***Chapter Seven***
Word Count: 10,034

It wasn't every day that he and Kevin had the same block of time off during the day to have lunch together, but John had paged him after hanging up with Shelly and they'd made it work.

"So, what's it mean?" John asked after relaying Shelly's part of the conversation to his partner.

"I don't know. That she knows something that you don't?"

"I guess, but she's suggesting I snoop around her condo."

"Did she?"

"Well, no, not specifically," John said. He shrugged. She hadn't said that exactly, but telling her to use Claire's bathroom implied he was supposed to look around while doing so. He, to this point, hadn't set foot in her condo since that first day he'd approached her about meeting Shelly. Otherwise, he rang the bell and knocked on her door when she buzzed him up. He didn't go inside, though.

"I've just never gone inside except the once. I really don't want to see the life that should have been mines but some other guy was living because of a fucking misunderstanding."

"I don't know. I don't know her. I've met her like twice so I don't know if what she's telling you means anything more than what it is.."

John sighed softly, dipping a fry in ketchup before taking a bite.

"So, your cousin and the boyfriend work together and you go visit her?"

"Not every day or anything, no."

"But enough that she knows if she told you they were both working tonight you might go see her."

"I guess," John said with a shrug.

"Have you kissed her since that day you went on her brother's boat?"


"Why not?"

"I don't know. She's living with someone."

"You said she kissed you back, though."

"She did," he said. It hadn't been an hour's long kiss, but she had definitely responded.

"Afraid to find out that she's like your cousin?"

John shook his head at that. "No. I know Claire. She firmly believes in the whole one guy, one girl thing. She wouldn't do that. It was probably just instinct, kissing me back. We did get that down pretty well the few months we were together."

"I hate to say this, but that was four years ago."

"Did you hear her tone that night we saw her at Lou's? Four years later and she was still pissed at the idea I'd cheated on her. She hasn't changed that much."

"Afraid to try and find out she doesn't kiss back again?"

"Maybe," John said.

"She and Shelly have become pretty friendly?"

"Yeah, actually, way friendlier than I expected. I just wanted her to show her things outside of my apartment and the things my friends would show her. They actually do stuff together. It's kind of weird."

"Well, Shelly apparently thinks of her as a friend and I'm guessing from what you've told me she doesn't have many of those."

"No," John agreed.

"So, she's giving you information without betraying that friendship is what it sounds like to me."

"So, I'm supposed to…"

"Ask to use her bathroom it seems."

John huffed softly, taking a sip of his pop as he shook his head.

"Absolutely fucking ridiculous."

"Well, you kissed her. You must be interested."

"Yes. Finding out that we broke up over a misunderstanding sucked."

"It didn't suck before?"

John shrugged. "I didn't picture myself as long-haul guy. I was her first boyfriend. We were pretty damned different. The odds were pretty stacked against us as far as it working out beyond college. I just figured she lost interest once she got to school and met guys more like her."

"She obviously didn't want guys like her, though."

"I guess not."

"So, are you going to go over there tonight then?"

"I guess," John said.

"Can you find an excuse to use her bathroom?"

"Probably when I drop her off, yeah. You know, can I use the bathroom before I drive home because I forgot to use it wherever we end up going."

"Do you pay when you go out?"

"Sometimes. She doesn't seem to want me to, but a couple of times she's let me."

"Do you actually like her?"

"Yes! What kind of question is that?"

"I don't know. I'm just wondering, I guess, before you do that if you've thought on whether you really want her or just the idea that she ended things for a bullshit reason."

"I'm not going to go out with her and exact some revenge or anything."

"Well, no, that's not what I was thinking. I was thinking more along the lines of, you're remembering a four year old relationship. You've both changed."

"Yeah. I'm aware of that."

"As long as you've thought that through. She's not that person anymore and neither are you."

"I know."

"Then like I said that night, all's fair, Man."

"So you'd pursue a woman who was living with someone?"

"No, I don't think so. I can't say for sure, though, if I felt about someone the way you feel about her."

"I suppose."

"You like her, John."


"No, that wasn't a question. I meant, you like her. I've never seen you like anyone. In the years I've known you, you've never asked my advice on what to do with a woman."

"I haven't needed it."

"That's because they were the wrong type of women."

John scoffed at that. He could admit that.

"Was she why you did that? I always wondered why you seemed to go out with the women you clearly had no future with."

"I could've."

"Right," Kevin said with a scoff. "Name me one woman you've been with you'd contemplate not wearing a rubber with?"

"You're making fun of me because I'm safe?"

"No. I'm asking a question. Name me one woman you've been in a relationship with that if she told you that she was on the pill or something you'd stop using rubbers with."

John frowned a bit, thinking over the question.

"I wouldn't stop using rubbers unless I was, you know, serious about someone. Like marriage serious." His father had drilled it into him since before he even knew what rubbers were for really. Always suit up. No matter what. John didn't know for sure, but he'd gotten the impression his father's warnings came from first-hand experience. Like he'd heard it from his mom. He'd never asked. None of his business and he really didn't want to know for sure that his whole miserable life could have been avoided if his dad had suited up.

Of course then he wouldn't even be here.

"That's not my question."

He shrugged, thinking it over a bit.

"It shouldn't be that hard to answer, John."

"Really. And you have an answer?"

"Well, yeah, I married her."

John shook his head at that.

"She's the only one I would've considered it with, and we never got that far."

"Probably best, don't you think?"

"No! If she thought I'd…" he stopped then, because if they'd had sex and then Tricia had told Claire what she had. Well, they wouldn't be speaking right now, he was confident of that. Likely, she still would have believed Tricia because she had no real reason not to. He hadn't been an exemplary boyfriend. He hadn't failed drastically, but he knew he could've done a hell of a lot better.

