She'd never been here before. Well, maybe back in school they'd taken a field trip here. She vaguely recalled that when they were studying how the justice system worked. They'd taken a field trip downtown, too, to a courthouse and were able to sit in a courtroom for a little bit.
She couldn't recall John being a part of either field trip, not particularly surprising she supposed. His parents probably wouldn't have spent the money and he wouldn't have wanted to go even if they'd been willing.
There were moments, few and far between because she knew he wasn't the same guy at all, but they still happened where she couldn't quite wrap her mind around the fact he'd become a cop.
He hadn't come to her house last night. She'd waited up for a while, but when it was clear he wasn't going to show up she'd gone to bed. She chalked it up to his working late, but she imagined that wasn't the case. She could have gone to his house, but hadn't thought about it until later.
She also realized this morning if he was that mad he wasn't going to just show up at her house. She wasn't sure her showing up here was the best course of action. The officer at the desk was eyeing her curiously.
"I'm looking for John Bender," she said finally, hoping she wasn't making a huge mistake coming here like this. She didn't think he could get much madder at her, but then she wasn't sure how mad he was capable of getting.
"You have an appointment?"
His eyes flickered in recognition at the name. She sighed a bit. There were times she didn't mind having Bryce's last name. It'd certainly proven to be a blessing more than a hindrance over the years, but now that they were divorced she didn't like it as well. If she didn't have kids she probably would've gone back to Standish.
"Have a seat, I'll let him know you're here."
"Thanks," she said, walking to the area where there were seats. She wasn't going to sit unless too much time had gone by.
"You have political aspirations I don't know about, Bender," the officer at the desk said after she'd heard the sound of a door open and close in that direction.
"Why are you both wet?" she asked.
"He needed to be cleaned up and I ended up needing to get cleaned up, too."
"Oh," she said.
"What do you need, Claire?"
"Need?" she asked.
"Yeah, I'm at work here."
"Well," she said, glancing at the clock behind him near the desk. "I wasn't sure what time you'd be done."
He scoffed at that. His schedule was not regular nine to five, though. He could have started at six this morning for all she knew. How was she supposed to know?
"That still doesn't answer my question."
She glanced at Randy who was sitting beside John calmly. He looked fine so she wondered what happened to him that he needed to be cleaned up, but she supposed it was none of her business. That had bothered her yesterday more than him being mad at her had really. She wanted to know things about him that no one else knew, more than just Kyle, too. She wanted it to be her business.
"You," she said softly.
"I'm sorry. What?"
"You asked me what I need. That's my answer."
"Yeah, well, I'm not sure what you need and I need are in the same ballpark right now. I realize you just got out of a fifteen year commitment so I don't know maybe the timing is just off."
"Can you take lunch? Or can we talk somewhere I'm not being scrutinized because the guy at the desk knows my name?"
"I guess," he said. He didn't sound too sure it was a good decision. "Give me a few minutes to get him situated. I'll be back. I swear to god you get me to lunch and tell me some bullshit about how the timing is off or something …"
"I'll be here."
"Yeah, all right," he said. "Come on, Randy."
"Do you own a uniform?" she asked when he came back.
"Yes, of course. I haven't worn one in years, but I have one. I have things to go to and do where it's required."
"I suppose. I'd just never seen you wear one and I didn't notice any in your closet at your house."
"That's because I keep them in the guest room's closet. They stay pristine that way because there's nothing else pressed up against them."
"Ah," she said. "Where do you want to go?"
"I don't care," he said. "I don't have real long, though."
"All right," she said. It was a Saturday afternoon so there were some places that weren't as busy as they were during the work week at lunchtime. She found one of those places.
They ordered and Claire fiddled a bit with her glass.
"I understand why you feel the way you do and said those things. Do you really think I'd let you stay at my house with my kids there if I was in a totally different frame of mine than you are? If I was just with you for sex? I wouldn't do that. I wouldn't let you get to know them as you have. You've been there just about every day since they got back from their dad's house in August. I wouldn't have invited you to my parents' house for Thanksgiving."
"Well, I don't know. Some people do that shit. I see it all of the time."
"I suppose you do," she said, not having thought on that. He probably saw a lot of stuff that Claire thought of as irrational.
"Just last week. Well, never mind. Let's just say I wish people, men and women, screened people before letting someone get involved with their kids."
"I didn't screen you."
He chuckled softly at that, taking a sip of his Coke. "And I'm a prime example of why you should, right?"
"No, that's not what I meant. Listen. About Christmas. You took what I was saying way more personally than I meant it."
"I did huh? How impersonally should I take the news that you don't want me to go with you?"
"I understand why you would. It's not that I don't want you there. I love the idea. The kids will be crashed in the backseat by the time we get out of Chicago. So company, you, would be welcome. I can't say I'm fond of the drive. Bryce is Bryce. You going with to Thanksgiving is not the same to the kids as you going with to see their dad. It's a balancing act. I can move on, he can't really. So if I move too fast. If there's anything that comes across as seemingly inappropriate on my end."
