***Chapter Twenty-Two***
Word Count: 7,107

Easter Weekend - April 2004

John groaned softly at the sight of a car on the driveway. He was so not in the mood for company tonight. Not that he was even here for most of the night to care. He'd left the house before four this morning. Considering it was going on midnight now, he was exhausted and ready for bed. Claire hadn't mentioned company coming over before bed last night. Bryce didn't know anyone who drove yet, so that left someone who knew Claire. That meant he'd at least have to make an appearance so he didn't appear rude despite the fact he'd been gone for eighteen hours.

First, though, he needed to make sure Randy was comfortable. He'd sprained his thigh tonight John was pretty sure. They were off for the rest of the weekend, which would give him time to rest it before they had to be back at work Tuesday. (He got Monday off in lieu of today for the holiday weekend.)

"Easy, Buddy," he said when he opened the door for Randy, letting him out of the car once he was in the garage. John kept the lead on him going into the house not certain who was here. He didn't want Randy rushing to investigate what was merely company. Judging by the way he was limping even going from the car to the door leading to the house, John supposed he wouldn't be rushing anywhere. Still it was better to be safe.

Cooper had gotten lots of sprains and strains over the years. Chasing down suspects seemed as though it would be fairly easy for a dog, but there were always risks in pursuits like that. Even on pavement there could be a hole or dip in it enough to cause the dog to lose its footing.

The house was quiet except for some activity in the basement, which surprised John. Claire didn't do much entertaining in the basement. Once in a while she'd go down there to play pool or something, but it wasn't a usual practice for her.

"Stay," he said, removing the lead before opening the door to the basement and heading down the stairs.

"Oh, hey," he said, regarding Bryce and Kyle sitting on the couch playing a video game of some sort.

"Hey," Bryce said.

"Hi," Kyle said.

"I didn't realize you were in town," John said.

"Yeah, Easter weekend."

"Oh, right, I suppose," he said. Like he had any clue about things like Easter weekend. He imagined it was like Christmas and Thanksgiving, though, and a holiday kids would come home from college for if they could.

"You just getting home?" Kyle asked.

"Uh, yeah."

"Wow," he said.

"Yeah. I've been gone since about three thirty this morning."

"Come on, Kyle," Bryce said.

"Sorry," he said.

"You guys want anything before I head up to bed? I need to have Claire look at Randy real quick."

"She went to bed a few hours ago," Bryce said.

"Did something happen to Randy?" Kyle asked.

"Just a strain I'm pretty sure, but since I have a vet handy I may as well be sure."

"You want something Bryce?" Kyle asked.

"Uh, yeah, sure a Coke. A pizza maybe?"

"Sure," John said. "I can throw one in the oven for you guys. Hey, Kyle, why don't you come on up when you have a minute and pick out what you want since you're Bryce's guest and all."

"Sure," he said.

John went upstairs, chuckling softly at Randy sitting almost exactly where he'd left him.

"Sorry, buddy, you can lay down I'm going to be up for a little longer yet," he said. Randy did just that on the floor in the kitchen. A little gingerly, though, so John knew the thigh was bothering him a bit.

John grabbed a couple of Cokes from the fridge and turned the oven on. The temperature would be the same regardless of the pizza toppings.

"You just got home today?" John asked when Kyle joined him in the kitchen.

"Nah, last night late. I dropped Anne Marie off at her house first."

"Oh," John said with a nod.


John shrugged. "I guess I've never paid attention enough to notice you come over here much. Usually Bryce goes to your house, doesn't he? I guess I never even knew what kind of car you drive until tonight."

Kyle shrugged as he went to the laundry room where the deep freeze was. Clearly, he knew his way around the house comfortably enough. He came back a couple of minutes later with a pizza in his hands.

"Well, Bryce and I have always been friends. More than just cousins."

"Right," John said.

"But I realized after his mom came…"

"Yeah," John said, cutting him off. "You realize no one knows that. Right?"

"I do. Yeah. After that, though. I realized, not only is he my friend, but he's. Well, my brother. And Betsy's my sister."

"Yeah," John said, not really catching where he was going with this.

"I've never really had that before, I guess. I don't know how to explain it." He shrugged, taking the cellophane off the pizza and setting on the pan.