"I like her."

"You've never met her!"

"I've seen her, I've seen how you react to not just her but the thought of her. I've seen her stand up to you. I've never seen a woman talk to you that way. I didn't have to hear the conversation to know she was letting you have it."

"I don't give them the chance to!"

"Or they're scared of you."

"What the fuck are you talking about?"

Kevin shrugged. "Like father, like son. You know?"

"That'd maybe be true if I was still living in Shermer."

"Like you aren't still friends with anyone from Shermer who could say something. Until your cousin moved here people had access to your apartment anytime they wanted whether you were home or not. How many of the people who hung out there do you think would really give a shit about saying something disparaging about the person letting them hang out there and do whatever they want."

He grimaced at that. "So?"

"Don't get defensive, John."

"You know me from then. You went into business with me!"

"You're right. That's very true. I was never one of your friends, though. I knew you through the work you did with your dad. I knew he wasn't a nice guy to you. I knew he was talking about making a partner out of the other guy who wasn't his son. I knew all of those things. I knew that could put you on a very dark path. I did not agree until after you got off the hard shit. And I'm not the one who'd be at your apartment getting high with the latest notch in your bedpost."

"I doubt it. No one would care."

"Except, wouldn't they?"

"What are you talking about?"

"You get yourself a real girlfriend. A serious girlfriend. You might change. You might not want your friends over all of the time. You might want privacy, time with just her. She might keep things at your apartment that she'd care if they got stolen."


"You think someone like Claire wants to go to your apartment and see bongs and drug paraphilia all over? Your bed possibly used by someone else that afternoon?"


"I'm just saying. You don't know what those people said to someone while you were at work. You don't know what those women really knew about you, but kept their mouths shut because they wanted a good time."

"Yeah," John said bitterly.

"How many of them have called you since you put the kibosh on the all access pass?"

None. None had. There were some that still stopped by, but they were the ones that he knew wouldn't do anything to Shelly. He no longer left his apartment door unlocked as he used to, though.

Kevin held his hand up before putting his wrappers and trash on their tray.

"Don't answer. I don't want to know the answer. The fact is, though, Shelly's brought some changes into your life. None bad. I was surprised you thought of the fact she could be in danger, honestly. I never realized you could care about anyone else. And then I find out you had a girlfriend. Like a real one."

John shook his head. He balled his dog wrapper. Is that how people really saw him? Not capable of giving a shit? Not capable of loving anyone else? True, he didn't love anyone. It wasn't because he didn't want to, though. Well, mostly it was because he didn't want to. He didn't want his life to be a repeat of his parents' life.

Shelly was different. He didn't really care. She was blood, though, a cousin. Someone who'd been through bad stuff, too, and like him had made it out. He'd never until recently stopped to consider why Claire's brother had loathed John so much. He'd never truly get it, not having a sister or anything that he'd grown up with. The idea, though, of someone hurting his younger cousin on his watch, when she'd come to him for a second chance. It brought something out of him he never really knew existed in him.

It was more than caring.

He wanted to do right. He wanted her to be good. Stable.

He supposed he was just a sucker for a pretty girl who said she needed him when all was said and done. Other girls had needed him, too. He'd never thought of changing a damn thing about his life or the way he operated, though. So, there was something about responsibility, a connection he didn't have with anyone else. Someone who got him without having to say a word. Someone who understood him and knew what he was yet still wanted him.

The want was different, certainly, but it was still want. She still wanted to stay with him despite finding out he was really not living the great life despite having his own business. Two years in and he was still in the same crappy apartment he had been in when he and Kevin started things. He had a better car, but that was only because the car he'd had two years ago was on its last leg so he'd had no choice. Business owners needed reliable transportation. His father hadn't had the best pickup truck in the world, but that baby hauled ass and was a mechanic's dream as far as the work his old man put into that baby to ensure she kept running like a dream.

"So," he said when they left the restaurant and were walking to their trucks. Both had parked toward the back of the parking lot. "You going to go over there?"

"I guess so, I have nothing else to do tonight."

"And you're curious."

"Yeah. Wouldn't you be?"

"I guess so, yes."

They went on with their day after that. John went home after he'd finished and showered before heading to Claire's. He never called her first, always just showing up. He figured there was less of a chance she'd say no if he was already there. He actually put some effort into what he wore and how he looked tonight. He never shaved a second time even though by four o'clock in the afternoon he looked like he could use it. Today he did.

He made his way to her condo and rang the bell to get in. Robbie's car was gone, which John was expecting. She apparently used the garage all of the time because he'd never seen her car parked outside.

She buzzed him up without preamble today. It had taken a couple of times for her to just let him up without hesitation. That was good, right? He wasn't sure. Did she stop to realize that he came over the nights he knew Robbie was working because he was the one who gave her a ride home those nights? He wasn't sure. They'd never talked about the fact their dinners coincided with that. He always figured it was best not to bring it up, make her feel guilty or something. He didn't want her feeling guilty. The kiss after their day on Christopher's boat aside, they hadn't done anything wrong.

"You can help me," she said when she opened the door to her condo.

"Uh okay," he said with a slight frown. That hadn't been the greeting he'd been expecting. "You need a plumber or something?"

She rolled her eyes a bit at that. "No. Worse."

"I'm not sure that wasn't an insult, but I'll take it as not and say I'm sorry. What's up?"

"No, that's not what I meant. Sorry," she said, stepping aside so he could go in.


"I have a film screening to go to this weekend with one of the actors and I had a gown made."

