasn't like a teller John knew that much. There were so many in their class let alone their school he couldn't remember everyone off the top of his head. "I saw her at a party Saturday night," John admitted, eyeing the doorway Claire had gone through.

'Anything from that?'

"No, but she may have gotten the stuff there. It's possible. There was more than just my stuff there, I know that. All I got was those pictures I dropped off for you this morning. Might be more, but getting access isn't so easy. You know?"

'From that party?'

"Yes."

'Try to find something, John. We're starting to look bad.'

"Look bad! Do you want to remind them how many busts I've given them tied up with a big bow? The way I figure it I account for at least seventy percent of the busts that go down around Shermer."

'I know. We've had two years.'

"Two years of not knowing who we're looking for. I'm not a miracle worker."

'Tomorrow morning plan on meeting with me. I'll excuse your tardiness as I've done in the past.'

"Yeah, all right, sure," he said, eyeing the doorway. He heard her on the stairs, so she was coming back. "I have to go. I'll be there. You're buying me breakfast, too, if I'm getting up before dawn."

'Bring everything you've learned about anyone.'

"Yeah, sure. You have it all, but I'll bring it along."

'See you tomorrow morning.'

"Yup," John said, hanging up. He watched her as she came back to the kitchen. Her friend was dead. A third one from her class. He knew the first two were friends with her, too. John Bender, Shermer High senior, didn't know about Penny's death and likely wouldn't know about Desirae's or Samantha's either. Well, he probably would have heard about them, but they'd died before he got to school so didn't know them.

"Hi," she said.

"Hey," he said.

"You're done with your phone call."

"I am."

"If you weren't eighteen I'd wonder if you had a wife or something."

"I don't have a wife," he said with a shake of his head. "Listen, I don't know exactly what I did out there to fuck things up. I like kissing you, sue me. I can't jump into bed with you as much as I may want to. It's not something I can do right now."

"Why not?"

"That's kind of a complicated answer."

"But…"

"This earring thing," he said, bringing his hand to his ear and pulling the backing off of it before he slid it out. "You gave it to me. I've worn it. Evidently…"

"I just thought," she shrugged.

"That because you gave me a diamond I'd think the next step was sex?"

"Well, I don't know."

"I don't really either, but I think it's supposed to be me giving you gifts to push you toward that step not the other way around."

"It's not a gift."

"Yeah? What was it then?"

"I don't know," she said, shrugging a bit and nibbling on her lower lip again.

"Yeah, you do. What?"

"I wanted you to have something of mine and it was all I could give you."

"Oh," he said.

"I liked thinking you'd wear it to school, people seeing it," she shrugged again.

"Okay. You do know we, like having even had a date, right?"

"I know."

"I mean, I took it and wore it, but I'm not like ready to pick out China patterns."

"Well, that's sort of why I invited you back here."

"Oh," he said.

"I mean not to pick out China patterns."

He was super relieved to hear that. She was all kinds of confusing. Then women generally were. His not being in high school and being three years older than her didn't lessen that confusion.

"To maybe see if you want to keep wearing it, knowing I like to see you wear it."

He reached for her then, drawing her to him as he eyed the clock on the wall behind her.

"What time do your parents get home?" he asked.

"Dad it depends on his workload and his day. Mom, around six."

They still had plenty of time.

"What time do you have to be home?" she asked.

"I don't. I mean, whenever."

"Your parents don't expect you for dinner?"

"No," he said.

"Oh," she said.

He leaned in and kissed her again. He absolutely shouldn't have done it, but he did it anyway and loved every second of it. He noticed as he broke the kiss to switch them so she was against the desk where their phone was that she hadn't worked the button on her blouse he'd undone earlier. He liked the idea a lot.

He settled her on the desk and stepped in between her legs, deepening the kiss as he worked at working the next button on her blouse. It was a nice top. Not as nice as the one Saturday, but he supposed she had clothes that were just meant to go out in. He slid his fingertips along the top of her breast. She breathed in sharply at that and drew away from their kiss.

"John," she said.

"Uh huh," he said, intent on moving to her neck if she wasn't in the mood to kiss him anymore.

"John. You have to stop."

"Jesus fucking Christ," he said stepping away from her. "I know no is no and everything, but I haven't even done anything!"

She was busy working the buttons on her blouse. So, clearly she was done for the day, which was fine and should have been good. John was a fucking idiot is what he was. If he was smart at all he'd leave this afternoon and say fuck the hoity toity senior in high school who didn't even know a real thing about him.

Except Amy didn't either really when it got down to it. She knew he was a cop, but not where or doing what. She didn't even know where he lived really because he always went to her since she was in school and everything.

"I know that. That's not why I told you to stop."

"It wasn't?"

"No! The garage door just went up."

"Oh," he said. He didn't know the sounds in her house to know what that had been. Her panicked expression made much more sense now.

"Relax," he said. "We weren't really doing anything wrong. We were kissing."

"Yes, but you had your hand…"

"I didn't touch anything I could get arrested for or anything."

"This is my parents' we're talking about."

"True enough. You look fine," he said. "May want to get off the counter, though."

She did just that.

"Don't just stand there. You look like you're guilty of something."

God it was on the tip of his tongue to invite her back to his place, but he couldn't do it. Not today. Not knowing her friend was in the morgue somewhere being cut up and analyzed every which way. Thinking that if he'd paid better attention to his surroundings on Saturday night he might have seen something, a clue to help them. And possibly save her life.

"I'm just waiting for you to show me where we're going, Princess."

"Oh," she said. "The basement." She gestured to a door off the kitchen, the same direction as the garage door opening sound came from.

"You're not setting me up to meet the 'rents, are you?"

"No. Go on down there. I'll get us something to drink. Chips?"

"Sure," he said.

"Please be presentable if Mom or Dad do go down there."

"Me? I hate to tell you this, Princess, but this is as presentable to meet the 'rents I get. If you're hoping I have an argyle sweater in my pocket, I don't."

"Not that! I don't care what you're wearing."

"Then what," he said. She opened her mouth to respond, but turned beet red as she glanced at the front of his jeans. "I'll fix it, yeah, don't worry." It was already starting to fix itself. Something told him if he was going to continue hanging around her he had a lot of cold showers in store the next few months.

Ironically, once he'd gone downstairs to wait for her his pager went off again. This time it wasn't his captain, but the girl no cold showers would be necessary for. In fact, she'd been a little confused he hadn't gone back to her apartment with her yesterday after the movie to stay for longer than a few minutes.

