"So am I still staying here tonight then?" he asked when they got back to her house. She hadn't said much in the car on the way home. John hadn't thought too hard on warming up her car. He was trying to be nice, knowing she had kids to get ready and make sure they had all of their things together. Of course, him sitting in her car, which Bryce obviously recognized, was a pretty good give away that John had been there for dinner with them.
Evidently that hadn't gone over real well with him.
Why though? If the guy wasn't into women what did he care who Claire had Thanksgiving dinner with?
She didn't answer, but she didn't tell him no either.
Her mom had sent her home with some leftovers so he helped her get the things out of the car she had and followed her inside.
"You're not really mad at me about having Toni watch Randy, are you?"
"Mad? I don't know if I'm mad, but it might have been nice if you'd told me instead of hearing about it from someone else."
"I didn't even think about it. She's done it before when I've had something to do for a weekend or overnight."
"Something or someone?"
"Claire, come on. Don't do that. Even if that was the case that was then, not now."
"But she likes you."
"And you like her?"
"I can't deny I wasn't attracted to her."
"And you think that wouldn't bother me?"
"I didn't do anything about it! I won't deny I flirted a bit, knowing I could but it never went beyond that."
"Kyle said he saw you…"
"She touched me! She was petting Randy and touched me. I wasn't expecting it, so I didn't draw away fast enough maybe. I don't know. I saw him, though, and did."
"God. Claire. What do you want me to say?"
"I don't know, but I'm reminded of the fact that you never really wanted one girlfriend."
"Fuck. Are you kidding me? That was twenty years ago and not at all how I felt when I was presented with the opportunity to have one girlfriend. You never gave me the chance to find out if I'd do well in that situation."
"Okay, but you know what I mean."
He handed her the last of the things to put in the fridge, which he imagined they'd eat most of since the kids were gone.
"Claire. I don't want anyone but you. I can't promise you what's going to happen tomorrow or next month, but I have no plans on bailing on you. You're right, I've never had a serious relationship, but that was my own doing. And, really, can you honestly say you've had a real serious relationship either?"
She opened her mouth to argue with him, but he could see her realizing what he'd said was more or less true. Yes, a marriage was a serious relationship but a sham of a marriage wasn't a real relationship. At least not as far as he was concerned. Maybe she thought of things differently.
"I want to believe you."
"And what about you?"
"What about me?"
"How do I know that I'm not just handy to make up for years of a lack of sex life?"
"I don't think that. So please don't tell me to leave. I'm just pointing out that we both have to take a lot on faith here. I'm not that guy!"
"How does he know?"
"Huh?" he asked, not sure what she was asking him.
"Kyle. He knows. Doesn't he?"
John shrugged. "I think so, yes."
John sighed. "He came to talk to me a second time. He was upset I hadn't admitted to knowing you when he was there the first time and asked me if I knew his dad."
"You are his dad!"
"No, not me, Chris."
"I didn't say anything about you and he thought that was strange I guess since I'm dating you. He didn't really say he knew, and I didn't really admit it was true, but yeah."
"Yeah, all right, I should have said something, but I didn't know how and I didn't want to worry you. You were busy with the kids going back to school and getting Bryce back and forth to football and stuff. It just sort of slipped my mind."
"I guess he reacted better than I thought he would if he ever found out."
"Well, obviously he has some questions and feelings on the subject. I'd expect you'll hear from him about it at some point. Maybe not this weekend or over Christmas, but at some point."
"I absolutely don't want to deal with it."
"Just be honest with him, Claire. That's all you can do. Maybe he'll be mad for a while, but surely he'd have to realize where he'd be and where you'd be if you kept him nineteen years ago."
"I hope so."
"I thought dinner went fairly well otherwise. I mean, your dad didn't seem too sure about me but he didn't order me to leave or anything."
"No, he wouldn't have done that anyway."
"That makes me feel infinitely better, thank you."