"I kind of get it."

"Good, because I'm not entirely sure I know how to explain it."

"You like that feeling?" John asked him.

"Yeah, well, you know. In a way."

Huh. He'd never stopped to think that Kyle might see Bryce Jr. and Betsy like that. And the kid Claire was going to have now would be his full brother or sister. Would him coming to grips with having half siblings already pave the way for him accepting a sister or brother in a few months' time?

"Listen. If you have a free bit of time this weekend," he handed Kyle a business card. "My cell phone number is on there. Give me a call. An hour, maybe?"

"Yeah, sure. Other than church and dinner at Grandma and Grandpa's Sunday I don't have anything going on."

"Not going to Anne Marie's?"

"Probably tomorrow."

"Maybe on your way there?"

"Sure," Kyle said. "I was going to head over there after I woke up and everything, so probably around noon."

"Okay. Breakfast?"

"Sure," Kyle said. "I'll have to explain to Bryce why I'm not eating it here."

"You're staying the night?"

"Yeah," he said with a shrug.

"All right. Well, you don't have to eat anything."

"Okay. Sure," he said, naming a restaurant John knew of well.

"I hope Randy's okay."

"He'll be fine. He just exerted himself a little too heartily when one of our suspects tried to get away."

"Oh. He chased him?"


"Did he catch him?"


"Good job, Randy," he said.

"Yeah, he knows that already."

Kyle laughed softly. "I bet he does."

"I'll put the pizza in the oven, but I'm going up to bed right after that. So, here take the timer down with you. I'll tell you when to start it."

"All right, thanks."

"Sure," he said, handing the timer and the Cokes to Kyle. "I'll see you in the morning."

"Yeah," Kyle said. "Sure."

"I'll probably leave first so no one thinks that's weird or anything."

"I get it."

"And your parents are all right with you staying here?"

"What can they do? Say no?"

John shrugged at that. Probably not say no, no, but that didn't mean they'd be thrilled either.

"All right, just make sure there isn't going to be any trouble on Sunday. Claire wouldn't like that. I wouldn't either truthfully."

"No, shouldn't be. It's not that out of the ordinary for me to stay here."

"All right then. Night," he said.


He set the pizza in the oven once it was done heating up and went to the stairs again.

"Pizza's in the oven, you two. Make sure you guys turn the lights off when you're done down there. And don't forget about the pizza. I don't really feel like getting woken up in an hour from the smoke detectors going off."

"We got it, John," Bryce said.

"Thank you. Come on, Randy," he said after shutting the basement door. He stopped by Betsy's room on his way to his room. There'd been a couple of times Gertrude had been shut in there and hadn't appreciated that fact. So, between him and Claire, whoever was the last to bed always checked to be sure.

She turned to look at him when he opened the door.

"Why aren't you asleep?" he whispered. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were both in here, which could have accounted for her still being awake so late. Doubtful, though.

"Mommy said you couldn't give me a kiss."

"Why not?" he asked, puzzled.

"I'd be sleeping," she said.

"Oh," he said, letting Randy follow him in there. He got her all tucked in the way he'd seen Claire do it more than a few times now and she settled in under the covers. He leaned in then, giving her a kiss.

"Night," she whispered.

"Night. Next time, though. You go to sleep. I'll come in and give you a kiss, awake or not."


"I do."

"'kay," she whispered.

"Sleep well and then you can have breakfast with your cousin tomorrow."



"'kay," she said again.

"You want the dogs in here?" he asked. He brushed a hand over her forehead, grazing her cheek with his thumb before he straightened upright and stepped away from the bed.

"Yes," she whispered.

"Mommy let them out before she went to bed?"

"Uh huh," she said.

"All right. Night," he said again. He checked to be sure the nightlight by the door was on before he left the room, closing the door behind him and Randy.

He opened the door to their room, letting Randy go in first so he could make sure Betsy didn't follow him out or need anything before he went to bed himself. She didn't seem to, so he stepped through the doorway.

"You must be exhausted," Claire murmured from their bed.

"I am."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"Me, too."

"I missed you this morning."

"Did you now?" John asked.

"I did."

"Huh. Sorry to hear that."

"Did you have a good day?"

