"You're coming with us?" Shelly asked when John came out of his room with stuff that seemed to indicate he'd be out in the sun all day, too.
"Yup," John said.
"Why?" She sounded awfully suspicious and he supposed he couldn't blame her. He hadn't exactly been a hugely gracious host since she got into town. Their dinner with Claire and Robbie (what adult went by Robbie anyway?) was one of the few things they did out together. He was busy and had his own life, but that wasn't all of it. He really didn't want her hanging out with or getting to know most of his friends. The guys he was out with last night were an exception, but they were all drinking age.
"Why not? It's a boat ride. Who doesn't love boat rides?"
"You didn't get in until like four in the morning."
He hadn't, but he hadn't been stumbling drunk when the night had ended. Buzzed enough that he'd debated about going to Claire's place actually, but decided against that. He wasn't that drunk. Kevin's words had rolled around in John's mind, though.
Her words weighed heavy on his mind, too. She'd thought he'd cheated. More than he had. He'd kissed a few girls while she was gone at school, but had never done more than that. He'd been drunk when it happened every time and feeling sorry for himself that she was off at school and he was stuck here working for his dad. No excuse, and the kissing hadn't cured what ailed him at all. That's why he'd told her after the last girl he'd kissed who wasn't her. He knew if he'd told her that it was shit or get off the pot time. If he kissed someone else when she knew he'd done it then it was time to bail. He didn't want to bail.
Evidently Tricia didn't have those same plans in mind for John and Claire he had.
So, Kevin had said no ring meant all was fair. Living together sort of implied a commitment, but then who knew. Maybe the guy had gotten her to live with him, or to agree to let him live with her and decided he didn't need to do anything else.
"You look nice," he said as he eyed Shelly. She'd looked like a wreck when she'd shown up on his doorstep. No one could blame her. She'd been through a lot, Leo dying was only part of it. She was lucky to have gotten out of that relationship as intact as she was, truthfully. Another few years of that, though, there was no telling.
He had vague recollections of his mom being like Shelly. Young, pretty, full of laughter and optimism. Love for him. His dad he didn't have such memories of, but he knew he hadn't always been an asshole. Likely, Shelly's dad hadn't been either, but she'd gone from one asshole to another. John had been more fortunate.
He'd been grateful for a while after Claire blew him off that he'd found out she was a bitch before marrying her. That was sure his train of thought once he got his mind wrapped around the concept of what having a girlfriend meant. Then she'd up and given him the cold shoulder treatment. That had made him swear off women in general because if someone like Claire who knew how he'd been treated growing up would do it to him. Well, what was to stop anyone else from doing it, too? And worse the next go-around.
"Thank you," she said. She always looked nice, really, but today she looked together. Completely. Sometimes he felt more like a dad than a cousin because he had to remind her to brush her hair or put more than her pajamas on.
Hopefully, this job opportunity with Robbie would pan out and she'd have a job soon. That would have to help her out, earning money of her own. For now she was completely dependent on him.
The buzzer rang and Shelly went to answer it.
"Be right down," she said as John grabbed his keys.
"What?" he asked.
"I don't know. I'm just not sure…"
"I'm going, deal with it."
"All right," she said.
She knew their history because he'd told her after the night they had dinner. He'd been a little … tense after watching another guy have his hands all over Claire. Someone her brother seemed to like. So, she'd asked what the deal was and he'd told her.
Claire was clearly surprised by his coming down with Shelly.
"What? Your brother is going, too, so it's not girls only."
"No," Claire said cautiously.
She hadn't said he couldn't go, so he got into her car. Shelly let him have the front seat he noticed.
"You must not have been out too late then?" Claire asked.
"Me?" John said with a shrug. "I got in about four, I guess."
"Oh," she said.
"I just figured why not go, too? It's one of the last few days we'll probably get to do something like that and I'm not on-call this weekend."
"I see," she said, sounding very much like she'd wished he was on-call this weekend. He glanced out his window, closing his eyes a bit as he shook his head. He fucking shouldn't have listened to Kevin.
"Robbie work today?" he asked. May as well twist the knife while it was in there.
"Yes," she said.
