'Hello,' she said, sounding very much as if she was exhausted. She'd worked last night and hadn't come over here because he had to work this morning. Her late night visits were limited to weekends for the most part. Occasionally, during the week she'd come over after Catherine's bedtime and stay for an hour or so. John had been sorely tempted to tell her she could just stay the night until John had to wake up. Catherine didn't wake up in the mornings until he woke her up. She wasn't a morning person and she wasn't fond of six o'clock wake up calls. He hadn't mentioned that to Claire, though, because he was still sort of taking his cue from her on what they were doing.
"Hi," he said.
'I know you're not calling me to come over.'
"Very funny. Actually."
'You are calling me to come over? I thought you worked today?'
"I have to go in, or I won't get my vacation pay from yesterday. No big deal in the grand scheme of things, but the chances I ever get another holiday off drop drastically if I don't show up."
'I see,' she said. 'So?'
"Well, Cat is sick."
"I can't bring her to daycare…"
'You want me to sit with your daughter?'
"Uh, yeah. She has a fever. Maybe it's nothing, too much sun and stuff over the weekend and yesterday especially. Who knows? I can't Tylenol her up, though, and drop her off not knowing."
'I've heard some parents do that.'
"I know some parents do that, doesn't mean I do that. Cat's one of many who get sick because of parents who do that shit. I just really don't want to miss out on the holiday pay."
'I get it. What about her mom?'
"Well, she's in the same position I am with the holiday pay."
She sighed softly.
'John. I've never even met her!'
"I know that. I do, and if I had anyone else to ask…"
'Well, I don't want you to ask anyone else. What do I have to do exactly?'
"Babysit her. You have nieces and nephews, right?" He didn't know that for a fact, but he found it hard to believe she wouldn't. Christopher Standish had been quite the catch, John found it hard to believe someone hadn't snagged him by now and given Mrs. Standish the perfect grandchildren she longed for. Perfect in that they weren't John's.
'I do, but I can't say I've ever really babysat them.'
'Not really. When have I had time?'
"I suppose," he said.
'I'll be there within the hour. Does that give you enough time?'
"Yeah. I called you with plenty of time. She actually crawled into bed with me about three o'clock."
'I bet that was kind of cute actually.'
"Maybe so. I don't know. She was hotter than hell then so I gave her some Tylenol, hoping it'd wear off."
'Okay. I'll be there in a bit.'
"Thank you, Princess."
"You don't work tonight, right?"
'No,' she said.
"Well, you can take a nap after I've gotten home before you head home."
'Maybe. I might be dead by then.'
"She's not going to kill you."
'So you think.'
They hung up then and John wasn't sure what he'd just done. He hadn't had a whole lot of choices. Stacy didn't call him for help when Cat was sick so he didn't think it was fair to do that to her. If Claire had said no he probably would've called her for some options.
He sat on the edge of the bed, feeling her forehead. It wasn't as hot as it had been at three, but she was still feverish. He leaned down, kissing her there as he brushed the hair out of the way.
"All right, Cat, a friend of Daddy's is going to stay with you today. I'm going to start getting ready for work. You can lay in here all you want, okay?"
She nodded a bit. He knew she was feeling miserable. He could see it in her eyes. He'd think she was stoned or something with how glazed over she looked, but he knew that wasn't the case. Obviously, she was five.
"Thank you again, really," he said when she got there.
"It's okay, really."
"She had Tylenol about four, so none again until at least ten o'clock. I wrote the number down for my office by the phone along with her pediatrician's address and number just in case."
"Is she that bad?"
"She's zonked out in my bed so I really don't know."
"That's too bad."
"That she's in your bed because that means I can't be in it."
"You want to take the chance that she's not contagious and it's just heatstroke or something, help yourself."
"Really? You'd let me sleep with her?"
"You? Yes. What are you going to do her?"
"She knows my friend is watching her. I don't think she'll think you're anyone but her when she wakes up."
"Your friend, huh?"
John shrugged. "Yes."
"Many friends leave you hickeys, John?"
"Many friends don't give me orgasms like you do either."
She blushed a bit at that. He leaned in and kissed her. "I have to run. I'm pushing being late as it is. Help yourself to whatever you want. You desperately need me, call the number and they'll get a message to me. You could page me, but calling the office would seem a lot more legitimate than my leaving because I got a page. Otherwise I'll see you when I get home. I'll maybe bring something home with me."
"That sounds wonderful."
"Yeah, we were so busy this weekend I didn't get much chance to grocery shop so tonight was going to be a sort of play-it-by-ear night anyway."
"Okay. And you're sure…"
"I know you just got home about the time I called you so take advantage of her being sick and sleeping. Sleep yourself."
