"I'm still not sure why this was a rush job," Chris said.
"Who knows? People with unlimited income seem to think their whims are more important than people who actually need a new roof," Scott said.
"No kidding," John said. "It shouldn't surprise you, though."
"Well, it's surprising only because there's nothing wrong with the roof other than a few spots that new shingles could be put on," Chris said.
Chris and Scott were the closest things John had to friends. They went out drinking after work a couple of times a week. Well, Chris and Scott drank, John didn't drink anything harder than Coke anymore. Somehow the three of them always ended up on the same crews together for their company, not that John was complaining. The three of them worked hard, they'd each worked with a few who didn't work so hard so it was nice to be teamed up with others with the same mentality.
"Obviously they can afford it," John said with a shrug.
"Did you see the chick that lives here?" Scott said.
"No," John said.
"And you shouldn't be looking either, Scott," Chris said. "I thought you and Tina were engaged."
"Engaged, man, not blind or dead," Scott said. "She's nice looking. There's nothing wrong with appreciating things of beauty."
"Better not let Tina hear you say that," John said with a chuckle. He'd met Tina a couple of times. She was pretty nice as far as girlfriends went. He hadn't been surprised when they started working again in the spring to hear Scott had taken steps toward the permanent leap. John didn't understand the need to take that step, but he supposed when you found the right one and she puts up with you as Tina clearly did Scott you tie her to you.
"When did you see her anyway?"
"I got here a little early and she drove off. I guess it must have been before you two got here, I couldn't remember what time it was."
"I'll have to be sure and get here early tomorrow," Chris said.
"I think the two of you need to worry about things other than women," John said.
"You studying to be a priest or something, John?" Scott asked.
"What?" he sputtered. "Why on earth would you think that?"
"You don't drink and you never look."
"Drinking just causes trouble." John shrugged. "As far as women, you've seen one you've seen them all."
"One of these days we'll get you to tell us who broke your heart."
"No one broke my heart. I just have better things to worry about than shackling myself to someone."
"But it's fun being shackled," Scott offered.
"For you," John spat.
Yeah, he'd thought about for a while. His attempt at a relationship lasted exactly one week. Their worlds were just too different. That's what he told himself anyway. He liked her, more than just a little, and that was dangerous because their worlds were never going to mesh. This was her world. Houses like this with more space than anyone in their right mind would know what to do with. He'd pushed her away, rethought it after a few weeks when he realized she would be worth fighting for. He'd even offered to take her to prom.
She hadn't quite laughed at him, but she'd told him to get lost just the same. His fault, he should have known better than to think she'd give him a second chance after walking away once. Her reign as queen hadn't been called into question despite being seen with him in the halls of Shermer for the week after that day of detention. She, of course, had no problem getting a date for prom to get her crown.
She'd never called him again. He picked up the phone more than once to call her but never dialed. They graduated, he'd gotten this job, and he'd gotten busy working at saving to get out of his parents' house. He hadn't thought much on her beyond wondering if she was home for the summer, but he had no idea which college she'd gone to. They hadn't gotten to the point of talking about things like that in their week together.
He lied, too, when he'd said that seeing one was seeing them all because he'd looked awful hard the past year or so. No one came close to her. It wasn't as if they established some intense relationship over the course of a week. That wasn't it. It was the way she looked at him. No one had ever looked at him as if he'd mattered until that day. Hell, no one had ever told him he mattered until that week.
She'd teased him about all the pictures of girls he had in his wallet. None of them looked at him the way she did. Half of them didn't look at him at all unless he had a joint, or the ability to make one, to offer them. She hadn't wanted or expected anything out of him. He hadn't been quite sure what to do with that.
It just wasn't worth the trouble because chances were he wasn't going to find someone like her again. Crazy sounding since he was only nineteen, but he just didn't see it happening.
"Here she comes, Chris," Scott said about an hour later.
John glanced over to see a pretty nice Grand Prix being driven onto the driveway and around back to where the garage was. They'd be doing the roof on the garage, too. For whatever reason they were putting a new roof on everything on the property, which also included a shed, a gazebo, and what looked like some sort of guest house.
John was more than a little surprised to see Claire get out of the car. Last he'd seen she was driving a sweet TransAm. He had no idea what nineteen-year-old would trade in a TransAm for a Grand Prix, as nice as the Grand Prix was it didn't look nearly as sweet.
"Quit checking her out," John said way more vehemently than he'd intended. He really didn't like the idea of anyone looking at her like they were, but certainly not Chris who wasn't shy about approaching women if he thought there was a chance with them. "She's out of your league anyway, Chris."
"You know her?" Chris and Scott said at the same time.
"Yeah, grew up with her. Dated her in high school for a while." A while was a bit of an exaggeration, but since he'd dated no one before or after her it was certainly a while for him.
"Yes," he said. "Me. What's wrong with that?"
"And you didn't know this was her house?"
"Well, I never came to her house, so no."
They both stared at him.
"What?" he asked. "So I didn't know this was her house."
"Prove what?" he asked.
"That you know her," Chris said.
"Her name is Claire."
