She rang the bell, smiling a little at the sound of Randy barking from within the house. She'd known where his house was by his address. He lived in a fairly run of the mill part of Shermer. The houses weren't real old, but they weren't new either. They were houses their parents would have bought as starter-homes. On the smaller side with equally small yards. He was fortunate, though, having a corner lot he had a little more yard than his neighbors.
The house was nice. There were a couple of houses in the neighborhood that weren't so nice so she could definitely tell that John put some effort to ensure his was. The yard looked like it had been done recently and she wondered when he'd done it. He hadn't had a whole lot of time today to do it, but she supposed he had enough after leaving her office this morning before he'd come back to her house.
There were no flowers or anything in his yard she noticed. He had some bushes, but nothing that required any extra care. A perk of working across the street from her home she had a huge garden that she took great care planning each year.
"Hey, sorry," he said once he'd opened the door. "I was in the shower."
"It's okay," she said.
"Come on in," he said, stepping aside so she could.
She did, extending her free hand to Randy so he could smell her. He licked the top of her hand so she reached to pet him then. He was really a beautiful dog. Her dogs were retired greyhounds and were nice looking, but even she had to admit there was something breathtaking about a near perfect-looking German Shepherd as Randy was.
"He's doing all right?"
"Yeah, seems fine, really. He hasn't been walking around much or anything. He was where I left him this afternoon to go to your place when I got home. I took him out, on his leash, and he has been laying by me ever since. He followed me to my room when I took my shower, but didn't jump up on the bed or anything like he usually would."
"That's good. That means he knows his limitations and that you aren't going to push him to do more than he should. He trusts you and that's hugely important, but you don't need me to tell you that obviously."
"No, it's nice to hear, though, from someone who doesn't care about statistics or cases being solved."
"It'll take him a while, but he'll be fine. I could tell this morning."
"I'm sure him getting attention so quickly had something to do with that."
"I hope so," she said.
She drew her hand away then not sure now that she was here what exactly she should say. Or how. Somehow she didn't think he was going to take her saying she didn't want to see him again in stride. Otherwise he wouldn't have shown up at her house today after she gave him the silent treatment in the morning.
She still couldn't believe she'd had sex with him. Twice. God. She was absolutely insane for doing that. Responding to him was so easy to do, though, because he was so good at making her feel good. He had nineteen years ago, too. She was glad to see now was no different.
"Is that for us?" he asked, gesturing to the brown paper bag she was holding.
"Oh, yeah, well, sort of," she said, handing it to him.
She followed him to his kitchen then where he opened the bag, frowning a bit.
"You on a diet or something?"
"Okay," he said, glancing at her. He looked confused. She couldn't blame him really. She'd probably be confused if someone only brought enough dinner for her when she'd invited them to eat with her. She saw a look in his eyes as he closed the distance between them. Oh, God, he thought she'd come here just to have sex again.
"Well, you mentioned Szechuan chicken, so I brought you some," she said, hoping it would distract him from kissing her. It seemed to, but he still touched her. He settled his hands against her hips after grazing her arms with his fingertips. She shivered a bit at the contact and he smirked a bit at that.
"I wasn't asking you to bring me dinner. I mean. Well, I was, sure but I wanted you to eat with me. If I wasn't clear on that I'm sorry."
"I know, but," she said, taking in his kitchen. It was … nice. Homey even. Not in the same way her kitchen or her sister-in-law's kitchens were homey, but she could tell he actually used it. "I really can't stay. I made it seem like I might earlier, so didn't want you to not eat thinking I'd be showing up."
"Okay," he said again. "Everything all right?" He leaned in closer as if he was about to kiss her. That would be dangerous because once he kissed her she seemed to lose all logical thought and let her heart and wherever that base need to be close to someone came from control the situation.
"No," she said softly.
"Why not? Did something happen in the last couple of hours? Your ex-husband giving you problems about the kids or something again?"
"No, I just can't do this, John."
"Do what exactly? It's dinner," he whispered, brushing his mouth against her ear. She took a small shuddering breath at the warmth there.
