She was lucky he was a cop with a gun instead of a homicidal maniac with a gun. He hadn't known what to say to her at his place on Saturday. She was counting on that, obviously. He hadn't really believed she could possibly have something to tell him. He thought she'd been teasing to a point, pulling away from him because her divorce hadn't been that long ago. That certainly would have been reasonable and he was pretty sure anyone he knew who'd gone through a divorce would have told him not to push her.
The ink on that had been dry four months ago he learned. Pretty cush job her ex had as a state senator, working essentially six months out of the year. That explained why the kids were with him now, he supposed. For some reason John thought he was a US Senator, but that showed how well he paid attention. As long as he had a job and his paychecks were safe he didn't really follow politics.
He also had learned today that she had, in fact, had a baby about nine months after that day at school, January 3, 1985. It had been a boy named Kyle with no father named. He'd been nine pounds, six ounces which John thought was a pretty good sized baby in his limited experience.
He hadn't been able to find any adoption papers in Champaign County or here in Cook County. He had found that her brother Christopher and his wife only had two documented children. He had no idea why he'd even checked there, but he remembered Claire mentioning a nephew specifically and adding her other nephew and niece almost as an afterthought. So, he'd checked.
Despite only having two children that John could find record of, there had been three Standish children enrolled in the Shermer school systems over the years. The oldest no longer was, but John assumed he was in college somewhere. He'd be eighteen, closing in on nineteen soon. Wherever he went to school it wasn't part of the Illinois state university system. John supposed he could go to a private school, but he was betting on out of state somewhere.
Birth certificates could be forged, but John didn't think she was that crafty. Not on the off-chance they'd run into one another and he'd think she got pregnant out of their one time having sex together. Other women he maybe could believe would be that crafty and devious, nineteen years was a little long to wait to get revenge or something.
He'd used Randy's recovery as a reason to take some personal time that he had earned. No one batted an eye at John wanting to spend his time with him. It was an odd relationship he had with Randy, and Cooper before him. Few, if any, understood it. The closest he'd come was a couple other fellow K9 cops who lived like John did. Those with good childhoods, wives, and two and a half kids just didn't understand. They were more loyal and dependable than any person he'd ever met.
Being a cop had its perks when he wanted to access information that was more than questionable as to his reasons for wanting that information.
He'd been shocked on Saturday when she'd left, leaving him to realize she'd been serious saying that. A son. It was the most ridiculous thing he'd ever heard in his life. Except what did she have to gain by lying to him about it nineteen years later? The January 3 birthdate certainly coincided with the timing of when they'd had sex. He didn't see her rushing out to do it with someone else on the slim chance he'd gotten her pregnant that day.
Had he seen him over the years? He'd been working the schools for a long time. He'd never had any reason to pay attention to any of the kids more specifically than any others except for other officers kids. Was that why she'd reacted when he mentioned working the schools? He just thought she hadn't been overly impressed with his job duties. Certainly he did more, but as a cop who had the childhood he'd had well the school circuit had sort of fallen to him. There were others, but kids liked the dog. The dog made John approachable in a way a regular patrol officer wasn't. He wasn't sure he completely got it, because he never would've approached a cop. Then things had been different when he was growing up.
Sunday he hadn't figured out what exactly to do. Going to see her and demand information had been his first instinct, except she'd probably be expecting that. He couldn't force his way into her house. He couldn't even get to her front door without an invite onto the property. Approaching her at work wasn't an option because going by the pictures on the wall behind the desk at her office she had people who worked for her.
He'd chosen instead to research, immerse himself into solving the puzzle that was her seemingly hiding the fact she was pregnant from everyone. If John knew one thing for certain he knew that if Claire Standish had shown up on anyone's radar in Shermer pregnant he would've heard about it. That information led him to her house tonight. Randy was glad to get out of the house. John had been very careful about how much Randy did, but he noticed today that he was getting around much better than he had even just yesterday morning. So he figured a ride in his car wasn't out of the question.
He rang the buzzer to her gate, rolling his eyes that he even had to do that. He supposed when her husband had lived here it'd been sort of necessary. Being from Shermer, and an old Shermer name like the guy had, he wouldn't be difficult to find. All anyone would have to do is ask where the Mercer's property was and they'd be directed down this road by someone.
"It's John," he said simply.
No response. He sat for a few minutes, waiting to see if she was going to make him buzz again. She had to know he wasn't going to go away. He'd given her days, maybe that was too long but he liked to digest information a little bit before talking about it. Nothing good would have come out of a conversation they'd had over the weekend about this.