"It was all right. Say, can you take a look at Randy's leg while I get ready for bed?"

"He wasn't shot again, was he?"

"No, but I think he strained or sprained something maybe. He's just walking kind of delicately on it after he'd helped catch our suspects."

"Oh. He did?"

"He sure did. He came out of one of those old underground cellar doors and made a run for it. Randy darted right after him like he was shot out of a cannon. It's beautiful to see, honestly, unless you're on the receiving end of it I imagine."

"I can believe it," she said, pushing the blankets away. She was wearing a nice nightgown tonight.

"I guess you did miss me this morning," he said, regarding her.

"I did."

"Well, let me catch up to you then and I'll make up for not being here."

"I'll hold you to that."

He chuckled a bit before heading into the bathroom. She was already busy looking at Randy's leg.

"Did you know Kyle was going to be here this weekend?" he asked later.

"Yes. I mean, I knew he was going to come home for Easter, sure."

"And you didn't think I maybe should know that?"

"I assumed you knew, John, I'm sorry."

"Well, I asked him if he wanted to meet me somewhere before heading to Anne Marie's house tomorrow."


"So, I'll leave for a while."

"I understand."

He slid a hand along her arm, to her hip, and over to her abdomen where he traced her belly button with a fingertip.

"What are you thinking?" she asked.

"Just wondering how you're feeling."

"I'm fine."


"Yes. Honestly."

"I worry about you staying up so late."

"It's not that late!"

"I know, but you were up early today."

"Not as early as you."

"No, but I'm not pregnant."

"I'm fine, John."

"I trust you, but I'll wake up with the kids in the morning just the same."

"John, I'm perfectly capable."

"Oh, I know you are. I don't doubt you one bit. That doesn't mean you have to. So, I'll do it."

"You just like watching cartoons with Betsy."

"There is that," he said with a shrug.

She laughed softly, turning onto her side. That was the sign he looked for that she was ready to go to sleep every night. He'd never stopped to realize that there were things like preferred and better sides to sleep on. He settled in behind her, sliding a hand along her hip as she shifted until she was comfortable.

"Feels nice," she whispered.

"You feel nice," he whispered, kissing her shoulder.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome. I made up for being gone this morning when you woke up?"

"You did."



"All right," John said once everyone was done with breakfast. "Betsy you go downstairs with your brother and Kyle while I go make sure your mom's awake."

"Why?" Bryce asked.

"I have to leave for a while."

"Is Randy going to be okay?" Kyle asked.

"Yeah, Claire said he'd be just fine. Maybe an extra day or two of limited movement. We'll see how he is Tuesday."

"Good," Kyle said.

"All right, Betsy. Let me see your hands before you guys go downstairs."

"Not sticky."

"Yeah, well your brother will get mad at both of us if we missed some and it gets on those game controllers. So, just to be sure," he said, leading her over to the sink where he could clean off her hands with the cloth there.


"Yeah, go ahead. Be careful on the stairs," he said. She was okay on stairs, but he was worried she'd get excited at going down there to hang out with Bryce and Kyle and lose her footing.

He let the dogs back in before heading upstairs.

"You are awake," he said.

"I am," she said. She'd clearly gotten out of the shower. She was dressed, but her hair was still wet.

"The kids are in the basement," he said, sliding his arms around her and kissing her neck.

"Betsy, too?"

"Yup," he said, finding her shoulder and kissing there, too.

"All right."

"I'll be back in a while."

"John. I understand."

"Thank you. When I get back, if Betsy's napping…"

"I will possibly take you up on that."

"Only possibly?"

"If you call me when you're on the way home maybe better than possibly?"

"Yeah?" he asked.

"Uh huh," she whispered, groaning softly as he found her neck again. He never had a problem with the way she reacted to him doing things like this. Recently, though, even simple things like kissing her neck like this put her in the mood. He took advantage of noticing that and kissed the spot often.

"Love you," he whispered, drawing away.

"You, too."

"After I've talked to him…"

"I guess it's time we tell other people. I'd feel comfortable doing that now."

He moved a hand higher up along her abdomen, running his thumb along her there. "I swear to God if your father comes at me with a gun or something we're moving to Mexico."

"We are?"

