"Hey, Toni," he said. "We're on for next weekend, right?"
"Yes, we sure are. I'm looking forward to it."
John had immediately thought of Toni as someone who'd take Randy for the weekend. He hadn't told her why he was going out of town for the weekend. He wasn't quite that stupid, but he knew the woman loved his dog. And, yeah, okay, he knew the woman was into him, too, and would enjoy doing a favor for him. Shady of him and maybe bordering on being an asshole, but he'd worry about that another time. He'd flirted with her over the past couple of years she'd worked there, but he'd never taken it beyond that.
"The kid an informant or something?" she asked, nodding in the direction of where Kyle stood and the reason John was up here.
"No," he said. He hadn't noticed he was even there, not looking for him or thinking he'd be showing up here again anytime soon. "Thanks. I'll see you on Friday then if I don't before then."
"Sure. Bye Randy," she said, petting him before John walked toward Kyle.
"Hi," he said. What could he possibly want today? Had he answered a question wrong? Or said something in a way that would lead to him coming back here again?
"Hi, sorry," Kyle said.
"Hey, no need to apologize. You can come by anytime," he said, cringing inwardly as soon as the words left his mouth. He shook his head a bit, focusing his attention on Randy for a second so neither of them would (hopefully) dwell on what he'd just said. Because, yeah, not knowing about him until recently or not. Well, what dad would balk at his son coming to see him, even if Kyle didn't realize that's what he was doing? "What's up?"
"You're seeing my aunt?" he asked then and John wondered how in the hell he'd found that out.
"Let's go for a walk outside for a bit, okay?" he said.
"Yeah, sure," he said, following him out the doors. "Doesn't he, like, ever pull on his lead or anything?"
"Oh, at the house sometimes when I'm walking him, but not usually, no. We work long and hard with them so they don't do that stuff." He glanced at Kyle who was watching Randy more intently than he seemed to be paying John attention right now. He handed the lead to him. "Here," he said.
"Oh, no, he's…"
"He'll be fine, trust me. I wouldn't let you do it if I thought there'd be a problem."
"Thanks," he said. "I've always been jealous of my cousins. They've had pets since I can remember."
"No," he said with a shrug. "I thought about getting a place off-campus this year that would allow pets, but decided not to."
"Why not?" John asked.
"Well, what would I do with him or her over breaks?"
John nodded. "Good point," he said. "Plus they're a huge responsibility. If you don't think you can do it, then you're probably right in waiting. Though I bet your aunt would help you out there if you asked."
"Why didn't you tell me you were seeing her?"
"I don't know. That day you came by here her kids were just getting back I wasn't sure what that would mean for us. I've only been seeing her a few weeks really."
"She fixed up Randy?"
"That was more than a few weeks ago," Kyle said.
"Well, I don't know what to tell you there beyond the fact that we didn't start dating immediately." Had sex immediately, but not dating. "She's recently divorced and well, I'm a cop."
"But I asked you if you knew my dad."
"Sure. I don't, not really. I know his sister, but you didn't ask me about her."
"You went to high school with her?"
"Yes," he answered.
"Did you date her then?"
"No," John said with a scoff. "No one really dated your aunt back in high school."
"Why not? Pictures I've seen she had dates."
"Sure, I guess, but not like boyfriends. I assume that's what you're asking me."
"I liked her, but I wasn't boyfriend material back then."
John shrugged. "My parents sucked and so I had an attitude problem. Your aunt was the only person who was really ever nice to me for a while there. Actually for a long while. And through my own fault that only lasted a day."
"Sorry," he said.
"It is what it is. I'm here today because of it. I did some not so nice or good things growing up, but then I turned eighteen and decided I didn't want to end up exactly like how my old man predicted I would. In prison or dead. So I had a choice to make."
"And you chose to become a cop?"
"I guess I did."
"Is it a good job?"
"I like it. Honestly, I couldn't imagine doing anything else. I like meeting kids like your sister and you when you were younger. I like the idea I could maybe make a difference in a choice they make. I didn't have anyone who gave a shit about me, so I try to be that."
"I see," Kyle said.
"What's on your mind, Kyle? You didn't come here just to ask me if I was seeing your aunt."
He shrugged. "I don't know. I just wondered why you hadn't said anything about knowing anyone in my family when I mentioned it."
"I don't know. I guess I should've, but like I said I wasn't really sure what we were doing. I'm still not real sure."