The gate opened, though, and he drove onto the property. He wondered where the ex lived these days. Was he still in Shermer? Or now that he was single was he downtown somewhere? Of course, with kids staying with him for six weeks he had to have room somewhere.
Kids. A family. From the pictures, the oldest boy who was named after his dad looked more like Claire than the husband. He hadn't found enough pictures of the youngest, a girl, to say who she resembled.
They hadn't wasted any time either John had noticed. She'd graduated from U of I in 1988, they'd gotten married a nice safe, traditional year after her graduation in June 1989. The oldest kid had come along in May 1990. There was a break then with the next one coming in 2000. He only knew this because he compared their birth certificates to school records to be sure she hadn't faked something with the oldest kid. Obviously the youngest had no school records, but John knew for a fact that one wasn't his. It was the oldest one he'd been curious about when he couldn't find adoption records and no indication she'd enrolled a child in school before Bryce Jr.
"How is he?" she asked when he let Randy out of the car.
"Better," he answered.
"Good," she said, clearly watching the dog instead of him as they walked to her front door.
"You don't look surprised to see me."
"Not really. I was hoping…"
"Yeah, I'm sure you were hoping lots of things that didn't involve me coming over here again."
"No, don't. Just let me do this. All right."
"There's nothing to do!"
"I have a fucking kid!"
"Yes," she said.
"A kid I didn't know about until days ago. I think I'm entitled to ask a few questions and find out some information on the subject."
"John. Please don't yell at me."
"I don't mean to yell, honestly, I didn't come here to yell. You didn't think nineteen years ago would have been a better time to tell me about his existence?"
"No," she said.
"Why not exactly?"
"John," she said.
"No, why? I'd like to hear why you went to such great lengths to hide it from me. I remember now that you didn't come home from school for the holidays that year. No one found it strange, myself included. Somewhere I'd heard that you were spending the holiday with a new boyfriend."
"That's what I asked Brian to tell people."
"Yes," she said.
"And that it was mine?"
"Yes, of course!"
"I think I might rethink my rule on beating up civilians."
"Don't! Don't you dare. He did exactly what I asked him to do. I was so scared and alone."
"That was your choice! I didn't make you blow me off."
"We both know how that would've gone if I hadn't. You would've turned around and done it to me and then told all of your friends I was a frigid bitch or something."
"You don't know a damned thing about what I would have done."
"I know it was just sex to you."
"I told you not to believe everything, Claire. Remember that? Believe it or not you weren't the only one in that closet that day who'd never done that before."
"Shut up. I'm too old to believe your lies, John."
"No, I'm not lying. So yeah I was pissed as hell you just blew me off."
"Come on. You expect me to believe that? I'm not an idiot."
"No, you're not. What would I have to gain by telling you that now?"
She didn't answer him and seemed to be thinking that one over.
"Yeah, see. Nothing. I mean, you didn't exactly walk around the school telling people you were a virgin, so don't look at me like I was crazy for not doing that either."
"Yes, but people thought…"
"I can't help what people thought."
"Your wallet! Those pictures."
"They were friends. Believe it or not, chicks dug me back then," he shrugged.
"I believe it."
He smirked a little at that, watching as Randy and her dogs were sniffing one another.
"They aren't going to hurt him," she said.
"I know, I'm just watching."
"What do you want by coming here tonight?"
"I don't have any to give you."
"Does he know who I am?"
"Our son. It's your nephew, right?"
"How could you possibly…"
"I'm a cop, remember? I know people think because I work as a K9 handler that I'm just a dog sitter with a badge, but I really am good at my job."
"I didn't say you weren't," she said.
"So, I'm right, aren't I?"
She sighed and he could see her thinking it through. She went to the dogs who followed her to the kitchen though Randy stayed behind as he should have done. He heard the door open leading to the back and felt bad that Randy couldn't go out there, too. The property was big enough there was no fence visible from the front yard overlooking the lake John had noticed the other day. So her dogs had plenty of room to roam in and splash in the lake. Randy would love it.
She didn't come back to him, so he walked toward the kitchen where she was pouring herself a glass of wine and getting him a beer.
"You're right," she said finally once she'd had a seat at the table. How she could just sit at a time like this he wasn't sure, but he chose to lean against the counter that probably served as a breakfast nook or some fancy thing he didn't have time or room for in his house.
"How did you arrange it?"
"What do you mean?"
"I found his birth certificate. I found his school records. I found nothing about your brother having a third child."
"He has a birth certificate with Christopher and Ellen as his parents."
"You're right. I wasn't clear. There was no record of Ellen Standish giving birth. Now, I admit I didn't extend my search beyond Cook County, but I assumed even if they weren't living in Shermer back then they would've been close to home."
