"Why aren't you ready?" John asked Shelly when he got home from work. He only had one car, so he bowed out of work early to be sure he was home in time to get her where she needed to go. He made it clear, though, before he went to bed last night that she'd have to be ready to leave.
"I'm not going," she said.
"John," she said.
"Don't John me. How many opportunities are you going to have fall into your lap to work at a restaurant around here right out of the gate that's not Denny's or something?"
"That's just it!"
"I worked at a diner, John. In Twin Peaks."
"There's no way I can do this."
"Shelly. What are you talking about?"
"I appreciate everything you're doing for me. Really. It was nice of you to introduce me to Claire, but we both know her boyfriend did it to be nice. He was put on the spot."
"He did not! He isn't going to risk his reputation for a waitress just to be nice. And trust me if he knows anything about me or the reason Claire broke up with me he's not going to go out of his way to be nice to anyone associated with me."
"What do you mean?"
"Nothing. Come on, get ready. We still have time to make it by the time you need to be there. I made sure to be done early today for this. You're going."
"I just, John, I'm so scared."
"It's a waitressing job, Shelly. Do what you've always done. Be you."
"I'm not sure who that is!"
He scowled a bit and she probably thought he was mad at her. That wasn't it. He just had no idea what to say to that. He wasn't a psychologist or anything and he certainly wasn't up on warm and fuzzy feelings.
"Listen. You showed up on my doorstep. I get that shit happened that made you want to start over. Fine, but you have to help yourself out at some point. You had a job fall into your lap. Maybe you'll go and it won't work out, but at least you'll know. You not showing up and then ending up scooping ice cream cones at Baskin Robbins or flipping burgers at Burger King isn't the way to boost your self-esteem."
"Yeah, well, you're not the one paying my rent and spending the last little while sleeping on my couch."
"I offered to take your couch!"
He couldn't let her take his couch. He had no idea why he couldn't let her take the couch, just knew she was entitled to his bed. A guest? Maybe. His upbringing? More probably not, but possible. He supposed his mom taught him things like that at some point between her bitching about him being a no good bum.
"I know you did. That's not my point. You have to try! You think it was easy for me to go out on my own?"
"That's not at all…"
"Isn't it? You're right, I wasn't married to an abusive asshole, but our dads were brothers. I know what my life was like and am pretty sure I have a clue what yours was like before you married Leo."
"We got out, Shelly. We made it. We're here, living and breathing to tell about it. So, that tells me that we can fucking do anything. Certainly if I can own my own business you can wait tables at a place with linen table cloths and napkins."
"I know it's scary. Trust me, no one Claire knows who knows me would do me any favors just because. He was doing it to be nice, to help you out, not because of me."
"He does seem nice."
John wanted to argue with her, but he really couldn't when all was said and done. The guy did seem nice. He certainly hadn't had to make the offer. He definitely hadn't had to follow through with it.
"You still like her, though."
"We're not going to discuss this now. You get ready and we can talk about it some other time."
"All right," she said.
"But," he said.
"How did I know there was going to be a loophole in there somewhere?"
"No loophole, but if I have to talk so do you."
"Hey, if I have to drudge up shit from my past you get the fun, too."
"I don't know that I think it's fun."
"But I didn't still like Leo."
"Claire is no Leo. And you and I are not our fathers."
"Good. Now, go get ready so we can get you there on time."
She sighed, but at least she didn't look terrified any longer. God, he had no idea what to do with that look and the fact she appeared as though she was on the verge of tears. That was the last thing he needed or wanted to deal with.
They got to the restaurant in plenty of time, which was good. He'd allowed himself a little extra time for traffic, which didn't seem to be as bad today as he expected for some reason. Usually there was an accident holding things up somewhere.
"Would you be mad if I saw her brother again?"
"Mad? No, but I'd urge you to be careful for a multitude of reasons." Getting involved with his ex-girlfriend's brother didn't scream good idea to him, but he did tell Claire he wanted her to hang out with better people than the ones she'd meet hanging around him. Chris was, when all was said and done and despite their differences, certainly better people. Likely, too, Chris' major difference with John was that he probably had the skewed facts Claire did about what John had done while she was away her freshman year of college.
He cut her off because he had no desire to hear what Chris had mentioned to her. "I'm not going to get mad. Just remember as you mentioned earlier this is Chicago not Twin Peaks."
"I know," she said.
"Be careful. There are lots of our dads and Leo's out there."