He was a lot of things, but having sex with Amy while having thoughts of wanting to do those same things with someone else wasn't right. So, he'd bowed out of putting himself in the potential situation to feel like worse shit then he did right now about all of this. He'd even brought the earring along yesterday, pocketing it though once he realized he was still wearing it.

He hadn't counted on her legitimately being interested. He figured he'd go to the party and if she was there she'd brush him off as she would've done the day before if he'd shown up at a party. She hadn't, though.

And now, another one of her friends had fallen victim to the very thing he'd been sent here to try to stop from happening again. He didn't know Penny very well, but he knew she was pretty tight in with Claire's crowd.

He did something he hardly ever did, knowing it was the only way his captain had of getting a hold of him. He shut his pager off. If he shut it off he wouldn't hear it go off again and start to feel guiltier. Really, though, how serious was she thinking they could get when she was going back home to New Mexico for the summer? Going three months was no hardship for him, but it wasn't like they were ultra-serious or anything.

She came downstairs a few minutes after he turned the pager off.

"No inquisition?"

"No. It's Dad. He's home to change for a dinner and leaving again."

"Oh," he said.

"He knows you're here, though."

"I see," he said.

"I can't lie to him!"

John shrugged. "No sweat, Princess. As you can see I was all positioned correctly and everything to meet them."

"Shut up. I just didn't need them thinking …"

"That their perfect angel of a girl might be discovering that boys are good for some things?"

"Well, yes," she said.

"Well, anytime you want to get that halo a little more tarnished you let me know."

"Anytime?"

"Well, sure, within reason. I have to sleep and stuff."

She snorted softly at that as she handed him a Coke.

"Thanks," he said, popping the top on it before taking a sip.

The room down here was nice.

"Pool, ping pong, and foosball?" There was a pretty nice entertainment area setup, too.

"I know."

"Are you any good?"

"At which?"

"Any?"

"I'm best at ping pong, but I can hold my own."

"Oh wow," he said, when he noticed the air hockey table.

She laughed then.

"That's Chris' favorite, too."

"Holy shit, Claire, this is fantastic."

"You going to come over to play games now?"

"Well, playing doctor might get old after a while."

"I've never played it."

"No?" he asked. He wasn't surprised at her answer, but surprised she admitted it so easily. They'd established on Saturday she was a virgin.

"No."

"Well, you know, sometime we can. Preferably when you're sure your parents aren't going to walk in on us. I'd rather not get shot." And not seventeen. "When is your birthday?" he asked.

"I'm not playing doctor with you for my birthday."

"As fun as that in itself sounds that's not why I was asking."

"Why were you asking?"

"I don't know, you gave me this earring, want me to wear it, and other people to see me wearing it and know it's from you."

"Yes."

"That seems like a birthday present is called for when it gets to that time."

"Oh," she said. "July fifth."

"Really?"

"Yes."

"Huh. Your mom couldn't have pushed a little harder?"

She laughed at that. "I was born at like five in the evening, so no."

"Oh, I suppose not."

"When's yours?"

"March second."

"Happy belated birthday."

"Thank you. I think you were the only to say that."

"Now I feel bad."

"Why? You didn't know me."

"I know," she said with a shrug. "So, do you want to play air hockey?"

"Do I? I've been standing here trying to figure out how to ask to without it making it sound like I might just use you to get access to it."

She glanced up the stairs before walking toward him, working one of the buttons on her top. The top one she left undone so this was the second one he'd worked upstairs. "I think I can come up with ways to be sure you don't just come over here for air hockey."

"I think you might be right," he whispered, sliding a fingertip over her skin there. Fuck, she was dangerous. "For now, though, since Daddy's upstairs and Mommy won't be home too long after he leaves. Air hockey."

Return to Top

Chapter Three
Word Count: 6,294

He wasn't altogether sure what he was supposed to do in the morning. Breakfast with his captain hadn't been as bad as he thought it was going to be. He was sure he was under a lot of pressure. John was just a tool. John wasn't the only tool the captain had in play, just the one that wasn't generally known about and accounted for a lot of time and expense. John had been as green as you could get and picked over a lot of officers that had experience to get the job done perhaps faster.

As John had mentioned on the phone yesterday, the past two plus years hadn't been fruitless. John had been responsible for a lot of good information being turned into the police, and a lot of good busts as a result of that information finding its way to the narcs and detectives. John had even been arrested a few times when he hadn't been able to escape being where the busts were happening. His captain always had someone to post his bail only after a few of the others busted had been let go first.

He missed the first class of the day and he stopped at the office once he got in to get his tardy slip from there.

"That's only the third time this month, Bender," Assistant Principal Vernon said. John shook his head slightly. The guy couldn't have been tucked away in his office when John got there, no. He had to be out here in the main office doing something and see John come in. God, John hated the guy because in actuality John could probably wipe the floor with him when it came to the things he knew. He had to play dumb, though, and he played the role well.

"What can I say? I bought a new alarm clock."

"I've got my eyes on you. It'd give me great pleasure to deny you your diploma in June."

John huffed to himself.

"Can I get to class then? So I don't miss more than I've already missed today. Wouldn't want to interfere with my quality educational experience, would you now?"

He found his way to her locker in plenty of time after stopping at his first.

"Hi," he said when he saw her.

"Hi," she said. She'd clearly been crying. A lot. So she'd heard sometime after the time she'd dropped him at his complex last evening. He hadn't directed her to his exact building. The last thing he needed was her showing up there unexpectedly. He imagined an announcement had been made during first period maybe. He wasn't here, so didn't know.

"Hey, what's wrong?" he asked.

"You haven't heard?"

"Heard what?" he asked.

"Were you sleeping last period?"

"No, I was late."

"Penny Franklin died Sunday morning."

"Wow. Penny. I saw her Saturday night, didn't I? At Stubby's party? She seemed okay."

"I know," she said, stepping toward him. The last thing he should have been doing was hugging her in the halls, but she seemed to need it. She liked him and what was more he liked her. He'd never had anyone to hug him when something was wrong and hadn't ever had anyone to hug. He knew what to do, though. He slid his arms around her. More than one person stared as they walked past. It wasn't every a day a guy like him got to touch Claire. "God, I can't believe it. I didn't think she did that stuff."

"Stuff?" John asked.

"It was an overdose they're saying."

"Oh," he said. "Man, that's rough."

"I just," she said, turning her head a little to rest it against his chest. "I'm not even sure how I'm going to go to class the rest of the day knowing. All day yesterday…"

"Claire," he whispered, sliding a fingertip to her chin and lifting her head a bit so she had to look at him. "You'll go to class as you have every other day. She was your friend, I get that, but you have to go on."

