February 14, 2004 (Saturday)
"What is wrong with you?" he asked.
"Nothing," she said with a shrug. He could tell it wasn't nothing, though. Relationships may be new to him. Well, this kind of relationship was anyway. He knew when there was something the matter, though.
"Claire, come on. You're not a real good liar."
"I just worry about the kids, I guess."
"They'll be fine," John said. "Bryce didn't seem mad about being stuck babysitting Betsy so that we could go to dinner anyway."
Oddly since he'd taken Bryce to the Cub Scouts meeting things had been sort of okay between them to where he didn't think having to stay home to babysit his younger sister because of John was a problem. Because he was fairly sure if he'd been asked back in November if he could babysit Betsy so that John and his mom could go out for a romantic dinner he wouldn't have been happy at all.
"So I ask again. What is wrong?" he asked.
"Claire, if you don't want to go out tonight…"
"No, I do."
"What does that mean?"
"Nothing. It means I do want to go. I didn't realize staying home was an option."
"Well, of course it's an option. I'm not making you go out tonight. I mean even jerks like me know they're supposed to take their girlfriend's out on Valentine's Day. If you don't want to go, though. Well, we can stay here."
"Wait. Before you say anything. Before this turns into something weird or where I do or say something wrong that I don't realize I'm not supposed to do or say that thing." He closed the distance between them. "This is for you," he said, reaching into his suitcoat pocket for the ring he'd bought. It'd come with a box, but he'd decided to forego the box. If she saw a box the size a ring would come in she'd likely be very disappointed with its contents since he hadn't gotten her that type of ring.
"I've never bought one of these before and had no idea what you'd really like. Well, I had ideas on what you'd really like, but they are way out of my price range. So," he said, drawing the ring out of his pocket. "I went with what I thought would like nice on you that I could afford. It did make me rethink the renting my house thing, though."
"Well, because if I wasn't paying my mortgage every month on an empty house I could afford better than this," he said.
"You have no idea what to do with it, do you?"
"You could put it on me."
"I wasn't sure that wasn't a gesture reserved for those other types of rings."
"No," she said. He took her hand then, and slid it onto her finger. He'd taken one of the rings she had in a jewelry box so that he could get this one sized to fit her. It was one he'd seen her wear over the past six or seven months just not often to where she'd miss it if it was gone for a few hours. It was one that he knew fit her, though.
"So, it's all right and everything?" he asked once she drew her hand away from his.
"It's beautiful, but you knew I'd think that."
"No, no I didn't. It occurred to me what I like and what you like are very probably polar opposites."
"But you liked it for me."
"Well, yeah," he said.
It was nothing earth-shattering, but he'd liked it. While picking out the ring to bring with him to size this one to he'd glanced at her selection. She didn't have a crazy amount to choose from, but there were a few there. Looking through them had given him a bit of a complex. Especially when he'd found what was likely her engagement ring. Yeah, there was no way in hell he was every going to afford something like that without donating a kidney or something first.
He'd gone with a rose quartz ring in the shape of a rose. Cliché as all hell since it was Valentine's Day, but he'd liked it. It was different and nothing that would be confused for more than what it was. There were a couple of diamond flecks in the rose, but he hadn't bought it for those. He wasn't sure either of them were ready for her to be wearing a ring that would be confused for that.
She was crying now he noticed. Not the reaction he expected. Nope.
"Claire? You don't like it?"
"No, I do. It's beautiful, but I can't accept it."
"I'm sorry. What?" Was he in another universe where they hadn't been living together for the past couple of months?
"I don't want you to get me a gift like this because you think you're supposed to."
"Well, I'm supposed to do a lot of things, like probably be married to you before living with you. However, I'm here doing just that. I don't do things I don't want to do, Claire."
"Yeah, but if we weren't living together…"
"I'd still have gotten it for you."
"Yeah, but John."
"Claire. Come on. I mean, if you don't like it we can go back and get you something you do like. You don't have to be coy or anything with me. I realize it's not in the same league as the stuff Bryce bought you, and I'm sorry about that in ways you will never imagine."
