John let his car idle on the street for a few minutes, deciding whether to get out of the car and go through with this. He hadn't seen her in four years. She'd gone to college, he assumed he'd see her on breaks, but that hadn't worked out so well. Well, it had her freshman year. She'd gone to Yale and decided to stay out east after her freshman year. As far as he knew, she hadn't come home again until she'd graduated last spring. Well, she had to visit over Christmas and stuff, but as it was clear her plans didn't include him he hadn't seen her. He'd heard rumors about her return, but as they still didn't hang in the same crowds he didn't get much reliable information.
Her address wasn't difficult to come by, though. She evidently wasn't worried about people finding her because her number was listed in the phone book. Her name was listed as just Standish, C. but her brother lived downtown last John knew so he knew it was her number and not his when he'd looked.
He turned the car off, sliding the keys out of the ignition, and pocketing them as he slid out of his seat. She'd probably laugh at him for showing up like this, but he had no privacy at home to make a call asking her for help. So, it was stop by or continue to suffer. She may not help him. She may not be able to do anything. He'd been racking his brain for a month now on what he could and she was the only one he could think of who would probably help and John wouldn't hate her helping. So he had to at least try. If she slammed the door in his face or something well then he'd know she wasn't up to helping him.
He rang the bell on the board that had her last name on it. He wasn't sure what to expect for the neighborhood as it wasn't an area of Shermer he'd driven through much. Fact was, he avoided Shermer as best he could since moving out of his parents' house. He was sort of surprised she'd moved back here, but then he supposed she got along with her parents well enough and would want to be near them.
'Hello?' a voice over the speaker said.
"Uh, yeah, hi," he said, pausing for a second. He hadn't been expecting a guy to answer at all. "I'm looking for Claire Standish. I'm a friend of hers from high school, John Bender." Friend was probably putting too much stock in their relationship. They'd like one another, a lot, but he hadn't had much motivation her freshman year and she'd had a ton of it.
'Come on up,' the voice said. A buzzer sounded, followed by the sound of the door's lock being undone so John could pass through. He went upstairs, knowing by the board what unit she was in.
He knocked on the door, but it was opened almost immediately so he may not have needed to do that.
"Hi," the guy said.
"Yeah, hi," John said, regarding him with probably more interest than he warranted. Yeah, he could see her mom and dad loving this guy. Clean cut, nice looking, dressed nice even here at her place (their place?), and seemingly polite. If someone had shown up at his girlfriend's door he wasn't sure he'd be polite.
"I'm Robbie," he said, offering John his hand.
"John," he said.
"She'll be right out. She just got out of the shower, but I told her you were here."
"Thanks," John said.
"Come on in. Have a seat. You want something to drink? I was just going to get myself a beer."
"Sure," John said, regarding the living room. He shook his head a little at her view. She looked right out over a park. No street or garage to act as eyesores when she glanced out her living room window. Never mind the stylish and costly art on her walls.
"So you and Claire went to high school together?"
"Uh, yeah," John said. Even if they hadn't really known one another until a few months before the end of their senior year they'd grown up going to the same schools and stuff. He'd always known who she was even if she hadn't had a clue who he was until that day.
"Has she changed much?"
"I," he said. He was about to tell the guy he had no idea as he hadn't seen her in years. She walked into the living room then, though. She had changed. A lot. She'd been cute in high school, pretty even. She wasn't just cute anymore. She was pretty, bordering on stunning, now.
"Hi," she said.
"Hi," he said then. She'd caught him staring and he knew that, but he figured he was entitled after years of not seeing her. She didn't look annoyed or anything.
"Oh good, Robbie offered you something," she said as Robbie came back with the beer he'd said yes to.
"Uh yeah," he said. "Thanks."
"Are you living in Shermer then?" she asked, taking a seat on a chair near the one he'd sat on.
"No," he said. "I haven't been back in town since I moved out."
"Oh," she said.
"I actually came to ask you a sort of favor if you have time to hear me out for a second."
"What kind of favor?"
He chuckled softly, taking a sip of the beer once he opened it. "Nothing bad. Just, I need a woman…"
"John," she said. "I'm…" He didn't miss the glance she gave in Robbie's direction.
"Not for that," he said.
"Oh," she said.
"I'll leave you to talk then," Robbie said, taking his beer and heading in the direction Claire had come from.
"Did I catch you leaving?"
"No. Why?" she asked.
"I don't know, you just got out of the shower he said."