"Doesn't his working weekends get old?"
Claire shrugged, but didn't answer. Well, she didn't answer him anyway.
"Shelly, Robbie told me to tell you that he's going to call you this week. He's just checking with his boss what nights work best."
"Nights?" Shelly asked.
"Yeah, they're short staffed this week I guess, so he said he figures he can get you in there for a couple of shifts and see how it goes."
"Okay," she said. John glanced at her in the backseat. She looked nervous.
"You'll do fine, Shelly."
"I know, but God, this is a restaurant in Chicago not a diner in Twin Peaks."
"You're right, but you'll still do fine, and if that doesn't work we'll find you something else. You don't have to wait tables."
"Have you thought of going to school?" Claire asked, glancing at John out of the corner of her eye as if expecting him to react to that question. Claire had wanted him to go to college and he'd been adamant he didn't need college. As it turned out he was right, but it just as easily could've gone the other way if he'd been stuck working with his old man these past few years.
"I have, but I have no idea what I even want to do."
"Oh? Were you good at anything in high school?"
"I didn't finish," she said quietly. "I'd have to get my GED."
"Oh," Claire said. John watched her closely for any judgment in her body language after that admission, but he didn't see any. Kids around Shermer didn't need GEDs. John was probably the closest when it got down to it, but there just wasn't really an option in Shermer but to at least finish high school.
Soon they were downtown where Chris kept his boat. Holy shit, it was a fucking boat that he probably could have survived weeks on. And it was absolutely gorgeous.
"Hey, Chris, we're here," Claire called as she stepped aboard. John followed her then and helped Shelly, though she seemed okay getting on without his help.
"Thanks," she whispered.
"You bet," he said.
"Is this going to be really weird for you?" Shelly asked him, tucking some hair behind her ear. Not that it did any good. It wasn't a terribly windy day, but this was Chicago and they were on the water so there was wind.
"Probably," he said, watching as Claire disappeared below deck. He assumed Chris was down there.
"Why are you here?"
"John! Are you insane?"
"I didn't say anything."
"You didn't have to. I see the look in your eye. You're going to go after her."
"I thought about it."
"They're not married, not even engaged, and no ring on her finger. As far as I'm concerned, until one of those three things happens I have the right."
"To get your heart broken."
"Yeah, well, it turns out she didn't just dump me like I thought she did."
John shrugged. "One of my friends saw me go up to a bedroom with someone at a party and called Claire. She assumed I went up there to have sex with the girl. I didn't. She had some good stuff on her and was willing to share."
"Oh," Shelly said.
Shelly had her own experience with drugs, not personally from using. Somehow she'd managed to stay away from the shit despite how bad things were for her. She knew he'd used, though, because he told her. She wanted to live with him, fine, but he wasn't going to let her build him up into some life-saving hero when he was barely surviving his own life. He just hadn't been able to turn her out onto the street when she'd shown up. They weren't close growing up or anything, but she was his cousin. And a woman. He couldn't turn his back on her.
"So," John said with a shrug. "I decided why not. Maybe, you know, the fact I don't work every weekend and every night…"
"She is pretty."
"She is," John agreed. He tucked some her hair behind her ears for her. "So are you, you know?"
"You say that, but you don't believe me."
She shrugged. He imagined that'd take time. Leo had done a number on her, emotionally as well as physically.
"That doesn't mean I want you to rush out and find a boyfriend or anything."
Claire and Chris chose that moment to make their appearance. John and Shelly both stared, but not at the same person. Chris didn't glare daggers in John's direction for the first time ever either. His eyes were pretty completely focused on Shelly. So, this boat outing hadn't been Claire's idea at all, but Chris' and Claire had gone along with it.
She knew, too, when he'd figured it out because she looked away. He wanted to be mad, but he knew Chris wouldn't do a number on her if they even got to that point. Claire probably thought of that, too. They might talk and Chris might not be interested.
Claire had shed her clothes and was in her bathing suit, which was what John stared at. It was the least amount of clothes he'd ever seen her in because the summer before she left for school she'd worn a one-piece bathing suit for some reason.