"We've had sex. Twice!"
"It was more than twice."
"I know," she said. Did he have to be so matter of fact and such a smart ass about it? Of course he did. He was John. "Please don't be an ass."
"I'm not being an ass, merely stating facts. It was more than twice. You were a very willing participant each and every time, too."
"I know I was. And I'm sorry."
"For what exactly?"
"You have no idea how long it's been since I've had that. Closeness. I'd had a real bad day yesterday. You kissed me."
"You kissed me back," he said, finding her neck then. Her eyes fluttered closed and she was trying to decide if she really wanted to argue with him right now.
"I know. I'm not blaming you. I'm not, but I just can't."
"You know this isn't high school."
"I let you pull this shit nineteen years ago, walk away from me like I meant nothing."
"Because I knew I meant nothing to you!"
"You didn't even give me a fucking chance."
"I didn't want to get my heart handed to me on a silver platter by you, John."
He shook his head slightly. He'd drawn away now, wasn't trying to kiss her anymore. Why did that bother her? Immensely.
"So, you bring me dinner to what? Make you feel less guilty about telling me to get lost?"
"No. My life is such a mess. I just got divorced! As you pointed out earlier you can still see I was wearing my wedding ring not that long ago."
"You're an idiot."
"I'm sorry, excuse me?"
"You're scared. Your husband hurt you it seems, that's the vibe I got anyway. I get that. It sounds like he's being a dick about the kids, using them as some sort of post-divorce fuck you. That doesn't mean you should walk away from something that makes you feel good."
"You should talk. Have you ever even been married?"
"Nope," he said.
"Well, let's see. Piss poor example. Check. I still live in the same fucking town where everyone knows the Benders so yeah, meeting quality women interested in anyone with that name easy to do. Check. The only decent person I ever met and had an interest in walked away from me. Check."
"It was one fucking afternoon."
"I wanted it to be more."
"You did not. You only wanted it to be more because I didn't chase after you like every other girl you'd had sex with did."
"If that's what you want to tell yourself. You don't know what I did and didn't do before that day."
"You're saying I'm wrong?"
"I'm saying that I was an eighteen year old guy who liked to breathe life into an image that everyone perceived about me. Come on. You know better than that. Maybe you didn't then, but you sure as hell do now. What eighteen year old guy wants to admit to never having had a girlfriend before?"
"John," she said.
"Randy and Cooper before him are the only beings I've been able to count on."
"I'm sorry," she said, meaning it. She was sorry he was lonely. She'd led a very lonely life, too, but she'd at least had her kids.
In the beginning she'd had Bryce, but soon into things that really hadn't been enough. They hadn't banked on that happening. Her wanting … More. It was the reason he'd given in and had Betsy. He was hoping it'd bury the need for more she was craving. It had worked at first. She was so glad to have a little girl, but he wasn't around nearly as much to help with things as he had been in the beginning with Bryce. She'd been left to take care of the house, her business, Bryce, Jr., and Betsy. Not that she couldn't do it, but she had no one to help take care of her. She wanted someone to end her day with. She was never going to get that with him.
"I don't want your pity."
"You don't want me, though," she said.
"You don't know that."
"I do, too. There are things…"
"What? What things, Claire? There's nothing you can possibly tell me that would make me think our paths crossing again right now, after you've gone through your divorce wasn't supposed to happen."
She breathed deeply and glanced from him to Randy. She stooped to take a look at his paw, her hand shaking a bit. There were things she could tell him. He'd probably never speak to her again if she did. She had to decide if that was what she wanted. Then again, if she didn't tell him and continued letting him see her she'd feel guilty.
"You haven't covered it?" she asked.
"No, you said not to."
"Good. It's best not to. Keep the cone on."
"Yeah, I heard you this morning. Why are you repeating yourself?"
She turned to leave then, pausing in the doorway. She swallowed, taking a deep breath again and glanced at him. She repeated herself because she knew he probably wouldn't speak to her again after tonight. That was all right. Sex with John had been a good thing, waking her up to the fact that she needed to move on. It wasn't going to be with him, but she still had to start living her life again. She was no longer exclusively Mrs. Bryce Mercer. She was Claire again and had to figure out who exactly Claire was on her own.