"We hired an attorney to take care of it privately."
"And you never once thought I should know?"
"What would you have done?"
"I don't know! You didn't give me the chance."
"I didn't give myself the chance either, John. I did what I thought was best for our son. He's been raised well, he was a good boy, and has become a good young man."
"Yes," she said.
"U of M," she said.
"Minnesota," he said, thinking that was right. "Minneapolis?" he asked with a frown.
She smiled a little at that. "Yes," she said.
"He wants to be an Engineer. Computer or Electrical. He hasn't decided for sure yet."
"So, he's smart is what you're telling me?"
That was an answer he hadn't thought would come out about a child of his. He wasn't stupid, but he certainly hadn't given much thought to any kid he'd have amounting to anything. Of course, he hadn't thought too hard about kids at all since he didn't have any. He knew Engineering was a tough degree, whichever focus he was leaning toward. Computer Engineering certainly seemed to be the way to go these days, but he imagined Electrical Engineers would always be a safe, stable job, too.
"Does he know who you are?"
"No, of course not. I think he might know who you are, though."
She shrugged, taking a sip of her wine.
"Come here, Randy," she said. John nodded so Randy went to her where she proceeded to look at his leg better than she had outside when they'd gotten here.
"My brother mentioned the other night that he'd asked him once if he knew who his father was," she said while running a hand along Randy's coat. "He'd seen a cop at school he thought he looked like."
"Oh," John said. "He looks like me?"
"Yes," Claire said.
"And you didn't recognize me that night?"
"It was late. I was tired. I'd been arguing with Bryce and was dealing with a homesick child. He doesn't look exactly like you. I did think you sounded like you on the street. I thought you looked like you at my office, but figured it was a trick of the light. I mean, John, you're a cop."
He could understand that. If he'd been her and only known that John he probably would've assumed it wasn't him either.
"Where'd Kyle come from?"
"I don't know. I'd seen The Terminator when I was pregnant. I was down there alone on Thanksgiving so I had to do something with my day."
"Are you kidding me? You named our kid after an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie?"
"I guess I did. Christopher didn't have to keep the name."
"I suppose not."
"John. What is it you want me to do? Say I'm sorry? I can say it, but I'm not. I did what I thought was best. Really, think about it. What kind of life could we have provided for a child at that time?"
"Doesn't mean I didn't want to know."
"Then you shouldn't have…"
"You didn't give me the chance! You fit me into the hole you wanted to work with. I would've liked to have known I had a son."
"To what end?"
John shrugged. There was the million dollar question, because he knew when it got down to it he had no rights. They weren't married, they weren't even involved. So, she could've done whatever she wanted with the unborn baby. She could've not had it, which certainly given the circumstances would have been the easiest solution for her. So, she could have told him he'd had a son, but what good would that have done him the past nineteen years. She would've told him she was putting it up for adoption but not who adopted him. So, he would've spent the last nineteen years knowing about him and nothing else.
"And if he'd been a girl?"
"Is it just because he's a boy that you're having this issue? Or would you care equally if he'd been a girl?"
"Well, he's not so it seems like a silly thing to discuss, but I don't know. I can't say. I'd like to think I'd care either way."
He watched her as she checked Randy over pretty thoroughly even though she was just using her hands and eyes. It was pretty clear watching her with not just Randy but her dogs as well that she loved animals, being a vet was clearly more than just a job to her.
"He really looks good."
"He's a good patient," John said.
"I still don't know what you want me to say. I did what I thought was right at the time. Do I regret it? I do, every day. I won't deny that especially after I married Bryce and knew I could have afforded him."
"Then Bryce probably wouldn't have been your husband if he knew you'd had a kid before you were married."
"No, you're right," she said. "It never would've happened."
"He doesn't know?"
"No, I never told him."
"What good would it have done me or Kyle to tell him?"
"I don't know. It just seems to me your marriage was destined to fail by withholding something pretty crucial from him."
"That's not why our marriage failed."
"Why did it?"
"That's none of your business."
She was right. It wasn't at all. One of the things he'd done with his days off was check for any police reports to the house or property over the years. There'd been a couple incidents, but as far as John could tell they'd involved someone gaining entry onto the property. He could tell, though, that she'd been tempted for a second or two there to tell him something. How could he tell that? He wasn't sure, but it had taken her a little too long to tell him it was none of his business.
"Why'd you come over Saturday night then?"
"Because you seemed to expect me to, and I didn't want you coming back here. I was just going to tell you I couldn't see you again."
He snorted softly at that, taking a pull from his beer as he watched her.
"And the sex?"
"I told you. It'd been so long, it felt so good. I needed it probably more than I ever realized."