"I'm not leaving without you."

"I'm very relieved to hear that."

"I bet you are."

She laughed softly, turning to face him so she could reach up and kiss him.

"I'll hold off putting Betsy down for her nap as long as I can."

He wasn't holding his breath on that, especially with Bryce home. He loved that she wanted to, though. Betsy wasn't old enough to have a clue, but Bryce at almost fourteen sure was.

"We have to tell him next, you know," Claire said.


"Yeah," she said.

"How did you know…"

"What you were thinking? I just did."

"I figured he'd be next. You could tell him after you put Betsy down and I'm on my way back."

"I could."

"Up to you. Maybe you don't want him to know before dinner Sunday."

"I'll think about it."

"Are you worried?"

"I'm worried what their father may think."

John exhaled a bit at that. "Yeah, well, again, if he puts pressure on you with legitimate statistics that show us not being married somehow negatively impacts his campaign we'll talk."

"I'm not too worried about it."

"All right. The dogs are in and were out for almost an hour so they should be good for a while."

"Thank you. Is Randy okay?"

John shrugged. "He seems all right. I watched him a bit when the kids were eating breakfast. He wasn't out there running or anything. He wouldn't go near the pool, almost as if he knew he shouldn't."

"Yeah, it's not advisable, the water adds extra resistance and pressure that isn't good for healing sprains."

"I'll be more careful letting him out. I wasn't even thinking about that."

"He'll be fine, John."

"Thanks. Again."

"You don't have to thank me."

"This is your home…"

"And you and Randy live here. Of course I'm going to look after both of you the same as I would my kids and my own pets."

"Well, thank you just the same."

"You're welcome."

He grabbed his wallet and a jacket from the closet before heading downstairs.

"You leaving?" Kyle asked when he shut the fridge. He was getting Betsy a cup of juice, which was very nice of him to do. He supposed he was used to it, though, with DeeAnna.

"Uh, yeah, some things to do," he shrugged.

"I'll see you later then."

"Yup. Bye, Betsy," he said, setting his hand over the top of her head. "You be good for your brother and cousin. Okay? Mommy will be down in a minute. She was just finishing getting dressed."

"She slept late," Betsy said.

"She did. I like when she sleeps late on Saturdays because she doesn't sleep late Monday through Friday."

"Oh," she said.

"I think I've gone beyond what she understands. See you later," John said.

"Yeah," Kyle said.

He was a little early, but not too bad where their waitress would get pissed off at him for taking up a table for an hour before Kyle even got there or anything. It was Saturday, so the place was busy and he'd had to wait for a while anyway.

Wait and wonder just what exactly to say to the kid. He tried to think about it from his perspective. How would he feel if he was on the end of news like this. He just couldn't do it, though. Certainly his parents had been young enough to have more kids after John if they'd wanted to. Why they'd had four to begin with was something John would never understand.

"Sorry. Bryce wasn't too thrilled I was leaving him for a girl."

"Yeah, well, he's had a girl over to the house a few times now, so don't let him fool you that he doesn't understand."


"Yeah," John said.

"Huh. He hasn't said anything."

"He's thirteen. From what I can tell, they do their homework, play games, and hang out."

"Did you have girlfriends when you were thirteen?"

"No," John said simply.


"I had girls I hung around with, but no."

"Why not?"

"Well, girlfriends tend to expect you to take them out on dates, spend money on them, and look fairly presentable when you're around them. None of those things were accomplishable by me so there was no point."

"Yet, Claire…"

"Yeah, no one's ever said love is logical. I've never claimed she's logical either for that matter."

He slid his hand to his wallet, palming it before he flipped it open.

"Not sure Claire told you she gave this to me," he said, gesturing to his picture.

"No, she didn't."

He had a school picture of Bryce's in there now, but that was it. Kyle seemed to notice that, too.

"Things between you and the girlfriend going all right?"

"Yes," Kyle said.

"Claire said you both had dinner with her the weekend she was up there."

"She did. Claire said she could come with."

"Of course, and she meant that. I know Claire wants to know her. Well, any aspect of your life you're willing to let her in on."

"I know."

"You're okay with all of this?"

