***Chapter Eight***
Word Count: 2,911

"Why do you look sad?" he asked, joining her in her bedroom. He'd let the dogs in so she could get ready for bed. She took longer than he did so it was fine with him and she seemed to like him doing that. As if it took any great effort on his part to let the dogs in.

He still couldn't get over the house as he walked to her room from the kitchen. It wasn't big enough he'd get lost in it or anything, but she certainly didn't lack for space to raise kids, have more than one or two pets and not worry about everyone being on top of one another. He was pretty sure he'd be hard-pressed to have enough space for two kids on top of Randy.

Of course, he probably treated Randy better than most parents treated their kids. Or at least as well as that.

"What?" Claire asked.

"I don't know," he said, sliding a fingertip along her arm. "We've had a pretty nice weekend. At least I think we have. You look like that's maybe not the case for you."

"That's not true!"

"All right," he said, grabbing onto her ankle before he got into bed. He loved touching her and was pretty sure he'd never get enough of it. Her feet and ankles weren't real dark tan, but the rest of her was barring the parts a bathing suit covered. No tan lines on her back, though, so she clearly didn't keep the top to her swimsuit on when she laid out. He wondered how she managed to tan as well and dark as she was currently. He supposed she spent a lot of times outdoors with the horses she had and by her pool. He liked it on her.

"I feel a little guilty, though."

"Fuck. Why? We haven't done anything wrong. You're divorced! Your kids aren't here. You're allowed to live."

"No, that's not why."

"Good, because I was going to say."

"No, just the kids are going to be back tomorrow."


She shrugged and he turned onto his side, sliding a hand to her hip and tugging her gently so she was on her side, too, looking at him.

"Come on. What?"

She shrugged, running a fingertip along his arm at her hip. She did that sometimes, touched him while he was touching her as if she was amazed he was doing it. He didn't get that. He really didn't. She had yet to say anything real bad about her husband. They were divorced so, clearly, they had issues. The separate bedrooms really made him wonder what kind of life she'd had.

"It's nothing really."

"Don't do that. What?"

"You can't stay here again then."

"They'll go to their dad's some weekends, won't they?" he asked. He'd thought of that, too, actually. It'd been a while since he'd spent an entire weekend with someone. It was pretty nice he had to admit. He and Randy had gotten done later than he'd thought Friday night, but she'd insisted he could come over after they were done. He hadn't been home since leaving the house Friday afternoon.

"Sure, until he goes down to Springfield and then it's very rare. Once every six weeks or so, and I drove down there and stayed the weekend. I don't know how it will work this year since we're divorced now."

"With him?"

"Well, yes. I mean, I had my own room and I wasn't in the way."

"You're divorced now, though, Claire, you can't do that."

"What do you mean?"

"Come on. He's got his own house up here. You can't go down there and stay with him as if you're still married."

"It's not like I hate him."

"Yeah, well, that's still very weird."

"It's the only way it worked out. He got to spend the most time with the kids because I could close the practice that Monday."

"That makes sense," he said, having to agree with the logic. It was her practice so she could open and close it whenever she wanted. Likely, she knew the dates in advance so patients just weren't scheduled those days. "And that's very nice of you."

"They're his kids, too."

"I get that, I do," he said. "Well, we can worry about that when the time gets here. I'd rather focus on the every other weekends he'll have them until that happens."

"Is that right?"

"Actually, no, it's not."

"What?" she asked. He chuckled softly at the look she was giving him just now. She didn't like that answer at all.

He leaned in and kissed her, sliding his mouth to her jaw and lower to her neck as he worked the buttons on the top she wore. She insisted on wearing something to bed, which he wasn't sure he understood when he'd just removed it the first two nights. Whatever made her comfortable, he supposed.

"I'd rather focus on the rest of the one here and now," he said.

"I like the sound of that."

"He's not going to drop them off at seven o'clock in the morning, is he?"

"No," she said.

"Good," he said, working her top over her head. He'd learned Friday night the buttons weren't just for show or decoration. They served no real purpose that he could see really, but if they weren't undone the shirt wouldn't come off. Evidently they were designed to give people those extra couple of seconds to really think about whether they wanted to have sex or something.

"Why? He wouldn't care."

John found that incredibly hard to believe. He didn't have an ex-wife, but he had a couple of ex-girlfriends he'd been serious enough about to care about seeing them with some other guy. He couldn't imagine spending almost half of his life with a woman, having kids with her, and not caring she was seeing someone else months after divorcing him. Then maybe he wasn't normal, but going by what he heard around the precinct and other cops he didn't think he was out of the norm with that thought process.