"You didn't lie to me about not having to pull out, did you?"
"No! I'm on the pill, though my doctor has told me I need to start thinking about other options."
"Why?" he asked with a frown.
She shrugged. "My age. I don't smoke or anything, but over thirty-five they recommend women don't take it any longer."
"I see," he said. He hadn't known that, but then he'd never thought much about things like that anyway.
"I just haven't yet."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"Tell you what? That you were going to be a father at nineteen? That I was going to have a kid you didn't even want to begin with?"
"You don't know…"
"Don't! I thought about it. Months I thought about my options. I could have told you, you're right, but I knew it would cloud my judgment on what the best thing to do was."
"Yeah, because you must have known I wouldn't have wanted you to give it up."
"And you would've done what?"
"I don't know! You didn't give me the chance to find out."
"You know, it works both ways."
"What does?" he asked with a frown. He hadn't withheld anything from her.
"You led me to believe I was one of many."
"I never said that! Don't blame me for your assuming that was the case."
"You could have told me!"
"That you hadn't either."
"Like hell I was going to admit that."
"If you had…"
"Really? You think that would have swayed your decision making process about withholding the fact I'm a father from me?"
"It's not like I raised him myself without you."
"No, but you've been able to see him, watch him grow up, and know he exists. I didn't even have that until a few days ago."
"I know. John. But you didn't call me. You didn't do anything to make me think you wanted to see me after that day."
"That would've been exactly what anyone who knew what happened between us would've expected me to do, chase after the rich girl."
"And you expected me to do what every girl did with you? Do you hear yourself? Why would I put myself through that? I went to you that day."
"No, I went to you. I wouldn't have put it past you to accuse me of getting pregnant on purpose."
"I wouldn't have done that."
"Really? You say that today, but go back twenty years, John."
He shrugged, glancing at the beer bottle. He nodded a bit. Yeah, an eighteen-year-old him probably would have said something like that.
"You don't know I wouldn't have come around, though."
"I couldn't take that chance! As it was, I don't know how I got away with my parents not finding out."
"Did you even have a boyfriend?"
"What?" she asked. She sounded confused, perhaps rightfully so.
"Your freshman year, I heard that you didn't come home for breaks because you were at your boyfriend's house."
"No, it's what I told everyone. My brother rented me hotel rooms for breaks."
"You were alone?"
"Yes," she said with a shrug.
He shrugged. "That you were alone for holidays that were probably important to you, stuck in a hotel room, hiding being pregnant because of me."
"It wasn't because of you. I made a decision. I could have not had him. I could have told you."
"Yeah, but you're right. I wanted to see you again, but I took you not talking to me as a sign you didn't want to. Being alone on Christmas makes me no difference. You, though," he shrugged.
"It was hard. I hated it, but Christopher and I thought it was easiest for me to stay down there."
"What did you tell people you went to school with who saw you pregnant?"
"That I put him up for adoption."
"And the dad?"
"I didn't say much of anything. I think my putting the baby up for adoption was clue enough he wasn't involved."
He scowled at that, walking to the door she'd let the dogs out through and peering outside. The yard was huge. Of course he knew that already, but seeing it laid out for him like this was kind of weird. He saw the old house she'd mentioned. It had been nice, but wasn't anywhere near as nice as what she had going on here. What did it say about the amount of land she had out here that she could have two more than good-sized houses on it? There was also a second building he noticed. It was pretty small, almost like a cottage and he imagined it was a guest house of some sort. Bryce would have likely had people here over the years who wouldn't want to stay in the house. Maybe Claire did, too, for that matter. It sounded like the old Mercer house was kept up, but was it suitable for people to actually stay in? Who knew?
The fence that ran along the road must have cost her ex-husband a pretty penny.
"Does that brick stuff that goes to the heavens go around the whole property?"
"What?" she asked.
"Your yard. The fortress that goes around it?"
"Oh, around the residential property, yes. Someone could get into the yard by going into the lake, but if they really want to get in here that badly they'd just find a way to scale the brick walls. It was here before we moved in here. It'd always been fenced in."
"What do you want me to do, John?"
"I don't know. There's not a whole lot that can be done, is there?"
"No, not really."
"You're lucky I'm a guy with a gun that's on the right side of the law, you know that?"
"I do," she said.
"Fuck, Claire. A kid would've changed…"
"It would not have changed anything!"
"You don't know that. You don't know anything about me except what you wanted to believe."
"So you what? Wanted to come down to Champaign?"
"You wouldn't be where you are today."
He shrugged. She was right.
"Where do you think we'd be if you found out?"