"Yeah. I didn't have anything to do today really so I put it off until the last minute."
"So you are leaving?"
"Well, nowhere in particular. We'll probably have dinner in a while or something. You're fine."
"You look good, by the way."
"Yes, with my wet hair."
He shrugged. "I saw you with your hair unwashed a couple of times."
"I know you did," she said.
"And I didn't run away screaming."
"I was sick!"
He remembered very well. She'd been out for two weeks with mono a couple of weeks after the day of detention. Her mother had blamed him for that turn of events even though her doctor insisted fatigue could be a cause. He certainly never had mono. He'd gone to see her a few of those days despite her insisting she didn't want him to. "Yeah, well, still, that's a pretty good base to compare it to. So it looks just fine wet."
"You're working or going to school?"
"Working, thinking about grad school, but I haven't decided yet."
"Oh," he said. "For your dad?"
"Yes," she said. "He's doing well."
"Good," he said. He didn't ask about her mom. There was no love lost between John and Mrs. Standish. Claire had come home with a hickey one night and her mom had not allowed him in the house again after that. (Ridiculous reasoning, too, because all that meant was Claire left the house to see him leaving him plenty of opportunities to leave them. Just where her mother wouldn't see them. Not that she let him after that one time. Apparently her mother had put the fear of God into her or something.)
He shrugged. "Working," he said.
"Doing? You were still working for your dad the last time I saw you."
"I left him as soon as I could," he said.
"Really? You're still doing plumbing, though?"
He chuckled softly. "Yes. A guy I met and I went into business together."
"Yeah. Stupid long hours since it's just the two of us for now, but it's all right."
"That's why you're here so early?"
"Yeah," he said, glancing at his watch. It was before one o'clock, but not like he stopped here at eight o'clock or anything. "Well, no, it's Saturday. I only work today if I get paged for some sort of an emergency."
"Well, I'm glad. I mean, that it worked out. That's too bad about your dad, though. You'd been working with him forever."
"Yeah. Well, Dad wasn't ever going to make me a partner or anything. The company was never going to become Bender & Son either. He also never thought I was good enough to go out on the more complicated jobs by myself. Never mind being the one to give someone estimates or anything. He questioned everything I did. I'm pretty sure Dad would've handed the business over to Tommy without question before he'd ever give it to me even though I'd been working jobs with him since before I could drive."
"I remember Tommy!"
John chuckled. "Yeah, he liked you a lot so I'm sure he remembers you, too." It had driven John crazy the couple times Claire came to see him while he was working. Occasionally she'd bring him lunch or just stop to see if he wanted to do something when he was done working. Tommy had flirted up a storm with her every time. She hadn't been interested, but it had made him wonder what kind of guy she would be interested in if they flirted with her while she was away at school. Certainly she had the opportunity to meet guys who weren't hauling plumbing gear around in their car every day.
"So, what's up?" she asked.
"Yeah, about that. I was hoping you could maybe do me a favor."
"I don't need money or anything like that."
"Well, if you did. I mean, I know you wouldn't just ask me for something unnecessarily."
"No, really, it's not money. I have a cousin," he said, taking a sip of his beer. "She moved here about a month ago from Washington."
He'd surprised her with that bit of information because he didn't talk about his family much. There wasn't much to say. All of the Bender's pretty much sucked as far as he was concerned.
"Yeah. Her husband died and she needed to start over. Bad marriage. She lived in a little town where everyone knew everyone, which meant they all knew everyone's business, too."
"Yeah. He wasn't a nice guy, Leo. Didn't treat her too well either, I guess."
"That's too bad."
"Yeah. He, her dad, and my dad…"
"Oh," she said, nodding and he was glad he didn't have to spell it out for her. Claire wasn't the only one who'd questioned why John worked for his dad, but she'd been the only one who actually asked him why he did. As if he had other options open to him? "So…" she said, clearly waiting for the part where she came into this story.
"So, yeah. She's here, right? And I have no idea what the fuck to do with her. I have some friends, but no offense to them, they're not who I want my nineteen-year-old cousin hanging out with."
"And a widow?"
"Yes. Her home life wasn't much better than mine. My uncle was her dad, so you know, like I said. Apples don't fall far from the tree or whatever that stupid saying is. She met him, thought he was the answer to her problems, married him, and found out she would've been better off sticking with her dad for a little longer. At least she would've been able to move out then."