Kyle shrugged as their waitress set John's food in front of him. He hadn't eaten breakfast that morning, so he was hungry. Kyle had, but it was a few hours ago and he remembered being an eighteen year old kid. Always hungry.

"I don't really have a choice, do I?"

"No, I guess you don't."

"We're fine. I wouldn't have gone over there last night probably if we weren't."

"I suppose not, but that's not why we're here actually."


"Well, kind of, but not totally. No. I wanted to make sure you aren't mad at me. You seemed mad at me when we saw you on Thanksgiving."

"Listen. I'm sorry I said those things. I was mad, I guess. Confused. I don't know. So I said whatever came to mind to piss you off."

"Yeah, well, it takes a lot more than that to piss me off."

"I suppose."

John took a sip of his Coke, staring at his food for a minute.

"You came over to the house because Bryce and Betsy are your half brother and sister, didn't you?"

"Yes," Kyle said. "Bryce and I have always been pretty close. We've always had common interests, games and whatever. Alex does, but not the extent we did growing up."

"Claire's mentioned that, yeah."

"But, yeah, I guess it occurred to me that Betsy was my sister and maybe I should see her, too."

"Well, don't feel obligated to do that. I mean, it's nice, and I know she likes you."

"She likes you, too."

"Yeah, well, she grows on you."

Kyle laughed softly at that.

"Listen, Kyle. I've had this conversation with you in my head for almost two months now, and none of the ways comes out sounding right or as if I didn't spend two months rehearsing it. So, I figured I'd just lay it on the table for you."

"You're getting married, aren't you?"

"Uh, well, eventually, I hope so. Yes, but no."

"Then…" Kyle said, pausing as he watched John. "Oh," he said. "Really? Claire said that wasn't going to happen."

"Believe me, she told me it wasn't going to happen either."


John chuckled at that. "I wanted to talk to you about it," he said, ignoring the question. "Since it's kind of my fault we're where we are today, I wanted to be sure you understand that now is so much different than then."

"I get it."

"Because as much as I'd love to sit here and tell you that had Claire told me … Well, I make no promises we'd be sitting here today. I make no assurances you'd be at college doing what you're doing. I mean, I'm sure you would've gone to college, but I can't honestly say we'd be here. Me a cop. Your mom a vet. You at U of M."

"I get that."

"Because try as I might to deny it since she told me back in July, my first instinct would've been to marry her."

"It's not now?"

"Yes, it is, but I'm in a much better place than I was when I was eighteen. You're together, but surely you went to high school with kids, guys or girls, who were not that. Part of that was my upbringing, a good chunk of that. However, there comes a point when you have to take responsibility for yourself, kid and living at home or not. I didn't do that until after I graduated. Shermer is a good suburb with very good schools. I didn't have to thumb my nose at the stuff, but it was easier for me to stick out as a rebellious prick than as the Bender kid who everyone felt sorry for."

"When will she have it?"

"Your guess is as good as mine there. She told me on Valentine's Day and said she was like six weeks along. So, nine months from Christmas I guess."

"Are you cool with it?"

"I'm scared out of my mind. I can admit that freely. To you. I don't know the first thing about babies or kids, certainly not about being a dad. I had a piss-poor example on his best days."

"You seem to do all right with Betsy."

"Yeah. She's three and already potty trained. I hear they don't come out that way."

Kyle laughed at that. "No. I changed more than my share of Alex and Dee's diapers."

"I bet you did, and your parents were lucky they had you."

Kyle shrugged.

"I also wanted to take the opportunity since you chose to talk to me about your relationship with Anne Marie. Well, I wanted to drive home the point that no form of birth control is perfect."

"I get that."

"Good. Because she wasn't lying to you when she said we weren't going to have any. Unlike a lot of people out there I haven't felt as though my life was missing out on anything not having kids." He paused, realizing how that sounded. "Not that I wouldn't have…"

"It's all right. I get it. You didn't know about me, you don't have to explain yourself."

"Just don't want that coming back to bite me in the ass later."

"So, what does Bryce think?"

"Bryce doesn't know. No one knows, but us. And you now."




"Because believe it or not, Claire cares what you think. How you feel. And so do I even if I haven't watched you grow up the past nineteen years. We didn't deliberately do this, but we realized it might bother you so wanted to talk to you first."

