He wasn't the nervous type. He wasn't particularly worried about making a good impression on Jack. He still, however, took an extra few minutes while shaving that morning to ensure he didn't miss any spots. He didn't usually care, and he shouldn't care now.
He did, though.
Despite spending most of the night seething and questioning the sanity behind his decision to stop drinking, he found himself caring immensely.
It was going to be another ninety degree day, so his work clothes were the same as they had been the day before. Claire hadn't seen all of his scars that day at school, but he was done caring what anyone else thought about him.
Like she said, he'd gotten out. That had to count for something.
He'd arrived early, the first one there for a change. He wasn't ever late beyond a few minutes here or there due to traffic, but he never went out of his way to be twenty minutes early as Scott did sometimes. Claire must have been looking for him because she came outside to tell him she'd make lunch around twelve o'clock, which was fine with him.
"Where are you going?" Chris asked him.
"To eat. It's lunchtime."
"You didn't bring one."
"I assumed we were going somewhere."
"You are I would assume."
"Am I missing something," Chris asked.
Scott always brought his lunch. It was the rare occasion when he didn't so he was watching the two of them while he slid his shirt back on for their hour off.
"I think he has other plans, Chris."
"Yeah," Scott said with a nod to Claire who had come outside now.
"Wow, really, I didn't see that one coming," Chris said. "Just be sure to be done before her mom gets home."
"Don't be an asshole, Chris. We're just having lunch."
"If you say so. When did you have time to establish your lunch date anyway?"
"I got here a little early this morning," he said with a shrug. "Traffic was better than usual."
"If it was you, Chris," Scott said. "I'd say the warning was a valid one. Not for John, though."
"Thank you," John said with a shake of his head as he walked toward Claire.
"Everything all right?"
"Yes, just more proof that I need to rethink my friends, I guess."
"Why?" she asked.
"Never mind, Princess. It doesn't matter."
Her lips thinned a little, evidently thinking. "They don’t think we're really having lunch?"
"One of them doesn't anyway."
"Should we not? I mean I don't want to get you in trouble."
"They're just giving me shit. And we should. Most definitely we should. I'm not letting you get out of this, Claire. I want the summer, as much of what's left of the summer as I can get with him."
"You look tired."
"Yeah, funny, finding out the last year of your life has been essentially a lie kind of makes one not able to sleep."
"It hasn't been a lie, John. Are you here to argue with me about my decision or to have lunch and spend time with him?"
'I can't do both?"
"Fine," he said, though he really had no desire to argue with her. He'd come to the conclusion last night while tossing and turning in his bed that she was probably right. A year ago, man, he probably would have said some pretty nasty things to her had she told him. Except of all the chicks he knew, she was the least likely to go out of her way to trap a guy like that. For sure he was the last guy she'd try to entrap.
It didn't mean he was happy with the situation, but he was able to see it from her perspective a little. If the shoe had been on his foot he probably would have done the same thing as much as he hated to acknowledge that. Of course, the shoe would never be on his foot, but he could sort of imagine what she went through finding out she was pregnant. Being seen with him in the halls for a week was one thing, getting knocked up by him a completely different thing altogether.
"Are you okay?" he asked as he followed her into the house.
"What?" she asked with a frown.
"I didn't ask you last night how you are."
"Well, you did say I looked thin."
"Yeah, well, you do, but I mean you're, uh, physically all okay and everything?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. You had to do this all by yourself. That's hard work and probably means you haven't had much time to take for yourself."
"No, not until the summer anyway. Baths were a godsend."
"Yes, baths. I took one every night after I put him to bed in the evening. For twenty minutes I just relaxed. No homework, no baby, no worrying."
"That's good. I mean that you found something. So you recovered and everything?"
"Yes, the same as millions of women have over the years. I'm fine."
"Yeah, well, millions of women haven't had my baby so you'll forgive me for asking questions."
"I'm sorry. I just wasn't expecting it."
"Me to care?"
"Well, of course I care, Claire. We had sex…"
"You've cared about every girl you've had sex with?"
"No," he said honestly. There'd only been one. "I've never forgotten about a rubber before either."