"That's not why," she said, wiping the tears away from her cheeks before giving him the ring back.
"I just don't think it's a good idea."
"It's a gift. I didn't realize you had a choice in whether it was a good idea."
"John, can we please not fight about this tonight. I wanted to go to dinner with you and have a nice time. I really didn't want to get into this tonight."
"Get into what exactly? You couldn't have known I bought that for you because I left it at my house until last night."
"No, I didn't."
"Then what? I'll say it again, if you don't like it you're not going to hurt my feelings. I mean, I picked it out and everything, so yeah I guess I'll be a little bummed if you don't. However, I'll get over it if there's something else you'd rather have."
"No, there's not. It's absolutely beautiful because I know you actually went to some effort to pick it out for me. I'd love it. Really."
"Okay. Then what's the problem?"
"You're not going to let us go to dinner, are you?"
She sighed and walked towards the second bedroom in the master suite.
"You're leaving?" he asked confused.
She didn't leave. He would've heard the door leading from that room to the hallway open if she had. Was he supposed to follow her? What? And what the fuck did Bryce's room have to do with anything? She came back a couple of minutes later.
"This is why it's not a good idea."
He swallowed hard as his eyes focused on the thing she was holding.
Absolutely fuckity fuck fuck fuck.
"I know," she whispered.
"I am. I mean, I took it out once I took this test and saw it was positive, but I was."
He frowned, though, still trying to follow her train of thought. And to focus on the part of this conversation that wasn't instilling the fear of God in him right this very moment.
"Okay, that still doesn't explain why you won't accept this," he said, holding his palm out with the ring in it.
"Because you don't want kids!"
"Well, yeah, but I'm here with your kids. I mean, maybe I don't do right every time, but I try. If you're worried about something like that."
"No, I'm not."
"I cleaned up after Betsy the other day when she threw up in her bed."
"But that's not…"
"The same? I suppose it's not, but clearly I'm signing up for the step-dad gig by living here."
"You don't want it?"
"No! I'd never."
"Okay. So what's the problem then?"
"You don't want it."
"Well, I don't want Captain Wilson as my boss either, but I go to work and do my job every day anyway."
"This is not a job, John. This is the…"
"The rest of my life. I know that. I mean, I don't know, but I can grasp that's the case. That still doesn't explain why you don't want this."
"I do want it."
"You sure aren't acting like it. You're going to give me a complex if you don't take it and leave me so scarred from this experience I'll never want to buy you anything again."
She laughed softly at that.
"And, you know, one day soon I'd like to think I'd buy you the kind that the pushy woman at the counter was trying to interest me in."
"I bet she was."
He chuckled a bit at that. "I probably need to wait until after I'm not paying a mortgage and you to live here."
"Okay, if that wasn't in play would you have accepted it?"
"Then take the damned thing. What the fuck am I going to do with it if you don't accept it?"
"Yes, but my parents and Kyle…"
"Yeah, I hadn't thought on your parents yet, but Kyle did cross my mind. I think, if you don't mind, I'd like to talk to him about this one."
"Why?" she asked.
"Because I'm the reason he was raised by your brother and his wife when it boils down to it. He's not going to hate you. He may, though, hate me. I don't expect to have a close relationship with him or anything. I have no fantasies in my mind of that sort of thing, but I want to be sure he understands today is very different than then."
"I can see that."
"So, please. Wear it. Okay? It'll make me feel a little better about the situation."
"I don't want your brother or anyone thinking I bought you the ring because of that bit of news. And because I'll like knowing you're wearing it before you're showing so guys like the one who brings his rabbit in don't continue to hit on you."
"I'm not sure a ring…"
"I don't want to hear it!" He absolutely did not want to hear about a ring that isn't an engagement ring not being a deterrent to guys like that. The weird part about it was she really didn't do anything to get the attention. She just got it. "Just let me feel better. And I'm calling a doctor, by the way, to ensure this doesn't happen again."
"John! My doctor…"
"Not your doctor. A doctor I said, to arrange it so I can't make any more of them."