"Well, you're not Bryce and you do have a very … different job than Bryce had."
He scoffed at that. That was an understatement. No doubt that different job, being a cop that was dangerous, also presented the possibility that he was going after her for her house and stuff. He knew there were some people who'd think that. There wasn't anything he could do to prove otherwise either, really. Her kids were here at this house so clearly he was going to be the one coming here instead of them coming to his house. They could, sure, but he didn't have anything for kids Betsy's age to do. So it just made the most sense.
"So we can stay?"
"Yes," she said. "I need to check your bandage anyway."
"Please tell me that's not the only reason you're letting me stay."
"Not the only reason, no."
"Thank you for coming today. I know you'd rather have done anything else."
"Well, not quite anything else, but you're welcome. It wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be."
"I know you were in a lot of pain."
"It wasn't that bad."
"John, don't lie to me. I saw it. I may not doctor humans, but I know what pain in someone's eyes looks like."
"I was all right until Betsy wanted me to hold her. She was fine, too, I positioned her the right way, but then she shifted and jabbed me right there with her knee."
"Oh my God, I'm so sorry. I didn't know! I didn't even see her ask you to pick her up."
"It's all right. It's not her fault, clearly she didn't know or she would've been careful. I didn't think to tell her she had to be careful."
"She likes you."
"I'm not sure why, but I'm glad. She's pretty cute."
"She is," Claire agreed.
She let the dogs back in and locked the door behind them.
"And she likes you because Bryce never quite knew what to do with her. Boys aren't big snugglers, you know? I mean, they do but it's not the same. I think Betsy could lay in bed with me all day and watch cartoons and she'd enjoy every second of it. Bryce would've done it for an hour, maybe two, and then he would've needed something in addition to the TV."
"I get it."
"Good. Not to say that Bryce is mean to her or anything, he's not. He just let me carry her and stuff. Bryce at this age didn't really want to be held and carried around."
He reached for her, sliding his arms around her so he could hug her.
"I have an idea to put to rest any doubt you have about this Toni situation."
"Have lunch with me tomorrow."
"You're closed so you can have lunch anytime, right?"
"So, plan on about half past eleven. If something comes up I'll let you know."
"How does that solve the problem exactly?"
"Well, she'll see you're there to see me."
"I'm surprised she hasn't asked you who Kyle is."
"Toni is a super nice person. There's a reason I trust her with Randy, and I hope you can understand that because you have pets, too. I wouldn't trust him with just anyone, but she's not the brightest one out there. She asked me if he was an informant the second time he showed up."
"Oh," she said.
"Yeah, I don't think she's going to be putting one and one together to make two anytime soon. Something tells me after tonight he's not going to stop by and see me again either."
"That bothers you?" she asked before kissing him.
"A little. I mean, no, but you know there's a part of me, yeah."
"Why?" she asked. He chuckled softly.
"Sorry enough to forego the pajamas tonight?"
"You have to work in the morning."
"I know, that's why you should stop standing here arguing with me about it and just agree so we can go to bed."
"You expecting someone?" he asked when the buzzer rang.
"No," she said, groaning softly when she saw it was Chris' car. There were a couple of other control panels in the house, but the one in the kitchen was the main one with a screen so Claire could actually see who was at the gate and stuff. The other panels didn't have the cameras, just the ability to talk and open the gate. The cop in him hated that she knew, but she never felt unsafe here or anything.
"Who is it?" he asked, glancing at the car, but not recognizing it. It wasn't Bryce's or Kyle's.
"Chris," she said.
"Oh," he said.
She let him in and walked to the front door. He stayed in the kitchen while she did that, which was fine with her. Chris followed her into the kitchen, glancing at John for a second. She refused to feel embarrassed or if she was doing anything wrong. What if after her marriage with Bryce she chose never to get married again? Her brother didn't expect her to live like a nun for the rest of her life, did he? Then maybe he did. She always felt as if she disappointed him by marrying Bryce when she did and having her business all the way out here.