"There is something I could tell you that would make you think that."
"Yeah? Try me."
"You have a son," she said.
He didn't believe her. She could tell. She took the coward's way out then, taking advantage of the fact he was processing what she'd said. Rolling it over in his mind. She'd shocked him because she wagered the idea that there had been a consequence to that day of detention had never entered his mind until a minute ago.
Soon, though, he'd realize she had absolutely nothing to gain by lying to him about such a thing. She didn't want to be here when that happened. He'd be mad and want answers that she didn't want to give him. She left then. It was a cowardly thing to do, but she absolutely didn't want to talk about it. She just wanted him out of her life and she didn't want him showing up at her house or anything again.
She went to the only place she could go. Well, she could've gone to Bryce's house and seen the kids, but she knew if she did that Betsy would want to go home with her tonight. She missed her daughter and Bryce, Jr. terribly, but she couldn't do that tonight.
"Hey," Christopher said when he opened the door. "Everything okay?"
She shook her head, stepping inside. He knew she wasn't all right, of course. The fact she'd been sitting in her car on his driveway for the past fifteen minutes crying was obvious.
"Hey," he said when she hugged him. "What's wrong? Are the kids okay?"
"They're fine. Betsy wants to come home, but she's fine."
"Okay," he said then. He hugged her back and she was grateful for that. She'd been tempted to go back to Brian's house, but she'd come here instead. She'd needed to.
"I told him," she said.
"What?" he asked.
"John," she whispered.
"Oh," he said, leading her to his study then and closing the doors behind them. He handed her a snifter of brandy and sat next to her then. He'd poured himself a tumbler of scotch she noticed. She gave him a very abridged version of the events of the past twenty-four hours.
"Wow," he said once they'd both thought over what she'd just admitted to. She still couldn't believe it.
"Why'd you tell him?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. Why not? If there's one way to guarantee he stays away from me I think that was it."
"You don't know that."
She sighed. "He doesn't even really want me, Chris. He didn't then either I'm certain of it. I'm the one who did what he did to everyone else. You know? That's all he sees me as. I was the one who didn't run after him."
"How different your lives would probably be if you had," he said.
"I know," she said.
She'd thought of that over the years. Many times. Where would she be if she'd told him? Especially once things with Bryce started getting uncomfortable. Originally, she'd had no problem with their agreement. It seemed like a great idea at the time. She couldn't complain about where she was in the grand scheme of things. Bryce had taken care of her and the kids, ensured they lived well. She had a beautiful home and a business that was her own free and clear. She had land to own horses so her kids all learned to ride at a young age.
She had no idea where she'd be today if it wasn't for Chris and Brian, though. Somehow she'd managed to pull off completing her first semester of college without her parents finding out she was pregnant. If her parents found it odd that Chris and his wife suddenly decided to adopt a baby they never said, or at least Chris never told her about their parents' asking about it.
"He suspects, you know," Chris said.
"What are you talking about?"
"Kyle. He suspects a cop is his dad."
He shrugged casually as if he'd just told her that Kyle questioned why the sky was blue not who his biological father was.
"He came home from school one day. It was a few years ago. He was, I don't know, thirteen? Maybe fourteen. So, eighth grade or freshman year. He asked me questions, said he thought he looked like a cop who'd been at the school to talk to them."
"Oh. You never said anything."
"He never mentioned it again. I handled it. We've always been open with him about him being adopted. You know that."
"Claire. Don't freak out five or six years later. Clearly, John didn't see it or suspect because he would've found you if he had."
"You wanted this. Remember? I'm his father. Ellen is his mother. We were on top of the situation. He never mentioned it again. He's fine. It's fine. You've never questioned what I've done until now."
"I know. I'm sorry. I just had no idea he ever asked that."
"I've never seen him to know if Kyle looks like him or not. It's natural for him to be curious especially if he saw someone he thought he resembled."
"He does," Claire said.