"I bet your kids might care."

"Oh," she said.

"Probably not a good way to meet them for the first time either."

"I suppose not," she said.

Meeting her kids was a scary thought, and not one he wanted to spend any amount of time worrying about tonight. He much preferred thinking about ensuring she wanted him here the next weekend she didn't have them. So he decided to shut up and set about doing just that.

She wasn't much of a toucher. She wasn't afraid to kiss him or to let him know that she wanted him, but touching him seemed to exceed her comfort zone for some reason. He didn't mind exactly because her being a willing participant had never been in question. It did make him wonder, though.

She also seemed self-conscious of his seeing her naked. He'd offered to take a shower with her yesterday morning, but she hadn't gone for that. She'd used the dogs as an excuse, but clearly the shower could have waited until after the dogs were let out. He hadn't pushed, though, and hadn't brought it up again this morning.

He thought her insecurities were pretty pointless. He hadn't examined every inch of her, but he thought she looked just fine for having one kid let alone three. And the parts that would've been most effected by having kids he'd spent a good amount of time getting to know.

"I don't think your cat likes me very much," he said an hour or so later when they settled in to go to sleep. She seemed to know that's what they were doing, too, because only then did she join them on the bed.

"I know," Claire said.

"So I'm right?"

"She's never had to share my bed with anyone but me."

"I suppose," he said, as the cat found a spot nearest to him for the moment.

He reached behind him to pet her, scratching her ears.

"She's all right for a cat, I suppose."

"Not a cat person?"

He shrugged, drawing his hand away from Gertrude and sliding it around Claire.

"Just never been around them much I guess. Have you always had both?"

"Yes," she said.

"And horses?"

"Yes," she said.

"I never pegged you as an animal person," he said.

"What's not to love about animals?"

"I don't know. The you then, though, taking care of anything else…"

"That's not very fair."

"I know, but that's how I thought."

"I won't deny my parents ended up taking care of our dogs more often than Christopher or I did growing up."

"Imagine that."

"I think that's one of the reasons Chris doesn't have pets. He remembers it was Mom and Dad who took care of them, cleaned up after them. I just," she shrugged, pressing against him. This he could get used to. Her body's instinctive attempts to stay close to him. He liked that about her a lot. They hadn't woken up this close either morning, but that hadn't bothered him. They weren't twenty, but falling asleep with her like this was nice.

"Does your little girl ride horses?"

"Yes. She just started this spring, actually. She's a natural. I knew she would be."


"She's on the small side and she's watched her big brother and cousins so she knew the rules before we ever put her in a saddle."

"Did you start that young?"

"I did," she said.

"Huh," he said. Yet another thing about her he hadn't a clue about until now.

"That surprises you?"

"That you rode horses?" He shrugged. "No, I suppose it's not surprising. It's certainly something a well off person would do that someone like me wouldn't have had the opportunity to."

"You could have ridden!"

"Right," he said with a soft chuckle. "Tell yourself that."

"Do you know how to ride?"

"I know how within reason, sure. I'm not going to give that Shoemaker guy a run for his money or anything."

She laughed softly.

"You could go riding with me sometime."

"Hmm, sure," he said.


"Sure, as long as you don't laugh at me. Or take me out into the woods somewhere and leave me to find my way back."

"I wouldn't do that."

"Well then, sure."

"It's a date then."

"Yeah?" he asked.


"All right."

"Some weekend when the kids are at their dad's."

"Right," he said. "You know, your daughter's three, right?"

"Yes," she said.

"You're surprisingly calm about being away from her for so long."

"I wasn't at first. The first few days were terrible. Never mind I've never had the house to myself ever. I don't think I've ever been alone in my life until this summer."


"When would I have been? Other than that Thanksgiving and Christmas I was pregnant, and that was different."

"I suppose."

"Eventually, though, it got better."

"You're ready to have them back, though, I bet?"

"I am," she admitted. "I'm sorry, maybe that's not the answer you were hoping I'd give."

"No, no. What makes you think that?"


"Claire, come on. They're your kids. Of course you want them back."

"I'm glad you see that."

"I'm not a complete dick."

"I didn't think you were."

"I'm glad to hear you say that. Now, get some sleep, Princess. Your kids are going to be home tomorrow and something tells me you're going to have a busy week trying to make up for not seeing them for six weeks."