"I know," she said.
"If for some reason Robbie can't give you a ride home call me."
"You'll be sleeping!"
"I'd still hear the phone ring."
"All right," she said. "Thank you."
"Hopefully I'll just see you in the morning."
"You'll do fine, Shelly. I know it."
"Because you actually want to succeed?" He shrugged.
He knew most anyone who knew him growing up would be surprised he was a partner in a business. It was no secret the way he was treated at home. Some knew more than others, but the rumors were plenty and few were actually worse than his childhood had been. Always, though, despite Vernon's accusations John wanted to be somebody. He didn't ever expect to be somebody important or make millions of dollars. He just wanted, at the end of the day and at the end of his days, to be somebody who'd had a decent life. He didn't claim to know Shelly real well and the things she had told him maybe pointed a less than flattering picture about her. He didn't think she wanted to be stuck, though. She'd come here, half way across the country not even knowing he would take her in. That spoke to him of someone wanting to do what they could to change their life.
"Why do you hang around with those people you hang around with?"
"They're my friends," he said with a shrug.
"Really? Your wallet was missing the other morning and your first thought wasn't that you'd dropped it somewhere out the day before or that I'd taken it…"
"So," he said, remembering full well the fact that he'd cussed his friend Terry out something fierce thinking he'd swiped his wallet. He'd found it in the refrigerator, having no recollection of putting it in there. His first thought wasn't that Shelly would steal from him. He was doing a favor for her, which would result in her being essentially homeless if she screwed up. Terry, on the other hand, wouldn't be out on his ear if John caught him stealing from him.
"I'm not talking about my friends with you. You had to have an idea what you were going to be coming to when you showed up on my doorstep."
"Not really… I was like five the last time I saw you," she said.
"I suppose it has been that long."
The last time he could remember seeing his uncle Tom and aunt Molly, Shelly's mom and dad, was at some relative's wedding they'd come to Chicago for. It didn't seem that long ago, but he supposed he could've been about eight or nine then. Flying to Washington wasn't ever going to happen for the Bender's and John suspected while Shelly's family could afford those things a little better than John's could they didn't come here. He wondered, not for the first time, how in the hell she even thought to come to him when she left Twin Peaks. If it'd been thirteen or fourteen years why would he even enter her mind? "Anyway, get inside and impress the hell out of them."
"Thanks," she said again, leaning over to kiss him on the cheek. "Thanks for everything, really."
"Yeah, sure," he said, not sure at all how to respond to her kissing him. Cheek or not, he wasn't used to random displays of affection or gratitude. Giving or getting. It was one of the things about dating him Claire had been irritated by. She always thought his reactions to her kissing or holding his hand publicly made it seem like it was more her idea than his. That wasn't the case at all. What guy in his right mind in John's position wouldn't want it known he was with her? He just didn't know how to do that.
Where she'd never had a boyfriend before not out of lack of wanting one he'd never had one iota of desire to be someone's boyfriend until her. So, she had this picture in her mind of how things should be, expectations from years of observing and thinking about what she'd do when she had one. They were eighteen, she was going to college, and she expected loyalty from him when he'd never had such an example set for him. His parents hadn't hidden their indiscretions from one another or him. Sure deep down he knew that wasn't how you treated someone and he really did want to learn, and he did try. Ironic that he had been pretty standup with his behavior and she dumped him anyway despite sticking with him through finding out he'd kissed other women.
He watched her go inside, pulling out of the parking lot after a minute or two in case she really did change her mind. He wouldn't hold it against her. He had a pretty decent car, one he'd just bought a couple of months ago and was only two years old. It had power everything yet looked like a piece of shit compared to most of the cars in the parking lot at the restaurant.
He drove toward his apartment with every intention of going back there to enjoy the first evening he'd have the place completely to himself in weeks. For hours. From the sounds of it Robbie wasn't going to be done until after midnight. He wondered how that sat with Claire, working weekends and evenings had to put quite a crimp in their social lives. Then if they lived together he supposed they didn't need much of a social life.
Somehow while thinking of Robbie and Claire, and their social life he supposed, he found himself driving in the direction of her condo. Logic would tell him to turn around and go home because he had absolutely no business showing up there.
Kevin's words were fresh in his mind.
The fact that Claire had kissed him back was there, too.
He parked on the parking lot and walked to the unit's front door. He stood there for a good five minutes trying to decide whether this was a good idea. It had bad idea written all over it, but he pushed the buzzer for her unit before he could turn and walk away.
