He'd never done this. Shown up at someone's house he'd worked on. Chris had more than once, but it wasn't the way John worked. He parked on the street and walked up the driveway to their house. He glanced behind the house for a minute, spotting her Grand Prix on the driveway again. One of the garage doors was open, revealing the TransAm she'd driven in high school.
So, she hadn't gotten rid of it. He seemed to remember her saying it had been her brother's car before her. He'd asked because it was a 78 model. She hadn't liked that it was a T-top, wanting a convertible instead. He'd presumed her parents' would've bought her what she wanted. It hauled ass, though. She let him drive it one day of their week together and he thought for that couple of hours they drove around Chicago that he was in heaven. It was the sweetest ride he'd ever driven.
He rang the bell, having no idea what he was going to say. He couldn't stay away, though. He couldn't come back here tomorrow, all week possibly depending on how long the job took them, not knowing.
"May I help you?"
It was her dad. Great. Just who John probably shouldn't be meeting right now.
"Is Claire home?"
"May I ask who's calling?"
John frowned a little. Calling? Oh, yeah, people like Claire had things like gentleman callers, had nothing to do with phones. He hadn't realized her parents were quite that uptight, but he imagined it went with the old money thing that the name Standish brought with it. They weren't like the Rockefeller's or anything, but her grandfather and his father had done well for themselves.
"I'm a friend from high school. John Bender."
"I'll see if she's busy," he said. He allowed John entry into the foyer, but it was clear he hadn't approved of him stepping further into the house.
"Thanks," John said, doing his best not to look guilty of something he wasn't one hundred percent certain he was guilty of.
"She said she'd be down in a minute," her dad said, making no effort to offer John a place to stand or sit that wasn't the foyer.
It took her about ten minutes but she came downstairs. He'd almost given up and left, but realized that was probably what she was hoping he'd do. She didn't look happy to see him.
"Hi," she said.
She opened the front door and he frowned a little. "Hey, I just came to talk to you."
"I know," she said, stepping outside.
"Oh," he said. He thought she was kicking him out before they'd even begun hashing this out.
"So," she said sitting on the step.
"Yeah," he said once he took a seat next to her.
"Roofing? I'm not sure I saw that one."
"Wow. Really? That's what you open with?"
"What do you want me to say?"
"Uh, how about the reason I'm here."
"I don't know why you're here."
"Don't be obtuse, Claire. You know why I'm here. You knew I would come here the minute you opened the door and saw me today."
"I was hoping you wouldn't."
"Because I don't want to deal with it."
"You don't want to deal with it? That's priceless, considering I didn't even know until a half a day ago there was something to deal with."
"What do you want, John?"
"You know what I want."
"No, I'm not really sure I do."
"Is it a boy or a girl?"
She took a deep breath. "You couldn't tell?"
"No! Excuse me for being a little surprised to see you holding a baby the first time I see you in over a year."
"It's not like we kept in touch or anything."
"And you see nothing wrong with that?"
"Why should I?"
"Uh, Claire, you kept something pretty important from me. I'd say yes that's wrong."
"What would you have done exactly?"
"I don't know, but you didn't even give me the chance."
"Are you doing well?"
"Well? What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Quit with the small-talk."
"I'm not making small-talk, John. I'm asking a sincere question. Are you doing well? Roofing, I mean. Were you able to get out of your parents' house?"
"Yes. By August last year, which you'd have known if you hadn't given me the cold shoulder after I asked you to prom."
"Yeah, we both knew that wasn't going to happen."
"Did you know then?"
"Yes," she whispered.
"And you didn't tell me?"
"No, I didn't."
"And we're back to the wrong thing, Claire. I may be an asshole of the biggest variety, but I'm not sure I'd withhold that kind of life altering information from someone. I'm also not sure what I did to you specifically to deserve being treated like that. I mean it was a week of our lives."
"But you got out."
She turned a little, regarding him. He knew what she saw. His hair was a little longer than it was at graduation. He wore it tied back while working, but it was down now. It was lighter, too, from being out in the sun all day, every day. He was very fit, too. He was never going to be a thin guy, he'd come to terms with the limitations of his body's frame, but he could damned well make sure he was fit and toned. Roofing was hard work, but the couple of months he was off in the winter he'd had to keep busy so he'd joined a gym. It was one other guys he worked with recommended who allowed people to let their memberships lapse and renew them due to seasonal work. He was glad he hadn't gotten sucked into a contract that a large chain of gyms wanted him to sign to.