She let him in through the back door where he took off his boots at the door. They were pretty filthy, and he wasn't going to track stuff all over her house even if she hadn't asked him to take them off.
"So, are you working?" he asked.
"No," she said.
"You left yesterday for a while."
"Yeah, I have a few friends who still talk to me and don't mind seeing me with him along."
He grimaced at that, the idea of people being that cruel. It was on the tip of his tongue to remind her that these were the same people she was worried about he'd humiliate her in front of. He didn't say it, though.
"Have a seat," she said, gesturing to the kitchen table. She left the room as he did that, noticing she'd already set the table. There was even a high chair ready to go. It was a nice kitchen. One of those kitchens that design magazines would salivate over having the chance to spotlight. The high chair would probably be stored somewhere, though.
She came back with Jack, setting him in the high chair.
"Iced tea?" she asked as she went to the fridge from the high chair.
"Uh, sure," he said.
"Well, I figured with as hot as it is you wouldn't want Coke, but if you prefer it we have some."
"No, iced tea is fine. Whatever you're having, don't go through any trouble."
'Well, it's no trouble to grab a can of Coke."
"Claire, iced tea is fine."
"Okay," she said. She poured them both a glass, setting a sippy cup of what John presumed was milk on Jack's high chair tray.
"He's not quite hungry yet, so I figured we can eat and then I'll feed him and you can go back to work whenever you have to."
"Okay," he said, watching Jack grab the cup.
She grabbed a couple of bowls from the fridge, stopping at the counter to get some spoons before setting them on the table.
"You made this?"
She shrugged. "I had to do something with my night last night and this morning."
"You said sandwiches and chips."
"Yeah, well, you're working outside in the sun all day; you need more than a sandwich."
"Claire," he said. He wasn't a cook by any means. If it wasn't a frozen dinner or something that came out of the box he rarely would bother. Grilled cheese and tomato soup was the rare exception because during the winter or on a cold rainy day it was still a good meal. He did know that cole slaw and potato salad were a lot of work individually. The pasta salad probably didn't take as long, however long it took to boil the noodles.
"Don't eat it if you don't want to. I made them. Okay? I'm home all day; it gave me something to do." She walked to the fridge again, pulling out sandwich makings and proceeded to make them both sandwiches. She brought them each a plate with a sandwich on it, grabbing a bag of Fritos as well.
"I'm not complaining," he said, correcting her. "I don't get homemade anything ever. I just wasn't expecting."
"Hmm," she said. "Me to know how to cook for myself?" She went back to the counter area, grabbing a jar of baby food, a bib, and a spoon.
"I'm sure you can. I mean, you couldn't live in a dorm with him so you had to live off-campus."
"That would require cooking, or at least probably an effort because even if your parents are helping you they're not paying for you to eat at McDonald's every day."
"When was he born?"
"New Year's Eve."
"Yes," she said.
"Huh. Was that on time?"
"Pretty close. My due date was the twenty-eighth."
He scooped out some of the salads onto his plate, watching her a little. She looked amused.
"What would you have done for lunch if you weren't eating with me?"
"I would have brought a sandwich and some chips with an apple or something like that."
"Peanut butter and jelly?"
"Yes. Scott has a thermal lunch box thing that he can bring pretty much anything onto the job and keep it cool. I haven't bought one yet. I'm okay with peanut butter and jelly for the most part. Sometimes Chris and I will grab something to eat if we're in a neighborhood that has places nearby."
"You like them?"
"Yeah, they're all right. I mean, I've worked with people I couldn't wait to get the job done because they were so lazy. The three of us work well together. I'm not sure what's going on with Hector, who was supposed to be our fourth this week."
"Even though they didn't believe you?"
"Just guys giving each other shit. Is he always this quiet?"
"Most of the time. He doesn't know you so he's probably trying to figure it out. He'll probably get better when he knows you."
"Well, that's good."
"He's a good baby, though. I got very lucky."
"I'd say," he said.
They ate their sandwiches in silence. John couldn't take his eyes off Jack, which he imagined was a natural response. The kid was his. He'd never given thought to what his kid would look like.
