Claire groaned disapprovingly at the phone next to her bed ringing. Robbie didn't have a phone by his bed so likely he was sleeping right through it.
"Hello," she mumbled into the phone.
"Did I catch you at a bad time?"
"No, just sleeping," she murmured.
"Claire. It's after noon."
"So? I was out late last night. You were, too!"
"I wasn't out that late actually. We didn't leave too long after you did."
"And you went right home?"
"Huh," she said.
"So I have to ask…"
"Yeah?" she asked. She took a peak at her alarm clock next to the phone. Sure enough it was almost one o'clock. Of course, she hadn't gotten home until almost five o'clock so that wasn't sleeping in as far as she was concerned.
"You're not back with John, are you?"
"You sure? I mean, I'd think you're pretty freaking nuts to do it, but you don't have to lie to me if you are."
"So you just have dinner with your first, and really only, ex-boyfriend on a Friday night every week or what?"
"No," she said. "I swear we're not. He wanted me to meet his cousin."
"Because she just moved here and he thought we'd get along. She doesn't know anyone, doesn't even have a job. He thought maybe I could help her. You know. Shopping and job leads."
"Oh," he said. Claire was leaving a lot of details out, she realized. It wasn't really Christopher's business, though. It wasn't her place to tell anyone else Shelly's history. She'd told Robbie, but he could've sat in the living room while John was here and heard the whole conversation anyway.
"That's all. I'm not."
"I can't say I'm not relieved. You can do so much better than him. I thought that even then."
"Christopher. There's nothing wrong with him."
"He's a plumber, Claire!"
"I know what he does for a living. The world needs plumbers."
"See, you're defending him."
"I'm not! There's nothing wrong with what he does for a living. You don't insult what Robbie does for a living."
"Robbie's a chef."
"If he was a cook at Denny's I'd probably criticize."
"Are you doing anything tomorrow?"
"No," she said with a frown. Talk about a drastic turn around in the tone of the conversation.
"Want to meet me for a boat ride?"
"Sure," she said.
"I think he works. I'll ask him to be sure, but I'm almost certain I remember him saying he worked tonight and tomorrow lunch because by the time he gets done and closed and then has to be back he has less than nine hours between shifts."
"And if you wanted to bring John's cousin…"
"Oh my God. So you didn't really call me to find out if I was with John?"
"Well, I did. I did offer her a ride in my boat."
"She's nineteen, Chris."
She sighed. John did say he wanted her to meet better people. Christopher could be a bit of a jerk at times, but he was certainly of a better caliber of person than the types of guys John hung around with. Of course she didn't know who he hung out with anymore, but his coming here asking for her help led her to believe he hadn't changed much. That meant friends.
"I can ask her," she said.
"Cool. You going out tonight?"
"I don't think so."
"All right? So, ten o'clock? If you, or she, needs later let me know."
"Wait? Are we meeting you at your house?"
"Yeah, sure, that works."
"Okay. Sure," she said.
"Thanks, Claire. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yeah," she said, hanging up. She wasn't sure about this at all. This had 'bad idea' written all over it. And yet. It wasn't like her brother was actually going to date her. He was being nice. Sure he probably thought she was cute, even Robbie had said he thought she was. Something told her if he didn't like John even today he wasn't going to be overly impressed with Shelly's history.
She woke up then, showered, and went to the kitchen to make some coffee and something to eat. Not surprisingly, Robbie's bedroom door was open and his bed showed no signs of his having slept in it. He'd left the club with someone else last night, assuring her he'd get home just fine on his own.
She wished she could pick guys up that easily. She just didn't have it in her. Lord knew she'd tried over the years. Casual sex just wasn't her thing. The sex part hadn't been bad the couple of times she'd done it. It was the aftermath that always left her feeling like crap about the situation. And about herself. Did it mean more than she thought it did? Would he call her? What if he'd really liked her but then she'd gone and had sex with him without even a date and changed his mind about her? All things she hated thinking and feeling.
The coffee started she picked up the phone, finding John's card. He'd given her a second one last night with his home phone number written on it. She'd stared at the one he'd given her last weekend long enough to know it by heart. It still sort of blew her mind that he had his own business. Okay, it was with someone else, but he'd gotten away from his dad. That was a huge deal.
"Hi, John. It's Claire."
'Hey, I wasn't expecting to hear from you today.'
"Well, my brother called offering to take me out on his boat tomorrow. I thought I'd see if Shelly wanted to come with. It'd give her something to do for the day and get her out of your way for a while if you had something to do with your day. We'd probably do dinner out afterward, too."