"So, my friends. They're introducing her to things I'd rather not have to deal with. I mean, you know, I still smoke the occasional joint. I'm my own boss now so I'm not going to give myself a piss test and Dad certainly wasn't going to ever do that when I was working for him. I haven't touched anything harder in a while."
"I'm glad," she said.
"She's nineteen, though, so she shouldn't even be drinking. I mean, I realize I was drinking when I was her age, but she's escaped. You know? She's out. So, I don't want her falling into bad habits."
"No one I know has any good habits. The women, well, some of them are worse than the men I know. You know? They don't think anything of picking a guy up at a bar or something… I don't want her around that, thinking that's normal. She's nineteen!"
"And you think I have good habits?"
He scoffed softly at that. She didn't have anything but good habits, the occasional joint-smoking with him aside. "I don't know many women well enough to ask something like this of, and again the ones I do know. Well, they're no one I want giving her advice or tips."
"Well, how about acting like a woman should act and not like a whore for starters? She's going to need to get a job, which means she'll need to get clothes and stuff."
"What is she looking for a job doing?"
"I have no idea! She waited tables back in Twin Peaks, so I suspect that to start."
"John, what are you asking me to do?"
He sighed, not really sure what he was asking of her. "I don't know. Come hang out with her. Take her to lunch, shopping, recommend a place for her to get her hair and nails done. I have no idea what women do."
"To what end?"
"Maybe you'll like one another and she'll have a friend I know isn't going to do things with her they shouldn't be doing."
"Oh," she said.
"I know it's a lot to ask, I just," he shrugged. "Really. I guess the company I keep hasn't improved that drastically since the last time I saw you. I don't mind them or anything, but she's my cousin. I don't want anyone taking advantage of her either. You know?"
"I mean, she just lost her husband, but some of my friends see my cute nineteen-year-old cousin and think she's a prime target for hitting on."
"You can't stop her…"
"I know I can't, but I know you won't suggest she should hop into bed with the first guy who comes along."
"John," she said.
"Sorry. I mean, I don't mean any offense by that. I just know how you were at that age."
"Yeah, you made fun of me at every turn!"
"Sure, because it was totally foreign to me!"
"Yeah. So, you want me to just call her up or what?"
"Well, I figured I could introduce you to her. You could meet us for lunch at the mall or something and I can go my own way once I'm sure you're both cool with one another."
"I should probably talk to Rob…"
"Come on. You need to ask him for permission? He offered me a beer. He doesn't seem threatened by me."
"Well, no, but that's not having lunch with you."
"Really? My showing up at your place on a Saturday afternoon unannounced isn't a possible argument-inducer?"
"Why did you do it then?"
"How was I supposed to know you're living with someone? I didn't think women like you lived with people without a ring on their finger."
"I'm not living with him."
"He's just here while you shower, huh?"
"Yes," she said. "I don't owe you any explanations."
"I'm not saying you do. I was just making the point that if he has a problem with our having lunch with my cousin. Well, that seems like a problem for you."
"Well, you didn't let me finish what I was going to say. I was going to say I should ask him what we have going on the next week or so."
"Oh," he said. "Sorry."
"What's her name?"
"Shelly," he said. "Shelly Johnson."
She shook her head a little at that.
"You had a cousin named Shelly Johnson and made fun of Brian like you did!"
"First of all, Brian deserved to be made fun of at the time. Fuck. And, hello, she was married. Her maiden name is Bender. Four years ago, she was fifteen and still Shelly Bender."
"Oh," she said, apparently not having thought on that. "Do you need an answer now?"
"Well, no. I just, she's always around when I'm home, you know, since she's not working yet. So, I can't really talk."
"I can leave you my numbers, though, and you can call or page me anytime. I mean, if he wants to come with," he said, gesturing his head to wherever Robbie disappeared to. "I have no problem with that. I'm not trying to cause any problems. I just, really, am hoping to get her around some decent people for a change."
"I understand that."
"She had a friend back in Twin Peaks who she got along with real well, owned the diner where she worked."
"Well, that's good, she had someone I mean."
"What about her mom?"
"About like mine," he said with a shrug. "I didn't know her well. Living in Washington, you can imagine we didn't visit often or anything."
"How did she end up here?"
"Honestly? I have no clue. She showed up on my doorstep about a month ago."
"Wow," Claire said.
"I know. Packed up, picked up, and moved here with only what fit in her car."
"That's very brave."
"Or very stupid. She didn't know I'd take her in."