"That must be … hard on you. I didn't know that."
"Well, he doesn't look like me!"
"That doesn't mean he looks like his father."
"I suppose not," she said. He didn't look exactly like John or anything, but there were times especially now that he was older that he'd stand a certain way, or the light would catch him in such a fashion that she'd think for a second he looked a lot like John.
"So, you came here to talk to me? Or to see Kyle?"
"To see Kyle," she mumbled.
He chuckled softly. "I'd like to be insulted, but I guess I can understand that. An hour later you would've missed him. He's going out."
"I figured as much. It's Saturday night."
"With a girl."
"Really?" she asked.
"Yes," Christopher said.
"Who is she?"
"Someone who went to school with him at U of M."
"She lives here?"
"She lives out in Skokie."
"Have you met her?"
"No, he hasn't asked me to and I'm not going to do that when to this point it seems pretty casual."
"I was just wondering."
"I know. Go say hi to him before he leaves."
"Thanks," she said, setting the snifter of brandy down. She hadn't taken more than a couple of sips out of it. "Say, Chris?" she asked from his doorway.
"Any chance I could use your guest room tonight?"
"Uh, yeah, I suppose. Why?"
"I don't want to go home."
"There's a good chance he'll be there waiting for me."
"There is. I can't blame him really. Can you?"
"No," she said softly.
"What about the dogs?"
"I can call Bryce…"
"Are you sure you want to do that?"
"I don't really have much choice."
"That would be an interesting meeting."
"Wouldn't it?" she said with a soft laugh. "I'll call him in a bit. He'd do it."
"If he can't, let me know. I'll do it. I'd suggest Kyle could on his way to and from his date, but that may not be a good idea."
"Uh, no," she said.
"I'm not sure avoiding him is the right answer. That's sort of how you got where you are today."
"I realize that. I know I can't avoid him forever. I just don't want to talk to him tonight."
"Afraid you'll have sex with him again?"
"No, somehow I doubt that's even in play ever again."
"It'll be all right, Claire."
"I know. I just hadn't meant to tell him. Not really. I just assumed he'd take that I said I can't get involved with him right now seriously. I didn't think he'd push."
"He likes you. I'm not sure I'd stay away either if it was me."
Of course he would never be in this situation. He was married to the girl he went to senior prom with and had known most of his life. He'd dated girls before her, which had been Claire's mistake in hindsight. She hadn't wanted to get married so never saw the point in dating. She knew it had surprised the hell out of Christopher when she told him Bryce had proposed to her.
She made her way upstairs, saying hi to her niece and nephew who were getting ready to go to a movie with some friends. Not the same movie, though, it seemed. What did it say that her not even teenaged niece and nephew had plans on Saturday night and she had nothing really to look forward to but two dogs and a cat at her house?
"Hey, Aunt Claire," Kyle said when he opened his door.
"Wow you look nice," she said.
"Your dad says you have a date."
He blushed a bit at that. "Yeah, kind of. I mean, not really, just someone I know from school. We got along I guess."
"Well, I bet she'll think you look nice, too."
"Thanks," he said. "What are you doing here tonight? I figured with everyone still at Uncle Bryce's house you'd be out doing something."
"Not tonight. I'm going to stay here I think actually."
"Oh, cool. Well, I'll see you in the morning then."
"Yeah," she said.
"Hey, Aunt Claire?" he asked when she'd started walking down the hallway away from his room. There wasn't much more to say to him without seeming weird. She'd just needed to see him, assurance that he'd turned out all right. She'd made the right decision. One she regretted every day, but she knew he'd had a much better life than she would've been able to provide for him raising him right out of high school by herself.
"Yeah, Kyle?" she asked.
"Is everything okay?"
He shrugged, shoving his hands in the pockets of his jeans. She wondered briefly, looking at him right now with his hair just a touch longer than was acceptable to most people and his posture so similarly defiant yet not how John had missed it. Then she had no way of knowing if Kyle ever actually talked to John or just saw him. The class sizes at Shermer High had only gotten bigger in the past nineteen years.
"You look like you've been crying."