'Uh, not really, but hang on let me get her. She's in my room getting dressed.'
'Yeah. I swear the sooner I get my room back I'll be happy.'
"It's nice what you're doing, John."
'Thanks. You sound tired.'
"Yeah, I didn't get home until about five this morning."
"It was. It was fun, though."
"Christopher actually woke me up, otherwise I'd probably still be sleeping."
'I hate when that happens.'
'So, is Robbie going with you tomorrow?'
"No, he works tonight and tomorrow afternoon."
'Oh. That sucks being scheduled like that.'
"Yeah," she said glancing at the clock on the wall in her kitchen. Robbie was cutting it very close not being home already to get ready for work tonight. Not her problem, she realized, but she knew he liked his job.
'That's why you guys went out last night then, I suppose? Not much of a weekend with him working tonight.'
"Oh, I'm going out tonight with a friend."
'Does he work every weekend?'
"Most of them. Weekends are the busiest nights for nicer restaurants, they want their best staff working."
'I suppose I hadn't thought about it like that. He's that good?'
"He is," she said.
'That was nice of him, by the way, mentioning that to Shelly. Thank him for me. She was excited to have a chance.'
"I'll tell him. You both heard the part about him not being able to guarantee her a job, right? Just the chance to show she can do the job."
'Yes. That's good and more than fair. And really more than I expected out of you least of all him. So, all right here's Shelly. Thanks again.'
"Sure," she said.
"Hi Shelly. It's Claire. My brother called this morning and asked if I wanted to go out with him on his boat tomorrow. I thought maybe you'd like to come, too. If you have nothing else to do anyway. If you do, that's fine. It's supposed to be a nice day, though, and we're getting to the time of year we may not have many more nice Sunday's."
'Sure,' she said.
"All right. I can pick you up I guess around nine. Is that too early?"
'No, it's fine.'
"Okay. Bring a swimsuit if you have one. We'll probably be out all day and there's plenty of room to lay out."
'Sure. I do have one, yeah. Do you need John's address?'
"Uh, yeah," she said. That was not on his business card.
She covered the phone so Claire couldn't hear what she said to John too clearly. She came back a minute later, though, and gave her John's address.
"All right. I'll see you tomorrow."
'Yeah, thanks, that sounds fun.'
"It will be. Chris has a real nice boat." He loved showing it off, too, so she suspected he'd make sure they had all sorts of food and things to drink for their day.
She had things to do with her afternoon so missed Robbie completely. She did see signs that he'd been home, though. His towel on the floor in his bathroom was a good indicator of that. She picked it up from the floor and hung it up for him. He wasn't usually a slob, but she was going to assume he was in a hurry and just forgot.
'Hi Claire, shoot I was really hoping to get you and not your machine. It's Ally. I totally forgot that Andy made plans with his dad for tonight so I can't make it for drinks with you. I'm so sorry. You know how absolutely overjoyed I am at the prospect of spending an entire evening with him.'
Claire did know. Mr. Clark had more than once told Allison plainly to her face that if Andy hadn't met her he'd be a star. Of course, Andy hadn't wanted to be a star, but that didn't seem to matter to his dad.
'I hope you're doing well. I know it's been a while. I'm sorry I've been so busy. I promise next week. We have lots to catch up on. Have a good night, I hope you can find something to do. Certainly it'll have to be better than spending time with Andy's dad!'
Claire couldn't help but laugh at that, even if she was a little disappointed. She sighed as she erased the message. She'd been looking forward to getting together with Allison. It'd been a while. She'd been busy most of the summer it seemed. She'd seen her around the Fourth of July she supposed.
She grabbed her purse and keys and decided to go rent a movie or two for the night since she was going to be home by herself. If Robbie had liked the guy he'd gone home with last night there was no telling he'd come home tonight after his shift. He did that sometimes, met someone and she wouldn't see him for days.
It was better than having no roommate. She didn't really need a roommate, but she'd done the living alone thing her last year of college and she'd just never been real comfortable alone in the big old house she rented a one bedroom apartment in. What was more. She liked Robbie. They drove one another crazy sometimes, sometimes worse than others. They'd never had a real fight, though. Arguments and disagreements, sure, but a downright fight as she'd had with so many of her girlfriends over the years. Never.
Movies picked up she decided to stop at Lou Malnati's to get a pizza to take home with her. Being Saturday night she'd have to wait a while, but it wasn't as if she had anything else to do with her time. She had a book in her car, so she could sit there and read it if the wait was going to be too incredibly long.