"I don't know," he admitted. He'd thought hard on that the past few days. How different his life would be if he'd known he had a kid this entire time. She was maybe right, though. He probably wouldn't be here today and try as he might to deny it he liked his job.
"I thought of that. I couldn't think of anything good. I really couldn't. Both of us resenting each other was a distinct possibility."
"Yeah, but you got to spend the last nineteen years knowing him! You got to have more kids."
"How did not knowing about him stop you from having kids?"
"You walked away!"
"John," she said.
"No, God dammit you don't get to 'John' me as if we're talking about a pair of socks I left on your floor. The most popular girl in school couldn't bring herself to admit she actually liked me. How do you think that made me feel?"
"Oh, come on."
"No, you asked me about that John. How that John would react. How do you think that John felt about what you did?"
"You didn't tell me!"
"Whether I'd had sex before that day is irrelevant and not the point at all. You liked me enough to come to me that day, but that was evidently all I was good for."
"We're talking in circles. We didn't communicate well. Either of us. We can't go back and undo it. You didn't tell me you actually gave a shit about me more than another notch on your bedpost. I didn't tell you that I'd fallen in love with you not long after seven o'clock that morning. What does that get us? Nowhere but where we are."
"Sure, easy for you to say. You have all of this. Nice house. Nice job. Nice family. I didn't get that!"
"I did not stop you from getting married and having kids. Don't you dare blame me and one day of our lives for what you all of the sudden think you may lack."
"Unlike you I didn't fucking want anyone else, Claire."
"Jesus. Are you listening to yourself? We were eighteen!"
"Yeah, so? You could fall in love with me at first sight but the same can't be true in reverse?"
"You did not…"
"You can tell yourself that all you want. You got married right out of college pretty much, right?"
"Yeah," she said with a frown.
"So you had to have been dating him for a while before that."
And that was the part that had bothered him when he'd heard she'd gotten married. It had meant she'd gone to school and just forgotten about that day. He'd assumed, until now, that the husband was the reason she hadn't come home for the holidays her freshman year. He seemed to recall reading something when they got engaged that they'd been dating for a few years. The past few days, though, it'd bothered him even more.
"Yeah," she said. "What does that have to do with anything, John?"
"Well, the way I look at it. Clearly you weren't all busted up about giving our kid away if you were out dating shortly after he was born."
She stood then and walked to where he was, slapping him across the face.
"Claire," he said, grabbing Randy by the scruff of the neck. He didn't like her putting a hand on his handler in the least. He saw tears on her cheeks and he felt like shit for making her cry. He hadn't meant to do that exactly. He thought he was kind of entitled to being pissed off given the situation, though.
"Don't you dare talk to me that way and then say my name as if all will be forgiven because you give me that look. You don't get to come into my home and insult me. I've said I did the best I could for all three of us. I can't make you accept that, but, you know, I don't have to. I don't have to sit here and let you pass judgment on me. You don't know anything about me or my life so get the fuck out of my house and don't come back."
"Claire. Come on," he said.
Randy growled when Claire moved her hand again. She didn't move it as if to strike him again, but clearly the dog wasn't taking the chance.
"Randy," John said. "You can't possibly have thought I'd find out and just because we'd had sex again just act as if it wasn't a big deal."
"You think I had sex with you for that?"
"I don't know. It sure seems kind of strange you just doing that, yeah."
"Get out now. Or I will call the police, John. I don't care if you are a cop or not. Get out of my house."
"Yeah, all right," he said. "No sweat."
The gate was open when he got to the end of the driveway and it was closed almost as soon as he pulled through it. Not that he was tempted to go back in there and talk to her again or anything.
"Well, that went real well," he said to Randy who was panting from the backseat. He was moving back and forth on the seat, too. He hadn't liked seeing her get physical with John at all so he was on alert even though John was trying to get him to stand down.
"Hi, Toni, it's Officer Bender."
'Hi, John. How are you?'
"I'm all right."
"He's recovering just fine."
'Good. We miss him around here.'
She was being nice because John rarely frequented the precinct unless he had to for some reason. He just didn't have much reason to go there given his beat was the schools.
"Well, I'll be sure to let him know that."
'I think I have a treat at my desk the next time you bring him in.'
"We'll be sure to stop by then," he said.
'I look forward to it.'
He smiled a bit at that. He'd thought of asking her out for months, but never had. Mixing business with pleasure seemed like a bad idea, but she hadn't been shy about letting him know his attraction wasn't one-sided.
"Say. Could you do me a favor?" He knew what shift she worked and had checked the clock before calling to be sure getting her would be a good possibility. He was about to do something that was toeing the line, but he knew asking her to do him a favor would net him the information he wanted.