"She's been dead two days!"

"I know. That probably sounds callous, and I don't mean for it to. I wasn't friends with her so it's easy for me to say that. Do you have any idea where she'd get stuff like that?"

"A few," she whispered.

"Yeah?" he asked. The captain had ridden him hard that morning at breakfast about the drugs Penny had in her system since John had been at the party in question. John almost felt as though he'd needed lube and a shower by the time they were done. This was it, though, his opportunity right here. If Claire had any idea that she really liked him she might confide in him where she wouldn't a cop who questioned her.

"I don't know."

"You must have some idea."

"John."

"Have you talked to the police?"

"No," she said. "I just found out that she died and that wasn't my first thought."

"Understandable. Talk to them. If you know anything, I'll go with you if you want, sit with you even." He'd make sure they didn't try to question her into confessing things she had no business confessing.

"Really?"

"Yes. If there's someone giving out drugs that can kill someone, shouldn't they be stopped?"

"You're saying this?"

"I am. I don't deal with something I don't know. My stuff is good and pure when I sell hard shit. I don't real often, only when someone asks specifically. Otherwise, I stick with pot, which as far as I know no one's ever died from smoking."

"I know," she said, drawing away. She reached to wipe her tears and he stopped her.

"John. I have to. I must look a mess by now," she said, stopping from saying more when she realized that he was offering her his sleeve. She took the offer and wiped her eyes and cheeks along his sleeve. "Thank you."

"You going to be okay?"

"I don't know. It's just I'm not even eighteen and this is the fifth person in my class to die."

"Fifth?" He knew that, of course. Desirae and Samantha had been the reason John had been sent back to high school, but there'd been a couple of deaths before theirs. None newsworthy because their fathers weren't judges and mayors.

"Yeah. I mean, how does that even happen?"

"And you wonder if you should say something?"

"I'm not a snitch."

"Well, no, there's being a snitch and not wanting to see more of your friends die. If this is the fifth one, clearly there's a problem."

"I don't know," she said. "People would know."

He wasn't sure why that mattered, but evidently even when dealing with something like this status and image came into play.

"When's the funeral?" he asked.

"Friday. The wake is Thursday."

"Do you want me to go with you?"

"You'd do that?" She seemed pretty surprised by the offer. He was too, honestly, but it also seemed as though it'd be a good way to be seen by her crowd. Maybe he'd be able to read something on someone there, see someone who looked guilty or something.

"Sure," he said with a shrug. "Isn't that what boyfriends do?"

"I didn't realize you're my boyfriend."

He scoffed softly at that.

"Just stating the inevitable," he said with a shrug, grabbing her books from her. "Where are we going?"

"You're walking me to class, too?"

"Sure," he said.

"Wow. What happened to you between last night and this morning?"

"Nothing. You just found out your friend died. It's called being nice. And if you need to talk tonight or something, give me a call."

"I wouldn't want to wake you or your parents up."

"Don't worry about them. Really. You need me," he said. He opened one of the notebooks he held.

"Hey," she said as he tore out a piece of paper from it and grabbed a pencil from the spiral part of the notebook. He wrote his pager number on it. He noticed on the inside cover of the notebook she'd written his initials with a heart around them, which was probably why she reacted to his opening the notebook.

"That's my pager number. You need me, any time, you page me. Just type in your number and I'll call you back. No need to leave a message. I suck at retrieving them."

"You got one yesterday."

"I know when someone leaves me a message that they actually had something to say because anyone who knows me knows I don't check it unless I have to." His boss was the only one who did really. He always gave everyone else some lame excuse about having the pager to avoid having to use his parents' telephone to do anything illegal on. His captain reimbursed him for the cost of the pager, which was about the only perk John got out of this assignment.

"Oh," she said. "Thank you."

"Yeah," he said, closing the notebook. "So, where to?" he asked, glancing at the text book she'd had on top. "Chemistry, huh? You any good?"

"I am," she said.

"Yeah," he said. He had been, too, but he couldn't admit that to her. "Good for you."

"Are you?"

"Not so much," he said. This John Bender wasn't at any rate.

He walked her to the classroom, handing her the books then. She wasn't the only one surprised he was walking her to class. It wasn't just her friends watching them curiously either. He had friends, too.

"So," he whispered. "Do I kiss you now or just walk away?"

"I'm not sure," she said, seeming to realize whatever they did would be noticed and spread around school by the end of the period.

"Never done this before either?"

"No," she said.

He chuckled softly. "Well, what do you want me to do?"

"I don't want you to just walk away."

"Well, okay then, just say so," he said, leaning in to kiss her.

"Bender," Assistant Principal Vernon called from a couple of classrooms down. "Keep your hands to yourself and get to class."

He held up his hands in a defenseless pose, prolonging the kiss just a bit longer than necessary or probably proper in the school halls. He drew away then though. "My hands weren't even on her, Dick."

"Yeah, well, you don't need to have anything on her."

"Oh, but I do," he said. Multiple sets of eyes were on them now. There was no pretending this didn't just happen. "But I don't kiss and tell, so you'll have to fill in the blanks yourself."

"John," Claire said, looking a bit horrified at what he'd just said.

"Oh come on, none of your friends are going to believe that shit. They've seen us together once before. And if they do believe that shit, then they're not your friends."

"But still!"

"Where's the bad girl from Saturday, Princess? Back in her shell?"

"No! Just not here!"

"The whole school just saw me walk you to class. I think being discrete left the building five minutes ago."

"I suppose," she whispered. Maybe she hadn't been in the frame of mind to process what walking her to class would mean to everyone else. He wasn't sure what it meant to her, or to him for that matter, but he knew what other people would think and say.

"Meet you by your locker after school? I'll try and meet you for another class, but I don't have your schedule so if that's something you want you'll have to let me know."

"Okay and yes," she said, sounding exasperated.

"Now I'm going to touch her, Dick," he said, tucking some hair behind her ear. "See the difference? Hands. Mouth. Not even close to being the same thing. If you need me to tell you the difference…"

"Bender!"

"You're out of Saturdays to give me, Dick."

"Get out of here and get to class."

"Yes, Sir," he said, waggling his eyebrows at Claire as he turned around then.

"And you, what are you doing getting mixed up with the likes of that hooligan?" Vernon asked Claire as John made his way down the hall toward his class. "If I had a notion to I'd let your dad know who you're spending your time with. I bet he'd have a thing or two to say about your choice in dates. Bum is too nice of a word to describe him."