"Well if your dad's are alike…"
"Yeah, I guess, still was no guarantee I'd take her in."
"You haven't changed that much, John. You wouldn't have turned her out onto the street."
"You have more faith in me than I do myself then I guess, because I wasn't sure what the fuck to do when she showed up like that. I'm just glad they didn't have any kids."
"I bet she's glad, too."
"Yeah," he said.
"Let me talk to Robbie about what we have going on. I don't think we have any plans during the week already."
"He live here?"
"Sorry, none of my business," he said with a shrug.
"Well, I guess if you're trying to introduce your cousin to someone who's a good example it's your business. Yes, he is living here." She didn't offer any more information. Not that John deserved it, but what she just said contradicted what she'd said a few minutes ago about not living with him. Maybe he wasn't officially living with her? He couldn't see her mother being too keen on that sort of development. She was an adult, certainly she could do what she wanted to do in her own place. Would he not want Shelly hanging around someone living with their boyfriend? As long as Robbie was a nice guy, which he seemed to be just that as much as John hated to admit to that.
He finished off his beer, standing then. "I'll leave you my card and get out of your hair. I'm sorry to just drop in, but like I said I don't have a whole lot of privacy right now. My apartment isn't that big and I'm sleeping on the couch at the moment."
"I'm sorry," she said.
"It's fine. I mean, she just lost her husband. Bad stuff from what she told me. She," he shrugged. "Well, I'll fill you in on more details after you've met her. I'd like you to meet her and form an opinion about her before knowing everything about her."
He shrugged. "She's a Bender, Claire. We're, I'm coming to realize, just not real good people for the most part."
"Oh," she said. He noticed she didn't argue with him about that. He should be mad, but he supposed he couldn't blame her. He'd never done anything too bad to her, not really. He just hadn't been able to give her what she wanted. A relationship. A boyfriend. All in. No cold feet. No other women.
"Anyway," he said, pulling a card from his wallet. "My pager number's on there. Call anytime. The only time I turn it off are the nights I'm not on-call once I go to sleep."
"Sure," she said.
"And thanks for even considering this. I know it's a huge favor to ask and everything, but I just want her to be better than she's been so far."
"I understand," she said. She stopped herself from saying something else, too. He had no idea what, but he could tell.
He leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. "It was good seeing you. You look good."
"So do you," she said.
He snorted at that. "Thanks," he said. He looked like what he was. A plumber. He wasn't going to get mistaken for an executive anytime soon.
"Everything okay?" Robbie asked.
"Yeah," she shrugged. "He's just an old friend."
"Honey, the way he looked at you. He's no friend."
"Shut up," she said. "You were imagining things."
"I was not. He didn't like me at all."
"He wouldn't have," Claire said with a soft snort. John hadn't liked her expecting him to keep his hands to himself with anyone except her, but he certainly had watched her pretty closely around other guys.
"So, what'd he want?"
"To meet his cousin."
"Is that heterosexual code for something because I don't get it?"
"No, he really wants me to meet his cousin."
"A guy cousin?"
"A girl cousin. Oh, this just got way more interesting."
"Not for that. Get your mind out of the gutter for once."
"I like it there."
Claire laughed softly. "He wants me to help her, be her friend," she said, filling Robbie in on the details John had told her.
"So why do you need to check with me?"
She shrugged. "Because whenever I meet him you're coming with me."
"I am? Claire, I have a life."
"I know you do, that's why I told him I had to check with you. I'm not meeting him with just him and his cousin."
"Did he do something to you?"
"No. I mean, I'm positive he didn't do anything to me." Other than broke her heart, but that wasn't any of Robbie's business. "I just would feel better if you were there, too."
"Sure, honey, count me in. Now, where are we going tonight?"
"I don't know."
"You could always page him for him and his cousin to join us."
"No," she said.
"Well, he gave you his pager number for a reason!"
"Not for that."
"You're no fun."
"I'm lots of fun, just John and fun don't mix so well with my life."
"Learned that the hard way, did we?"
"So why do it then?"
"Help his cousin?"
She shrugged. "He came to me for a reason. She's nineteen and a widow. I wouldn't want her hanging around the people he probably hangs around with either."
She found the idea of him sleeping on his couch the past month more than a little amusing. That had to be cramping his style more than just a little bit. She sure hoped he wasn't expecting Claire to invite his cousin to move in here with her or something to get her out of his hair. There was doing a favor for someone she had no business doing favors for and there was being entirely too nice. She wasn't doing that.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com