"Why not? You don't like her?"
"Kid, no, that's not it at all. I'm pretty sure I loved your aunt nineteen years ago. That hasn't changed. I'm not the one with kids and a recent divorce. She's not the one with a risky job. I don't really know how well she's going to take to that when we're no longer newly dating. So, I guess we're still at the 'we'll see what happens stage'."
"Oh," he said.
"I can admit I haven't had many serious girlfriends over the years and I've never dated anyone with kids."
"No. Well, I guess that's not totally true. I've dated women with kids, but I've never met the kids."
"Be cool with Bryce, okay?"
"Yeah. He's a good guy, you know, but I think he still has it in his head that his mom and dad will get back together."
"Oh," John said, nodding a bit. Fat chance of that happening, but he could see where a kid not knowing the things about his dad John did would hang onto that hope. "I try to be, you know. I can admit I'm not entirely sure what to do with them, you know? I ask questions, try not to pry or appear to be too interested but don't want them to think I'm not interested. Betsy seems to be the most willing to share anything – and just about everything – with me."
Kyle laughed at that, handing Randy's lead back to John. "Yeah, Betsy's funny that way. She likes people and she likes telling them anything they'll let her talk about."
"Were you like that?"
"Me?" Kyle shrugged. "I don't think so. I don't know. Bryce is five years younger than me so I was in school by the time he came around. I was sort of used to be the only kid around."
"No other cousins?"
"No. Well, my mom has a sister and a brother, but they don't live in Chicago so I hardly see them and didn't really even when I was a kid. I was always the oldest, though."
"Oh," John said, not knowing that about Chris' wife.
"I'll be honest with you. I think Bryce is suspicious of you."
Kyle shrugged. "I don't know why exactly." Kyle frowned a bit and John wondered if Kyle and Bryce were puzzling some things out separately or together. John had no idea if Bryce knew Kyle was adopted. "I probably shouldn't say that, but I like Claire and it didn't take a genius to spot they weren't exactly happy for a while now."
"You leave this weekend?" John asked. He figured maybe a change of subjects was a good thing about now.
"Yeah," he said.
"You and the girlfriend doing all right?"
"Yeah, she's nice."
"That's good. Nice girls aren't a bad thing."
"I know. We've never," Kyle shrugged.
"Well, you know I grew up knowing my parents were real young and I just never wanted to go there, risk that."
"There's nothing wrong with that."
"I know, but sometimes I wonder despite her saying she's cool with it that she thinks I'm not interested."
John chuckled softly at that. "I don't know her, but just be honest with her. Tell her where you're at, what your focus is on. If she has a problem with that, well then that's her problem not yours. Men always get the raw end of the deal about pressure and stuff, but I've seen it happen both ways. You know?"
"I do. Her parents are real nice."
"Yeah? That's good."
"They like leave us alone when we're there, watching a movie or whatever. At my house, Mom or Dad come downstairs to check on us. Or DeeAnna does."
John laughed softly at that. "They must trust you, that's good, Kyle. Don't take that as an insult."
"And mine don't?"
John shrugged. "I don't know her parents, but I know your parents or at least I know how Chris and Claire were raised. I think they probably, like you mentioned not wanting to do, don't want to see you repeat something. Your aunt seemed to think this girl is the first girlfriend you've really had."
"Oh," John said.
"And she is."
"Well, are her parents in the same financial situation yours and your aunt are in?"
"No. I mean, they do all right, you know, but no. She's there on student loans. She knows I have my scholarships but wouldn't have needed them to go to school."
"Well, then they may have concerns that spring from that type of thing more than not trusting you. You're their son, she's not their daughter and they don't know her. I saw it in high school, see it now on the job, girls get pregnant thinking the guy will be the answer to their problem."
"She doesn't have any problems."
"That's good, but trust me when I tell you don't believe everything that's presented to you. There were people growing up who didn't have a clue what my home life was like. My dad was such a good actor. He could be drunk as a skunk and put on a good show for anyone that he was sober and a good guy. It was the reason things between your aunt and I never would have worked back then, though. It wasn't a question of liking her or not, it was a question of trusting her because I'd never had anyone to trust to that point. She thought I wasn't interested, and by the time I realized I was interested well it was too late to say something so I just didn't. She was going to college and stuff anyway, which was something I knew I was never going to get. I thought, too, that she'd take one look at the way I actually lived, not just what I told her and that she'd bail."