"He can't date, John. So if I show up in Springfield with a boyfriend months after being divorced and he's not even seeing someone …"
"It's pushing a year. When I saw you in July you said four months. It's not like you just got divorced and two days later I was staying at your house."
"I know. It doesn't seem like a year, though at all."
"The guy at the house that day in August?"
"I don't know who he is, but he still can't date him. He can't bring him to functions. He can't run a campaign with him by his side."
"I suppose," he said.
"I'm trying to be considerate. That's all. It was only last Christmas that was an issue of our not being married any longer."
"It's not that I don't want you with me. I honestly didn't even think about staying there. It's just what we did last year. If you saw his house down there, you'd know."
"Well, clearly going by your house here I know. Jealousy isn't logical, sweetheart."
"You're jealous of him?"
"I'm jealous of the years he got with you, yeah. Sure, I can admit that."
"Not logical, remember? I mean, did I spend the last fifteen years jealous? No, of course not, but now that I'm with you. Know things, it bothers me that if I'd been a good guy, done the right thing."
"I know. We probably wouldn't be here. Logically, I do, but that doesn't mean I don't go over it in my head."
"I'm sure you do, and I'm sure you've gone over it in your head way more times than I have over the years. How could you not?"
"I had an idea."
"How many days off do you get for Christmas?"
"Well, it's on a Thursday and I worked this weekend so I get it off. I do work Christmas Eve, though."
"What if you met me down there and we could spend the weekend down there? Have you been there since that trip we took back in grade school?"
He looked at her oddly for a minute or two, and she realized very likely he hadn't gone on that trip. She remembered it because it was the only time in her life she'd ever spent nine hours on a school bus and it had been awful. Never mind they'd left at like six o'clock in the morning to be able to spend the day down there.
"Okay then. Have you ever been there?"
"No," he said.
"No offense, but meeting you down there would be a waste of both of our time."
"Well, I wasn't suggesting you drive down there. I'll look into a plane ticket."
"Claire. How is that any different?"
"The kids, Betsy, mostly won't blab to Bryce about you being down there with me."
"What's he going to do exactly?"
"I don't know, but if they told him you stayed the other night and then…"
"You think he'd try to take them from you?"
"I don't think he would, no, but I didn't think we'd be where we are today either. You know? He drinks way too much these days and isn't the same guy he was when we met. I liked that Bryce, John. A lot. Enough that marrying into such a deal was appealing to me. He was my friend."
"Does your brother know?"
"No, Brian's the only one who knows. And you."
"So, all those years, Chris has no clue?"
"No. I wouldn't do that. I only told Brian because I needed someone to assure me I wasn't crazy."
"Brian told you it wasn't crazy marrying someone who was gay?"
"Brian told me that I should do what I thought would make me happy. I thought, at the time, it would. Being a senator's wife, being a Mercer, hasn't been bad to me."
"So that was my thought. You could fly down there and drive back with me. He'll drive them back up the Sunday night they have to get to school."
"What does he do with his house when he's not in it for six months?"
"I'm really not sure. I imagine he has someone to stop in and look at it."
"Or a friend to stay there?"
"Maybe," she said with a shrug.
"I wonder if that friend would go to DC with him."
"I doubt it."
"I suppose not."
"John, I understand why you're mad at me, but you have to understand this isn't familiar to me. Dating. It's been a long time and what we're doing is way different than what Bryce and I did. I have kids, though, that I have to think about, and like it or not my name is still Mercer so I can't do anything to drag the name through the mud."
"I get it."
"I want you there with me. We'll leave Mom and Dad's around two o'clock, which will get us there around six or so. That certainly gives you enough time to get some rest if your night runs long Christmas Eve."
"It shouldn't, but yeah."
"Is that a yes?"
"I can buy a ticket."
"It might be real expensive."
"I'd actually book a bus ticket. I can have Randy with me then instead of putting him in a cargo area."
He shrugged. "Sure. You'll let me book the hotel so I can find one that will allow Randy?"
"You're not going to leave him with Toni?"
He shrugged a bit at that. "No, I'll use being a cop and find a hotel who will let him stay with us."
"She's not there today?"
"She doesn't usually work days actually. She usually works afternoons into the evenings. It just so happens the two times Kyle has come she's been called in early."
"Oh," she said.
"Hoping to meet the competition?"
"Am I competing?"
He scoffed. "No."
"If I hadn't come by today?"
He narrowed his eyes a bit, regarding her.
"What are you asking me?"
"You're asking me if I would've asked her out or something because we fought?"
"No. If she wasn't someone I worked with maybe I'd be that big of an asshole, but no. Besides I'd need condoms if I was going to do that."
"Uh yeah, and I sort of don't have any anymore so that would be deeply inconvenient."
"Yes, and I can admit that I hate those fucking things."