No response. He glanced behind him to see Vernon standing there by himself, so she must have blown him off and gone to class.

"Good for you," he said.

Vernon was a dick. Bender enjoyed pushing his buttons because he'd recognized from the moment he set foot in this school what kind of guy he was. He was the kind of guy who made people hate school. Administrators like him should all be fired, but that wasn't the way the system worked. He'd reported on his actions to his captain more than once. Nothing would ever come of it, but John said his peace and made it known that Shermer High had an asshole as an assistant principal.

Not only was he an asshole, but there had to be kids who'd gone to school here who really were in the situation John presented to the student body. John's childhood hadn't been good, but he'd had a couple of teachers and counselors along the way to guide him onto the right path. Shermer didn't have any sort of system in place. He'd been labeled a thug about a month in (intentionally) and no one once had ever reached out to see what his situation was.

The rest of the week passed fairly calmly. They were certainly the focus of gossip in the halls, which John imagined was a better thing for people to focus on then Penny's death. He'd even eaten lunch with her yesterday and today.

Tonight he picked her up for the wake.

"Wow," she said when she saw his car.

"I, uh, told the old man I needed it for a wake. Even he seemed to be sympathetic or whatever the word is. Surprised me he was capable of feeling anything."

"Thank you. I could have picked you up, though," she said.

"You're upset and likely going to get more upset. I can drive."

He was a good observer and that's what he did at the wake, taking in people who were there and those who were absent that should have been there. He also took note of the people who stayed longest, scratching them off his list on principle.

"You have to be bored," Claire said a couple of hours into it.

He shrugged. "I'm fine. I'm here if you need me. Otherwise, you know," he said. He'd talked to a few people. Some people were customers of his and were surprised to see him here. Some were just people who were with their girlfriend or boyfriend like he was and didn't know who else to talk to. He was the only one from that group who actually went to Shermer, though.

His pager went off a couple of times, those couple of times it was Amy. He couldn't turn it off, though, because his captain knew he was here tonight.

"Your other woman?" Claire asked when he checked the pager the third time.

"Uh." Well, sort of that was the case, yes. He hadn't figured out what to do with her because he was still trying to figure out what to do with Claire. A lot depended on what was going to happen here in the next couple of months. He wasn't sure he should really pursue Claire knowing he could potentially be stuck a senior again next year. He wasn't sure she'd be too into that.

"John!"

"No, wait, sorry, your question caught me off guard. You think I'd confess to something like that here and now? I've been with you every day and evening this week. That scream to you as someone seeing someone else?"

"I don't know."

He rolled his eyes. "People want to get ahold of me, Princess. It is what it is."

"Don't most of them know you're here?"

"Some not all. My friends don't really travel in the circles that would come here."

"I've seen you talking to a couple…"

"Sure, a couple people who are on the cusp, not totally in with your crowd."

"I'm sorry," she said softly, leaning her head against his shoulder.

"Hey, nothing to apologize for." Especially considering what she'd said struck a little too close to home. Regardless of what he was going to do with Claire the fact that he hadn't called Amy since Monday and wanted to be here for Claire this week as much as he could told him at the very least even if Claire wasn't who he should be with Amy certainly wasn't.

She breathed in and he slid an arm around her, drawing her closer.

"Want to get out of here?"

"Where to?"

"I don't know. Get something to eat? Go get some ice cream?"

"It's March."

"That it is."

"Sure," she said then.

"All right," he said.

He took her to a Denny's nearby.

"Can I ask you something?"

"You can," she said.

"You talked about not wanting to be a snitch on Tuesday."

"Yeah," she said.

"How about saving the next Penny's life."

"John."

"No, you said yourself she's the fifth one of your class to die. That's a lot, even for a class our size."

"I know."

"The last two before Penny were before I even got here our sophomore year."

"Yes."

"That means the two before them were even earlier."

"Yeah," she said. "I just don't know that I really know anything more than anyone else."

"What if I could arrange for you to talk to someone without going to the police station so that no one would possibly know you were talking to a police officer?"

"How could you…"

"Let's just say I can do that."

"I don't know, John."

"I think you should."

"Why?"

"Because if you know anything at all, you'd feel better about yourself. You'd feel like shit, too, especially after this conversation if someone shows up dead and you said nothing when I told you I could maybe get you to talk to someone discreetly."

"I just…"

"What?"

"They're my friends, John."

"Yeah, so was the person in that casket we just got done seeing, Claire."

"Oh God," she said.

"I mean, maybe you don't know anything, but you said you might."

"Well, I know who sells the stuff…"

"Besides me."

"Like you said, you don't sell that stuff. I've never heard you mentioned as someone who can get it."

"Really?"

"No," she said.

"Huh," he said. He wasn't sure if that was good or bad. He didn't want to be linked with the stuff, but he sure hoped after all his work he was at least considered a possible supplier. Then, crack was nasty business. The powder he sold was top of the line cocaine. He'd never been approached about crack and wasn't sure his captain would let him sell it if he was. He was dealing with high school kids.

"I don't know, John."

"Hypothetically. I could get you to talk to someone away from the police station. Would you do it?"

"How could you even do it?"

"Don't worry about whether I can or can't do it. Answer the question. Would you do it?"

"John, I'm not even sure I know anything. I mean, what if I named names and they weren't the right names?"

"Would you name names who weren't selling something?"

"No," she said.

"Then what's the problem? They're dealing drugs."

"So do you," she whispered, glancing away from him then.

He sighed, taking a sip of his Coke to stop himself from telling her the truth. God, it really bothered him she'd see him like that. A drug dealer. Fuck. It was part of who he was and had built himself to be here at Shermer. He didn't have to be a dealer. He could've just been a user to try and get information. He probably wouldn't have gotten the information he'd gotten thus far just being a user, though.

"My shit doesn't kill people."

"That you know of."

"No, I do know. I have to make a living, you know? Unlike you, I don't have anything for me to do when I graduate."

"Are you going to graduate?"

He shrugged at that as the verdict was still out on that.

She looked at him again. "Why do you do that?"

"Do what?" he asked.

"Fail your classes?"

"I don't know. What kind of question is that?"

"I know you're not dumb."

"How do you know that?"

"I listen to you. Not at school. I know you put on an act there most of the time. When you're with me, though. You looked at my book the other day and knew it was Chemistry."

"It said Chemistry on the book," he said.

"Don't you want to graduate?"

"I don't know what I want to do yet."

"If you don't you can't do anything to get out of your parents' place."

There was that.