"I needed to know you got out. That was more important to me."
"More important to you? What about to me? Christ, Claire. I have a son. I'd say that's important."
"And what would you have done had I told you?"
"I don't know."
"I do. You would have taken the first job that you could find. I know roofers make better money than someone who works at Jewel bagging groceries or at the local Amoco pumping gas for people. You wouldn't have been able to move out last summer."
She set her hand over his, squeezing it, but he dislodged it quickly. "Don't touch me," he hissed. "You don't get to somehow turn this into you doing me some sort of favor."
"John," she said.
"No, don't John me."
"If I had told my parents who you were."
"They don’t even know?"
"How is that possible?"
"I refused to tell them."
"They would have gone to talk to your parents."
She looked away then, but he saw tears in her eyes.
"I wasn't going to be responsible for something happening to you."
"Okay, so I get maybe why you didn't tell your parents. You didn't tell me either!"
"I didn't think you'd care."
"No. I mean, come on, we had sex once. We dated for a week, and evidently that was too much for you. So, what was I supposed to do? Make you be responsible for a mistake? The most important thing to me, John, was that you were healthy and out of your house."
"Can I see him?"
She looked at him again, surprise in her eyes. The unshed tears were still there. He hadn't realized his upbringing upset her so much, no one else give a shit. Surely after more than a year he figured what caring she'd experienced was long forgotten.
"What? He's my kid, Claire."
"I don't really care about your parents."
"They'll want me to go after you for child support, help with the medical bills, and the child care costs while I'm at school."
"Well, yeah, you should be getting that."
"I don’t want your help, John."
"What's his name?"
"Jack. Jack Ryan."
"Standish, of course."
"Well, of course."
"That's not right, Claire. What you've done here is wrong on so many levels."
"You'd have thought I'd trapped you."
"You don't know what I would've thought."
"I know that you would have seen it as some sort of reason to try again, get married maybe."
"Well, yeah, that's the responsible thing to do."
"I didn't want you to be responsible for anyone or anything but yourself. You didn't deserve to go from one bad home life into another one."
"I didn't realize you gave any thought to what our home life would be like."
"I thought about it when I found out. Between my parents and probably yours they would've pressured you – us – to do the right thing. The right thing for me is to go to college and get my degree so I can support him. The right thing for you was to get out and not have the financial burden of a baby that came out of a one-night stand."
He hadn't wanted it to be a one-night stand. She had no idea how confused she made him. The last thing he'd wanted to leave high school with was baggage. He'd wanted to get out of Shermer and leave everything behind him. Initially, after they'd broken up – if dating for a week can be serious enough to consider it breaking up afterward – he'd been relieved. His opinion on that had changed, which led to him asking for another chance a few weeks later.
"I want to see him."
"And do what?"
"What kind of question is that?"
"I go back to school in the fall. He comes with me."
"Where do you go?"
"Really?" That wasn't expected at all. He'd had her pegged for a Big Ten college all the way.
"Yeah, I sort of changed my mind on colleges when I found out."
"Too many people I knew were going to University of Illinois or Iowa, which were my first two choices."
"Oh God, John, I was so embarrassed at the time. I still am, I guess. I mean, people know, of course, my friends, but I've sure learned who was really a friend and who wasn't in the past fifteen months."
"People stopped talking to you?"
"Of course they did! No one wants to talk to or be seen with someone who is a slut."
"Some friends. And unless you've drastically changed you're not a slut. One time does not make you into that."
She shrugged. "Yeah well, it is what it is."
"So, Illinois State, that's Bloomington, right? That's like one hundred thirty miles away."
"Not unreasonable for me to visit once in a while."
She regarded him. He could see the doubt in her eyes at his willingness to drive that far for the next three years to see a baby.
"Babies aren't all fun, John. They cry and wake up in the middle of the night for no reason. There's diapers to change and baths to give after they've spit up over clothes you just put on them twenty minutes ago."