"Yeah?" That wasn't surprising.

"I think it looks awful."


"I don't know!"

He noticed then it looked as if she'd been crying. Over a dress?

"And I can help how, Claire? I'm not a dressmaker and I don't know any fairy godmothers."

"Tell me if it looks as bad as I think? Usually I'd ask Robbie, but he's not home. If I have to go shopping for an off the rack gown before the weekend I'd like to know tonight."

"Sure," he said with a shrug. As if he could offer a really valid opinion, but whatever.

She looked relieved that he agreed.

"I'll be back in a minute."

He expected she was going to bring the gown right out so when a minute turned into longer he went the way she'd disappeared to. There was only one hall so it wasn't hard to figure out.

He paused at the open door to the spare bedroom. He'd never been this far into her condo before. He had no reason to be and hadn't been invited. She hadn't really invited him today either.

The room looked lived in. Bed made but rumpled as if the comforter had just been thrown in place quickly. Clothes on the bed as if they'd been discarded quickly. Accessories on the dresser were all masculine: deodorant, cologne, a wristwatch he recognized as Robbie's from the couple of times he'd seen him and been wearing it.

Claire opening another door brought him out of his thoughts on the state of the room.

Holy shit!

Was it possible to get turned on by a dress?

He wouldn't have thought it was, but.

Holy shit!

Not anyone could pull off wearing it. He'd wager ninety-nine percent of the women in Chicago wouldn't be able to. She could and did very well.

"Um," he said. Was he supposed to say something? Offer an opinion? Be looking at something other than the generous amount of cleavage the dress offered him a view of? Her prom dress hadn't been anything like this at all. It'd been nice and all, but conservative as all get out. He supposed prom dresses were supposed to be conservative.

"See. It's awful."

"I, uh, no," he said quickly with a shake of his head.

"You're staring at me!"

"Uh yeah."

"So that means…"

"You think that means it's awful?" He scoffed at that. "No. You look amazing."

She blushed then and he was glad to know that everywhere on her still turned red when that happened.

"Yes, but," she said as he stepped toward her.

"There's only one negative thing I see about it."

"What?" she asked. She sounded panicked.

He slid a hand to her hip once he was in front of her and drew her to him. He was immensely glad he'd shaved and everything now as he leaned in to kiss her.

Her breath caught and he thought for a second that she was going to pull away or stop him. Seeing that Robbie evidently lived in the second bedroom made him a hell of a lot braver than he'd felt ten minutes ago.

The dress felt incredible to touch but he was mindful of the fact that his hands weren't exactly smooth or unblemished. He didn't want to be the cause of a snag or blemish on the material.

She moaned against his mouth as he cupped her ass, drawing her against him. Her lips parted then, welcoming him in and he was lost. Lost in her. He always got that way kissing her. For the few minutes they'd kiss he'd feel as if he could do anything, be anyone despite where he'd come from.

He'd never felt that, or even thought it, when he'd been with anyone else. Ever. No one ever made him want to be a better person because they were content with who he was. They never expected anything from him. Claire had expected, though. She hadn't expected anything she didn't deserve or that he realistically couldn't provide her. He just hadn't been sure about things.

He was pretty fucking sure now, though.

He slid a hand from her ass and she groaned softly. He chuckled at that before sliding a fingertip along her neck and throat.

"John," she whispered as he slid his finger slightly lower to trace the outline of one of her breasts that the dress did an amazing job of showing off.

"Uh huh," he murmured, sliding his fingertips inside of the dress. She bit his lower lip as he circled one of her nipples.

"That's the problem I see with the dress," he murmured, kissing her chin before finding her jaw. He slid his lips along the edge of it to her ear.


"Everyone's going to want to do this."

She scoffed, tilting her head a bit as he nipped at her earlobe. She'd liked this in high school and that evidently hadn't changed.

"I'm serious. I don't like it."

She giggled then, pressing closer against him as if she already knew he was working on a pretty impressive hard-on. Then she was pretty good at inspiring impressive hard-ons.

"I think you do."

"Well, yeah. For me," he whispered.

She stopped giggling when he slid his mouth lower along her neck and throat on the same path his fingers had taken a moment ago.

His lips closed over one of her peaks, circling it with his tongue. Her hands slid to his hair as if she thought he'd stop or something. He never thought he'd be close enough to her again to take in her scent or taste her. She was intoxicating. Always had been. He imagined she probably always would be. That was the problem. The thing Kevin didn't understand about the women he was with. It didn't matter who they were. They weren't her.

It wasn't enough, though. This.

He shifted a bit, dropping to his knees as he used the hand that had been resting against her ass to carefully tug up the hem of her dress.

Her legs parted, instinctive or not he had no idea. He just knew they did and he groaned at the idea of her inviting him in. They'd never gotten to this part of things. Above the waist was as far as she'd let him go.

"Fuck, does it ever end," he muttered at the seeming layers of fabric that made up her skirt. Considering especially the top part of the dress seemed to reveal so much. Why did her legs have to be enshrouded by the stuff?

Beat the fuck out of him.

Of course knowing she had something pretty important to wear it for he was being way more careful than he would have been with, say, her prom dress or something. (Not that she modeled the dress for him before prom. One difference between that Claire and this one. Even though her bedroom door had been closed while she changed, she never would have done that with him at her house in high school.)

He was afraid he'd ruined the moment with that utterance. That she'd come to her senses about why they shouldn't be doing this. He thought they should be doing this. Hell, he figured they had a lot of time to make up for. Stupid fucking nosy bitch Tricia Elrose.