'Yeah, sure, at least I can try,' she said.
"I'm looking for my friend's house. I'm supposed to be having dinner there tonight and I think I must have written the address down wrong. Could you confirm it for me?"
"Brian R. Johnson. He's not answering his phone, but he was grilling outside so may not hear his phone ringing telling him I'm lost."
'Oh sure,' she said. He smiled a bit, glancing at Randy on the backseat who was much calmer now. She sounded relieved it was a him John was asking for information on.
"Thanks. I missed the first number so I was blocks off. You're the best," he said as he jotted down the address she looked up for him. It paid to be a cop sometimes.
'Anytime. Enjoy your dinner.'
"Thanks. I owe you one."
'I'll keep that in mind.'
He put the car back in gear and drove in the direction of Brian's house. Not surprising it was in the older but nicer part of Shermer. He stopped on the street in front of the house, putting his car in park.
"Come on, Buddy," he said to Randy who jumped out from the backseat when John opened the door for him.
He walked up the driveway and rang the bell when he got to the front door. He wasn't at all sure what he'd say. He wasn't expecting a woman to answer the door. An attractive woman at that. Huh. Who knew Brian had it in him? From inside he could hear the sounds of a piano being played, not very well.
"Hi, I'm looking for Brian. Brian Johnson."
"May I say who's here?"
"Uh, yeah, John Bender. I know him from high school," he said. By the look on her face she knew who he was. Fantastic. She didn't look unhappy to see him on her doorstep, but she wasn't thrilled either.
"Come in," she said. She'd waited just a minute too long so he knew she was doing it to be polite and he was a cop, not because she wanted to. He supposed he couldn't blame her. Who knew what she thought of him? Probably that he'd gotten Claire pregnant and left her high and dry without another glance or thought.
"Thanks," he said, stepping inside. He patted Randy on the head, gesturing for him to sit, and he did just that.
The living room was nice. Not as nice as Claire's, but better than his. Then that wasn't saying much. He had decent furniture, but he much preferred spending his money on things besides the newest and trendiest furniture.
"Have a seat, please, I'll let him know you're here," she said.
"Yeah, thanks," he said. He noticed a girl, probably about seven or eight, sitting at a piano in the living room. The music wasn't heard any longer so he guessed she'd been the one playing.
"Jenny, come on, sweetheart. Let's go find, Daddy."
"But, Mommy," she said, noticing Randy.
"It's all right if she pets him, unless you don't want her to."
She eyed the bandage on Randy's leg.
"He's fine. I wouldn't have brought him out if there was an issue," he said.
"Fine," she said tersely, but John could tell she wasn't certain or thrilled. Fuck. What the hell did she think she knew about him that she was hesitant to leave him in the presence of a kid? He was a cop for Christ's sake.
"What's his name?" she asked.
"Randy," he said.
"That's a funny name."
"Well, his real name is Dolphus."
She scrunched her nose, eyeing John for a second before her attention was back on Randy. She was petting him carefully, so evidently she'd been around dogs enough to know how to go about it.
"That's funny, too," she said.
"It is," he said with a shrug.
"What happened to him?"
"He got hurt. He's my partner."
"Yes, I'm a policeman."
"Oh," she said. She eyed the leg a second or two longer, but made no attempt to touch him anywhere near the leg. John was glad to see that.
"A bad guy hurt him?" she asked.
"He did," John said simply.
"Did you catch him?"
"Not yet, but we're sure trying."
"I hope you do."
"Me, too," John said. "He really likes it," he said kneeling next to her, "when you rub him right here."
She giggled almost uncontrollably when Randy licked her cheek in response to her rubbing him exactly where John had told her he liked. John didn't see any pets here so while it seemed she knew how to approach a dog he was guessing she wasn't used to dog kisses. Randy could be pretty affectionate, too. Cooper hadn't been like that so it had been a bit of an adjustment for John at first.
"John," a voice from behind them came.
He glanced at Brian not at all able to hide his surprise at seeing him look like he did. He sure had grown up well, which explained him getting the wife he had. He knew nice, geeky guys could get women like her, too, but not often. Brian was looking at John almost as intently so John didn't feel too weird looking at a guy like that.
"Hi Brian," he said.
"Jenny, go see your mother."
"But Daddy, I'm petting Randy."
"You can pet Randy again after I'm done talking to your dad."
"I do," he said.
"You're a policeman so you can't lie."
"Nope, I sure can't."
"Okay," she said, leaving the room then.
"So, cute kid. Pretty wife. Nice house. Obviously, life's been good to you."
"It's been all right," Brian said.