"I know," he said dryly. "I'll tell you what. You don't feel comfortable talking to someone. I get that. I mean, not really. Your friends are dead because of this shit. Clearly they don't care if their product is lethal."

"John."

"You write down some names, slip them into my locker, and I'll take them somewhere."

"How?"

He shrugged. "Believe it or not, I don't like that shit on the street. It gives people like me who just want to help people feel good a bad name. I would have absolutely no problem turning someone in who helps someone get hooked on that shit. Or die from it."

"I had no idea she used it."

"It's easy at first to fake it, but it's addictive as hell. They say one try gets you hooked."

"Have you?"

"Yes," he admitted.

"Why aren't you addicted?"

Because he had a captain he had helped him detox from it. That had been last year and he'd spent a good portion of his summer between junior and senior years getting close to people he needed to rub elbows with. He liked to think, too, he wasn't using to use but as a means to an end, which he assumed had to make a difference in how dependent he'd get on it.

"I used it once and didn't like it," he admitted. "I smoke dope because I like what it does to me. I don't like what anything else does to me."

"Oh," she said.

He hoped that was a sufficient answer. He slid his hand to hers, settling it over hers.

"Sorry, I shouldn't push, I guess, but I also don't want to say nothing and two weeks from now it's not such a big deal to you."

"A big deal?"

"You know what I mean. I know you're not going forget your friend or anything, but you're a couple of months away from graduating. Prom. All of that stuff."

She shrugged.

"You're going to prom with the guy they're saying is going to be king to your queen?"

"Brent? No. I mean, we'll have to dance if we're both crowned."

"If," he said with a soft snort at that, rubbing a thumb along the back of her hand. "I could probably talk my dad into letting me have the car for that night if you wanted to go."

"Really?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said with a shrug. He had gone to prom his first go around in high school but had a miserable time. The girl he'd gone with asked him because the date she was supposed to go with bowed out at the last minute. He hadn't realized that was the reason at first. He hadn't had a terrible time, he supposed. He'd figured out what was up without making an ass out of himself in front of her and her friends. Knowing he was there as a second, convenient, choice hadn't endeared him to the night so many high school students seem to put stock in as a rite of passage into adulthood.

"You don't have to get your dad's car."

He rolled his eyes. "I'm not letting you drive us to a date like that."

"Speaking of," she said as he slid his hand away from hers to take a sip of his drink.

"Prom?

"No, dates. It seems to me we haven't had one yet."

"No," he agreed.

"Are we going to?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. I was thinking about asking, then this all happened. It seemed a bad time to ask."

"Oh," she said.

There were quite a few reasons he shouldn't take her out, but they didn't seem to be forefront on his mind.

"Why don't you have a date for prom already?"

She shrugged. "There wasn't anyone I wanted to say yes to."

"So you were going to, what? Go by yourself?"

"I don't know. I have a friend from another school…"

"Boyfriend?"

"No, just a friend of the family I could have gone with. At least I like him."

"Oh," he said. It still didn't make much sense, but it sounded as if she was asked just didn't like who'd done the asking. "So, I meet your stringent guidelines for a prom date then?"

"I guess you do," she said.

"All right then."

"You do know you need a tux, right?"

"Yup," he said. "I'm fine with that."

"Why don't you have your own car?"

"What?"

She shrugged, resting a fingertip over the top of her glass and running it along the rim there. "I don't know. I don't presume to know how much you make doing what you do, but can't you afford your own car?"

"Sure. And where would I keep it? If I kept it at the apartment my dad would wonder how I paid for it."

She nodded her head a little as if that hadn't occurred to her.

"I've been saving up. I'll get what I need when I get out."

"And if you don't graduate?"

"I can still move out. I'm eighteen. I could now, I suppose, but just haven't. There are apartments open in our complex."

"You'd want to live where they live?"

"No," he said. "But my parents live there because it's affordable."

"Oh, right."

He slid out of his seat then and moved next to her, putting his arm around her.

"I meant what I said on Tuesday, by the way. You call or page me anytime you need to talk."

"I know," she whispered. "You've got your own things…"

"Don't say that. If you want to talk to me, call or page me. I'm not always home, but calling works, too. Unless it's late then page me. I'll call you back."

"I don't want to interrupt you."

"Your friend just died, Claire. I don't know how good a friend she was to you, but I've got a set of pretty strong shoulders. Use them if you need to."

"Thanks," she whispered.

"Sure." He shrugged, leaning in a bit so he could kiss her.

He broke the kiss at the sound of his name. It wasn't Claire saying it because she was kissing him back and pretty nicely, considering it was their first real kiss in public like this. He didn't count the party at Stubby's house. They were in a bedroom alone when that kissing happened. The halls at school? They hadn't gotten to the point of this type of kiss there.

He turned and saw one of his more regular buyers.

"Hey," he paused, trying to think of her name. It was some religious name, but not obvious like Mary or Eve. Faith? No. What the fuck was her name? It shouldn't be that difficult. It wasn't like there was a huge amount of religious based names. Ah. "Grace. What's up?"

"Oh, nothing. I just was surprised to see you here," she said, glancing behind him at Claire sitting next to him no doubt. She was a year behind Claire, but being a student at Shermer knew her.

"We were just at Penny Franklin's wake," he said.

He hoped that would explain why they were here at almost ten o'clock at night. He didn't have a curfew, and doubted for something like tonight she had much of one either. She wasn't going to school tomorrow, he knew, along with about sixty to seventy percent of the senior class. John was one of the few in the burnout crowd who would be absent.

"Oh, right. That's so sad. Well, I was just surprised to see you here. Sorry to bother you."

"It's all right," he said.

He didn't make it a habit of frequenting places like this because when he was away from school he didn't really want to be surrounded by high school kids. He shook his head, tapping his fingers on the table as he thought over that train of thought and how idiotic it was that he was sitting here with one. Sitting here kissing one a minute ago.

She left then, glancing at them one more time before she left.

"A girlfriend?" Claire asked.

He scoffed. "No," he said.

"She seemed surprised you're here with me."

"Well, that's true for anyone who hasn't seen us together this week."

"I suppose," she said. "She's cute."

He shrugged. "I guess," he said. "I make it a habit not to get involved with people named things like Grace, Faith, Angel, and Chastity."

"Why?"

"Because they're usually not at all like those names convey they should be."

"You know this?"

"I've had some experience with it, yes."

"Huh," she said. "And John?"

He shrugged.

"I don't know what my parents were thinking when they named me. Not of the saint I'm pretty damned sure."

"I suppose not," she said.

