"Why haven't you called him yet?" Robbie asked.
"What?" she asked. He'd startled her. She'd been sitting on the couch, staring at the business card that was still on the end table from Saturday. She had no idea what to do. Nothing good could come out of letting John into her life again. She'd done just fine without him the past four years.
"You're staring at his card. You haven't thrown it away, so that means you're thinking about it. You haven't done it yet so you're having doubts."
"I don't know that I really want to do this."
She shrugged. "I was doing just fine without John in my life."
"I can pretend to understand, but I don't because you won't tell me what happened between the two of you."
"Nothing happened!" That was a good part of why the events that did transpire happened the way they had. She hadn't been willing to give him her complete trust, holding back from doing things he took for granted girls would do with him. She'd been looking around every corner, waiting for him to fuck up. Sadly, he had. It had taken him longer than she expected, but she'd been very glad she hadn't given him what he wanted her to give him.
"Really? I don't believe you."
"It doesn't matter. Not really. I was just so shocked he was here on Saturday for me to really react. A part of me was kind of excited he was here. You know? Then he was here for … a favor," she shrugged. She hadn't been sure what he was here for, what to even think when Robbie told her who was at the door. Groveling? Apologizing? Needing a loan? All those things had crossed her mind.
"You didn't sound very excited about his being here when I told you he was on his way upstairs."
"Because I couldn't imagine what he was doing here! I couldn't believe he had the nerve to show up here either. I ran through the possibilities as I was getting dressed. He could've been here to apologize, but it was a little late for that. So, I couldn't figure it out. I admit I almost didn't come out of my room, but then that would be just stupid. I didn't want him to know I'd done a perfectly good job of avoiding him for years before this past weekend."
"We dated," she said.
"Okay. Back in high school, right? You came out before he could give me any details on what you were like back then, but he said he was a friend from then."
"Friend is not at all accurate!"
"You dated someone you weren't friends with?"
"Really, Robbie? You saw him. You think I would've been caught dead with someone like him back then?"
"What's wrong with him exactly? He's nice looking, seemed nice enough. He at least seemed legitimately concerned I might be upset he was here."
She shrugged. "Besides the fact he's a plumber."
"Hey, it's a legitimate job the last I checked."
"Why are you defending him?"
"I'm not defending him! You haven't told me anything to not make me take his side. He's a plumber."
"He was one then, too, working for his dad."
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Well, fine then. Don't call him back, I don't care one way or the other really. If you're not going to call him, though, why do you still have his card?"
"Because I think about that poor girl…"
"Yeah, he's not stupid using that to get your attention."
"He doesn't like me like that, Robbie. I don't think he ever did."
"I'm telling you…"
"You saw wrong! I went to school and he couldn't keep it in his pants. Someone who likes me wouldn't do that!"
"Oh," he said. "I didn't know."
She shrugged. "It's not important."
"That takes guts."
"Him coming here. He cheated on you and he comes here looking for help."
"I'm not sure he knows I know."
"I never told him I found out."
She shrugged. "I was afraid he'd say he was sorry and I'd believe him. So, I just didn't say anything. I had a couple of friends who wanted to stay in New York for the summer after our freshman year."
"So, you just never came back?"
She shrugged. "Pretty much."
"You never told him?"
"Never broke up with him?"
"Well, not officially, no, but I sort of took him being seen with someone else as him breaking up with me."
"Hmm," he said. "I guess he must have gotten the message if this is the first you've seen or heard from him since then."
"It is! I couldn't believe he was here. I debated about drying my hair, but didn't want him to think I went out of my way for him."
"If helping his cousin is going to be a problem for you then don't do it."
"It's not a problem. I can handle John. I just wasn't expecting him to show up here."
"Call him and get it done with then so I don't make plans for a night you had in mind."
"Maybe you two won't like one another and the problem will be solved before it begins."
"It's not a problem. He said he'd leave once he saw we got along."
"So, you dated a plumber in high school?"
"He was a student in high school."
"Uh huh," he said.
"I was stupid. Okay? I was attracted to him."
"What's that mean?"
"You went out with him. I'd assume you were attracted to him."
"I shouldn't have been. Like I said. I was stupid. I disregarded the warning labels."
"What warning labels?"
"Pictures of several girls in his wallet. Telling me he didn't believe in just one girl and one guy. Him being absolutely nothing like me in any way, shape, or form. You name it every warning label was there."
"Why'd you go out with him then?"
"I told you! I was stupid! I shouldn't have. I learned my lesson, though."
"On the other hand, he was honest with how he was and he got you. Maybe I'm going about the whole process wrong."
"No, you're not doing it wrong! He did it wrong. I thought I'd be worth him wanting to change for. I was wrong. At least it wasn't years of my life I wasted. I mean, he didn't wait until my senior year to do something stupid."