She couldn't believe how crowded the pizza place was every weekend. Some nights during the week, too. On weekends, though, forget about getting an immediate seat during dinner hours. The take-out section wasn't usually too bad because it wasn't the pizzas you were waiting for, it was the table. So, hopefully she wouldn't have to wait too long. If she'd thought about it when she left the video store she would've called from the pay phone outside of it and ordered ahead but she decided on it spur of the moment when she realized she hadn't eaten anything since the yogurt she'd had after waking up in lieu of cooking anything.
She turned in the direction of the voice, groaning inwardly at seeing John there.
"I'll catch up with you guys in a second," he said to the group he was with. A group of four other guys it looked like.
"Hi," she said, trying not to sound as if he was the last person she wanted to see her here alone on a Saturday night.
"Yeah. My plans got canceled so I stopped to pick up some movies. I decided a pizza sounded good."
"Good plan. Sorry about your plans."
"It's okay. Ally is probably not enjoying herself too well right about now."
"Allison? Really? Is she still dating Andy?"
"Yup. They're having dinner with his dad tonight or something."
"Oh," he said, nodding as if understanding. "Well, I'm sorry."
"It's okay. It happens."
"Well, that kind of sucks since Robbie's working tonight."
"What time will he be home?"
She shrugged. "It depends on when he gets done closing up."
"I suppose," he said.
It also depended on whether he would actually come home tonight. She had no idea.
"Well," he said, glancing back at the group of guys he seemed to be with. "We're heading to The Whale if you wanted to join us you're more than welcome."
"Oh," she said. The idea did sound appealing. "I'm not dressed to go out or anything."
"Go home and change. We'll be there for a while. None of us have wives or anything to get home to, so we'll probably close the place down. It sounds like Robbie won't be home until at least bar closing."
"No," she said. "You're right."
"All right. Well, come if you want. That's where we'll be."
"Yeah. My partner, his brother's band is playing there tonight."
"Oh," she said, glancing at the guys he was with a little more curiously now. One of them was his partner. Interesting.
"Well, the offer's there. Come on out, have a drink, listen to some music. If you don't want to drive, I could pick you up. Just tell me a time you think you'd be ready to go."
"I really shouldn't."
"Oh come on, you were going to go out anyway. You can't tell me if you'd gone out with Ally you would've been home this early."
"Well, no," she said. They wouldn't have. Allison seemed to have it in her head that it was her purpose in life to find Claire a potential husband. So every time they went out Claire felt like she was on display. She had gotten a couple of dates that way, so she wasn't complaining. Only one of the dates had turned into a second date, though.
"You want me to follow you to your place? I could give you a lift from there."
"I'm not going to drink that much, especially going out on the boat tomorrow."
"I suppose," he said. "Well, like I said, we'll be there until closing."
"Won't they wonder who I am?"
"I don't care what they think."
She did. She didn't want his friends thinking she was one of his girlfriends. She saw when he realized what she was thinking and worried about.
"They're not going to think you're with me. Don't worry. No way would they believe I could snag someone like you in this lifetime anyway."
"Yeah, I could see your mind going. It's been a while I realize, but I know what you look like when you're thinking something that means bad things for me. I remember it well."
"I didn't look at you like that!"
"So you think. Yet I knew just now you were doing exactly that."
"You're telling me I'm wrong?"
"Yeah, see. Come if you want. Don't if you don't want. I don't care. Fuck. It's Saturday night, your plans fell through. I'm just being nice."
"I know. I doubt I'll make it, but thanks."
While she was sort of intrigued by who John would be hanging out with tonight she wasn't that curious.
"Home. She can't get into the bar and no way in hell am I getting her a fake ID."
She laughed at that. "I know. I was just wondering."
"That's nice of you, inviting her tomorrow. Thanks. You didn't have to do that."
She shrugged. She was so not telling him Christopher brought it up. "It'll be fun."
"All right. Well, I'm sorry if I for whatever reason pissed you off. I'll see you in the morning, I guess."
"Yeah," she said.
"Night," she said.
"Hey Claire," he said, turning around in the parking lot after he'd taken a few steps.
"One of these days," he said. "You're going to have to explain to me why you just stopped calling and writing me."
"I don't owe you anything," she said simply.
"I guess you don't. Was it him?"
"Robbie," he said, sounding as if that should have been obvious to her. "Did you meet him or something? I mean, I could understand if that's what happened. I probably would have broken up with me, too. I'm sure your parents love him."
Her dad wasn't too thrilled with Robbie, but yes her mother loved him for some strange reason. They both knew he wasn't a boyfriend. She'd be disowned if she had a boyfriend living with her.