"Are you crazy to bring him to our parents' house for Thanksgiving dinner?"
"Claire. I realize you haven't had to think much on this, but you do remember that no one in our family but me knows you had a baby, right?"
"I do remember, yes. I'm not stupid, Chris."
"So bringing the guy who looks like him and happens to actually be his father was a good idea why?"
"You think I should just never bring him around Mom and Dad's house?"
"I think you should have warned me about it beforehand. I also think you should think long and hard before bringing him around again anytime soon, yes."
"You told me Kyle wasn't going to be there until later so I didn't think it was an issue."
"Claire! Mom and Dad aren't stupid. They're going to figure it out if you keep bringing him around. You know that as well as I do."
"And so what if they do figure it out? What can they do about it now nineteen years later? Ground me?"
She had a point, and Chris must have realized that because suddenly her brother's attention was focused on John.
"And you, stay the hell away from my son."
"I haven't gone anywhere near him!" John said.
"DeeAnna says you were in the basement alone with him for a while last night while she and Anne Marie got pie."
"She and Anne Marie got pie, I stayed downstairs. Why is that a problem?"
"You know damned well why it's a problem. Claire saw a reason to put him up for adoption back then, you don't get to come in here and decide you want to be involved with him as if the past nineteen years don't matter."
"I haven't said they didn't matter and I haven't made any effort to be involved with him."
"You came to my house!"
"I have a job to do. You think I should tell my captain I couldn't do a neighborhood canvas because my kid who doesn't know me lives in one of the houses?"
"You could have gotten out of the assignment. You and I both know it."
"Chris! I don't understand why you're so mad. Mom and Dad seemed to like him well enough." They hadn't said anything, of course, but Claire knew by now how her parents' reacted to situations. Her dad may not have been as nice as her mom was to him, but her dad hadn't hated him.
"I'm just reminding you of the situation and that you're toeing a line that risks exposing everything you did back then."
"I can't help that I'm dating him."
"You can, too!"
"I'm sorry. You want me to not date him because Mom and Dad might figure out what happened?"
"I think you should think long and hard about what his agenda is."
"My agenda?" John asked.
"Yeah, you. Pretty convenient you showing up in her life again months after she got divorced."
"Jesus Christ, you give me way too much credit if you think I've thought about anyone from high school for more than ten minutes of my life since then. I did not pay someone to shoot my dog as a ploy to meet up with her again."
"You didn't have to see her again."
"You're right, I didn't. I wanted to, I can't help that and I'm not going to apologize to you for how I feel. If anything, knowing I'm still here seeing her after finding out about Kyle should tell you I have feelings for her."
"Or you're biding your time until you can really hurt her."
"Yes, you're right. I've spent the past nineteen years as a cop so that I could plot out my revenge against anyone who did me wrong in high school. As for Kyle, I'm not doing anything to the kid."
"He was upset last night."
"Maybe he and his girlfriend got into a fight or something. I don't know. Why am I to blame?"
"Because you're the only thing different about his life."
"Maybe he had a bad week of class. Maybe he bombed a test. Maybe a lot of things. It's not my fault."
"I knew this was a bad idea."
"This whole thing. I don't know what you saw in him then or now, but you better not expect me to pick up the pieces a second time when he does something this time around."
"I'm not eighteen!" Claire said. "I won't have you coming into my house insulting John either. You can't hold what happened then against him now. He's not that guy any more than I'm the same girl from that day."
"What are you going to do if Mom and Dad find out?"
"I don't know! Admit it? He already knows the truth anyway, so it's not like if they find out more people would have to hide it from him."
"How does he know? And how do you know he knows?"
"I just do. I don't know."
"You told him," he said, pointing at John.
"He did not," Claire said. "Everything in the world is not John's fault! Kyle is not completely John's fault. I knew about birth control the same as John did. I took the chance the same as he did."
"You hadn't had sex before."
"Neither had he."