Finally! Progress. She'd been quiet through this, but certainly hadn't told him to stop. Him on his knees had to give her a pretty good clue as to what was on his mind right now.

"Don't you think…" He almost didn't hear her she spoke so quietly.

"No," he said quickly. He didn't want her thinking.

"John," she cried out as he found her clit through her panties and brushed his mouth over the spot. He drew the lacy fabric out of the way so he could do it again without the barrier. He peeled the, green he only now just noticed, panties out of the way completely and settled in to do what he'd longed, ached to do since that day of detention.

She finished almost immediately, which he hoped had something to do with his ability in doing this in a way that made her feel good. He wasn't a pro at it, he knew that. It wasn't something he did often because he wasn't usually with anyone he liked enough to.

Her orgasm out of the way he set about learning about her. What made her moan. What made her clench. What made her press herself into his mouth further. What got her off. What made her gasp. He wanted to know these things. Always had.

It wasn't as easy to bring her off after the first time. He wasn't sure if that was him or her. He was betting on her because he was pretty fucking thorough in ensuring he licked, sucked, and kissed every possible inch of the parts of her those panties had kept covered. He even gave her a (very) small love bite where the waistband of the panties set against her hip. She did come again, but it certainly wasn't as quick as the first one.

That had to prove what he surmised about her and Robbie's relationship was true. Surely if they were involved she wouldn't let him give her a hickey, small or not.

That led to a whole slew of questions. Like how had Shelly found out? Had Claire told her, hoping she'd tell John? Things to think about later when he didn't have his tongue nestled between her lower lips, coaxing her wetness out so he could devour every ounce of it she had to offer.

He wasn't sure she was on the same wave length as he was in that regard. She didn't seem as though she wasn't enjoying what he was doing. It was always hard to tell, though, especially for someone like him who hadn't done this a lot to gauge her reaction versus others. She slid a hand between her legs, parting her labia for him, and he almost finished in his jeans from that gesture alone. Fuck. He took the unspoken hint, though, and slid his tongue further inside of her. They both groaned at the same time as he thrust it as deep as he could before pulling out of her completely. He licked along her fingertips holding herself open to him before diving right back in.

Her doing that freed up his hand (the one not holding her dress) to focus completely on her clit. In a minute. First he moved her mouth to that spot, sliding a finger inside of her. He groaned as she finished again, calling out his name as she did. He was pretty positive there was nothing more arousing than her saying his name like that. Wanton. Needy. Begging. As if he wanted to stop!

Then he wondered if she wasn't wanting, needing, and begging for something else.

More than his mouth.

Fuck. He had nothing on him to do that even if he wanted to. He hadn't come here planning on needing a rubber tonight.

He drew her fingers away from holding her open for him and she whimpered softly. He set her fingers against her nub before sliding his tongue back inside of her. He hadn't kept his eyes open to this point, but he did now. He tilted his head up a bit, glancing at her. She wasn't watching him. Her eyes were closed, her lips parted just enough that her moans came out exactly as they should have. It took her a minute or two, but she finally started moving her fingertip along her nub. He gave a muffled moan at the sight of her touching herself like that. He worked his tongue in and out of her, pulling out completely to lick her nub and the fingertip touching it now and then. Forcing his eyes open he watched as she brought herself over. He was sure his tongue helped and all, but even he knew that the best orgasms for a woman seemed to come from stimulation of the clit.

He moved his mouth then to her inner thigh, licking and sucking there. A mark a little bigger than the one at her hip this time. He wasn't sure why he let it, or the first one. He wasn't really big into hickeys, but he couldn't resist either time.

He kissed her thigh, running his free hand along it to find her panties and draw them up. He wasn't nearly as good at drawing them back up as he had been sliding them down. He didn't have much experience in putting them on. He just hadn't ever that he could recall help a woman put them back on before.


Who knew.

"So," he whispered when neither of them had said anything for a while. "Want to get something to eat?"


He frowned, moving his hands so that her skirt dropped back into place.

"That's what I came here to ask you. Yes."

"I just thought," she said.


She shrugged.

"Don't get shy on me now, Claire. That I'd just leave after that?"

"I don't know."

"I mean, I will if you want me to. I still haven't had dinner and neither have you. I'm hungry, I imagine you are, too."

"Yes, but, I didn't do… You didn't."

He shrugged. Yeah, that was a new one for him. "It'll go away. I mean, you're going to have to change and stuff so that'll give him a few minutes to get soft again."

Of course, picturing her in her bedroom naked may not make him soft.

"You really like it?"

That was a loaded question right about now. "What specifically are you asking me, Claire?"

"The gown!"

"Oh, yes. I'm probably not a hugely good judge or anything, but I think you look fantastic. Sexy. On second thought, find another one."

She snorted softly.

"I'm kidding! The person you're going with, are they male or female?"




"Good," he said simply as he stood.

"Why good?"

"That means he won't have getting you out of it on his mind all night."

"No," she said with a shake of her head.

"Why'd you wait until tonight to try on the dress?"

"There was a mixup on the order. They had next month written down. Thank God I called Monday to check on it."

"And they could just do that," he said, gesturing to her gown, "in a couple of days?"

"It was done! I just had to go try it on and make sure it fit right."

"I think they underestimated the size of your chest."

"They did not!"

"Okay. I think they underestimated how much of it people should be able to get a free peak at."

"You're complaining about my dress revealing too much?"

He paused, thinking on that a moment. It sure sounded as though he was. "I guess so."

She squinted at him then.

"What? I'm human. I'm sorry."

"Why'd you do that?"

"Do what? Apologize? I don't know you were looking at me as if you expected one."