"You okay?" he asked, realizing it probably was closing in on time to get her home.

"Yeah, thank you. You stayed all night. You didn't have to."

"I was your ride."

"I could've gotten a ride with someone else."

"I was fine."

"Bored you mean," she said.

"Mostly, but it was all right. I would've been bored at home, at least this way I got to see you."

"Smooth," she said.

"Right? That just came out, too."

She shook her head, leaning in to kiss him.

"I compliment you and I get kissed? I'll work on complimenting you way more frequently."

"Okay," she said, nipping her lower lip a bit as she drew away. He slid out from beside her and walked up to the counter to pay while she grabbed her purse. He offered her his hand before walking out.

"What are you doing?" he asked when she started to get out of the car once they were back at her house.

"Going inside," she said, sounding confused by the question.

"I'll get it," he said.

"John, I can…"

"Yeah, yeah. I'll be right there," he said, getting out and walking to her side to open her door for her.

"Thanks. I could have…"

"I know," he said.

"You're walking me to the door, too?"

"Yes," he said. It was late, dark, and she was upset even if she seemed fine right now. Her parents, judging by the lack of lights on in the house, were asleep or in a room he couldn't see from this side of the house. He wasn't going to just drop her off and leave.

"Thank you," she said, getting her keys from her purse.

"Sure," he said. He leaned down and kissed her again once she'd unlocked the door. "Good night. See you tomorrow. Do you want me to pick you up again?"

"Can you?"

"Yeah, I can if I need to," he said.

"Okay, sure."

"Okay. I mean it, if you need to talk, call or page me."

"I'll be fine."

"Just the same."

"Thanks," she said, leaning up to kiss him.

"I'll see you in the morning."

"Yeah," she said.

He waited to walk back to his car until he heard the door lock from the other side and the porch light shut off. They didn't live in an area where people really had to worry about burglaries, but they also lived in a nice neighborhood so anything was possible. He wasn't sure he'd choose to rob a lawyer's house, but not everyone would know who lived in every house.

He got home, got a beer from his fridge as he played his messages back with a sigh as he took a sip.

He picked up the phone and left a message for his captain. He wasn't going to press Claire on the issue of talking to someone, but he wondered if they could come up with something to make her feel comfortable talking.

He deleted the messages after he was done with the phone. There were none he cared about hearing again anyway. He slid his tie out from under his collar, setting it on the counter. He pushed it away from his beer, not wanting it to get stained because he'd have to wear it tomorrow. He had a couple of suits and ties, but it would look weird for him to show up in anything too nice so he'd wear this again.

His pager went off as he walked back to his bedroom with his beer. He'd watch TV in bed for a bit before crashing. He hadn't had a TV in his bedroom growing up. It was kind of nice to be able to doze off to it. Or bad, he supposed. It wasn't a habit he had every night or anything, but some nights he just didn't want the silence.

He glanced at his pager as he kicked off his shoes and closed his bedroom door.

"Yeah, I know," he said, rubbing his fingers under Chester's chin. "I was gone too long again today. It couldn't be helped, Buddy."

He changed for bed and grabbed the remote before settling on the bed with his beer and Chester curled up beside him. He'd shift and change positions several times, but for now he'd stick close to John after he'd been gone all day unexpectedly.

He glanced at his pager and the phone next to the bed with a sigh.

"She's going to be beyond pissed I didn't call her at all today," he said. Chester's only response was to knead the covers beneath his paws. Tomorrow was Friday and they'd yet to make any plans for the weekend. His fault, but she wasn't used to that from him because she knew his weekends were usually pretty free. Of course, this Saturday he had detention again so that was eight hours of his weekend shot. Well, hopefully he'd have time to actually investigate some things in the school this go around. He'd asked around in the office and no one else had detention Saturday this weekend but him.

Chester didn't care who was mad at John or anything of the sort. As long as he had food and John was around to give him attention. That's all he cared about.

The funeral wasn't awful, but then John been to a couple of policeman's funerals over the years and those went on for hours. So a regular funeral went by pretty fast. Somehow he ended up having dinner with her and her parents, which wasn't at all how he expected his day to turn out. He'd dropped her off, walking her to the door again, and her dad had opened the door cutting short any plan of kissing her good night.

His pager had been oddly quiet most of the day. His captain had excused him from school today and had left John a message that if he knew someone who knew something he needed to get her to talk. That wasn't sitting too well with John because he was pretty sure there was no way around her finding out who, and what, he really was.

Her parents left them alone after dinner for the most part. They probably figured after a funeral he wasn't going to make moves on their daughter. They figured right. She leaned against him as they watched something on TV. He doubted either of them paid it any attention, they just wanted the noise and didn't want to talk right now. He had no idea what to really say to her anyway. He'd never really had friends so it was foreign to him to feel that loss.

"Are you doing anything tomorrow?" she asked him by the door when it was time to go.

"Yeah, school," he said with a shrug.

"Oh, right, I almost forgot."

"I wish I could," he said.

"Well, after?"

"Nah, not that I know of."

"I could pick you up."

"Sure," he said. "You know where I'll be."

"Okay," she said. "Thank you again."

"Stop with the thanking me."

"You took the day off from school and went to the wake last night when I know you'd rather have done anything but."

"Maybe so. It was fine. I'm glad I could do it."

"I was surprised your dad let you miss school."

"He has his decent moments."

"I'm glad to hear that."

"Night, Princess, sleep well."

"You, too."

"Thank your parents for dinner again."

In truth he wasn't the world's greatest cook, so a home-cooked, square meal was a welcome treat. He enjoyed it more than she or her parents would probably ever understand.

Return to Top

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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Chapter Five
Word Count: 6,6688

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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Chapter Six
Word Count: 2,870

"Why are you parking out here?" he asked when they got back to her house after dinner.

"Well, I was thinking at dinner."

"Okay," he said.

"Why don't I just stay at your apartment instead of you staying at my house?"

"Why?"

"Why?"

"Yes, why would you want to do that?"

"Well, it's not that I don't want to, but I don't have a cat."

"You don't. He'll be fine for the night and you said you'd take me home after school tomorrow."

She snorted softly at that.

"What?" he asked.

"Nothing, it's ridiculous hearing you talk about going to school."

"I've been saying that for years now."

"I bet you have."

"How about we do this. Tomorrow you can bring some things with you to stay with me after tonight. If you change your mind, no sweat. If you only stay one or two of the nights before your parents get back, that's cool."

"You want me to stay more than once?"

"You can stay as much as you want."

"Don't tempt me."

"Yes, because my apartment compared to your house is so luxurious."