"Yes, but that's permanent."
"I said I didn't want any. How much more permanent can I get with that opinion?"
"Yes, and you wonder why I don't want to…"
"Fuck. I didn't say I won't accept this one, however, clearly whatever your doctor put you on isn't fool-proof. I'd rather not be a fool again a year from now."
"I can get my tubes tied."
"Nope. I'll do it. No reason to get all invasive for you. I have time off accrued already, so I'll do it and take a few days off."
"Yes, but if you do that now people will know we weren't even trying."
"So what if they know? And who am I going to tell I'm getting that done? No one is who. You. Kyle maybe so he knows it won't be happening again. I get vacation, I'm allowed to do with it what I want."
"I know. I just…"
"I'm not going to schedule the appointment for tomorrow. Just letting you know I'll do it so we don't have to worry about this again."
She took the ring then and he exhaled a bit sharply at that.
"Thank you," he whispered.
"Yeah, sure. I just felt incredibly guilty taking it…"
"I can see that."
Fuck. A kid. A kid he was absolutely responsible for. Bryce, Jr. and Betsy he'd be an influence on if he had his say about anything, but ultimately he knew he wasn't their father. And their father was going to be a very active part of their lives. Granted, if he won the election in November he'd be a lot further away, but he knew that wouldn't stop Claire from letting them see their dad.
This, though, was going to be completely on him.
"So I guess I should ask you if you still want to go out for dinner with me."
"Claire. I make no promises I'm going to be enthusiastically happy or ecstatic about this. I mean, I assumed your doctor knew what he or she was doing when she said that it would be a reliable option."
"Sure, because up until six months ago I didn't have to worry about getting pregnant in like fifteen years. And at that time I wanted to be so birth control wasn't a factor."
"Did you tell her that was on the table now?"
"Yes. I made sure it was a reliable alternative to the pill."
"Obviously not that reliable."
"I guess not."
"So, yes, to answer the question I want to go out for dinner with you. This doesn't change that."
"It changes so much."
He shrugged, sliding his arms around her. He kissed her, sighing a bit as he did. He never thought he'd get to a point or find someone he enjoyed just kissing with.
"I can't deny I don't know there's nothing one hundred percent. If I really wanted to be diligent about preventing it I could have kept using condoms."
He regarded her a little differently than he had when he'd first come into the bedroom to find her dressed and ready for their night. The dress was very nice, but was definitely not a dress she'd be able to wear as she got further along.
"What?" she asked.
"You don't look pregnant," he said.
"Well, I wouldn't yet."
"Do you feel pregnant?"
"That's why I took the test."
"I know what I feel like when I'm pregnant. I was late, but my doctor told me that may happen so I didn't think anything of it."
"Late. How late?"
"Uh. Like six weeks now."
"Over a month late?"
"Jesus. And you waited until now to tell me?"
"Well, I didn't know! Again, she said it could happen."
"Well, that can't be very good. I mean, people wouldn't know they were pregnant and…"
"Well, the pill isn't one hundred percent either and people have continued taking it not realizing they were pregnant."
"Betsy is going to …"
"Probably be very excited and then not so excited when she's no longer the baby in the house. I remember hearing about Kim's reaction to me countless times over the years."
"Yeah," she said softly with a laugh.
"And Bryce, probably won't be too thrilled."
"No," she agreed.
"Neither will your family."
"I know. I can handle them this time, John."
"Well, I'm here with you this time, so yeah."
"And if my father…"
John scoffed. "We'll talk to him. If he still insists then we'll do that, afterward."
"Because I know you and a small wedding or not you'd want a nice dress."
"Yes," she agreed.
"And I think we have enough to worry about the next few months without worrying about being married thrown into the equation. I told you that's my ultimate goal, wouldn't have moved in here if it wasn't."
"I'm a little worried that's not your ultimate goal truth be told."
"Oh, one day, yes."
"You know, our marriage wouldn't be like that marriage, right?"
"All right. Just making sure. I don't want a showpiece."