"No, I didn't meet him."
"Someone else then?"
"What are you talking about?"
"I've wondered for a while, you know. I mean, I realize I wasn't the greatest boyfriend, but you knew going into it that I was learning. If I was doing something that wrong I wished you'd told me so I could fix it. Or try anyway. I thought we were good, you know. Whatever. I didn't expect to just never hear from you again."
"That's rich. Of course not because you assumed I'd remain clueless the entire time I was at school. You know damned well why I stopped calling you."
"Funny, you seem to think so, but I don't have a clue. You didn't come home after your freshman year, didn't return my calls or my letters so I took the hint. I just kind of wondered why, though."
"I'm sorry. You're standing there accusing me of cheating on you? Am I hearing you right?"
"Well, I didn't say that, no. I just wondered what happened. You guys seem pretty familiar, suggests to me you've been together a while. So I thought maybe he was why."
"No, Robbie or any other guy is not the reason. It's because you couldn't keep your dick in your pants! You really think I was going to put up with that?"
His friends were looking at them now.
"Fuck, you don't have to yell."
"Don't ask me ridiculous questions!"
"I never fucked anyone, Claire."
"Don't lie to me!"
"I'm not lying. I don't know what you think I was doing. I won't deny I looked, very hard, at women while you were at school. I even kissed a couple of them, and I felt like shit afterward the couple of times it happened. I even told you about it once and that was the last time because I felt like complete shit for it. I sure as hell didn't stick anything of mine into any part of them."
"I don't believe you!"
"Why not?" he asked.
She could not believe she was having this conversation with him in the middle of the parking lot at Lou Malnati's on a Saturday night. It was the most absurd thing she could ever possibly come up with. And she'd come up with a lot of scenarios for confronting him in her mind the first couple of months they'd broken up.
"Because Tricia Elrose called me to tell me that you went to a room with someone at one of her parties."
That surprised him, no doubt, because Tricia was one of his friends. There was no love lost between Claire and Tricia, so she'd been extremely surprised she'd gone through the effort to get Claire's number and call her.
"And you fucking believed her? She didn't like you!"
"No, she didn't, which is exactly why I believed her. Why would she go through the effort of going to my parents' house to get my phone number at school to tell me? She didn't like me. She wouldn't unless it was the truth and for once in her skanky life she decided seeing someone get shit on wasn't nice."
"She was right, I did."
She stared at him, surprised for some reason he admitted to it.
"So why are you arguing with me then?"
"I didn't fuck her!"
"You just went up to a bedroom to what? Braid her hair?"
"Claire," he said.
"No, you brought this up. I answered your question. You wanted to talk about it, find out why I stopped talking to you. I'm telling you why. So what. What is it you were doing with her in a bedroom?"
He glanced back at his friends who weren't talking amongst themselves anymore. She wondered which of them his partner was. He walked up to her then, grabbing her by the arms and drawing her to him.
"I remember which party you're talking about," he said softly. "I guess I never put two and two together that that's when you stopped talking to me. I went up to the bedroom with her because she had some good coke on her and offered me some."
"Oh come on, don't look at me like that. You know pot wasn't the only thing I did back then. It wasn't something I did publicly, though. Very few people knew I did it, but those that did if they had good, pure shit on them. They'd offer me a line," he shrugged. "So, yes, she was right. I went up to a room, did a line with her. She did more than one because it was her shit. I will swear on a Bible or whatever you want me to that I never fucked anyone."
"I swear to God you tell anyone that. I've been clean of anything but pot for years now."
"I'm not going to tell anyone."
"Why didn't you tell me? Ask me? Something?"
She shrugged, glancing at her feet. "I was afraid if I did you'd deny it and I'd believe you."
"Why did that frighten you?"
"Because I loved you! I loved you so much I wanted to believe you'd never do that to me. When she called me. I still remember. I cried for over an hour after hanging up with her. I was so embarrassed and felt like such shit for trusting you, for trying with you. I was completely and utterly humiliated and embarrassed that you'd do that to me! I stopped crying and threw everything away. Every picture of you. Every movie ticket. I came home for Christmas and threw everything away in my room."
"Yes," she said.
"Yes, that was part of everything."
"Huh," he said.
She'd loved that corsage. She'd had corsages before prom, but never from John. He'd gone to great lengths to order something special, different for her so it wasn't just another corsage. He'd even pinned it on the front of her dress for her. She'd dried it and saved it, which he knew because she told him she was going to.
"That was the only time I've ever bought flowers for anyone."
"Which might explain why you're still single," she said dryly.
"Your friends are waiting for you."