"You aren't at my house. I can't sleep with you at my house."

"Not with your parents' home anyway, no."

"So, it's tempting."

"As long as you're home by curfew there's no saying what you can do, right?"

"No," she said.

"Well then," he said.

She pulled into the garage then, closing the door once she'd done that and shut off her car.

"Did you bring enough for more than one night?"

"Nope," he said.

"Why not?"

"If your brother decides to pay you a visit or something. He has a key, I assume?"

"Yes, but he hasn't."

He leaned over in the seat, brushing her cheek with his hand before kissing her.

"Well, still better not to chance it, yeah?"

"Yes," she whispered as he drew away from her. He didn't move his hand away immediately, though. He followed her inside, surprised when she led him straight up to her bedroom. Not that he was complaining, but he figured she'd take him to the basement or kitchen. Something rather than right up to bed.

She went to the bathroom and he was fully expecting when she came out of her bathroom for her to tell him she'd changed her mind. He wouldn't have blamed her. Last weekend was an accident. He hadn't meant to fall asleep here. This was a planned thing, by someone who didn't have parties when her parents were out of town because she was afraid of getting sent to boarding school. He supposed there was only about six weeks left of school now so that threat wasn't too scary at the moment. She couldn't use the excuse of being high tonight either.

Still, though, huge step. She was watching him, which wasn't saying much because he wasn't doing anything really. He'd been working this job for so long, straight out of school himself pretty much that he'd honestly never planned for an overnight with someone. So, it was a pretty huge step for him, too.

"What?" he asked.

"Something I'm curious about."

"Okay."

Fuck. She was thinking over their conversation and she wasn't as okay with all of what he'd told her as she seemed to be. He couldn't blame her, it was a lot to take in. Like him or not, knowing he told her the truth after all or not, it was still a pretty big deal to find out someone you'd been involved with lied to you.

"You said my age is why …"

"Yeah."

"Isn't consent about any contact?"

He noticed then she'd changed while in the bathroom. He hadn't really paid attention to what she was wearing when she came out. He noticed, though, the top was different and she hadn't been wearing shorts going into the bathroom. He swallowed a bit, realizing too by the outline of her breasts in the top she was wearing that she had removed her bra.

"Well, yes, you're right. Even kissing you the way we've kissed is breaking the law."

"Why have you then?"

She stepped toward him a bit then, the little bit of movement confirming she was braless at the moment.

"Because I like you?" he shrugged.

"Isn't seventeen the age of consent in Illinois?"

"Yes," he said. "However, that doesn't mean your parents if they didn't like me and thought it'd get me away from you wouldn't try to use you being under eighteen. Not everyone is up on the fact that the legal age of consent may not be eighteen."

"Oh," she said.

"I mean, yeah, sure, you're right. It was a convenient excuse, you not being eighteen. I felt better about you being eighteen. You being eighteen meant I would know what I'm doing as far as my job. It meant I would possibly be able to tell you the truth. It meant you wouldn't be a high school student anymore. You know?"

"Oh," she said.

"Plus," he said, when she pressed against him and slid her arms around his neck. He settled a hand against her cheek before drawing her closer so he could kiss her again. He much preferred kissing her this way than leaning toward her in a car with a console between them.

"Plus," she murmured.

He chuckled softly.

"The stuff leading up to it can be fun."

"I guess."

"Have I not made it fun so far?"

"You have. I just," she shrugged. "Wondered."

"You are absolutely right. You are legally old enough to consent. Having a lie between us didn't seem right to me. I sort of figured over the clothes stuff you wouldn't hold completely against me if you found out the truth about me."

"Could my parents really do that?"

"It wouldn't go anywhere, but it could possibly cause me to lose my job. I'm a cop, so I'm sure an argument could be made about holding me to higher, stricter, standards. I mean, my captain knows about you."

"He does?"

"Relax," he whispered, kissing her again. He worked his way to her throat, kissing her there. "Nothing bad, just he knows about you generally speaking. I've told him we're not like that."

"Oh God," she murmured.

He reached for her hands, sliding them to his waist as he kissed her neck again.

"At least you didn't tell him you spent the night."

He chuckled, nipping at her throat. "That's my secret. I'd bet money that most of the guys in the senior class would pay me money to get details on your bedroom. The two or three that wouldn't are probably gay."

She gasped softly as he moved a little lower, kissing another spot on her neck. He wasn't wrong. At all. He knew that and so did she. His breath hitched a bit, causing him to pause in kissing her neck when she slid her hands under his shirt. She was pushing it up, which was what he was hoping she'd do when he set her hands at his waist. It had to be her idea, though.

He pulled away from her long enough for her to draw his shirt up and over her head, dropping it at their feet. He shuddered a bit as she trailed her fingertips over his skin.

"Did you give me a hickey?"

"Yup," he said, running a fingertip over the spot on her neck. "I was thinking about giving it a friend."

"Why?"

He shrugged. "Your parents aren't home for days. When's the next time I'm going to be able to do it? Isn't that what high school couples do?"

"I've never had one…"

"Okay, you excluded."

"You've had a lot?"

He scoffed.

"No. A few, but not a lot."

"Can I?"

"Give me one?" he shrugged. "Sure. Wherever you want."

"I'm sorry?"

He chuckled then, taking her hand and kissing the palm of it before settling it against his chest again.

"Hickeys can be made anywhere you want to make them."

"Oh," she said.

"Hadn't thought of that?"

"No," she said.

"I'm glad."

"Why?"

He shrugged. "Call me a possessive ass, I don't know. I like that you haven't even thought of these things until now."

"Only with you."

"Music to my ears."

"I shouldn't admit it."

"Why?"

She shrugged then.

He set a hand against her cheek again, kissing her. "I'm not going to do anything to hurt you, Claire. I've told you the truth, laid it out for you. I realize we've only just started dating but I have no intention of blowing you off or anything."

"I know."

"I'm glad," he said. "Besides, it'll be summer soon, any you give me would show."

"Why?"

"Why?" he asked, confused by her question.

"Why would they show?"

"When I don't wear a shirt…"

"Oh," she said, and he chuckled softly at the blush on her cheeks at that.

"Unless you planned on giving me some further south than that…"

"I," she said, eyes darting to his waist.

"Relax, Princess, I'm teasing you. I really just liked knowing I can give you one. I'll try not to make a habit of it."

"It's okay. I don't mind. It feels kind of nice."

"Really?"

"Uh huh," she said.

"Well, after Mommy and Daddy get back when you're ready for me to make you feel nice anywhere else, let me know."