"I'm still trying to wrap my mind around him having you as a girlfriend and cheating…"
"I probably wasn't the easiest girlfriend to have."
She could admit that, but all John had to do was tell her. She was in Connecticut. If that was too much for him he should've said so. It wasn't as if she was expecting him to ask her to marry him or anything. She had expected him to be faithful as long as they were involved. It still stung. She wouldn't deny that. She knew John didn't know what to do with her any better than she knew what to do with him. Having a boyfriend should've been easy. She'd seen all of her friends do it. She'd seen her brother have girlfriends.
"Well, I don't know what to tell you, but if you put off calling him much longer he's going to know that's exactly what you're doing."
"Well, I saw the way you looked at me when I told you who was here. You got pale. Paler than usual anyway."
"An exaggeration, perhaps, but that was still the case. I was surprised when you came out of your room you were as calm as you were."
"I didn't feel calm."
"You did an exceptional job at hiding it."
"My point is, you want him to think seeing him didn't bother you."
"So, call him and get it over with. I'm free all week. Set it up so you can get on with the favor or find out you don't get along with the girl at any rate."
"I guess," she said.
"If you don't want to," he shrugged. "I think you should at least call him and tell him that so he knows."
"You could call him for me," Claire said.
"I don't think I'm his type, honey. Otherwise I'd do it in a heartbeat."
"You know when you invited me to move here with you…"
"You didn't think people would be so uptight?"
"Not really. I mean, it's Chicago."
"We're in the suburbs, Robbie."
"And you've had fun when we've gone downtown."
"Sure, but I don't want to meet someone at a bar any more than you do."
"I guess," she said.
She picked up the card John left and then the phone she had in the living room.
"Here goes nothing," she said. "You are coming with me, right?"
"I'm coming with you, yes. I'll pretend to be hopelessly devoted to you if that's the charade you want to present."
"No, I just…"
"Don't want him to think you're pining away for him."
"Exactly, which he's conceited enough to presume is the case."
She dialed the number for his pager, inputting her number and hanging up afterward.
"Maybe he won't call you back."
"I doubt that."
"It did take a lot of guts for him to just show up here like that."
"That thought occurred to me, too."
The phone rang a few minutes later and she debated about having Robbie answer it except she'd paged him so would clearly be expecting him to call back.
"Hello," she said.
'Hi. This is John Bender.'
"Hi," she said again. "It's Claire."
'I thought I recognized the number.'
"Yeah, sorry," she said.
'Nothing to apologize for. I wasn't sure where I recognized it from so figured I'd better identify myself."
"Are you done for the day?"
'Uh, yeah, actually. We finished about twenty minutes ago so you had good timing.'
Silence. She had no idea what to say really. What if he'd come over to talk to her about something else entirely, seen Robbie, and assumed he was her boyfriend so made up his cousin?
'Listen, I realize my asking you to meet my cousin is way out there on the scale of things.'
"You could say that."
'If you don't want to, I completely understand.'
"I haven't said I wouldn't."
'No, but you're not exactly jumping up and down to do it.'
"Can you blame me?"
'I know it's been a while and everything. I don't know. You're the first one I thought of.'
"Well, we're pretty open the rest of this week so you tell me what works for you around your schedule."
'Uh, how about Friday? I know I'm on-call tomorrow night.'
"Not this weekend?"
'Uh no, we switch every other weekend unless he's doing something that he needs me to take his weekend, too, but I can tell him Friday night is off-limits at least until like ten o'clock or something.'
"Okay that works. We're free."
'All right. Uh. Where?'
"Well, you mentioned the mall. Did you want to meet at the one here?"
'Sure, that works. Around seven maybe?'
'Is there still a restaurant by the Sears entrance?'
'Okay, should be easy to find you that way then. And thanks again for doing this.'
"Sure. It might be kind of fun."
He scoffed softly at that. She took that to mean he still wasn't too keen on shopping. He'd gone with her a time or two because she'd made him, but he'd hated every minute of it.
'I'll see you then. If something comes up in the meantime you have my pager number.'
"I do and you have my number now."
'I do," he said. Evidently, he'd had it before since he'd said he recognized it. She supposed he would if he got her address out of the phone book.
"Good night," she said.
'Yeah, night,' he said.
"I swear to God, Robbie…"
"What? It'll be fun."
"Yeah, for you to watch me deal with him."
"I admit that thought crossed my mind before you told me you two dated."
"You should have left your hair down," Robbie said.
He shrugged. "You look prettier."
"I'm not here to look prettier."
"You look less stern," he said.
She rolled her eyes, causing Robbie to laugh. She was the queen of rolling her eyes. He'd seen her do it more than once since meeting her. It was never a good sign either. "She's nineteen not nine, I don't think she cares if I wear my hair up or down."