"Hey. Um, hi, it's John."
"Uh, yeah, John Bender."
'Okay,' she said, sounding puzzled.
"It seems we're both without dinner partners tonight. I don't know about you, but for me this is the first time in weeks."
He winced a bit at that because she was probably pretty used to being alone for dinner if Robbie worked nights most of the time.
'Okay,' she said again.
"Can I come up?" he asked as he was getting some fairly odd glances from some people walking on the sidewalk that led to the building next to Claire's.
Great. She wasn't even going to let him in. Fuck.
Kevin was the biggest asshole in the world. If he hadn't kissed her she'd probably let him up because she'd have no reason to think he had anything like kissing on his mind. The buzzer rang, though, and the door unlatched.
"Thank you," he said, but of course she wouldn't hear him. Most buildings he'd seen like the intercom and buzzer were together so you couldn't talk and buzz at the same time.
She was waiting by her door when he got to it, so at least she didn't make him knock as if not knowing he was here to see her.
"Hi," he said.
"I just got home," she said.
"Yeah. Long day," she said.
"Oh, sorry," he said.
"It's all right," she said with a shrug. "So…"
"Well, I was going to see if you wanted to have dinner."
"It's dinner. Robbie's at work and I just dropped Shelly off there."
"Oh, that's right. I forgot."
"Yeah, I think she was hoping I'd forget, too."
He shrugged. "Can we go get something to eat and talk about it instead of standing here? A beer maybe? A glass of wine for you, I suppose."
"You want to have dinner and talk?"
"Yes," he said. Was that out of the realm of understanding for her? Maybe it was.
"Yeah, sure, let me change…"
"You look fine."
"That may be, but…"
"If I let you change we'll be here for another half an hour at least."
She sighed again.
"Fine," she said. "I'll grab my purse."
"Thank you," he said.
"You're not worried about being seen with me like this?"
"Like what? Dressed nicely. Why would that worry me?"
Yeah, she was right it used to drive him nuts when they were dating and they'd go places and she'd be dressed like a model or something when all he could afford was looking like a bum. He didn't care anymore, other than that people would likely wonder what she was doing with a guy like him.
"You got a new car," she said when he walked to it.
"Yeah," he said. "A couple of months ago."
"You got rid of the pickup?"
"No, I still use it for work, but it's seen better days." Beyond better days. "I can work on it myself, fix it up, but it's not something I like driving anymore."
"Oh," she said.
She'd liked the pickup for some odd reason. They'd gone to a drive in once and spent the entire night making out in the bed of it under some blankets. That was one of the most frustrating nights of his life because that's all they'd done is make out, but while he'd hoped something more would happen that night he hadn't expected it so he hadn't been completely surprised.
She got in.
"What are you in the mood for?" he asked once he started the car.
"I don't care. It was your idea."
"You don't care?"
"No, I hadn't even thought of dinner yet, so your timing was impeccable."
"I'm glad I had good timing then. Do you always get home so late?"
"No," she said.
She said nothing else then, leaving him with nothing to really say.
"Okay," he said.
"Just one of our clients was being an ass and he's my client so he insists on working only with me."
"Ah," he said with a soft chuckle. Claire's dad. Well, actually her grandfather who still worked as far as John knew, owned an agency company. A well-established agency who represented the gamut from movie stars to athletes to models and everything in between.
"So, I didn't get out of there until like thirty minutes after Dad and Chris got to leave."
"Anyone I know?"
"Yes, but I'm not telling you who."
"Huh," he said. "Athlete?"
"I'm not narrowing it down for you."
"Spoil sport," he said.
"Yeah, I know."
"Why was he being an ass?"
"Because he thinks he can get away with it?"
"You left thirty minutes after closing-time. I'd say he can get away with it."
"So, did he not get enough money to support himself or what?"
"There's a billboard campaign he's featured on, among others, and one of his billboards is next to a Planned Parenthood building."
"That's what I thought, too, but he didn't like it."
"I see," he said.
"Yeah. Something to do with the fact he's Catholic and doesn't believe in the things they stand for."
"I somehow doubt people would see the billboard and think because of its placement it means he does."
"Celebrities are weird."
"I don't envy you."
Her dad's company was one of the reasons she didn't get real close to many people. She never knew who wanted to be her friend legitimately or on the hope that one day at her house they'd run into John McEnroe or something. (Not that John had any firsthand knowledge of the tennis star being at the Standishes house or anything.) It was one of the things John had in his favor. John didn't give a shit about celebrities or meeting them and Claire knew that.