"Glad you could make it Shelly, John," Chris said evenly. No condescension or anything in his voice. That was a vast improvement over the few times he'd run into the elder Standish sibling over the years since he and Claire had broken up. His cool attitude made a lot more sense now, though.
"Thanks for inviting us," he said, glancing at Claire who seemed very interested in her toes. Toes that were painted a shade of red he'd love to get a closer to look at.
"Don't know if you're hungry or anything, but there's plenty of everything you could want down below. Help yourself. Claire and I will get her going in a minute here."
"Sure," John said. He and Shelly went down below so they could change, too.
"Wow," she said.
"Yeah, something tells me he went all out."
"Why?" Shelly asked.
John scoffed. "I think he wants to impress you."
"That would be kind of weird, wouldn't it?"
"No weirder than my being here today knowing Robbie's in the picture."
She shrugged, grabbing a couple of grapes and eating them as she looked around.
"Have you been on here before?"
"No," John said.
Chris and Claire seemed to be having a rather intense conversation when he and Shelly went to the deck again. Chris didn't seem incredibly pissed John was here, but something was clearly eating at him.
"Do you guys need sunscreen or anything," Claire asked.
"I don't, Shelly may."
"I'm fine. I have some."
John smirked a bit at Claire's rather blatant perusal of him as she regarded him. She'd liked how well he tanned the summer before she left for school and while he didn't spend as much time outside in the sun now as he did that summer he still got out a lot. She blushed a bit, which looked nice on her especially since she obviously had gotten lots of sun this summer as well. Of course, she had a pool and golfing to do at her parents' country club so she didn't lack for activities to do outside.
It wasn't hugely awkward, but awkward enough. John didn't get much time to talk with Claire alone, but that also meant Chris and Shelly didn't either. That was okay with John. It was well past dusk when they got back to the marina and docked the boat. Chris had brought enough food for both lunch and dinner. John hadn't even stopped Shelly from having a couple of beers. Claire was driving home and after all she'd been through, well, he wasn't going to stop her.
Claire dropped them at their apartment.
"I'll be up in a minute, Shelly, okay," he said, handing her his keys.
"Thank you," John said once Shelly got out of the car and went upstairs without him.
"You're welcome. You don't have to thank me, though."
"I do. I invited myself along. You and your brother were both nicer than I expected you to be."
"Why'd you do it then?"
He shrugged, resting his head against the headrest.
"Why have I ever done anything where you're concerned, Claire?"
She scoffed at that.
"It wasn't that bad, was it?" he asked with a slight frown. He didn't remember it being bad. He honestly hadn't. He'd thought they'd had a pretty outstanding five months before she left.
"No," she said. "It just hurt so much when Tricia called me."
"I bet it did." And to think on that night he hadn't actually done anything wrong. "I swear to God, Claire after that night I told you I'd kissed someone I never…"
"John," she whispered, glancing at him.
"What? Sue me. I find out years later that a huge misunderstanding caused us to break up."
"It wasn't just that misunderstanding, John. You know that as well as I do."
"What was it then? Huh? We were good. Weren't we? I thought you were happy?"
"Yeah," he said. He knew the amount he'd used back then bothered her. "I haven't done anything hard since getting away from my old man."
"I'm glad to hear that."
"Yeah, I'll let you go, but thanks really. That was nice what you and Chris did for Shelly."
"I know. I figured that out almost right away."
"And you were okay with that?"
He shrugged. "She's my cousin, not my kid sister. She's an adult who's a widow. She's gone through more than I have. How can I stop her?"
"I suppose you can't. She's only like nineteen, though."
"Still an adult."
"I guess," she said.
They were both quiet for a few minutes. He wasn't sure what she was thinking about, but he was thinking about what the day would have been like if they'd been together. Not awkward or anything he wagered.
He did something incredibly stupid then. He leaned in and kissed her. It wasn't a long kiss, he didn't open his mouth to give her any tongue or anything, but it was more than just a peck he'd give Shelly.
"Good night," he said as soon as he broke the kiss, opening the door. He closed the door and got upstairs to the apartment before he realized she not only hadn't stopped kissing him but had been a seemingly willing participant until he stopped it.
Maybe Kevin wasn't such an idiot after all.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com