Robbie waggled his eyebrows a bit. "I bet her cousin does."
She sighed softly. She was too easy to tease, though, especially when it came to men. Of course, she was easy to tease when it came to them because she hardly had any.
"Just drink your beer and leave me alone," she murmured.
"You're the one who wanted me here!"
"Not to critique what I look like."
"I bet John will be doing the same thing."
"He will not!"
"I bet he will, but for a very different reason."
"You really have to tell me the whole story one of these days."
"I did! Nothing else happened!"
"Well, if that's the problem. Did you tell him you wanted him to do something?"
"That's not what I meant. It's nothing worth talking about. It was no big deal."
"You dragged me here when I could be out with some friends because you apparently don't want to be alone with him."
"I'm not your friend?"
"You are. You know you are, honey," he said. He slid a hand to the side of her face, tucking a couple stray strands that had fallen out of her updo. "I love you, you know that."
"I know," she said, sounding as though she hated admitting that right now.
He had no doubt John had heard the last little bit of their conversation. Robbie had tried for days to get her to give him the details about John but she hadn't budged on her stance of not wanting to talk about it. That didn't mean he wasn't going to try. John had cheated she'd said, but there had to be more than it to than that. The look on John's face currently wasn't of someone who'd moved past Claire without a second thought. Jealous? Maybe a little of that was there. He was definitely sizing Robbie up, which amused him to no end because Robbie did the same to him in return. Just for entirely different reasons. He and Claire had never had the same taste in men, but he could understand the appeal of John.
"Hey," John said. His cousin didn't look as though she was sure why she was here. Robbie wasn't sure why he was here either so knew how she was feeling. "Sorry if you had to wait long. My last job took a little longer than I thought it was going to."
"No, you're fine," Claire said. Of course she would, but the nearly empty glasses told John very clearly they'd been there for a while.
John offered his hand to Robbie, which he took.
"Nice to see you again," John said.
"You, too," Robbie said, taking his hand back and settling it on the back of Claire's chair. He didn't miss the look John gave him at doing that either. He could have a lot of fun with this if he wanted to. He didn't care what Claire said, Robbie knew what it looked like when a guy liked someone. He was a guy who liked guys.
"Uh, so this is my cousin Shelly. Shelly, this is my friend Claire Standish and her friend Robbie," he said.
"Hi Shelly," Claire said. "It's nice to meet you."
She was cute, Robbie had to admit. He wasn't sure what he was expecting after the little bit Claire had shared with him. Someone married and a widow before most people graduated high school. He was expecting. Well, not someone pretty at any rate.
"Hi," she said before sliding into the booth opposite them. Claire and Robbie had taken the table half of their booth/table seating because they'd be seen by John easier from the chairs.
They'd put their order in and were making general small talk. Robbie got the impression Claire was using tonight more to see if she and Shelly would get along. If they would she'd use tonight as a in to asking her to do something some other time. He didn't get the impression she was planning on taking her shopping or something tonight. It meant Robbie got a front row seat to watching Claire avoid looking at John as much as possible and John trying not to be obvious about the fact he was watching Claire and Robbie very closely.
Robbie leaned toward her midway through their dinner. The conversation hadn't been crazily uncomfortable oddly enough.
"Your brother's here," Robbie whispered.
"Really?" she asked, glancing around the restaurant until she spotted him. "I wonder what he's doing here."
"I don't know."
"Well, obviously," she said. "I should go say hi to him."
"I think he had the same idea," Robbie said when they both noticed Christopher get up from the table he'd been sitting at and walk toward their table.
"Hey, Claire. What are you doing here on a Friday night?"
"Having dinner with some friends."
"Robbie, good to see you," he said, settling his hand on Robbie's shoulder since he was closest to Christopher. Robbie chuckled to himself because the gesture sure gave the impression Claire's brother liked and approved of him.
Christopher glanced at her friends and Robbie sensed that Christopher knew John and wasn't too thrilled to see him sitting there.
"John," Christopher said evenly, extending his hand to him. "How are you doing?"
"I'm all right, Chris. You?"
"All right," he said, settling his eyes on Shelly then.
"This is my cousin, Shelly. She just moved to town from Washington."
"No," she said. "State."
"Ah. Seattle? Or somewhere else?"
"Somewhere else. A little town."
"Nothing wrong with little towns," he said.
"I was glad to get out," she said.
"Ah," he said.
"Who are you here with, Christopher?" Claire asked.
"Just some friends from high school. Tom Gunderson is getting married next month and a couple of us are here planning his bachelor party."
"Tom's getting married? Really? I hadn't heard."
"Yeah, they just met like six months ago or something. Pretty fast, but you know Tom."
"Yeah," Claire said with a roll of her eyes. Robbie didn't know Tom so had no idea what that meant. He assumed it meant that Tom was somewhat flighty, getting married after only six months of knowing someone seemed pretty flighty in Robbie's opinion. Then, anyone getting married was flighty in his mind.