"He's pretty cute," he said once he'd finished his sandwich and just had a bit of the sides left. They were all very good so he assumed she'd made them before.
"Nothing," he said.
"I can tell you're thinking something."
"Just wonder who you've made this stuff for other than me."
"No one really. Pasta salad I can make actual pasta with and then use the rest for the pasta salad."
"No boyfriend back at school?"
"Does it matter?"
"Just curious who else is around Jack."
"That someone will get to spend quality time with my son? Yeah, I can admit to that."
"No one," she said softly.
"Why? I was a little busy. I didn't know when he was going to be born, early or late, so I had to be prepared and stay on top of my classes so if he came early I wouldn't get behind when I missed classes. Plus, who wants to go out with a pregnant woman?"
"Some guys would."
"Really?" she asked with a frown.
"Sure. You know they put out and chances are if they have once they will again."
"Wow. Really? You've done this?"
"I said some. I didn't say me. I wouldn’t have kicked you out of my bed or anything I'm sure."
She rolled her eyes.
"Are you going to tell them?"
"Chris and Scott?"
He shrugged. "Not right away."
"Not while we're still working your house, no. Afterward maybe. You don't need any more attention from them and I don’t want to hear what they have to say right now."
"What would they say?"
"Chris would tell me to get a blood test."
"Why haven't you asked me for one?"
"Because I'm not an idiot, Claire. I know you. You didn't go from me to someone else in a few days."
"I think a lawyer would probably tell you to."
"Are we getting lawyers involved, Princess?"
"I don’t know. I don't know what you want, John."
"I just want to spend time with my son, Claire. That's all."
"Well, you can, obviously you're here now."
"I work long hours."
"I know. I'll have to tell my parents I guess, but you can come by anytime. I could bring him to you, too, if you want me to," she said, opening the jar of baby food and putting the bib around Jack's neck.
"What if I wanted to take him?"
"I think it's a little soon for that. You've spent less than two hours with him, but I imagine before I leave for school if you wanted to and you know how to feed him and change him you could."
"But you'd let me?"
"You're not going to leave the state with him or anything are you?"
He chuckled softly. "No, he doesn't deserve that."
"I'm still not sure yet."
"John, I'm …"
"I know. You're sorry. You did what you thought was best. The funny, or truly pathetic, thing is that I believe you. I'm not sure I'm ready to say I completely believe those were your intentions. You had to know we'd run into one another at some point."
"Do you want to try to feed him?"
"Is this some sort of trick?"
She chuckled softly. "No, it's simply a question. If you don't want to that's fine. Otherwise, you put the spoon in the jar and then the spoon into his mouth."
"It's pretty small."
"His mouth? Or the spoon?"
"Yes, and you don't want to put too much on the spoon or he'll spit it out. Though this is bananas, which he loves."
"Is there a wrong way to do it?"
She pushed the jar with the spoon across the table to him. Jack was eyeing the jar and started banging on his high chair, clearly not caring who was going to feed him just that someone did.
"Just try it. Worse thing that happens I have to give him a bath."
"Positive. You're not going to hurt him. It's baby food."
He grabbed the spoon, eyeing the jar of bananas a little cautiously. She laughed at him.
"He eats this stuff?"
"Yes! Some people use a food processor with regular table food, but I've never done that."
John dipped the spoon in the jar and scooped a bit out; trying to repeat what Claire had done. He chuckled as Jack opened his mouth, expecting the food.
"He's like a bird."
She chuckled softly. "I've heard it may not always be so easy."
"Yeah, sometimes they spit it back at you."
"Great," he said, eyeing Jack and then him, wondering just how far he could spit the bananas.
"He hasn't done it yet."
"Be just my luck, having to explain to those guys why I have bananas on my shirt."
"You take your shirt off anyway."
He eyed her curiously.
"Hmm, you noticed?"
"Yes, I'm not blind."
"Did you notice the other two, too?"
"There are others?"
He chuckled softly. "Yes, probably best Hector hasn't shown up."
"Girls love him."
"He's Puerto Rican and this time of summer he's as dark as a penny."