John was actually a little surprised Brian had stuck around Shermer. He'd assumed of the five of them from that day he'd be the one to not just want to get away from living near his parents but be able to do it, too.
"What are you doing here?"
"Wow. Okay. How are you, too?"
"Sorry, I don't mean to be rude."
"Yeah, you do. That's okay because I'm not exactly here to follow Miss Manners' protocol either."
"Why are you here?"
He followed Brian to the living room, noticing the wedding picture on the wall above the piano. It looked as though they'd gotten married pretty close to graduating from college, too. He didn't understand that mentality, wanting to settle down with one person for the rest of your life at the age of twenty-two. He supposed what didn't work for some worked for others.
A framed picture of Jenny was on the piano, a school picture judging by the background. Sadly, he wasn't sure the backgrounds they used at Shermer Public Schools had been updated in the past twenty years.
"All right, bypassing small talk then?"
"I think that's fair since we're not exactly friends."
Fair enough. John hadn't hidden the fact he hadn't liked Brian. Of the five of them Brian was probably the one John had the biggest problem with by the end of the day. Funny he supposed. He certainly wouldn't have wanted the kid to kill himself or anything. He didn't like him, though.
"Okay. Fair enough. So then, I'm trying to wrap my mind around the fact that you've known for eighteen years that I have a son and didn't think that was information I should know."
"It wasn't up to me."
"Since when did you and Claire become secret-sharing buddies?"
Brian shrugged, taking a seat on his couch so John followed suit. Randy laid on the floor by his feet, watching Brian. John was glad to see the improvement in something as simple as laying down in Randy. He only put a bandage on the leg today because they were leaving the house. He'd put the stupid cone back on when they got home again.
"Since she decided to talk to me," he said with a shrug.
"That's a non-answer."
"I don't know what you want me to say. She talked to me after that day more than once. Initially it was selfish. Her reasons I mean. I knew that even then. She didn't want it on her conscience if I really did hurt myself. So, she talked to me. It was never at school or in public, but," he shrugged. "I didn't really care. Claire Standish was calling me on the phone. I mean, like anyone would have believed me if I'd tried to say she did anyway so it was a pretty moot point at the time."
Yeah, John could understand that way of thinking because he was pretty sure he would've been happy with whatever type of relationship she'd wanted from him back then. Hiding? Sneaking around? Not telling any of her friends? He would've been in if it meant having her as his girlfriend. Not right away, no, he hadn't thought that way. It had taken him a couple of weeks of stewing on the fact she'd blown him off to realize he'd had a pretty damned good thing in his grasp and seemingly blown it.
"She came to me, telling me she was pregnant. She asked me what she should do. I think she thought I could give her an answer, you know a right or wrong thing when it wasn't about that at all."
"And nowhere in that conversation did it enter your mind that the dad should be told?"
"Well, it did, sure, but I couldn't make her, John, and it wasn't my secret to tell. She wasn't even sure she was going to have it at the beginning."
She hadn't told him that. He could see that she might have been tempted to have an abortion. He had to admit he'd wondered why she hadn't. As Brian pointed out they weren't involved. She hadn't gone to him that day expecting that to have happened. It had to have been her first instinct. Yet, somewhere along the way she'd decided to have him.
"And when she decided to have him?"
"I didn't know until we were at school."
"We went to U of I together. Honestly, I probably wouldn't know for sure she'd had him if that wasn't the case."
"Oh," John said, not realizing that either.
"I saw her a few times over the summer, but she never said anything about it so I didn't bring it up either. I figured if she wanted to talk about it she would. I saw her, though, and it was pretty clear by then she'd decided to have it so we talked."
"And you still didn't tell me?"
"It wasn't my place to tell you. I was down in Champaign anyway."
"Come on. Don't feed me that bullshit. You're a guy. You're telling me you wouldn't want to know?"
"Well, I could say something about letting your dick do the thinking for you. You made fun of me that day yet I don't have any illegitimate kids."
He hated that word. Illegitimate.
"I didn't know I did until the weekend!"
"Did you ask?"
Brian shrugged. "Did you ask? You know. You had unprotected sex with her. Did you ever call her and ask her?"
"No!" Why the fuck would he have done…
"I see you understand what I'm driving at. She didn't tell you, she had the right to do that. You weren't even involved. As far as she knew she was a one-time thing and you weren't exactly father material."
"Thanks," he said.
"Just telling it like it was. But you didn't pick up the phone and find out either."
"No," John said.
"So, how do you think she felt realizing that it didn't even occur to you that could've happened?"
She probably felt as though he didn't give a shit.
Of course he hadn't. Logically, sure, there was always the chance. What were the odds that would happen one time, though? Obviously pretty good, but the thought hadn't once occurred to him that was a result of that day.