John noticed someone else leaving the house now. Claire's mom he guessed based on the fact she was basically a middle-aged version of her. She didn't have the red hair Claire had, but even from the roof he could see the resemblance.
"That doesn't prove that you actually dated her."
"Are you ridiculous? What do you want me to do?"
"Go knock on the door."
"We're at work, you idiots."
"It'll take five minutes."
"What is it you don't believe exactly?"
"That you dated her," Scott said.
"Why is that so hard to believe?"
Scott narrowed his eyes at John and he shrugged. It had taken him over a month last summer to get comfortable going shirtless. At first he kept his shirt tucked into the back of his shorts, replacing it whenever someone got close to him. He'd gotten over that eventually. Scott was the only one who'd ever said anything about the scars.
"Yeah, so," John said, knowing what Scott was implying. There was no way in hell someone like her was going to be involved with someone like him. His being from the wrong side of the tracks was an understatement. Except she hadn't balked at him taking his weed out of his locker that day of detention and she'd been the first to join him in smoking it in the library.
"You guys are assholes. You know that? Anyone who was really my friend would just take my word for it. It's not like I claim to have dated every girl my age whose house we roof."
"Not about chicks that look like she does."
"Fine," John said.
The fourth in their team hadn't shown up today for whatever reason so it was just the three of them. No one would see him make a complete ass of himself. To prove what? That for a fleeting moment in high school he'd been something more than the guy most everyone thought was a loser, if they'd even thought of him at all.
"You're finding me another job if I get fired for this," he said, making his way off the roof. Chris and Scott followed him.
"You're going to watch me?"
"Well, yeah, how else are we going to know she really knows you?"
He rang the doorbell at the back door while the two of them hung back a little. They were trying to look inconspicuous but they weren't succeeding too well.
"Can't find your keys again, Mom," Claire said as she opened the door.
She was clearly stunned to see him. He was, too, for that matter but for an entirely different reason than seeing her because he knew she was inside as of a few minutes ago. He did not know about the baby she currently held against her hip.
"John," she said with a panic-stricken frown.
"Uh yeah. Hi," he said, processing things in his head. He was no expert but the kid couldn't be more than six months old. He wasn't a genius, but he could do the math well enough especially since there'd been no one before their one time together.
He turned to where Chris and Scott were standing. "Forget it," he said, walking away. "I lied okay. Let's get back to work."
She frowned, regarding the three of them.
"Did you guys need something?" she asked, clearly confused. "My mom just left, but if there's something you need I can try to help."
"Yeah, John here says he dated you in high school," Chris said.
"You really are an asshole, Chris," John said. "I said forget it, I admit I lied."
He walked toward her car, which she hadn't parked in the garage.
"John?" she said as John glanced in the backseat of the car.
The car seat in the backseat of her car explained the need for something like the Grand Prix versus a TransAm.
"I don't understand," she said. "You want to know if I dated him?"
"Well, yeah," Scott said.
"Okay. Uh, yeah, senior year. Not for very long, though."
She knew he knew. He shook his head as he regarded his friends. As much as he wanted to, he couldn't talk to her about this here. Not now at least. He was on the clock and he wasn't going to embarrass himself in front of people he worked with.
"You have your answer. Can we get back to work now?"
"That's it?" she asked.
"For now," he said.
"Cute kid," Chris said.
"Thanks," Claire said, closing the door.
The best course of action? Work and work hard to get through the rest of the day without thinking about what he'd seen.
"Why'd you break up?" Chris asked.
"Shut up," John said.
"Wow, okay. It was just a question. I mean, why on earth would you walk away from that?"
"Chris," he said as evenly as he could, though he really felt like punching both of them about now.
"Senior year. That was a year ago. You graduated last June, right?"
"Yes," John said through clenched teeth.
"He probably just doesn't like the fact she obviously broke up with him and moved on," Scott said.
"She didn't break up with me and I'm not talking about this anymore today. Talk about your fiancée or whatever else you want to talk about. Just not Claire."
"Hey, you're lucky, man, just think at least you aren't saddled with that responsibility like some other poor shmuck out there is," Scott said.
"Do you know who she dated after you?" Chris asked.
"No," he spat. "Do you not understand the meaning of the words I don't want to talk about it anymore? She answered your question, told you I dated her. I don't want to talk about it anymore. Just leave it alone."
She left during the afternoon. John couldn't help but stop what he was doing and watch her as she strapped the baby into the car seat he'd spotted in the back of her car. She glanced up at him on the roof before she got into the car. She saw him watching her but didn't do anything beyond get in her car and drive away.
Scott's question made him wonder, though. It was possible he was off in thinking the baby was about six months old. Was it possible it was a little younger than that? Maybe. What he knew about babies was next to nothing. It couldn't be too much younger, though, because it was holding its head up and stuff. Was it possible it was someone else's? He supposed anything was possible, but he really didn't see her as the type to have sex with someone else in the last month or two of school. Especially since after that day of detention she'd barely let him kiss her! She hadn't seemed to be rushing into being sexually active after giving up her virginity.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com