That was how Claire found herself in John's bedroom, staring at the sleeping child in his bed. He had a fan on in the room, but it wasn't pointed at the bed. She stepped out of her shoes and slid into the bed, hoping he knew his daughter well enough to know she wouldn't freak out to a stranger sleeping next to her. She'd seen pictures of both Catherine and Amanda, but hadn't met either of them as of yet. She was, as much as it bothered her in some deep way she wasn't going to think on today, a beautiful girl. Not that she could see that now, but her pictures indicated she was.
"Daddy?" she whispered.
"No, I'm your daddy's friend. Claire."
She turned then, looking at her. Her pictures didn't do her justice. She was absolutely gorgeous. Long, thick eyelashes as black as night to go with her black hair. Was her mother Hispanic or something to have such dark features?
"Hi," she whispered.
"Hi," Claire said with a smile. She brushed some of Catherine's hair from her face. She blinked a bit, fighting back tears at the idea that this little girl could be hers. Theirs. If her mother hadn't interfered. God, she'd never known until this very moment that she felt at all deprived or that she was missing out on anything.
"I'm Claire. I was working all night so your dad said I could sleep in here with you while you were sleeping. Is that okay?"
She nodded a bit and turned back onto her other side.
Claire took that as a yes. She reached for John's alarm clock, setting it for ten o'clock so she could get Catherine her medicine like he'd said. She had no idea if they'd both sleep until then, but Claire kind of hoped she would.
They woke up around ten as it turned out without the alarm. Claire gave her some more Tylenol and she seemed to be feeling a little better so Claire made them each a grilled cheese sandwich and some soup. It was summer and hot, but soup always made her feel better when she was sick no matter the time of year.
They watched a video of Beauty and the Beast after lunch. After that they found some coloring books to work on together. She started getting sleepy around three, but it was too early for her Tylenol. At least she thought so. John told her six hours, the bottle said four to six. She wasn't a parent or an expert by any means. She did the only thing she could think of. She'd called her sister-in-law.
"Hi, Janie, it's Claire."
"Hi, Claire. How are you?"
"I'm well. You?"
"Doing well. What's up?"
"Well, I'm babysitting a friend of mine's sick daughter."
"Poor thing. I've heard there's a bug going around."
"Really?" Claire asked.
"Yes. Like four or five of the kids at Peyton's daycare have been out with it in the last week or two."
"Oh," she said. "Well, that's good to know. I just need to know though. Can I give her Tylenol again now after giving it to her at ten o'clock? Her dad said every six hours, the bottle says every four to six."
"Why do you want to give it to her now?"
"Because she looks like she's about to pass out from exhaustion, so I was thinking it'd be good to give it to her now instead of having to wake her up again in an hour."
"You should be fine. Her daddy's probably just being cautious, but if she's that miserable and needing a nap, five hours shouldn't hurt anything."
"Thank you, Janie."
"You're welcome. Should I ask who her dad is?"
"Claire. You've never babysat for us, sick or not."
"I'm busy. It just so happened I was free today and he knew that."
"All right. Well, when you want to tell me more let me know."
"There's nothing to tell!"
Other than the fact she'd been having regular, mind-blowing sex with her ex-boyfriend for weeks now. What was more, she loved every fucking minute of it and hadn't once felt guilty about what they were doing. Except the mornings she visited him for a couple of hours and had to leave as if they were doing something illicit or wrong.
His daughter had good timing, too, because Claire would be off for the next few days. The days off timed perfectly with her period so she wasn't complaining. She never worked one or two days of it like some girls did. As Claire wasn't in this for a full-time career she was fine with just not working those couple of days that were heavier for her. So, if he needed a babysitter she could do it.
"All right, if you say so. Good luck!"
"Thanks," she said.
She hung up and gave Catherine some more of the Tylenol.
"All right, let's go take a nap then. Daddy mentioned bringing dinner home."
"Okay," she said, but Claire wondered if she'd even be hungry enough to eat anything later. She seemed to be feeling worse instead of better as the day went on. Not worse to the point she'd call John or take or to the doctor, but it seemed pretty clear it wasn't just being outside all weekend when it was hot or anything.
She felt the bed dip a little bit later.
"Where are you going, Catherine?"
John chuckled at that and Claire's eyes shot open.
"Did we sleep all day?"
"Not all day," Claire said.
"I see from my kitchen you didn't."
"I'm going to clean it up!"
"I'm teasing. Relax. You did me a huge favor. I'm not going to get upset about a pan."
"Okay," she said.
"Wow, you really thought I'd get mad about that?"
She shrugged, eyeing Catherine who had evidently pressed herself up close against Claire while taking this nap. "No wonder I was so warm!"
He chuckled again. "Yeah, she likes body heat, especially when she's sick."
"The fever hasn't changed much. I gave her some Tylenol at ten and then again about three thirty after calling Chris' wife to be sure that was okay because she seemed ready to nap. Making her wait thirty minutes to nap seemed silly, waking her up thirty minutes into the nap also seemed silly."