"No," she said, gesturing then to him and then her. She blushed profusely then. Ah.

"I need a reason?"

She shrugged. "I'm just curious why you don't expect…"

"I don't have anything on me. Believe it or not I didn't come over here figuring you'd model a dress for me. Now you want to go get something to eat and stop at Walgreen's on the way home I could certainly fix the not having anything on me and we can certainly do more."

"But you didn't even want me to…"

"I do, but fuck if I want the first time you do that for me to be out of some sense of tit for tat obligation."

"Yes, but you told me once you don't…"

"I don't," he admitted. They'd talked once about reciprocity and oral sex once.

"So my question stands."

He shrugged. "I didn't realize I needed a reason beyond you were there and I wanted to. Besides that conversation wasn't really about us."

They'd just been talking about things in general. Expectations he supposed. She with absolutely no experience had been curious about things. He hadn't said he'd never go down on someone ever. He supposed there was something unfair about him having no problem with a woman going down on him for a spell before actual penetration happened.

Did that make him a pig?

He hoped not. He certainly tried to ensure a woman got off and everything.

He supposed it had something to do with what he and Kevin had been talking about at lunch. Claire being the only one he would've ever even contemplated going without a rubber with during sex. Nothing but a hand had ever been around his cock without one on. There were worse things than getting a girl pregnant, though that in itself was way down on John's list of things he wanted to have firsthand knowledge on. He wasn't going to get syphilis or anything from a hand. He wasn't so sure about anything else.

He sighed softly at that.

What the fuck did that say about him? The type of people he hung around with?

"I don't mean to sound ungrateful."

He scoffed at that with a soft laugh.

Funny thing, when he thought of her changing out of that gown…

Well, it made him think.

"You know," he said before he could censor his thoughts.


"You want me to prove that conversation wasn't about us we could forget dinner."

"But you don't have…"

He shook his head.

"Something about watching you take this off," he said, sliding the back of his hand along her side to her hip. "And then having you join me on your bed so I could do that while we're lying down so we could both actually enjoy it sounds much better than dinner."

Her eyes widened.

He'd surprised her.

He'd surprised himself.

She didn't answer, though.


She still wasn't answering.

Fuck fuck.

He shrugged then, sliding his hand away from her hip.


"You could do just that?"

He shrugged again. "Why not?" That probably wasn't the right answer. So he amended it with a simple. "Yes."

Then he shrugged again.

"No, actually. Not just yes. Fuck yes," he said.

She laughed a little at that.

"My enthusiasm is amusing?"

"No," she said. "It's just that I was thinking the same thing as your last answer."

"You were?" he asked. She was? She was!

So was he supposed to initiate? He'd made it pretty clear what his offer was. Wait for her to initiate? What? Doing this shit sober was a whole hell of a lot more complicated when it was just an afterthought because he was stoned or drunk.

She moved past him into the hallway. Leading away from her bedroom.

"Uh, Claire?"

She had said she was thinking the same thing as his last answer. Hadn't she? His last answer had been fuck yes. Right? He didn't blackout and say something else. Did he?

She came back a few minutes later with a set of keys and he frowned as she took his hand. She brought his hand to her mouth, kissing the palm of it. She'd done that more than once when they were dating and it had set a jolt of excitement right through him. Some things never changed he guessed because it still did.

"Go to Walgreen's while I change," she said, setting the keys in the palm of his hand.

"I, uh." He blinked. "Yeah, sure." She was sending him out to get rubbers. That meant there was a good chance she wanted him to have one on him. Maybe not literally. It was hard to tell with Claire. He picked up the keys with his other hand and glanced at them for a second before looking at her.

"What?" she asked.

"These actually work for your doors? You're not sending me away with keys that belong to an old apartment in New York or something, are you?"

"Where would the fun in that be?"

"I don't know, just making sure."

"I'm not saying that we will …"

"Yeah, I got you," he said with a nod. No promises. He might get back and she'd be dressed from head to toe in so many layers he wouldn't be able to unwrap her before Christmas. A woman's prerogative to change her mind or something. She was suggesting, though, that they might. His night was looking incredibly up, in more ways than one. "I'll be back then."

"Don't be too long."

"I think, Princess, you underestimate the appeal of the very thought of what you're suggesting if you think I'm going to take any longer than necessary. I will drive the speed limit, though."

"Why?" she asked, tilting her head a bit as she regarded him.

"Don't want to get a speeding ticket and take longer than I have to."

She let go of the skirt of her gown with one of her hands. "That's the key to the outside door and this one's to the door. You don't have to do the dead bolt so just need those two."

"All right." That was going to be his next question, but he would've figured it out he supposed. There were only three keys on the chain. Four, but the fourth was very obviously a car key.

He moved to leave and then thought better of it, stopping to kiss her first. A nice kiss, too. Nice enough she slid her arms around his neck and deepened it before he even thought to do that.

"I'll be right back then," he said, knowing exactly where the nearest Walgreen's was.


Claire glanced at the clock in her kitchen when John left. He wouldn't be gone long, assuming he actually knew where the nearest Walgreen's was. She imagined he did. That didn't give her long, but long enough.

She took the gown off and hung it up before going to her bathroom. She didn't have time to take a shower or anything, but she had enough time to get the two days of stubble off of her legs. She had a couple of nightgowns that could probably be considered sexy. Not really, but she'd gotten them from Victoria's Secret so they were nicer than what she usually wore to bed.