She laughed softly. "I've never…"
"Yeah, I know. I'm not going to buy anymore so you can find out the difference."
"Maybe I want to…"
"Nope, not doing it. Unless you tell me I have to then, of course I would."
"Well, you mentioned this summer your doctor recommended…"
"Oh, I've already taken care of that."
"Don't worry, I'm fine. It's just a different form of birth control."
"Trust me, I don't want anymore."
She bit her lower lip lightly and ran her finger over the edge of her spoon. They hadn't gotten soup or dessert so it was unused.
"That doesn't bother you?"
"Nope. Never wanted them. Seems to me we had this conversation. Or maybe I just had it with myself, I don't know. No. I'm fine without producing anymore Bender's."
"And two years from now?"
"Don't see that happening. I mean, I like to think we're taking steps to my being a pretty significant part of your kids' lives. That's fine with me."
"I'm not some."
She laughed softly. "No, I guess you're not."
"I could ask you a similar question, you know."
He shrugged, taking a sip of his Coke after he pulled his wallet out of his pocket.
"I'm going to buy. I invited you."
"Get out of here. I'm not letting you pay for lunch."
"Save it. You're not buying me lunch. And my question," he said. "Well, you have no concerns? Worries about my being around your kids, knowing how I was raised? A part of me wonders if that wasn't why you made the decision with Kyle you did."
"I have no qualms about you, John. You wouldn't be a cop if you were violent."
"Well, I'm not sure that's a good judge…"
"And if Bryce does some sort of background check on me and finds out about my past?"
"Do you have any violent arrests or altercations on your record?"
"Well then what can he say?"
"You're worried about his reputation, he may not be the one digging up dirt on me."
"And again. What can they say? Despite the odds you got out and have made a good life for yourself? That's not a bad thing last I checked."
"I know you said it's too soon, but I know people who've gotten married in less time than this."
"I know that, but there's so much to deal with. It goes beyond just us."
"Are you going to come over tonight?"
"Do I get to help you cook dinner?"
"If you want to."
"Then I'd love to come over tonight."
"I missed you last night."
"Yes," she said. "The house was empty and when the kids have been gone the past few months you're always there, in my bed."
"Well, I'll try to make up for that later then."
"How's your side?"
"It's all right. I changed the bandage when I showered just now and it looks good. I don't think anyone would look at it and think I didn't see a real M.D."
"You're lucky, you know."
"What do you mean?"
"He either didn't know where to stab you to nick anything important or his aim was very off."
"Yeah, he was just blindly reaching for any part of me he could get."
"You're still lucky."
"Does that happen a lot?"
"I'm a cop, Claire. We pursue criminals, most of whom don't want to get caught."
"I know, but you've never come home needing stitches before."
"You know what I mean."
"I do, and I'd be okay with it being home when you're ready for that."
"What about what you're ready for?"
"Uh, I'll put my house on the market tomorrow if you're offering."
"You'd do that?"
"Move in with me?"
"Sure," he said with a shrug. "Why not?"
"I don't know."
"I'd be more worried about you. You're worried about his name, having a live-in boyfriend might tarnish that name a bit."
"Well, when you're no longer worried about that let me know and I'll talk to a realtor."
"Why do you have to sell your house?"
"Hmm. Well, I couldn't fit you and kids plus two more dogs and a cat in my house. Besides, Randy really likes your pool."
"Randy does, huh?"
"Yes. He was really looking forward to using it last night knowing the kids were gone and it'd just be him."
"I bet he was crushed."
"He could go in there tonight."
"I'll be sure to tell him that."
She drove him back to the station. They'd been gone a little longer than an hour but he didn't seem that concerned about it. He leaned in and kissed her. A nice kiss, too, not just a kiss goodbye.
"Thank you for inviting me to lunch."
"Lunch that you bought."
"I can't let you buy me lunch, Claire."
She sighed but kissed him again before finding his chin.
"I'll see you later."
"What do you want for dinner?"
He chuckled softly. "You."
"To start, yes. You're not the only one who missed you last night. Expecting a whole weekend and then suddenly finding myself presented with a whole weekend of nothing."
She laughed, running a fingertip over his mouth.
"I know, right? It's awful. Giving you regular sex is a terrible burden."
She shook her head, drawing her hand away after he'd kissed her finger.
"So, that's what I want for dinner. Maybe I'll bring a pizza or something for us to eat whenever we get hungry later."
"You said you wanted to help me cook."
"I do. I want you. I want to undress you. That's helping you get what I want for dinner ready."
She blushed, she knew it without him chuckling at her reaction.
"All right, Princess. Have a good rest of your day then. Maybe you should take a nap."
"I plan on making up for last night."
"I'm counting on it."
"Good," he said, getting out of the car then.
She watched as he walked up the steps and went inside. He'd just said he'd live with her. Why did that idea make her excited instead of screaming for the hills in fear? She wasn't sure, but she couldn't deny his saying that had made her feel good.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com