"Why are you talking to me and not Claire?"

John shrugged. "Because if I hadn't been a fuck up twenty years ago you probably wouldn't be sitting across the table from me growing up thinking Claire was your aunt."

"You don't…"

"Know that? You're right, I don't, but if I'd had my shit together like you do Claire probably would have at least told me she was pregnant. Shit together or not if she'd told me I don't think we'd be sitting here this way either."


"Not for very good reasons, I assure you. So, Claire was probably very right in not telling me. I would have probably seen it as a chance, you know, to prove that I could be better than my old man. I wouldn't be a cop, probably not anyway. Everyone's life would've been pretty different. Who knows what your grandparents would've done if she'd shown up pregnant. Pull her out of college? Doubtful, but they could've. Pull her out of University of Illinois and made her go somewhere closer to home? Possible. She wouldn't have met Bryce. Who knows where she'd be. Or you."

"I can see that."

"I think she's going to tell Bryce when I'm on my way home. She's going to put Betsy down for her nap after I've called to tell her I'm leaving."


"He's probably not going to be thrilled and will probably tell you."

"Should I say I know?"

"I think you probably shouldn't, otherwise he'll wonder why you knew and he didn't."


"I haven't talked to Claire, but I imagine one day when he's older maybe he can know. He's just coming around to me as it is, throw that into things and I think we'd be way further behind than where we were when I started."

"I think you're right."

"I wasn't sure how you were going to react until you mentioned stopping to realize that Bryce and Betsy are your half brother and sister. I realized when you said that you may react better than I was giving you credit for."

"You thought I was going to be mad?"

"The thought crossed my mind that you'd think we want a kid now but didn't want you then."

"My dad is going to freak."

"Likely he will. That's between Claire and Chris, not you. Everything Chris has done has been for you, don't ever lose sight of that."

"I know."

"Any questions for me while we're here since the next I see you she'll certainly be showing so everyone will know?"

"Not really. You answered most of them. Why don't you want to get married now?"

"I do. I mean, I would, but I know your aunt. She'd want some sort of wedding, even if it was just you guys as guests. You know, family. That would mean a dress and pictures, whatever. She wouldn't want to be pregnant for that."

"I suppose."

"And well, I guess I don't think getting married because she's pregnant is the right thing to do. I wouldn't have moved in with her and the kids if that wasn't on my mind, though. Forget doing that to her, I wouldn't do that to a little girl set that sort of example. Will we get married as soon as the baby is born? I have no idea. That's kind of up to her. I'll have been living there for a while by then. Maybe she won't want to. I don't know."

"Why wouldn't she?"

"Because she went from being divorced for a few months to seeing me, a guy she'd had a kid by and who in a roundabout way was the cause of everything she's done until now. She married Bryce because she knew he was secure, stable. Something I absolutely wasn't back then and something she I think probably wanted because she'd gone through that."

"I remember their wedding."

"Do you?"

"Yeah, kind of. I was a ring bearer."

"Oh yeah, I saw a picture of that over the summer. You were pretty cute."

He laughed at that. "That's what everyone said."

"I think ultimately we will, yes. I just don't know how soon she's going to be ready for that formal of a step. I think living together gives her some sense of," he shrugged, pulling some money out of his wallet to pay for their food after the waitress set the bill down. "Control over the situation? I think it scares her that we fell into a relationship as quickly as we did and that we liked one another as much as we did back then."

"Does it scare you?"

"Yes. I can admit that, but I'm not afraid of it. There's a difference. I've kicked my share of tires, though. Not that she's a tire, but I've never been married or anything so I've had twenty years to decide what I want. I didn't really want anyone but her. Maybe I didn't compare everyone to her or spend the past twenty years wishing she was single or anything. Honestly, I hadn't given her a huge amount of thought in years. Since high school? Yes. I read the papers when she got engaged to Bryce and married and stuff, but deep down she was the only person who ever gave me a chance to show I wasn't really an asshole. I wanted that, I guess. Someone who saw me, not John the cop or John the homeowner, but just John Bender warts and all."

"How did you become a cop anyway? She said you did some things…"

"Well, luckily I didn't get in trouble for those things I used to do back in high school. I graduated and tried working for my dad for a while, but I hated every second of it."