"Call me tomorrow, okay? We have some catching up to do," Christopher said to Claire.
"Sure," she said, looking a little pale at that. Huh. Her brother didn't seem too happy she was with John. Interesting. Robbie got the impression they weren't that serious, but if Christopher knew John well they had to have gotten to the point of meeting family.
"Hope you like Chicago, Shelly. You ever want to see a view of the city on a boat let Claire know I'll take you guys out sometime."
"Sure," she said, sounding a little shy about the response.
"John," Christopher said before leaving the table.
"Christopher has a boat now?" John asked.
"Yeah," she said with a shrug. "He's had it for a couple of years I guess."
"Huh," he said. "Still single?"
"Uh, yeah. He was dating someone for a while, but they broke up a couple of months ago I think."
"Why? She tell him she love him or something."
She scoffed at that, taking a sip of her wine. Her hand shook a little, not enough for anyone to notice really but Robbie noticed sitting right next to her like this. He settled his hand over the one she had still on the table, lacing his fingers through hers so it'd seem like an intimate gesture more than a comforting one.
"I don't know. He doesn't report to me about every girl he dates and why they break up. I'd assume they didn't get along."
"So, Shelly," Robbie said. "Have you looked at jobs yet?"
"Well, all I've ever done is wait tables, but it was at a pretty small diner not a place like this. I've applied, but haven't gotten any call-backs yet."
"Well, I work as a chef," Robbie said.
"You do?" she asked.
"I do. I can probably talk management into giving you a trial run so you can prove you can keep up with the big city waitresses."
"That'd be real nice of you, Robbie," John said. "She hasn't gotten many calls back even."
"I can imagine. How big was your town?"
"About fifty thousand, but it was in the middle of nowhere."
"Ah," he said. "Well, if you're interested let me know. I can't guarantee you'll get a job, but I can get you a chance to show you're competent."
"Thanks," Shelly said. Robbie wasn't sure if that was a thanks she wanted the name of his restaurant or thanks she wasn't interested.
"Sure," he said with a shrug. He felt bad for the girl, really. He couldn't imagine being married at her age let alone married and a widow, moving to a city where he knew no one but a cousin. Of course, he'd done essentially that moving here with Claire, but he wasn't a widower. Huge difference.
Robbie let go of Claire's hand now, sensing she wasn't angry anymore. John's question had pissed her off. Did John know that? Had he asked it deliberately? Had Claire told him she loved him and John's response was to cheat on her?
"So that wasn't so bad," Robbie said in Claire's car once they'd finished dinner and gone on their way. He and Claire had walked around the mall for a little while. They asked Shelly and John if they wanted to join them, but they'd declined. John had insisted Shelly could go with them if she wanted to, but she hadn't. He couldn't blame her really.
"Thank you," Claire said.
"For going with me. For being there. God, if Christopher had seen me with just John I'd never hear the end of it."
"Will you now?"
"He'll ask me if I'm seeing him again. I'll say no, since I was with you and his cousin he'll believe me."
"Doesn't like him, does he?"
"He doesn't really know him. He just knows that we broke up suddenly."
"Protective big brother. That's sweet. I wish I had that."
"You have a big brother."
"Sure, who hasn't spoken to me since I was sixteen."
"I'm sorry. I forgot."
"It's all right, sweetie. You sure you're all right?"
"I am. She seems nice. Not at all what I expected."
"Right? Me neither. She was cute. Pretty even."
"That was nice of you, offering her a job."
Robbie shrugged. "I'm a sucker for a pretty girl after all, I guess."
She laughed softly. "Maybe you've just been doing a great imitation of being gay all of these years."
"Maybe. I don't think so, though."
"I'd love it if that was the case."
"No more than I would, you know that."
"I do," Claire said. They'd talked about that once when they were having one of their late night heart-to-hearts. If they thought they'd date if Robbie was interested in women. Robbie would date Claire in a heartbeat, but he wasn't so sure after meeting John if she would do the same in return.
"Let's go home," she said.
"I'm just waiting for you. You're driving."
"I know. I was just saying it out loud, I guess."
"Oh, well, if you want me to twist your arm into going out somewhere…"
"It is only ten o'clock…"
"Sadly, I suspect while I wouldn't go home alone you will."
He sighed. "Claire…"
"I just don't do casual sex, Robbie."
She didn't do sex period from what Robbie knew, but that wasn't any of his business. Some people were like that.
"Maybe you should. Get it out of your system then you wouldn't be so uptight when you go on a date with someone new."
"I don't get uptight!"
"Says the woman who hasn't had an orgasm in months."
"I have to!"
"Given to yourself doesn't count!"
"Yeah, fine. So, Rush Street?"
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com