"Okay, so you can teach me how to change a diaper. It can't be that hard."
"You're being absurd. I didn't tell you so that you could have a better life."
"What about your life? You think I can't do that and be a father?"
"A father? Is that what you want to be, John?"
"Why not? I am one. I can step up to the plate and take responsibility for trouble my dick got me into."
"Don't be crude."
"Don't be a bitch. I have the right to see him, Claire. I'm being nice about it right now, but I could be not so nice."
"Yeah? And my dad would stop you. Whatever money you think you have access to, my dad has more and would do anything in his power to be sure my name, the family name, isn't dragged through the mud. All I'd have to do is claim I was scared for my child because of what you grew up with."
He winced at that, but she had a valid point and one a judge probably would at least listen to.
"So, work with me, avoid that possibility. At least let me see him. Give me the rest of the summer to decide if making the trip is worth it. You're only back for another five or six weeks, right?"
"What do you have to lose?"
"Pretty much everything."
"What? How do you even see that? Your kid gets a dad out of the deal, how could that not be an improvement?"
"I was trying to protect you."
"I don't need your protection, Claire. I understand why you didn't want my parents to know, and sitting here as much as it bothers me I can say I appreciate that gesture. You still should have told me. I sure as hell wasn't going to rush out to tell them."
"And I told you why I didn't."
"I didn't realize you cared enough to even think about what kind of job I'd have."
"Of course I care. How could you think I don't?"
"You said no!"
"You walked away from me. You embarrassed me. I was supposed to give you another chance to humiliate me in front of the entire senior class at prom? As if the fact I knew I was pregnant at the time wasn't bad enough."
"I wouldn't have embarrassed you. I had every intention of taking you."
"You couldn't have afforded it."
"I would have come up with something."
"Yeah, well I wouldn't have liked that either. No one wants to worry about their date for prom being arrested." She shrugged. "I look at him every day and wonder what you looked like."
"He doesn't look like you?"
"Does that bother you?"
"I've wished I could ask," she said softly.
He was quiet for a few minutes, processing that. It couldn't have been easy for her to admit, but he had no answers to give her on that.
"I don't really have baby pictures or anything. I mean, I'm sure there are some. Mom at one time wasn't bad, but I'd have to ask for them and she'd wonder."
"You couldn't just tell her you want your stuff?"
"And make her wonder why I didn't a year ago?" He shrugged. "Maybe. I'll see what I can do."
"Don't put yourself in a position to get hurt."
He laughed softly. "I wouldn't, don't worry. Whatever I get you can have."
"I don't want it!"
"You might have another one someday and change your mind."
"I'll know where to find you unless your parents are going to uproot from this fancy place, but I doubt that's going to happen."
"You guys get lunch breaks, right?"
"Yes," he said.
"You can meet him then. Mom is going out tomorrow."
"You want me to meet him in front of the two guys who wouldn't even believe I could catch a date with you?"
"Is that why they were asking?"
"Yes, they thought you were hot. I told them you were out of their league. It led to the revelation that I'd dated you and they didn't believe it."
"Why would you lie?"
"I haven't quite figured out their reasoning for thinking I would, but it is what it is."
"You tell people we dated?"
"I don't walk around announcing it, no, don't worry, Princess. Your reputation is intact."
"That wasn't why I was asking. I was surprised. I wouldn't think you'd admit that."
"Why? Clearly it was a mistake for you."
"Whatever," he said. He wasn't going to argue with her about how much of a mistake it wasn't. The mistake had been him getting scared and walking away from her to begin with. If he hadn't walked away, he would have had the last six months to know his son.
"Is he a good baby?"
"Yes, very good. He slept through the night almost from the beginning, which is rare I guess. It was great, though, being a college student. I'd stay up until like midnight studying and put him to bed and he'd sleep until about five almost every day. He's always in a good mood. He's been fussy lately, but it's because he's been cutting teeth. At least that's what Mom tells me."
"Five hours of sleep? That's all you were getting?"
"Yeah," she shrugged. "I got by. I'd pick him up after class, come home and take a nap when he did. It worked okay. And he sleeps longer now, I can put him to bed closer to eleven than twelve and he'll sleep until about the same time."