She couldn't believe she'd sent him away to go to the store and get condoms. She was inviting him back here for sex. Oh, sure, she said maybe they wouldn't. She absolutely wanted to, though. She'd never had anyone do what he'd done earlier ever. After they'd talked about it at length once or twice she'd just assumed guys didn't want to do that so she'd never pressed on whether she'd like it done to her. Of course her experiences hadn't been that vast and hadn't been long-lasting to where she would've gotten past uncomfortable sex.

So, why was she inviting him to have sex with her?

She had no idea why, but she firmly believed John wouldn't give her uncomfortable sex. Finding out Tricia Elrose hadn't known why John went up to that bedroom that night cast a whole different slant on things.

He hadn't been the greatest boyfriend, but he hadn't completely sucked either. He'd been learning, and so had she truthfully. No, she never kissed anyone else, but she had been trying to figure out how to act and treat him. She wasn't the easiest person to get along with on any given day. She could admit that. He'd tried, though. He really had. She wanted to say he'd loved her. If him showing up at her condo the past month or so meant what she thought it did. Well, she'd say he still loved her the same as she still loved him.

It was the reason she'd never really been able to find anyone else. Yes, in part she'd wondered what she'd done wrong that he'd cheat on her like that at a party. So publicly where anyone could see him humiliate her like that. He'd told her about the girls before that night he'd kissed. She'd cried both while he told her and afterward. She'd been able to get past it, though, because he'd come clean with her. He'd been honest. She thought that was a good sign, a step in the right direction. He was admitting he didn't want to kiss anyone else and she was forgiving him. That was huge for both of them. She'd known that.

Legs shaved, the sexiest thing she owned on, and her teeth brushed she got into bed. That's where he'd expect her to be, right? She hadn't been inviting him to stay and watch TV. Robbie wouldn't be home for … hours yet she realized after she glanced at her clock. That meant she had hours with John. In bed.

That was a very exciting and at the same time frightening thought.

She heard the door open in the other room and forced herself to take a deep breath to calm herself before he got to her room. She heard the sound of her keys being set on her kitchen counter and smiled a little at that. She wasn't sure why?

He walked into her bedroom and glanced at the door for a second before leaving it open. It's what she would have done, too, considering he knew as well as she did Robbie wouldn't be home until well after one o'clock in the morning.

His hands were empty, though. No Walgreen's bag. Did he rethink this? Did he not want her? He certainly hadn't acted that way earlier. She'd felt how hard he was. She had no doubt he enjoyed what he'd done to her as thoroughly as she had. Okay, maybe not as thoroughly, but he sure seemed to enjoy the hell out of himself.

He smirked a little as if knowing exactly what she was thinking. He reached behind him, pulling a box of condoms from his back pocket. She couldn't recall a time she'd been so relieved. She still wasn't one hundred percent that's where this was going to lead, but wanting to and not being able to would suck.

He set the box on her nightstand.

"You're way ahead of me," he murmured.

"I know."

She moved then, kneeling on the bed. She placed her hands against his stomach, pushing his shirt up as she reached to kiss him.

He groaned, seemingly surprised at how she was kissing him. As if she wanted him. Really wanted him. She absolutely did. She'd thought briefly on Christopher and what he would say when John got to her bedroom door. Christopher loved her when all was said and done and disliked John most because of what Claire thought had happened. Sure, he'd been a bit judgmental because of John's career, but there was absolutely nothing wrong with being a plumber. No, his hands weren't smooth like Chris', but Claire kind of liked that. They represented him. A little rough but he knew how to be gentle with them when he needed to be.

Like earlier. She knew how careful he'd been with her dress. She didn't think he'd hurt or snag her dress, but he'd thought he might and had gone out of his way to ensure he didn't.

She drew her mouth away from his long enough to draw his shirt off with his help.

"Thanks," she whispered, finding his jaw.

He chuckled softly. "Yeah, sure, anytime."

"Really?" she asked, drawing away for a second. She slid her hands along his pecs and lower along his abdomen. He wasn't Hulk or anything, but he was nicely built and defined. Did he work out? She couldn't picture him going to Bally's or anything, but she imagined there were gyms that fit him.

"And if I said I'd rather you not wear one?"

"Ever?" he asked, sounding suspicious.


"I think my customers might complain."

"I think maybe their husbands would anyway."

He chuckled again.

"I'll keep that in mind."

He reached for the hem of her nightgown, drawing it up along her thighs with one hand.

"Sorry," she murmured.

"For what?"

She shrugged. "It's not really sexy…"

"You're wearing it. That makes it pretty fucking sexy," he whispered.

"Shut up."

"No, I will not."

He shifted a bit, causing her to stop kissing him. She liked kissing him. Too much. She always had. She'd hated when he admitted to kissing other girls because, oddly, she'd always thought that was the one thing they'd shared that he hadn't really done with anyone else. Kissing. Making out. Necking for the sake of necking and not as foreplay before sex.

"I especially like feeling that you aren't wearing anything under it."

"Well, you said…"

He chuckled a bit.

"I remember."

"Me, too," she whispered. She'd been wet since he left thinking about him doing that again.

"Good," he said. He drew away then and she frowned a bit, puzzled. He made his way to the other side of the bed, though and she breathed a little sigh of relief when he joined her on it. He slid a fingertip along the bottom of her foot since she was still facing away from him at the moment. She giggled. She couldn't help it.

"I guess some things never change," he said.

He remembered! He'd done that on purpose! It had been a week before prom and they were at a party, staying to themselves for the most part since most of John's friends avoided talking to him when she was with him and vice versa. She'd been wearing sandals and he'd given her a foot rub. He'd tickled her foot, though, and sent her into a fit of laughter that didn't stop for about five minutes after he'd stopped tickling her. No one had ever tickled the bottoms of her feet before for her to know she was that ticklish there.