"Sorry," Kyle said.
"I'm not looking for your sympathy, just telling you that not everything is as it's presented to the world. Your parents know this same as I do. They're being cautious. That doesn't mean they don't like her or anything."
"I didn't really give them a huge chance to get to know her either. I like being at her house better."
"Why?" John asked. He hadn't been inside of his house, but it was a damned nice house. Not as nice as Claire's, but it was still nothing to be ashamed of.
"DeeAnna and Alex," he shrugged. "I don't know. She doesn't have grade school siblings."
"Ah," John said. "Well, that's not wrong exactly, but she must not mind them if she babysits once in a while for you."
"No," he said.
"Do me a favor," John said when they'd gotten back to the police station.
"I don't know if you've talked to your mom and dad about this stuff, and if you haven't that's fine. I realize sometimes there are things you can't say to your parents but another adult is okay. I'm certainly not going to tell anyone."
"Not even my aunt?"
"Uh no. I mean, I can't say I won't ever tell her things we talk about, but not about your relationship with a girl if you're asking me for advice."
"If you go down that road, make sure you use something. You know? Even if she tells you she's using something or you know you're going to marry her next week. You've got a bright future ahead of you. Your mother gave you up so that you could have that opportunity. Don't let her sacrifice end up in the same situation she found herself in years ago."
"Thanks," he said.
"I'm not saying she's untrustworthy. Don't take what I just said to mean that. It's just you can never be too careful and if you haven't before someone devious could take advantage of that and tell you things that aren't entirely true."
"And don't take my telling you to use something as a suggestion you should go out tomorrow and do anything either. I'm not saying that. I'm just putting it out there. Because ultimately if something happens, whether she's using something or not, it's on you to protect her as well as yourself. The buck stops with you, but I'd tell her the same thing if she was standing here talking to me. I'd tell her to carry a condom in her purse because you can't assume each other is and I remember my first time. Trust me, I'm not sure it would have mattered to me if I'd known then I wasn't thinking rationally."
"I get it."
"Just making sure. I'm not telling you what to do or not do, just saying if you're going to do it be sure you know what you're doing."
"I know. I hear you. She's never pushed, maybe she's fine with where we are. I just, I know other people, other couples we know, are."
"You know what? You don't know, unless you've walked in on someone doing something. Then you know. Otherwise you really don't know. You have assumption and things other people are saying. That doesn't mean those things are actually happening. One of the reasons things wouldn't have worked with your aunt back in high school. She thought I had a different girlfriend every day. No one ever asked me if that was how I was, they just saw me with girls and assumed. What guy's going to say it's not true when they're sixteen and seventeen?"
"So you never went out with her?"
"No," he said.
"But you liked her?"
John shrugged. "I liked what I learned about her one day, yeah."
John chuckled. "Yeah, we served a Saturday detention together. It was the first and only time I'd ever talked to her really. I knew her of course. Everyone did. She was Homecoming and Prom queen. All that stuff. To say our paths never crossed until that day beyond passing one another in the halls of Shermer High once in a while would be very accurate."
"Why'd she go to detention?"
John snorted at that. "Don't go getting all excited. She cut school to go shopping."
"What did you do?"
"I pulled a fire alarm."
"Oh," he said.
"Anyway, I guess if I'd been honest with her maybe things would've turned out different. Maybe. No telling. I think, though, things turned out the best for all concerned."
Kyle nodded a little at that. "Well, thanks."
"Sure," he said. "Anytime. I meant that."
"I know, thanks."
"Hey, John," he said, stopping to turn around from taking those last few steps to his car.
"Yeah?" John asked.
"We wouldn't be standing here today having this conversation if you'd been honest with her?"
"Probably not, no." For a multitude of reasons. One potentially being that there would be no Kyle if he'd spoken up and told the truth about his inexperience before they'd gotten to the point of having sex.
He got into his car then and left. "Fuck," John muttered to himself as he mulled over what Kyle had just asked him and how he'd answered. That could be taken so many ways. The question and the answer did not mean anything specifically. Many things would have been different after that day if he'd been honest with her.
"I think we'll keep this conversation to ourselves just in case, though. Right?" he asked Randy. Randy of course said nothing back. Randy probably would disagree with John, but he wasn't going to stir up a hornet's nest based on a possibility, especially not with the kid leaving for school in a couple of days.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com