"And you can't like go inside and get him and bring him out here?"
"I just want to see him. Christ, Claire, I'm not asking you to announce to your parents who I am, but I'd like to see him. That's why I came here."
"Not to talk to me."
"Well, that, too, yeah, but my goal was to see him."
"I didn't think you'd care."
"Yeah, well, I do. A lot."
She was quiet for a few minutes. He didn't know what else to say. If she said no tonight there really wasn't a whole lot he could do. He just didn't want to see his kid for the first time in front of Scott and Chris. See and actually look at him versus the brief glimpses he'd gotten earlier today.
She stood then without another word and went inside, closing the door behind her quietly. She hadn't told him to fuck off or leave so he sat tight; hoping her going in there meant what he thought it did.
She came back out about ten minutes later.
"My mom just finished feeding him while we were out here so he's kind of sleepy."
"He's eating already? You said he just started cutting teeth."
"Yeah, I mean, baby food. Bananas, sweet potatoes, stuff like that."
"Hmm. I didn't realize."
She took a seat next to him again much more carefully than she had initially when they'd come out here.
"It's like eighty degrees why does he need a hat?"
"To protect his ears. It's still breezy at times. Their ears are pretty fragile and prone to ear infections."
"At least it's a Bears hat, I guess."
"Courtesy of his Uncle Christopher. Do you want to hold him?"
"You said you wanted to see him!"
"Well, yeah, I've never held a baby before in my life, Claire."
"I hadn't either. It's much easier now than when he was a newborn and you had to worry about his head snapping back."
"Your parents aren't going to be watching, wondering why you brought him out here?"
"Nah. I told them I knew it was about time for them to watch the news so said I'd take him out here for a while."
"Maybe next time. Just let me look for now."
"Okay," she said, she sounded more amused than upset so he hadn't fucked up in the first few minutes at least. She sat him up on her lap, arms supporting him under his arms. "You're surprisingly calm about this."
"I'm seething inside, Princess," he said, reaching for Jack's hand.
"You ready for that, John?"
"What?" he asked curiously.
"You touch him you're probably not going to be able to walk away."
"You think I could walk away as it is now?"
"It's different. Trust me. I couldn't touch him at first after he was born."
She laughed softly. "Are you sure you want to hear this?"
"Yes," he said without hesitation. God, to think about her away at school pregnant, probably pretty alone bothered him immensely. And he had to stop feeling sorry for her, because had she told him she wouldn't have been alone.
"Well, he'd pooped before being born."
"Okay," he said.
"Well, that can be dangerous, I guess because they're out of the sac and they can breathe stuff into their lungs. They can swallow it and stuff."
"Oh," he said, frowning a little.
"So, they had to take him right away and be sure his mouth and lungs were clear and give him a bath. Meanwhile, they had to deliver the placenta and give me stitches."
"Yeah," she shrugged.
"Yes, where else?"
"I don't know. Didn't that hurt?"
"I'd just pushed a seven pound baby out of me, John, a needle was nothing."
"I suppose not."
"Seven pounds, eight ounces. Twenty-one inches long. So he was kind of tall and scrawny."
"He still looks kind of scrawny. He obviously takes after you there, thankfully."
"Not necessarily, but there's nothing wrong with the way you look, John. Anyway, when I first held him. Well, I can't explain it. I mean I carried him for nine months. He's mine, but God help me from that second I knew there was nothing I wouldn't do for him. I was tired and sore, really wanted a nap but he looked at me with these big blue eyes and I was gone."
"Keeping him from me part of that nothing you wouldn't do for him plan?"
"No," she said.
"Blue eyes?" he asked, closing the final inches between him and Jack's hand. Her warning didn't scare him off. "Princess, we both have brown eyes. And his look pretty brown to me. You sure you weren't hallucinating?"
Jack grabbed onto his index finger like there was no tomorrow and John couldn't help but chuckle a little.
"Most babies are born with blue eyes, John. Supposedly by this age they're the color they're going to be, but I've heard some people say it can take up to a year."
"Oh," he said, moving his finger a little so Jack had to let go and grip it again.
"You okay?" she asked.