"I guess not," she said.

He touched her ankle then.

"I could keep doing that if you want."

"I'm not the one…"

"I'm teasing, Claire, relax."

"I just, it's not like you have to."

"Oh, I know I don't have to. Prom was about the only have to that I went along with for you."

"I know," she whispered.

He worked his hand up higher along the back of her calf to her thigh, caressing her skin gently. It felt nice and she groaned a bit at the contact.

She moved so she could turn to face him and he set his hand against her hip. She felt so strange kneeling there like she was.

"No, don't," he whispered.

He moved instead, closer to her before whispering. "Work with me here, Princess." He tugged on her a bit and she followed his wordless prompts so she was straddling him but facing away from him.

"John," she said.

He chuckled.

"While the idea of having you like that is pretty instantaneous hard-on worthy that's not what I'm doing."

"Oh," she said.

He scooted a bit on the bed, wordlessly guiding her toward him. She understood now what he was doing just before the spot between her legs met his waiting mouth.

His hands between her legs, he parted her lower lips as she had done earlier for him. He licked her and she reached down to nip at his stomach to stop herself from groaning too loudly. She groaned anyway, in protest as he drew away.

"You, uh, want to use your mouth on anything else down that way don't think I'll be offended."

He didn't wait for her to respond, but instead went right back to licking her. Earlier had been fucking amazing, but this was ten times better. She wasn't sure why. Positioning. She didn't feel as if she'd collapse because her knees gave out on her. Something. Whatever. She could get very, very used to this.

Her hands grow bold, reaching into the waist of his jeans causing his abdomen to shift a bit against her touch. She found the fastening and worked it so his fly was open. She squeezed him through his underwear, groaning softly at the feel of him. He groaned against her clit and she pressed into his mouth in response.

She didn't consider herself good at this. She could count on one hand and have four of her fingers left how many times she'd done this before. He'd been in too much of a hurry, had finished too fast, and she hadn't been prepared. She supposed it should have been common sense as far as what happened, but she'd never experienced it to know. She touched the couple of guys she'd fooled around with since that guy, but only out of obligation versus a true desire to feel.

John she wanted to feel. She had in high school, too.

She explored, probably frustrating him or making him think she was teasing him. She touched, stroked, and rubbed to her heart's content. He wasn't stopping what he was doing so she took that to mean she wasn't doing anything wrong or weird. She pushed his underwear down a bit and he shifted a bit so she could push his jeans down some, too.

And then her tongue was there, licking his tip and he nipped at one of her lips in response almost as she'd done earlier to his stomach. He tasted … Fine. So fine that she licked him again, ensuring his head was clean of all of his precum.

He slid a finger inside of her alongside his tongue and she cried out from the feeling of it. His tongue felt nice, but his finger was thicker and harder. Evidently she liked that, or at least right now she did. He evidently figured that out as he moved his mouth a bit to kiss her inner thigh as he worked his finger in and out of her.

She didn't work her mouth over him very far, but she certainly tried to be attentive and thorough in to the part she had in her mouth.

"John," she murmured.

"Um hmm," he said, drawing away from her thigh.

"As good as your finger feels…"

"I'll get back to…"


"No?" He sounded puzzled. She couldn't blame him.

"Don't want your trip to Walgreen's to be a wasted one," she murmured.

"Oh," he said. "You sure?"

"Do I seem unsure?"

He chuckled at that.

"Well, no, but I'd be remiss if I didn't ask."

"You aren't remiss."

He slid his finger out of her then and she whimpered a bit.

"Oh, you like that, huh?"

"Uh huh," she murmured.

"Nothing to be embarrassed about. Tongues aren't really a good substitute."

"I think you have a very talented tongue."

"Me, too, because it's gotten us to this point."

"It has!"

She moved next to him and he stood to shed his jeans and underwear. She watched and wasn't shy or embarrassed about doing it.

He grabbed the box he'd bought at Walgreen's, opening it and taking a packet out. He set it on the nightstand before joining her on the bed again. He worked his hands along her body, sliding the nightgown up and off as he went. He touched her a lot more than necessary, and she was just fine with that.

He settled between her legs again and she moaned loudly, no longer ashamed by her reaction, when he licked her clit.


"I want to know you finished good at least once."

"You don't think I will?"

"I think it's not always good that way all of the time," he shrugged. "Especially a first time. Especially a first time that I've been wanting to happen for over four fucking years."

"Well, make it fucking happen, John."

It didn't take her long to finish. He probably knew that, too. She watched, sort of entranced as he slid the condom over his hardness. She doubted he knew how much she'd loved watched him do just about everything. His hands weren't delicate, not even back then. They were unlike any hands she'd ever really seen before. Working-man's hands. He knew how to use them, though, and she'd loved watching him do things with them whether it had been a simple thing like rolling a joint or a more complicated thing like changing the oil on her car.

He kept his eyes open the same as she did as he slid into her. She gave a soft gasp at the feel of him stretching her. He stopped for a second, seeming to let her adjust.

"More," she whispered, kissing his shoulder as she arched into him.

He gave it to her. She cried out when he slid completely inside of her.

"God, I love the sounds you make," he murmured, finding her neck.

"That's good, because you make me make them."

"Then I really love them," he said with a soft laugh, pressing into her in a really, really enjoyable way with that statement.

"Me, too, if they make you do that," she murmured.

He did it again. And again. Until she finished with him not too far after her.

That was what sex should be like. And she hated him. Hated that it was with him she experienced it. No bumbling. No uncertainty. No embarrassment. She'd never had that before. Always there was something holding her back from letting herself go and have a completely good time.