"Oh, just missing the kids," she said with a shrug.
"They'll be home soon, right?"
"Yeah, a few weeks."
"Good. I have a new game to show Bryce."
"He'd like that," she said. Bryce Jr. and Kyle were gamers. Before video games they'd done table top gaming of all kinds. Staying up all night playing games of Risk weren't uncommon for them. When they were younger it'd been games like Monopoly, but the three of them (when Alex was interested in playing the game Bryce Jr. and Kyle were playing) could usually be found enjoying a game of some sort.
"Cool. I tried showing it to Alex, but he wasn't really interested."
She was very glad her son got along with Kyle. Chris' other son, Alex tended to play with his younger sister and now Betsy when the group of them got together. He just wasn't as interested in the games as the older two boys were. She'd started to see a change in that the past year or so, playing with his younger sister and cousin wasn't as appealing. She imagined soon Alex would be more interested in the games Kyle had to show him.
"Have fun tonight," she said.
She fought the urge to ask questions. The instinct was there, but she had no business prying where she didn't belong. At the time it'd seemed like a good idea. She couldn't stomach the idea of giving her son up to someone randomly. Chris and Ellen hadn't thought she was insane for bringing it up to them in the first place. It'd taken them a couple of months to come up with a decision. Telling their parents that the baby belonged to a friend of a friend of theirs who couldn't raise a baby right now had gone off without a hitch.
Claire still couldn't believe almost nineteen years later that she'd gotten away with it.
She went downstairs then. Ellen was getting ready to drop Alex and DeAnna at their respective friends' houses.
"I think I'm going to go ahead and go home," Claire said.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. I can't avoid him forever and I really don't like the idea of Bryce roaming around the house without me there."
"Has he been bad?"
"No, but I realized as I was talking with Alex that I hadn't made my bed after this afternoon."
"Oh," Chris said. "I guess I'll have to remind Alex he's supposed to be making his, huh?"
"It didn't look like it'd been made in days, Chris!"
Chris chuckled softly at that. "Yeah, he hates making his bed. Didn't we all though when we were that age?"
"Yes," Claire said. Chris had been worse about it than she'd been but she'd left hers not made more than a few times growing up. Especially summer vacation.
"You sure you want to go home? You're welcome to stay. Ellen will be right back."
"I know. It's fine. I guess it's better to get it done with now than weeks later when the kids are home again. If he's even there."
"And if he tells you it doesn't matter?"
"How can you even say that?"
Chris shrugged. "You didn't tell him who adopted him, did you?"
"No," she said.
"Well, so he has no idea that you know where and who he is to show him."
Chris shrugged. "He was eighteen and the way you describe him who could really blame you for not rushing out to tell him you were pregnant."
"Maybe he'd see it that way."
"Maybe, I'm not counting on it."
"Well, don't overreact."
"You know, if he's there and just wants to talk to you don't get all defensive assuming the worst. Give him a chance to be rational."
She rolled her eyes.
"Do what you want, but maybe he'll understand you did what you thought was the best thing at the time."
She doubted it, though. Going by what he'd said earlier about Randy and Cooper being the only things he'd ever been able to count on she doubted he'd see her giving his child away to someone else to raise as being the best option.
She finished her brandy, talking with Chris about some other things that had nothing to do with Kyle or John. She was glad they had a close relationship. She got to see Kyle leave, wondering what kind of girl he'd be attracted to. There was a physical resemblance to John that was uncanny, but she didn't know Kyle well enough really and hadn't known John that well to be able to compare personalities.
He wasn't there when she got back to the house. She couldn't say if he had been or not. She was relieved as she let herself onto the grounds. Tonight was one night she was glad to have the gate for very personal reasons. She could ignore the buzzer if she had to. Bryce knew the code to get in so he wouldn't ring to get in.
"Hi guys," she said to her dogs when she got in. "You ready to go out?"
She poured herself a glass of wine before opening the door for them to go outside. She'd sit outside for a while before going to bed. Somehow she doubted John was going to just go away after what she'd told him. It was a nice thought.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com