"I don't envy myself on days like this."
"I suppose not."
He doubted her dad and grandpa let her handle the John McEnroe's of their business, but the guys not John McEnroe probably so.
"It's not John McEnroe, is it?"
She laughed then. "No! Where in the world did you come up with him?"
"I don't know," he said.
"It's not John McEnroe."
"Have you met John McEnroe?"
"I have," she said. "He actually helped us get quite a few other tennis stars."
He pulled into a restaurant that would be quick and relatively cheap but still offer them the beer – and wine – they wanted with their meals. She could afford better, sure, but it was his idea to come out so he was going to pick up the check.
"So, why is it you came to my house?"
He shrugged, taking a sip of his beer.
"I dropped Shelly off, realized that meant you were alone for dinner, too."
"I'm used to it."
"I guess you would be. Until she got here, it was nothing new for me either. Now all of the sudden, though. I've got a woman living with me."
"And not even getting sex out of the deal? You poor thing."
"I didn't say that!" He thought it. He never imagined living with a woman, and the few times the thought crossed his mind as far as a future and a wife being in it he certainly never saw it being his cousin.
"You didn't have to."
"What did I do to deserve that?"
"You want the name of the girl I went upstairs with that night so you can call and ask her? I'll give it to you."
"No! She'd probably say no anyway."
"Four years later? I don't think so."
"Okay, so you didn't sleep with her."
"I didn't sleep with anyone. Ever. I told you the truth about what I had done."
"And that hurt."
"I know it did."
"Then to find out…"
"I'm sorry. I really am. Had I known."
"Had I known that's why you stopped talking to me," he shrugged. "I would have made my way out east."
"Shut up. You made it perfectly clear coming to visit me was out of the question."
"Sure, I have no deep desire to visit even worse hoity toity neighborhoods than yours here. If I'd known, though, yeah, I would have shown up."
"To beg you to give me another chance? To prove to you I hadn't done that."
"Prove it how?"
"I don't know."
"Why was Shelly hoping you'd forget?"
She was changing the subject, but that was probably good anyway. So he'd let her. "She didn't want to go."
"What is she afraid of?"
"Small town girl whose job experience is working at a diner probably a quarter of the size of this restaurant and she's unsure of herself."
"Obviously, she went."
"Did you make her?"
"Well, no. I didn't force her to go, no, but I sort of talked her into yet, yes. I mean, she needs a job."
"I can't believe she's gone this long without one."
"You didn't see her when she first got here. She was a wreck. I mean, really, Princess. She came to me! Can you imagine anyone in their right mind thinking I was someone who could help them out?"
"No," she said.
He had to admit it hurt that she'd say that even though she was just agreeing with his assessment.
"Obviously, she came to you, though."
"She did. There are other cousins, but I think I'm the only functioning one in the bunch."
"I'm not sure if you're surprised at that revelation or questioning why I consider myself functioning. I'll assume it's the former rather than the latter. I couldn't turn her away."
"I know," she said softly, running a fingertip along the edge of her wineglass.
"Her getting a job right away, though. God, I'm not sure she even realized she wasn't in Twin Peaks anymore until a couple of weeks ago. She'd wake up from nightmares." He shook his head, taking a sip of his beer. "Her late husband was a piece of work."
"You've said that."
"I guess I did, but it's true. She was involved with this other guy who doesn't seem like he was a whole lot better."
"She was involved with someone while she was married to the abusive guy?"
"I think so. That's the impression I get, yes, and I think it was to spite him. Something she thought she could do when she could do so little. I'm not sitting in judgment on her. I think she does that enough on her own without my help."
"She got married when she was sixteen, Claire. What were you doing when you were sixteen?"
"Yeah, that's what I thought. Don't judge her, or me, because of her past."
"I'm not judging."
"Yes, you are."
"Why'd you invite me then? You knew I would."
He shrugged. "I don't know. What does your brother want from her?"
"I don't know."
"You didn't ask?"
"I don't ask Chris many questions. I stay out of his business and he stays out of mine."
"Yours being living with Robbie."
"Really? Christopher is okay with that?"
"Sure," she said.
He had to admit, Chris seemed to like Robbie the night they saw Chris at dinner.
"I can't believe you're living with someone."
"I don't know. It just doesn't seem like anything you'd do let alone your parents would allow."