He returned to the bed a few minutes after using her bathroom. He got in, which she was glad about, and moved next to her. She was glad he didn't grab his clothes and run. Did he want to? She wasn't sure. He wasn't easy to read right now.

"What time do you…" she let the unasked question trail off.

"No set time. Shelly has a key and everything."

"Does she?"

"Uh, yeah."

"She won't wonder where you are?"

He shrugged, sliding an arm around her to gather her to him. "I'm a big boy, Claire. She's not my mother."


"Have you ever not been home when she's gotten home?"




"Huh," she said, regarding him.

"What huh?" he asked.

The answer surprised her for some reason. Maybe not during the week so much, he had to wake up for a job the same as she did. Weekends, though. It surprised her that he didn't take advantage of his cousin being out of the house the past couple of weekends after over a month of her being there and do things.

"It just wasn't the answer I was expecting."

"Well, I guess I thought you were asking me if I haven't gone home. I mean, like that night I saw you at Lou's before going to the Whale. I've gone out."

"You would never have been caught dead there." She'd tried to get him to go to Lou's a couple of times when they were dating and he hadn't wanted to. She never knew why. Crowds of people? Maybe. Expensive pizza? Maybe. It wasn't crazy expensive, but it was sure more than the couple of neighborhood pizza joints in Shermer had been.

"I know. People change, Claire. It's where those guys wanted to go."

"Oh," she said.

He glanced at the clock by her bed.

"Want to go there now?"

"Shut up," she said with a laugh.

"I wasn't joking. I did come here to ask you to dinner."

"Why?" she asked.

"Why? What kind of a question is that?"

"I've been trying to figure out what you've wanted."

"Well, that should be fairly obvious."

"Yes, but you got it. I mean, we…"

"I didn't want sex from you. I mean, sure, you know. I'm a guy. I haven't been coming here to get dinner with you just to get you out of your panties."

"The question is still valid and on the table."

"I wanted you to get to know me. Today. This me. I wanted you to know I'm not that guy. I found out you'd broken up with me, which you didn't by the way. You just stopped calling or writing me."

"Because you cheated on me!"

"I did not!"

She shrugged. She hadn't known that then!

"Anyway," he shrugged. "I work hard. I pay my bills. I don't have a fancy house or car, but I do pretty okay. I can buy nice things when I want to. And I guess I'd rather be able to take you to dinner at a nice place than have a car with a German logo on it."


"I guess there's a part of me that's paranoid, you know. I'll wake up and one day Kevin will decide he doesn't want to be my partner anymore and I'll have to go back to working for my dad."


"I don't know. People like Vernon drilled it into me I'd amount to nothing. It's hard to shake that. I'd like a house and stuff."

"You would?" Now that surprised her more than seeing him at Lou's.



"To prove I can be better than my parents? I don't know. That's why I haven't moved out of that crappy apartment yet. I don't think spiting my parents' is a good enough reason to invest in something like a house."

"No," she said.

"And I wouldn't want a place like this. I mean, for you it's good. So don't think I'm putting it down. I'd want the yard, the hands on opportunities of a house."

"That's because you're good with your hands."

"That doesn't seem to be what you were suggesting earlier. I was using my hands and you asked me to stop."

She giggled softly, blushing deeply she was sure. "That was totally different."

"So, was that a yes or no to pizza?"

"You're serious?"

"Why not? I really did come here to take you to dinner. You haven't eaten, have you?"



"I have to get dressed."

"I sort of assumed we wouldn't go naked."

"No, I mean, I should shower," she shrugged. Maybe she didn't need to exactly, but her hair was probably mussed every which way after that.

"Well, I could help you wash your back and then we could go eat."

"I…" He was offering to shower with her. "Okay," she said before she could talk herself out of agreeing.


"You weren't serious?"

"Oh I was serious, I just wasn't expecting you to agree. Let's go then, Princess," he said.

"Why are you in a hurry?"

"Well, I figure we go eat now and then I have to come back here to drop you off. There are two left in the package I bought."

"I see."

"I mean, if you wanted to use another one. If you don't…"

"I think I'd like that."

"God, I hope so because I know I sure would."

She scoffed. "Of course you would."

She made to get out of the bed, but he grabbed her ankle.

"Why did you lie to me about Robbie?"

"I didn't lie to you about Robbie. You assumed something and I didn't feel the need to correct you. I told you that day you came here that he lived here. He does live here as my roommate. He pays me rent. He moved here when I moved back."

"Okay. Why aren't you involved with him then? Chris sure seems to like him."

"He does because he knows Robbie can't hurt me."


"He's gay," she said simply.

"Oh," he said. "And Chris knows?"

"I presume so. I've never announced it."

"And Chris likes him," John said, sounding suspicious.

Claire knew what he was getting at. Christopher could be pretty judgmental and despite his inability to settle down with one woman he was on the more conservative side of things.

"He likes that I'm not living alone."

"I can see that, I guess."

"When did you figure out that he wasn't my boyfriend?"

"Today actually."


"While you were putting the dress on, I saw his room. It's obviously very lived in and it's not shared by you."

"No," she said with a laugh.

"Does Shelly know?"

"I don't know. She's never asked me or said anything. She might. Robbie may have told her, or she could have seen Robbie going in and out of his room one of the times she was here."

"I suppose." He said, nodding as if something was clicking into place for him.

"I suppose I should also ask if you have a boyfriend who's going to come after me or something."

"No! You think I'd," she gestured to the bed. "Do this if I did."

"Well, no, the Claire I knew wouldn't do that. People change, though."

"I hope I never change that much," she said. The idea!

"I hope not, too," he said.

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