"What's he do?"

"He owns a garage and junk yard."

"Oh," he said.

"I'll tell you where it is, but you have to promise me something. Don't ever go around there."

"Why not?"

"Because Claire thinks you look like me. I think you look like my old man and older brother more. You show up there, he's going to know."


"And believe me when I tell you he's not a nice guy and not someone you want on your bad side. I don't want him finding out about you, Claire, or anything."

John pushed up the sleeve on his shirt, exposing the scar he'd shown Claire and the others that day at school. "This is just one of many souvenirs I have thanks to life at the Bender's growing up."

"Oh," he said.

"Anyway. I took a look around my old man's crappy garage and knew I could do better. I wasn't stupid. I pretended to be because it was what everyone expected out of me after a while. I did some stupid things that I was fortunate not to get caught doing while I was over eighteen. Then," he shrugged. "I don't know. I wondered what it might be like to be one of the guys who helped put people like my old man and brother away."

"Your brother?"

"Yeah. Eddie. He's been in prison for years now."

"Huh," Kyle said. "For?"

John chuckled. "Claire asked me the same thing. Your uncle knew him growing up and asked Claire if Eddie was my brother. His list of arrests and crimes is hard to keep track of. You name it."

"Does he ever try to contact you?"

"No, he knows better. It'd be a cold day in hell before I ever lifted a finger to try to help him get out sooner than the courts deemed appropriate."


"Because he deserves to be there."

"Is that part of the reason Claire didn't tell you?"

"No. She didn't even know I had siblings. She knew my dad was an asshole, but I'm not sure that played a role in her not telling me. I truly believe she thought I wouldn't give a shit. She thought she meant nothing to me. That that afternoon hadn't meant shit to me."

"Did it?"

"Yes. Contrary to what she believed I hadn't done that before that day. I hadn't wanted to let anyone close enough to me to do that."

"How'd she do it?"

John shrugged. "I don't know," he said. "I take that back, I guess I do know. She told me to stop antagonizing the assistant principal. It wasn't just that she said that. She looked at me. I don't know. I didn't know what to do with it either. I knew falling on my knees and worshipping her like every other guy at school did wasn't the answer. So I did nothing."

"Yet. I'm here."

"You are."


"I'm not sure love can be explained. You know? Your mother says she fell in love with me from the minute I walked in the doors of the library that day. I'm sure I'm the last guy she ever expected to feel that way about, too. So, I'm not sure I can tell you how other than it is what it is."

"And I'm going to have a brother or sister now."


"Are you excited?"

"I am. I'm probably going overboard on the spoiling her, knowing she did it completely on her own with you. I like when she sleeps in. I like helping with Betsy when I can so that she can go to sleep thirty minutes earlier. I hate that she's at work lifting and moving animals around that she probably shouldn't be doing."

"She did it with Bryce and Betsy."

"I know that, and that's what stops me from saying anything irrational and stupid like telling her to quit. Sadly, I can't afford that so I couldn't tell her to do that anyway and she likes living where we live."

"You don't?"

"I like living where she is, yes."

"I thought of staying up in Minneapolis this summer."


"Yeah," he said.


He shrugged. "Get a job, an apartment with some friends."

"Anne Marie?"


"Talk to your parents. Don't spring it on them."

"I know. I just, now, though."

"Oh," John said. "Well, she wouldn't have it until like September so you'd be gone by then anyway."

"I suppose."

"And you can come home on a weekend."

"Yeah, you're right," he said with a shrug.

"I know you're welcome at your house anytime, but you are at our house, too. You might want to clear it with your parents first though."


He shrugged. "They're your parents. You don't want them to think this baby changes anything."

"It doesn't. I mean, not really, but it'll be related to me."

"Yes. Just talk to them. That's all I'm saying, be upfront with them. Just wait until Claire's told everyone to do it."

"Is she going to this weekend?"

"I'm not sure Easter Sunday dinner is the time to announce that, but she's getting to the point she has to soon so I don't know. And you do what you need to do for you this summer. If you have a job and a decent place to live then present it like that to your parents."