"Right," Chris said. "If you believed that then you're not as smart as I thought you were back then."
"He didn't tell me that then!"
"Are you going to help me pay for his college tuition?" Chris asked.
"He has scholarships, Christopher. Don't be an ass. He knows the truth, he's not running off to live with me or John. People find their birth parents all of the time, it doesn't change anything about who their parents are. You're his dad. Ellen is his mother. I know that. John knows that and I'm pretty sure Kyle does, too. If you think his knowing anything, or Mom and Dad finding out, changes things then that's on you not me."
"Don't psychoanalyze me."
"Don't come here sounding ridiculously paranoid over nothing. He's known for months and you haven't known. Does that speak to someone who's going to do anything stupid to you?"
"You need to be careful," Chris said.
"Bryce Jr. told Kyle that he spent the night last night."
"Yes. I'm not married, I'm allowed to do that."
"That's the kind of example you want to set for your kids?"
"We didn't have sex in front of my kids, Chris. He spent the night because he was coming with us. Why am I justifying myself to you? I'm almost forty years old, if I want him to move in here I can do that."
"If Bryce Jr. told Kyle, chances are he's going to tell his dad, too. Truthfully, I don't really care what you do, but he might."
"Let him get angry."
"You're still the mother to his kids. He still has political aspirations beyond state senator. Just remember that."
She did know that. There was a US senate seat he was running for next fall. She knew that, had known it. It was why he'd given in and let her try for a girl, thinking it'd make Claire happy and more prone to staying in the marriage. A second baby would look good he'd been told or Betsy would never even be here. She couldn't get artificially inseminated without his cooperation. It was also why they'd gotten divorced as quietly and amicably as they could, so that his chances of getting elected wouldn't be harmed. She didn't want to move to DC, though, so his wanting to run sort of moved things forward more quickly than they may have done ordinarily. Would he win? She had no idea, but wouldn't be surprised if he did. The Mercer's were a very powerful family politically with a good reputation. His father and grandfather were spoken highly of.
"Chris, I'm sorry, I honestly didn't think it'd be a big deal to bring him to dinner. Do you and I think Kyle looks like John? Yes, because we know who John is and what their relationship is. I'm not sure Mom and Dad would think too hard on it, though."
"Maybe not, but you have to be prepared for them to ask or figure it out."
"I have been, I was back then. You have no idea how terrified I was of them finding out. I'm done being scared. I made a decision and it was a good one, the right one. I don't regret that or having him. I certainly don't regret being in the position to have to decide whether to have him."
"I should go," he said.
"Really? You came over here to yell at me and you're just going to leave?"
"I have some things to do while Ellen's home with the kids. Besides, he's here."
"He's leaving," she said, gesturing to John. "He works today."
"Oh," he said. "I didn't realize. Sorry."
"You're not sorry or you wouldn't have yelled at me to begin with after seeing his car on the driveway."
"I wasn't yelling, I just don't know if you realized how careless that was."
"Like I said, you told me Kyle wasn't going to be there until later. I figured it'd be a good way for Mom and Dad to meet John."
"So it occurred to you meeting him for the first time sitting at the same table as Kyle may not be a good idea?"
"It did," she admitted.
"Well, at least you thought it through. I'm glad."
"I'm sorry," she said when she came back into the kitchen after walking him out.
"Nothing to be sorry for. He probably has a point. I guess I never really thought about your parents thinking anything of me other than being the guy you brought to dinner."
"I think Chris is paranoid."
"Well, it's not like I'm going to see them again anytime soon."
"Well, Christmas is next month."
"Christmas is a little more personal than Thanksgiving, isn't it? I guess I assumed I wouldn't be included in that. That's gifts and stuff."
"Well, you could be there if you wanted to be."
"The kids will be with Bryce Christmas?"
"No, he leaves for Springfield next week. So, I'll bring them down Christmas Day after we've done stuff with Mom and Dad."
"Well, how about I drive with you? You just stay the night, right?"