"I have to wait until they get back?"

"Well, no," he said cautiously.

She slid her hands to her waist then, drawing her shirt up and off.

"I guess that not eighteen thing really was on your mind," he said. "You don't waste any time."

"Why should I? You said it's not illegal."

"No," he said.

"Then?"

"I, uh, do I sound like I'm arguing? If I am, I'm sorry. I don't mean to. If you knew what was going through my mind right now, you'd know I'm not arguing."

"What's going through your mind?"

"Surprised you took your bra off."

"That's all?"

He chuckled. "No. I plead the fifth on the rest."

"I don't think you can do that."

He laughed a bit. "Perhaps not."

"I want you to make me feel nice other places."

"Well, all right then," he said.

"Just…"

"Just?" he said as he leaned in to kiss her neck again, only this time he slid his lips along her throat to her shoulder without her top in the way.

"My pants…"

"Hey," he murmured as he slid a fingertip along her collarbone. "You took off your shirt, I didn't do that."

"I know."

"Not that I haven't thought about it most every day since that day of detention."

"Only most every day?"

"I think the day of Penny's funeral, not so much with those thoughts."

"Thank you," she whispered as he slid his mouth lower so he could kiss the top of her breast.

"I can be somewhat considerate."

"Good to know," she whispered.

He nipped at a spot on her breast, licking it before drawing away. "Is that a good spot to make you feel nice?"

"Uh huh," she whispered.

He chuckled as he moved them to her bed. It wasn't that far from where they'd been standing anyway. He watched her for a bit as she was laying there. He'd never in a million years imagined she'd invite him so boldly to feel her up.

"What?" she asked, reaching to cover up with her hands.

"Don't," he said quickly. "You're gorgeous, Princess."

"I am not."

"Are, too," he said. He slid a fingertip along the top of her breasts, down a little grazing each nipple lightly causing her to groan softly. Should he be doing this? He wasn't really sure. She was right, she was legal to consent.

"Covering yourself would be a crime."

"You'd know."

He chuckled a bit at that. "I would."

She shifted on the bed and he did, too.

"Stop looking at me," she said, blushing deeply.

"I can't help it. I like looking at you."

"Oh," she said. "I guess I can understand that."

He laughed then. "You would."

"No! I mean," she said, running a fingertip over one of his nipples. "I like looking at you, too."

"Yeah?"

"Uh huh."

"Good to know."

"I guess you do really like me," she whispered a while later. He'd stopped paying homage to her incredible breasts and kissed her stomach before leaning up to kiss her again.

"I'm sorry, what?" he asked. A quick glance at her clock told him more than an hour had gone by. He couldn't remember the last time, if ever, he'd spent an hour touching and kissing someone's breasts before. Nope, he was pretty sure he hadn't ever done it.

It was, he had to admit, one of the most frustratingly enjoyable hours he'd spent in his life.

"No, I just mean, you haven't even tried…"

"I'm actually quite content doing what I've been doing."

"Thank you," she whispered.

"You don't have to thank me."

"Well, I'm not sure I wouldn't be tempted to let you."

"Why? I know you know how to say no."

She shrugged, running her fingers through his hair as she shifted a bit to kiss him.

"I don't know I'd want to say no."

"Ah," he whispered. "Well, if you want me to act like an ass I can."

"No," she said laughing a bit.

"Okay then."

"This can't be very fun for you, though."

"I don't know what part of the past hour or so you think wouldn't be fun for me."

"Yes, but…"

"Claire," he whispered, running a fingertip along the edge of a nipple and then the other.

"Trust me, this is fun. I mean, you know, it's not as fun as Mr. Palmer making us run laps…"

"Ha ha, smart ass."

"Well, see. You know that's a ridiculous thing to say."

"But you don't get anything out of it."

"Bite your tongue."

"I'd rather bite yours."

He chuckled. "Anytime, Princess, just not hard enough to draw blood."

"I'd try to refrain from doing that, I'm sure."

"Now, if you wanted to take your shorts off…"

"See, you're not supposed to say that."

He chuckled. "Afraid?"

"Yes."

"Of me?"

"No! Of me!"

"Touching and kissing you anywhere definitely gets me something, Princess."

"Sure, frustrated."

He shrugged. "It's all right. Am I complaining?"

"Well…"

"I'm not! I didn't have to come back here with you, I didn't have to invite you to come stay with me. Both of those things I did, knowing or at least being ninety-nine percent sure I wasn't getting sex out of the deal."

"Ninety-nine percent sure?"

"Well, there's always that one percent chance that you'll have your wicked, wild way with me when I'm sleeping."

"Would that work?"

"Well, sure. I mean, you'd have to do something to get that part of me able."

"Oh," she said, blushing and he chuckled again.

"Now, if you're asking out of legitimate interest in the answer. I get able a few times a night."

"Every night?"

"Well, I'm not awake to know, but yeah. It's part of being a guy. We wake up that way and everything. I think I read in a book somewhere that it's a cycle, like dreaming. You know?"

"Huh."

"You want to stay awake and watch, let me know."

"Not tonight."

"Well, the invitation is an open one."

"Funny."

"I'm pretty sure I'm not joking, especially if you watching was because you wanted to find out when you could have your wicked, wild way with me."

"I don't think I'd be ready for that."

"I bet you didn't think you were ready to take your shirt off for a guy either, yet here you did that."

"I know!"

"Was that scary?"

"More than you'll know."

"I bet, at least you don't have things under it to turn people off."

"You don't either," she whispered, running a fingertip along his lip.

"Thanks for saying so."

"I'm not just saying that. I like looking at you, John."

"That is good to hear."

"So you could really do this until my birthday?"

"Uh, yes. Sure."

"Just wondering."

"Hey, you're in charge."

"Not completely."

"Yes, completely. Always."

"Well, that can't be very fun for you."

"All right, maybe not always as in forever, but at least when we're at this point you are."

"When would that change?"

"I don't know. I've never been in a position to know."

"No?"

"Nope."

"What about that girl?"

"We never got to the point where I would presume sex came with a date or every time I saw her or anything. I never stayed the night with her or her with me."

"Really?"

"Really."

"When does that become a presumption?"

"I don't know. I just said I'd never been in a position to know."

"Maybe we'll find out together then," she whispered, running a fingertip along his jaw.

"Maybe so, Princess."

That concept should have scared the shit out of him for a variety of reasons, the main one being how young she was. Age of consent or not, she was still in high school and so much more to do with her life. College and a job. He didn't find it very scary tonight, though.

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