"Yeah, that's good, I'm sorry I should have said so. I just have the most amount of time in my head when I give it to her."
"Are you going to need me here tomorrow?"
"If you can, that'd be great. They like to have them fever-free for twenty-four hours."
"I can. I'm off the next couple of days. I should go home, though, and grab some things."
"Okay. I brought some chicken and stuff home. Want to eat first?"
He leaned further over Catherine toward her. She thought for a minute that he might kiss her.
"Be sure to remind me when you get back to demonstrate how thankful I am."
"I didn't mean to assume I was staying here, but it makes the most sense since you have to leave so early," she whispered. The Tylenol must really have a hold on her if she was sleeping through their talking.
"Claire, you're fine. I'll tell her you're sleeping over. No sweat," he whispered.
"You want to eat now?"
"Sure," she said.
"Did you get enough sleep?"
"I'll be fine. We slept until about ten and then laid down about three thirty. It was all right."
"Now I feel bad. If you want to stay here and sleep I can go get whatever you need."
She blushed profusely at that. "No, I'm fine."
"What's that about?"
"Just the things I need."
"Yeah," he said cautiously.
"Never mind. I'd just feel more comfortable getting them myself."
"All right then. Whatever you want. Let's eat, you can do that, and come back here so you're in bed at a decent hour. Don't need you getting sick, too."
She shifted out of the bed, which wasn't as easy as it seemed considering Catherine wasn't that big.
He had plates and everything already set out.
"Thank you," she said. "It smells delicious."
"She likes chicken and potatoes, so I know it'd go over well with her at least."
"Good. You look tired. I really am sorry."
"It's okay," she whispered. "You needed help. She's never been sick before?"
"No, not during my time with her."
"I know. Say, your blushing earlier."
"Yes," she said, blushing again.
"You do realize I've been married before, right? Twice?"
"I prefer not to think about that fact very often. Or ever even if proof of that fact spent most of the day sleeping with me today. Yes, though, I'm aware."
"So, I'm, you know, not a clueless idiot when it comes to women…"
"Oh, God, John, I know that, but I'm not your wife. I'm not going to ask you to go into my bathroom and grab the things I need."
"All right. Just making sure. I'd do it."
"Thank you, but no. I'm fine driving home and back."
"All right. And if you want a raincheck on the showing you how grateful I am part of my appreciativeness let me know."
"Why what? Because you're tired?"
He scoffed. "No. Again…"
"Don't want to hear it."
"Sorry," he said, sounding legitimately as if he might be. Did people really have sex during their periods? She supposed they must, but God she sure hated the thought of him doing anything with either Catherine's or Amanda's mom to make them let alone the times like that where no kids would come out of it.
"Why do you get her for six weeks?"
"Because when she filed for divorce I was driving truck and every other weekend wasn't possible. I still had the every other weekend option, but the six weeks was written in there to offset any time I missed during the school years."
"Two weeks," John said. "Like I said before, though, I hope she gets married and wants to let me have Amanda for six weeks, too. I'd love to have them both for that long."
"Hey, Cat. There you are. You hungry?" he asked.
She shook her head.
"There's potatoes? Want some of those?"
She shook her head again.
"All right. Well, it's here when you get hungry. My friend Claire is going to stay with you tomorrow, too. She's going to go home and get some clothes for the night and sleep over here with us tonight."
"'kay," she said softly.
"You keep an eye on her tomorrow. Please? She should start getting better here pretty soon."
"I know. I debated about calling you when I saw how ready for more sleep she got, but I remembered being sick with the flu and having spurts of feeling good and spurts of feeling real crummy."
"Yeah, me, too. I just know fevers shouldn't last days. I think I'll get her a bath while you go get your stuff. Maybe that will help."
He walked her to the door and out into the hallway once she was ready to go home to get her stuff.
"You're not going to walk me to my car, are you?"
"Wow. Well, I was thinking about it, but now I guess I won't. Why?"
"I'm fine. She's not. Stay up with her."
"Okay." He stepped closer to her, but she pushed on his chest to stop him from doing anything more. He was going to kiss her, and she really wanted him to, but that would confuse things. They had sex. Good sex. Incredible sex. Kissing her now when sex hadn't come first and likely wouldn't come later, regardless of his apparent willingness to do that tonight. Well, that would confuse things. She didn't want confusion. She really didn't.
"Did I do something wrong?"
"No. I'll see you later."
"All right. We'll be here. Take your time."
He watched her leave. She had no doubt he was by the window in his apartment watching her drive off the parking lot, too, since his apartment looked over it. She'd never stopped him from kissing her before, but he hadn't just kissed her for kissing hers' sake in years.
"God you're a fucking idiot, Claire."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com