He chuckled softly at that. "I bet they are."
"Yeah. I guess this little conversation ensures you won't be joining us."
"Uh, no," she said.
"Fair enough. Have a good night then, see you in the morning. I'll make sure Shelly's awake and ready to go."
"Okay, thanks," she said.
"Night, Claire," he said.
So that was it? She watched him walk toward his friends. She didn't try to say anything further. There wasn't anything more to say really. She'd just expected … Something more. It was a while ago, though, so what could she really expect?
She decided to forego the pizza, no longer in the mood now. She waited until his group had left, though, not want him to see that she left without a pizza.
"Hey Ally, it's Claire. When you get in do you want to give me a call? If it's real late, maybe Monday night after work? I'm going to be out on Chris' boat tomorrow so probably won't be back until real late. It's nothing real important and everything's okay. I'd just like to talk to you about something."
There was no telling how late they'd be out with Andy's dad. She'd call back if she could tonight. Ally knew how late was too late. She felt silly calling, but it'd be nice to talk about it to someone who knew not just John but her, too. Robbie, she just didn't want to take the time to explain to him the situation and didn't want to hear 'he'd told her so'.
"So, who was that you were talking to?" Kevin asked.
"Just someone I know," John said.
"I didn't realize you knew women like her."
"What's that mean?"
"No offense, man, but the women I usually see you hanging around with I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole."
"No one's asking you to," John said, sounding defensive and he knew that.
"She's just not the type of woman I usually see you talking to."
"What? We did."
"What's that mean?"
"And again, I've seen the women you hang around with. Nowhere in there is room for someone like her."
John wished he could argue with Kevin, but he really couldn't. He'd tried, but he never met anyone like Claire since. Kevin was right. His friends hadn't improved much over the years. He stopped doing shit he shouldn't do, but he hadn't stopped hanging around people who still did those things.
Of course, that was what led to him contacting Claire about Shelly to begin with. His own fault, but he'd never seen the need to seek out new friends.
Kevin was his partner. The rest of the guys here tonight were Kevin's friends. John knew them, went out with them as a group like tonight on occasion, but they weren't friends.
Kevin shrugged. "What happened that you dated?"
"What do you mean? What happened? I asked her out. She said yes. We went out. What does that even mean?"
"Dated implies past tense. So what happened?"
"I was eighteen," John shrugged.
"Ah," Kevin said, nodding knowingly. Kevin knew John then. They weren't partners yet. It wasn't until John had cut out the hard shit that Kevin had approached him about going into business together.
"Turns out she thought I had sex with someone else while she was at college."
John sighed. "No!"
"Why'd she think that then?"
John told him what Claire had told him tonight.
"Is she single?"
"No," John said.
"No! She's not available."
"I didn't see a ring on her finger."
"Did you like her?"
"Yes," John said without hesitation. He'd gone out with people since her, of course, but he'd never liked anyone the way he liked her. He hadn't cheated on her, but she was the exception.
"No ring," he said, taking a sip of his beer.
"She lives with the guy."
"Really?" Kevin said, sounding about as surprised at that concept as John was. Women like Claire just didn't have live-in boyfriends. At least none that John knew didn't.
"Yes," John said. "He actually seems like a decent guy."
"Oh," Kevin said. "You've met him."
"Yup," he said.
"I still say all's fair."
"What part of living together don't you get?"
"No ring, John."
"Can we talk about something else?"
"Why do you even care?"
"I don't, but I've never seen you get that angry at someone."
"I wasn't angry!"
All right, he'd been pretty angry to find out that she'd dumped him over a stupid misunderstanding. He still couldn't believe Tricia had called her. Tricia hadn't been able to stand Claire. The couple times Claire had come out with him to a party Tricia had been beyond rude to her. She even spilled a cup of beer on her one night, purposely.
"Whatever. Come on. Your brother's going to be on stage in a little while. Let's move onto something better."
"Sure," Kevin said.
John was always surprised Kevin's wife was so cool about Kevin coming out to watch his brother's band play as often as he did. They usually had a gig at least once a month, sometimes more during the summer.
"One last question," Kevin said.
"What?" John asked.
"Was the line worth it?"
"No," John said simply.
Of course he hadn't known until tonight that was what had been the cause of them breaking up. Hell, breaking up implied breaking up was done. She hadn't done that. She'd just blown him off. He'd just assumed she'd met some guy at college and realized she didn't want a plumber. He had no way of knowing if she ever read the few letters he sent her. Come to think of it, she must not have because he doubted she would think he'd write letters like that to her while cheating on her.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com