"You're pretty dark yourself."
"Not like him."
"Not everyone likes that."
"Could've fooled me."
"I think he's had enough," she said, reaching over to wipe Jack's mouth off with the edge of the bib. "He'll have some milk. We'll hang out for a while, I'll change him, and then he'll go down for a nap."
"Then what will you do?"
"I don't know. If you guys weren't here I'd plug the baby monitor on the patio and lay out."
"You could still do that."
"I don't want them looking at me."
"But I'm okay?"
"Well, yeah, I know you, you've seen me," she shrugged.
"Not all of you, Princess. We were pretty limited on time and space."
"You don't have to remind me. Obviously we had enough time and space."
"Obviously," he said with a chuckle. "Can I come back tonight?"
"John," she said, getting their plates and silverware together.
"What time does he go to sleep?"
"It just depends on when he eats and if I have to get him a bath. Around eight."
"How about if I come by around seven. I'll stop and pick up a couple of movies."
She paused what she was doing and glanced at him.
"I'm sorry. You want to watch movies with me?"
"Well, Jack can watch, too, I guess, but I doubt he'd be as good company."
"Do you want to watch movies with me?"
"Why not? I can help you put him to bed if you don't think your parents will freak out, and I could be here to help when he wakes up again. I'm never going to learn if I don't do it."
"Well, I get that part, but you want to spend time with me?"
He frowned. "That was the implication, I guess, yeah."
"I don't understand the question."
"You're mad at me."
"I'm not mad at you, Claire. I'm mad at the situation. I'm mad at myself. I knew later that I hadn't used a rubber, but I never once thought to ask you. I should've. I was too focused on how badly I'd fucked up with you." He glanced at Jack. "Sorry, buddy, don't pay attention to half the things that come out of the old man's mouth."
She brought their plates to the sink and cleared the table of the rest of the stuff while Jack drank his milk.
"Listen, it was just a suggestion. It's movies. It's not like I'm asking for anything from you."
"No, I'd love to watch movies with you. It just surprised me is all. I wouldn't blame you for being mad, and I don't blame you for not checking. I mean, it was one time. What are the odds?"
"Evidently for us, pretty good."
He stood then, running his hand along the top of Jack's head. He leaned down and kissed it, grazing the top of his ear with his thumb.
"What?" he asked.
"Nothing," she said. "I shouldn't have been watching, sorry."
"He's your kid, I would assume you'd watch everything to do with him."
"Well, yeah, but that was…"
He shrugged. "I didn't get many of those growing up, figured maybe I should start even though I'm not comfortable. It's not his fault I'm not."
"No, you're right. I just," she shrugged. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be," he said, walking toward her. "So around seven then?"
"Any video preference?"
"No, whatever. I haven't seen anything since last summer pretty much, so the options are pretty broad."
"Do you want a Coke for outside?"
"Nah, I'll be fine," he said, walking to the laundry room and his boots.
"Claire, I'll be fine."
"Okay, it's just so hot out."
"I'm used to it by now, but thank you. We have a cooler full of stuff anyway. I’m good."
She watched him quietly as he slid into his boots and tied them. He eyed her curiously. "You have a look in your eye, Princess."
"I do not."
"You do. What are you thinking?"
She stepped toward him and kissed him. It wasn't on his neck like her first kiss the day of their detention had been, but it was as simple and basic as that one. He was just as surprised by it today as he had been that day.
"What did you do that for?"
She smiled a little shyly. "Seems like you asked me that once before."
"I did. What's your answer this time?"
"Same as before, I knew you wouldn't."
"Thanks for lunch, Claire."
"You're welcome. Thanks for eating with me. You can tomorrow again if you want. I have plenty of food left, obviously."
"Yeah, I'm not going anywhere."
"What about your mother?"
She shrugged. "What about her?"
"You invited me today because she was going to be gone."
"I wanted you to see Jack without her around this time."
"Oh and John," she said softly.
"Yeah," he said, turning at the door.
"I like your hair like that."
He shook his head slightly. "Yeah," he said with a chuckle and left closing the door behind him.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com