"You said you heard about how Kim reacted to you."
"Oh, my sister. Eddie didn't give a shit. While he probably did, but he was pretty demented from the get-go from what I can piece together. Kim, though, she didn't take too well to having a baby come after her I guess."
"Was she mean to you?"
John shrugged. "Nothing that I can remember, but I heard stories growing up. You know, stuff kids do to their baby sibling. Take my bottles away and claim they didn't know what happened to it."
He shrugged. "It was what it was. Like I said, none of us had a very good example to feed off of. Tom was probably the one who got out the most unscathed. Mom and Dad were so busy with us that they stopped paying him much attention. He followed the rules."
"Unlike you and Eddie."
"Yeah. Kim did, too, for the most part. Follow them, I mean. She has no cigar burns anyway."
"I'm glad to hear that. Sorry you have any, but glad to hear she doesn't."
"Yeah, me, too. And yet she clearly didn't get out unscathed," John said with a shrug. It had bothered him growing up that his dad had picked on Kim. A couple times he'd taken the blame for something so that Kim could skate on their dad's wrath. A lot of good his chivalry had done him. She still turned out to be a pretty shitty person.
"What are you thinking?" she asked.
"You're sure you want me around a kid? I mean, a baby? You have no qualms? No doubts?"
"No," she said.
"Why not? I've admitted two of the four of us siblings are losers. I can't honestly say the oldest one isn't. I just know he got out and he's not in prison. I was one step shy of being one myself."
"But you're not and I see the way you treat Randy. I see the way you treat my pets and my kids even if you're unsure what to do with them. I have no doubts, John."
"Just making sure, I guess. I would I think if the situation was reversed."
"Well, let's be glad it's not reversed then."
"You know what I mean."
"Have you checked on your brother?"
"I've looked for his name," he said with a shrug. He could admit that to her without feeling ashamed. "Not extensively, but I've checked. Sure."
"Not that I've found. I haven't dug deep or anything. I figure if he wants to rekindle our brotherly bond he knows where to find me."
"What if he thinks the same thing?"
John shrugged, shoving his hands in his pockets. "I was nine when he left. I figure if he gave a shit about me he'd find me. For all he probably knows I don't remember having an older brother. He might also think that I was taking after our old man and Eddie and stayed away."
"Can we go to dinner and get away from this conversation?"
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to tell you this tonight."
"Not that conversation. I'm not mad about that. I meant my family. Believe it or not, I don't like thinking about them."
"And probably not at dinner or tonight, but we will be talking about when exactly you planned on telling me about this turn of events."
"When I got used to the fact that I really was?"
"I think six weeks is long enough, don't you?"
"I didn't know until I took the stupid test!"
"And hid it from me, in the bathroom of a bedroom you know I never set foot in. Like I said, we'll talk about it some other time. Just know we are sometime."
She sighed softly, but she hadn't taken the ring off again or anything so she couldn't have been too mad at him.
"Your brother's going to freak out."
"I know he is," she said.
John chuckled softly. "He needs to learn to not be so uptight."
"Well, I can't really…"
"Yeah, I get he did you a favor in a huge way. Really, he did me a favor, too. You know?"
"All right, let's go eat," he said, hand at the door knob.
"Wait," she said.
She settled her hand over his and he couldn't help but think the ring looked nice on her. She probably didn't do that deliberately, use that hand but he noticed it just the same.
She leaned up and kissed him then.
"What was that for?"
"I realize I didn't thank you."
He scoffed softly at that.
"Don't. Please don't act like it's no big deal to you or to me. It is a huge deal. Do you know the last time I got something from someone I didn't give birth to simply because they wanted to get me something? I can't tell you the last time."
"Yeah, well, it's Valentine's Day."
"I would have been perfectly content with the roses you bought me."
He'd had them sent to her office. He'd given the kids some little boxes of chocolates. Bryce hadn't seemed to care about his, but Betsy had been thrilled to get the little box.
"Well, no offense, but I'm living here with you, you deserve better and more than roses."
"I love you."
"I love you, too."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com