"Yes, you know, living with someone without the church wedding and stuff."
"It's not what you think, John."
"Really? It's not. You're living with the guy, aren't you?"
"Then what is it?"
"I don't owe you anything!"
"You're right, you don't."
"Would you really have let me come with you Saturday night?"
"Sure," he said with a shrug. Was that a trick question? "Why not? Did you want to?"
"I don't know. My plans got cancelled. I was supposed to have dinner with Allison actually and then they got stuck going out with Andy's dad instead."
"Ah," he said with a knowing nod. "Pleasing the 'rents."
"Yeah. So, yeah, I guess it would've been nice."
"His brother's band is pretty good."
"My partner, Kevin. His brother, Danny, it's his band we were going to see."
"I think they're playing again this weekend if you were interested and Robbie works."
"He usually does," she said.
"Well, I can find out. It may not be somewhere local like The Whale."
"I really shouldn't."
He shrugged. She was interested, though, at least slightly. "I'll find out and give you a call with the details."
"Do you go see them every weekend?"
"I don't, no, but no reason I can't two in a row."
"Do you have to see your dad?"
"This weekend?" What the fuck kind of question was that?
"No, I mean, working. Do you ever run into him? Compete against him?"
"Very rarely, but it's happened and Kevin and I have usually gotten the business."
John shrugged. "I know what the old man quotes so we can usually quote better."
"You undercut your dad?"
"If it's a job we want badly enough, sure."
"I'd like to say that's mean."
"You don't think it is?"
"No," she said.
"I can admit to the fact I don't sleep so good the night or two after that happens, but I don't feel guilty about it or anything."
"Good," she said. "And Tommy?"
"He's still there, plugging away for the old man."
"Divorced," he said. Tommy was a little older than they were.
"Oh, that's too bad."
"Yeah," he said.
"You still talk to him?"
"Sometimes we meet for a beer and stuff."
"Stuff, huh," she said.
"Pool, darts, hanging out. That sort of stuff."
"Right," she said.
He put enough money out to cover their bill once the waitress brought them their bill.
"I can pay for myself."
"I know you can, but I invited you."
"Sure. Beat eating alone."
"How do you think she'll do?"
"You know, I really don't know. I have no idea. I think a huge chunk of it will depend on how much faith she had in herself."
"I hope she does okay."
"Would Robbie tell you his honest opinion of her?"
"I think so."
"Let me know, okay?"
"I'm not asking you to betray any confidences or anything, but if he says something that will aid her in keep this job or at least getting another job let me know."
"I can try."
"All right." He stood then and so did she. He walked out behind her.
They got to her house and he walked her to the door, surprised when she let him inside to the door that led to her condo and not just the front entryway door.
"Thank you for dinner. It was better than eating alone."
"Yeah, sure," he said. "Anytime."
She smiled a little at that, but he wasn't sure it was a sincere smile or a laughing at him for saying that kind of smile.
"You look nice, by the way."
"Thanks. I'm sure my skirt looks exactly like it should after working all day."
"It looks fine."
"And I should take your word for it why?"
He chuckled, leaning in a bit. "Because I was looking pretty closely, Princess."
"John," she whispered.
He leaned closer still, grazing her jaw with his mouth.
"You still have the best set of legs I've seen."
"Shut up," she said with a scoff, but it sounded a little breathy.
"I guess I'll just have to find something else to do with my mouth then," he said before kissing her. She gasped softly against his mouth, but like the other day didn't push him away or slap him and in fact returned it pretty enthusiastically.
She shifted a bit after a couple of minutes, pulling away from him so he broke the kiss.
"I have to go," she whispered.
"Yeah, sure," he whispered back.
Her eyes fell to his lips and he chuckled a bit at that because she didn't seem as though she really wanted to go that badly. So, he kissed her again. This time he opened his mouth, groaning softly as he grazed his tongue along her lower lip. He remembered the day at school when they did this. She decided pretty quickly Frenching wasn't as gross as she thought it would be.
Just like that day her lips parted tentatively but receptively, welcoming him into her mouth and he took the invitation. There was no hesitation or tentativeness on his part. He slid his hands to her shoulders, cupping them as he drew her against him.
She found the doorknob the next time they stopped, opening the door.
"Good night, John."
"Yeah, sure," he said.
She didn't tell him to fuck off and never call again, he realized as she shut the door quickly. He made his way downstairs to his car so he could make his way home.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com