"No," he said simply. "I woke up this morning with nothing to worry about, no concerns. And now. Christ."
"It doesn't have to change, John. You could leave here now…"
"And what? Forget? Unsee him? Untouch him? Are you nuts?"
"You asked to see him."
"He's mine! I helped make him; of course I want to see him."
"Why Jack?" he asked after a few minutes of silence. She clearly had no response to what he'd said. Or none she wanted to say. Maybe she was rethinking her decision not to tell him. He doubted, she seemed to believe she'd done the right thing. Perhaps she had and he'd realize that after having some time to process it.
"I didn't want to name him John."
"There are thousands of names you could have chosen instead."
"I didn't want to."
He wasn't sure what to say to that.
"I figured when he got older I could tell him it was a derivative of your name."
"What were you going to tell him about me?"
"I don't know! I figured I had years before I'd have to deal with that."
"So, does that offer of lunch with you two still stand tomorrow?"
"If you want to, sure. Mom's got an appointment or something so she'll be gone from like eleven until two o'clock."
"I'll bring my lunch then."
"I can make you something. I mean, I have to make myself something. If you don't mind ham sandwiches and chips or something."
"I think I can make two sandwiches, John."
"Well, yeah, but just making sure."
"You won't get in trouble?"
"For eating my lunch with you? There's a fourth guy on our team who didn't show today who might tomorrow. He might say something, but as long as you don't complain I think I'll be okay. Chris has gotten more dates than I can count off roofing jobs."
"Chris has, huh?"
"Yes. Scott's engaged so he wouldn't do that. I mean, I can't say he'd never be unfaithful, but he doesn't do it in front of us. Chris and I both know his fiancée."
"You sure you don't want to hold him? It's about time I get him his bath and stuff before bed."
"All right," he said not at all convinced it was an overly good idea. Babies were fragile things. He wasn't a very gentle guy. She set Jack on his lap, though, letting him replace his hands with hers under his arms like she had them.
Yeah, okay, his heart did a weird thing just then when Jack looked at him. Until that moment he'd been set on his lap he hadn't really paid John much attention. Not that John could blame him for keeping his focus on his mother. She was much prettier to look at.
"I thought you said he goes to sleep about eleven."
"That's his final bedtime. He sleeps before then. He'll wake up again. I'll feed and change him, maybe read to him. Then he goes back to sleep."
"Oh," he said.
"He's awake a little more during the day, but he still pretty much sleeps, eats, and messes diapers."
"And you're okay?"
"What do you mean?"
"You look thin."
"Thank you!" She laughed. "I'm fine. I get more sleep here for sure. Mom's always happy to get up with him in the morning if she's awake. Don't look so scared, you're not going to break him as long as you hold onto him and don't let go."
"Yeah, he's just so…"
"I know. It's scary."
"You're used to it now, though. You came to the door earlier with him on your hip like it was nothing."
"I suppose that's true."
"You're not going to leave tonight, are you?"
"Yeah, I don't know, disappear. I know and you obviously weren't going to seek me out to tell me."
"No, I have nowhere to go. My brother's, I guess, but his house isn't equipped for a baby."
"Your parents' is?"
"Well, no, but he has my brother's old room and I've baby-proofed mine. He's not walking or crawling yet so the rest of the house is safe until next summer."
"Oh. Well, I'll let you go do his bath and stuff. Just let me know when you want to have lunch tomorrow."
"Okay," she said.
She stood then, taking Jack from him with an ease that he kind of envied. She kissed the top of his head, rubbing her cheek against it. She gave a soft laugh. "He got some bananas or whatever Mom gave him to eat in his hair so he really needs his bath."
He slid his hand to his head, rubbing the spot in question.
"Well, have fun. And thanks."
"You didn't give me a whole lot of choice."
"Yeah, well, I'm not the type of guy that would do that. You knew that, too, or you would have told me."
"Maybe I did."
"Good night, Princess. Sleep well."
"You, too," she said. He waited while she walked up the steps and went inside. She gave a slight wave before shutting the door behind her.
He checked his wallet once he was in his car, being sure he had money in there. It'd piss him off something awful if she blew him off tomorrow. At least he had money to buy lunch if he had to, though.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com