"You might be right."

"I think I am, yeah."

She hadn't mentioned the youngest one calling again wanting to come home, but he imagined Claire missed her daughter as much as the daughter missed her mom. The older kid was probably able to roll with the change a little bit easier, but he could see to a three-year-old why it would be very confusing. Especially since it sounded to John as if Claire and Bryce had continued to live together even going through their divorce. He hadn't lived in the house, but on the property and eaten dinner with them just about every night she'd told him. Then, Bryce had spent six of the months down in Springfield, so maybe her parents living separately wasn't a big deal for her. Spending all of her time with her dad and not her mom was probably different, though.

"That's good."

"You probably think I'm weird."

"Weird? Why?"

She shrugged.

"Because I didn't have parents like you are and had, you mean?"


He shrugged. "I don't think it's weird that parents want to be good parents. I think it's weird when I see situations where it was obvious a parent or parents didn't want the responsibility and shirk it."

"You see that a lot?"

"I do," he said.

"Is that why you're not as mad about Kyle as I thought you were going to be?"

"Oh, if you'd stayed to talk to me after telling me about him I would have been plenty mad. We wouldn't be here now in your bedroom I'm pretty confident. You left, I wasn't going to chase after you with that laid in my lap. Yeah, though, I can acknowledge starting out with a disadvantage of being an accident to two people who were as young as we were and weren't even involved to begin with probably wasn't the way to a good life."

"I'm glad you can see that."

"Only because of my job."

"I know. I see it, too, believe it or not."

"What do you mean?"

"Not everyone should have a pet. I see dogs, cats, and you name it brought in that clearly aren't taken care of. The parents wonder why they're sick. Last winter I had a little boy bring me a turtle he'd found on his driveway. Clearly someone had him as a pet, decided they didn't want it anymore and just let it go."

"A turtle?"

"Right? Can you imagine? The boy's mom brought them in. I told her what they'd need to care for it, give it a good environment, and from what I know the turtle is thriving."

"That's good," he said.

"It is, I wish I knew who would do that, though. It has to be someone around here if the boy found him on their driveway."

"Right. I can't even imagine. I mean, at least put him in a pond or something."

"Yeah. Sadly, there's nothing I could do about it even if I did know who did it. Just like I can't report the people who don't do more for their pets than the bare minimum. They're not breaking any law. There's a family up the road about a mile from here. They have cats, like eight of them, none of them are allowed in the house. I have no problem with outdoor cats, but they do nothing to stop the cats from creating more cats. I've tried to talk to the wife, tell her she should get some of them neutered but it falls on deaf ears. There's always someone willing to take cute kittens off their hands. I think about those cats, though, when it's cold in the winter."

"Randy is the closest thing I've ever had to a real family truthfully. I couldn't even imagine leaving him outside or not caring for him properly."

"I know, I can tell that about not just you but him, too. He's so obviously loved and loyal to you. That's good."

"Yeah, my job kind of depends on that."

"I know."

He shifted a bit on the bed, turning onto his back. She turned, too, so she was facing him and rested a hand over his abdomen.

"You know we're going to go home tomorrow and Randy's going to look at me like I'm holding out on him."

"What?" she asked, lifting her chin a bit to look at him.

He chuckled softly. "Your pool. I honestly didn't know he liked to swim."

"He's never before?"

"Well, not for fun, no. He's gone in before on a search, sure."

"Oh," she said. "Well…"

"Relax, I'm teasing. He'll be fine."

"I'd tell you that you can bring him here anytime, but I just don't think coming here tomorrow would be a good idea."

"I wasn't trying to weasel an invitation in. I imagine it'll be kind of chaotic."


"Probably for a while."

"At least until school starts again."

"Where does your little girl go?"

"I have a nanny come to the house."

"Ah," he said. That made sense he supposed. "Well, if you want a break from chaotic you have a phone. I have a phone."

"You want me to call you?"

"If you want to, sure. Other than taking him for a walk I have no plans for the evening coming up here. If you don't I won't take offense or anything."

"All right."

"And if I don't answer it's not because I'm avoiding you or don't want to talk to you. It just means I got called out for something."

"Hmm," she said. He wasn't sure if the 'hmm' was a tired sound or an indication she was thinking. Either way, he knew it was late and she had her kids coming home tomorrow after working all day. He'd feel bad if she was tired because of him.

"Night, Princess."

"Night, John."

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