"I mean, I don't know what you felt about her, but not looking her up ever again to at least find out she wasn't pregnant…"
"Yeah, I get it," John said. Loud and clear. He was an asshole. He'd fucked up somehow when he hadn't even realized there was something to fuck up. "It still doesn't justify her saying nothing."
"Whether I agree with you or her is irrelevant. It wasn't my kid. She needed an ear that first semester at U of I, I provided it. She was vulnerable, emotional. She tried to do the best thing."
"Did you two…"
"No," Brian said with a laugh. "That's what concerns you about my telling you we spent time together?"
"A little," John said. He could admit that.
"No," Brian said. "It wasn't like that. She introduced me to my wife actually."
"And her husband?"
"What about him?"
"When did he come into the picture?"
"John. It's not my place to fill in the blanks of the last nineteen years of her life for you. If you want to know answers you need to ask her."
"She kind of told me to get out of her house."
"So you came here thinking I'd talk when she wouldn't?"
"No, I wanted an explanation why another guy would think it was cool to withhold that information from me."
"What did you say to her?"
"You said she told you to get out of her house."
"Oh," John said with a sigh and shrugged. "I told her she obviously wasn't that shook up about giving our kid up if she started dating the soon-to-be husband shortly after she had him."
Brian shook his head and stood then.
"What?" John asked.
"You're lucky all she did was tell you to get out of her house."
"Cop or not, you said something like that to me…"
"Yeah, I suppose," John said.
"Jenny," Brian said when he walked to the doorway leading to the hall.
"What are you doing?" John asked.
"You promised her she could pet the dog again before you leave."
"You'll be leaving in a few minutes."
"She's my friend, John. Maybe you don't have many of those to understand that things said to you in confidence are expected to be kept that way."
"I bet your wife knows," he said.
Brian regarded him briefly before glancing at the floor. He tried to mask it, making it look as if he was looking at Randy instead but it was an afterthought. His immediate reaction was to look away from him.
"Yeah, see. I saw the way she looked at me when I told her my name."
Jenny came back to the room then and knelt by Randy who seemed to know it was time to go again because he was sitting up ready to do just that.
"John. I don't know what you want me to say or do. Say I'm sorry? I can't really say I am. What would you have done back then if she'd told you? Really. Did I think she should? Yes, but ultimately it was her decision and I couldn't argue with her back then she made the incorrect one."
"Do you know him?"
"I've met him, sure."
"Must be nice," John said.
Brian sighed softly. "Again, I didn't make you do anything that day. That was on you. You knew she was emotional, vulnerable, and inexperienced."
He had, sure, but he hadn't been able to say no to her. He still remembered her opening the door to that storage closet to this day. To say he was surprised was a severe understatement. Then she'd kissed him.
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"She obviously wasn't thinking coherently."
"And I was? Jes…"
"John," Brian said cautiously.
"Geez," he corrected. "You think I had a stellar day that day before her finding me?"
"Yeah, but… You took advantage of the situation. Her innocence."
"There was absolutely no advantage-taking by me. She came to me!"
"Sure because you got her attention the way no other guy has. I don't understand it, believe me. She came here over the weekend and I couldn't believe it happened again!"
John noticed Brian used the word has not had as in prior to that day. Has as in present tense. What the fuck did that mean? Hell if he knew.
"She told you?"
"Yeah," Brian shrugged.
"Huh," John said. They must have been better friends than John realized or thought. "Are you going to tell her I came here tonight?"
"Probably," Brian said.
"Great," John said. She'd probably be mad at him about that, too.
"Good night, John. And, really, don't come back. I'm not going to answer any more of your questions and I can't undo the past."
"Bye Randy," Jenny said, leaning in and giving him a hug. She was very lucky that he was a tolerant dog. Cooper had let people get close, but he never would have let someone get this close. He'd been good with kids, had to be to work the schools as they did, but he had his limits. John knew what those limits were, though. Randy was a totally different dog. Different dog, different rules. Little girls could hug Randy and get away with it.
"Thanks for petting him. He likes that."
"Bye," she said, waving as John opened the door.
"She's cute," John said.
"Thanks," he said.
John sat in his car on the street outside Brian's house, playing the conversation over in his mind. It had solved absolutely nothing. He wasn't sure it was a wise thing to do, going there or not. He'd had to know, though, had to confront the guy. What guy did that? Fuck. He still couldn't wrap his mind around another guy thinking it was acceptable not to tell him he was going to be a dad.
"All right, Randy. Let's go get your cone back on," he said, turning his car over and putting it in gear so he could head home for the rest of the night.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com