"I can go with you. We can stay the night somewhere down there. I'll find a place."
"You don't have to do that."
"I know I don't have to do that, but you cook for us all of the time. You even have dog food here for Randy now, which is nice, but …"
"Groceries and dog food are not a hotel room."
"Maybe I like the idea of you getting a night like that once in a while. I liked seeing you as relaxed as you were back in September. I haven't seen it since then."
"Because I'm busy!"
"I know that. I'm not telling or asking you to be less busy."
"John, it's really not necessary. I can drive them down there, spend the night at…"
"So, that's cool. You staying with your ex-husband but I can't have a woman watch my dog?"
"I'm laying odds that she's not a lesbian."
"While I don't know that for sure, I tend to agree with you. That's not the point. You got mad I had a woman watch my dog. This is you spending the night at a man's house who knows you intimately. I don't care how long ago that intimacy occurred. You're in a relationship with me, I don't want you spending the night with the guy who happens to be the father of your kids."
"And who has aspirations on being a US senator. You didn't tell me that part."
"What difference does that make?"
"It makes a difference. How do I know he won't realize that a wife would be a good thing for him to get elected?"
"I'm not going to remarry him!"
"Yeah, well, you did it once and stayed married to him for years so what's to stop you from doing it again because he needs you to do it?"
"Because I don't want to live in DC?"
"That's the only reason?"
"Well, that's the main reason. That's the reason we got the divorce now. I knew he was running. His grandfather had died. We talked about it for a while and then decided it was better to do it now. We were able to do it amicably, people see that we still get along and the kids are shared between us. It worked."
"So, I play no bearing on that?"
"You remarrying him?"
"John! He hasn't asked me to remarry him. He's not going to ask. I think a couple of months is a little soon for you to be asking me questions like that."
"Why? We can't have legitimate feelings for each other in five or six months?"
"When we have so much other stuff going on? I think anyone would tell us we should wait to see how things with Kyle really work out before we make any decisions."
"And your family, I bet. Mom and Dad start to piece it together are you going to bail on me?"
"I don't know! I don't think so, no. I meant what I said to Christopher earlier. What can they do about it now?"
"Your father could disinherit you."
"He could, but I don't think he'd do that over something eighteen years ago. And Chris…"
"Would give you half anyway because he wouldn't think it was fair."
"Yeah," she said. "John I just really don't think it's a good idea if you go down there with me."
"He already knows I was at your parents' house tonight."
"I know that, but it's not the same as you driving with me to bring our kids to see him."
"So, I'm good enough to bring to Mom and Dad's house on Thanksgiving but not good enough to bring to meet the ex? Yet I'm supposed to tell you who I let watch my dog?"
"John, that's not it at all. I'm just not sure Christmas Day is the right time to do that."
"Fine, whatever. Do whatever the fuck you want. I have to get to work."
"Whatever your deal is I'm not overly thrilled at meeting him, you know, but I figure it's sort of inevitable if I'm going to be around you and your kids. It's Christmas, which may mean nothing to me in the grand scheme of things, however, I figured maybe you'd like to spend the night somewhere. Go swimming or something. I'm sorry for thinking you'd like to do something to take your mind off of not having your kids on what I'm sure is a day you're used to having them."
"I know, I just…"
"Don't make excuses. Whatever the reason, I get it. Can't meet the ex. I've got to get to work."
"John, don't leave mad."
"Too late. Forget about lunch, it was clearly a stupid idea anyway."
"Nope. Not going to talk about this anymore, but I want you to think about the fact that you apparently had no problem with me meeting your parents and your entire fucking family, spending hours with them even. For whatever reason, though, I can't make a drive down to Springfield with you to drop your kids off. What kind of message am I supposed to get from that exactly? I'm not sticking around for an answer. When you have one that doesn't sound as backwards as I think you're being right now, you let me know."
And like that he was gone. She had no idea what to even say to him anyway.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com