"I just worry…"

"They may not like it, you're right. They probably won't, but they're not going to disown you or anything over it. They'll adjust and get over it. Come on, really? Look at what they did for Claire and you think they're going to get upset with you over living with a girl?"

"I suppose not."

"Just, please, remember what I said here today about no protection being one hundred percent."

"I will. We will. I mean. We know."

"Good. And we're okay?"


"I don't want you saying something at dinner on Sunday."

"I won't. I said I was sorry. I just. Can you see it at all from my perspective?"

"I can. I do. I mean, not really of course, but sure I get it. I hope you've had some time to go over our conversations and realize I did the best I could to not lie to you given the fact I'd just found out about you myself."

"I do."

"We'll see you on Sunday then."


"Is Anne Marie coming?"

"I don't know yet."

"I'm glad you've had her through this, someone to talk to. I'm not a real talkative guy."

"Me neither. Not really."

John chuckled a bit at that.

"Well, I'm glad you have her to talk to. Everyone needs that. Just know you can call me anytime you need to, too. Claire, too, I imagine, but I just said me because I'm not a part of your family if you need to talk about anything to do with them."

"I know."

"All right."

They walked out together, John going to his car and Kyle going to his. He dialed the number for the house once he was in the car.

"Hi," he said when she answered.


"I'm on my way back."

'Okay. How'd it go?'

"Fine actually. Good. You know. Considering. I mean. I wasn't expecting a hug or anything. He didn't tell me he never wanted to talk to us again, so I figure that's a win."

'Good,' she said. She didn't sound as relieved as he thought she'd be, though. Especially considering the way he'd acted toward John at Thanksgiving.

"Is that not what you wanted?"

'No, it is. It's just I told Bryce and Betsy.'

"Oh. Betsy, too?"

'Yes. She's very excited for a little sister.'


'I know that she doesn't get to choose. She's three, she doesn't get that.'

"Oh, right. Well, that's good, though. Right?"

'Yes. Bryce, though didn't take it so well.'


'I think he's not going to talk to either of us for a while.'

"Oh. Sorry."

'It's okay. I sort of expected it.'

"Well, hopefully he'll come around soon. Is there anything I can do? Bring him ice cream? A game?"

'I'm not going to bribe him into talking to us or accepting he's going to have another brother or sister. He doesn't really have much choice. So, he'll deal with it on his own.'

"No, I guess not. Well, I'll be home soon."

'We'll be here.'

"I'm glad to hear that."

'Randy's fine, by the way. He's been with Betsy most of the morning.'

"He's a traitor."

Claire laughed softly. 'Maybe he's like his handler and just likes us Standish women.'

"There might be something to that."

'Plus, you know, she brushes him and plays with him way more than I do.'

"That's because I distract you from it."

'There is that.'

"I'm not apologizing for that."

'No, but that's what led to Bryce being mad at us.'

"Point taken, but I'm still not apologizing. He just doesn't like knowing for sure you and his dad won't get back together somehow."

'I suppose.'

"He'll be fine."

'Well, I figure if you can handle it he can too.'

"I'm not sure if that's a compliment, an insult, or a joke.'

'A little of each?'

"When are you due anyway?"


"Kyle asked me that and I had no clue what to tell him. You said like six weeks and I can do the math to around Christmas, but beyond that. What? Nine months?"

'Late September or early October.'

"Okay then. Good to know so I don't look like a clueless idiot to anyone else asking."

'Who else are you planning on asking you?'

"Uh, I don't know off the top of my head." He paused for a second. "Is that your way of asking me if I'm even going to tell anyone?"

'Well, I don't know who you'd tell.'

"Thank you. What the fuck does that mean?"

'I didn't mean it that way, John. I'm just saying, you know. I'm not sure who you'd say anything to. It's not like we have to announce it to the world.'

"Okay," he said. "I imagine my captain should know so he can prepare for me needing some time off."

'Ben won't give you a hard time about that, will he?'

"No," he said, shaking his head a little that she knew his captain by first name. "Of course not."


"I'd take it anyway. You realize that, right?"

'I know.'

"Good. I mean, I can't take six weeks like you could, but I should be able to take a chunk off."


"All right. I'll see you in a while then."

'Yes. I'm glad your talk with Kyle went well.'

"Me, too."

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