"Everything okay?" he asked. She looked flustered and a little upset.
"Yes. My parents are just kind of freaking out."
"Me? What'd I do?"
"You being the dad. You having lunch with us today. You coming over tonight."
"Evidently they don't understand why you and I want to watch a movie together."
"Afraid they'll have another grandson in nine months?"
She scrunched her nose a little and shook her head. "Not happening, no."
He cocked his head a little, regarding her. "No more ever?"
"Oh, sure, you know one day when the time is better. A husband or at least a boyfriend who's willing to go out and buy me Baskin Robbins at ten o'clock at night when I need it would be nice."
"Uh okay. Should I leave?"
"No, they're just not very happy with me right now. Then that seems to be going around this week, so what else is new?"
"Sorry," he said.
"Don't worry about it. Come on in."
"You sure? I'm really not out to cause problems with your parents."
"They'll get over it."
"Yeah, well, they're paying for your college, so if another day is better."
"They're not going to stop paying for my college because I decided to let you come over. They just wish I'd told them who you were first. Even last night would have been better than an hour before you were coming over again tonight."
"Oh," he said. "Am I meeting them then?"
"Not tonight, no. I think they understand you're here to spend time with Jack not field a million questions you don't have answers to."
"Oh, I imagine they have some questions I probably should be taken to task for. They're just looking out for you two. I can't say my parents would do the same, but I get it."
"I know. I'm sorry. I probably sound very petty to complain especially since I guess you all should have known all along."
"It's a fine line to toe. You're dependent on them yet you've got your own kid so you're independent in ways that probably bothers them. Yet you can't piss them off."
He followed her to a room above their kitchen, separate from the rest of the upstairs. It was a huge entertainment room.
"Wow," he said, checking out the pinball machine they had. "Jack could have a blast up here when he's old enough."
"Yeah. We'll probably have to put some things away once he's walking, but I think Mom and Dad left this room as is assuming one day they'd have grandkids to keep busy."
"You could live up here," he said, noticing there was a mini-kitchen area complete with a stove and oven. "Bathroom?"
"Through there," she said, pointing to a doorway.
"Yes," she said, sounding as if that should have been obvious. Maybe it was to her, but he could fit his entire apartment in this room and probably still have space left over.
"Just wondering. You and your brother have a lot of parties up here?"
"My brother did. I had friends over, but probably not the type of party you're referring to, no. He was more of a partier than I was."
"Seems to me you weren't afraid to have a good time with me that day of detention."
"Yes, well, I didn't do that every day. And God, I was at school on a Saturday. Can you blame me?"
He chuckled softly, noticing for the first time the playpen that was behind the couch. Jack was sitting up in it, staring at them. He had a toy or something in his hand, but he clearly wasn't paying it any attention.
"I didn't even see him. I figured he was in bed already."
"No, I wouldn't have done that, but I have to put him in there so he doesn't roll all over the place and down the stairs."
"Ah, yeah, that'd be bad," he said, setting the bag with the movies in it on a nearby table and stooping down a little to regard Jack through the playpen.
"What did you bring?"
"Well, I didn't ask what you were in the mood for. You said you hadn't seen much in the past year so I took my chance that Police Academy was among movies you hadn't seen."
"Good. And then the other one is Top Secret. I looked at Footloose and Karate Kid, but I figured you'd have seen those when they came out."
"You did, huh?"
"Yes, they both seemed like your type of movie."
"Not really, no," he said.
"What else did you bring?"
"Just something to drink."
"I have drinks."
"I know. I'm not here to mooch off of you."
"You're a guest in my house you don't have to bring your own pop. It is pop, right?"
He chuckled softly. "Yes, it's pop."
"Good. Because my parents would freak over that."
"I wouldn’t do that. I haven't done that for a while anyway."
He shrugged. "I moved out didn't really need anything to make me numb or pass out anymore."
"I thought so."
"That's good. I don't know how to say I'm proud of you without sounding condescending, but I am."
"Thanks. I just figured the best way not to turn into my old man was to get away from the behaviors that were like my old man. I still enjoy a blunt now and again," he shrugged.
"I haven't done that in so long."
"I'd hope not. At least not while you were pregnant."
"No! Of course not."
"Good. I mean, I guess he's fine so whatever you did worked fine, but still."
"So, you want to watch me give him his bath? Maybe help?"
"I'm not sure," he said. "You sure are throwing everything at me."
"I haven't asked you to change him! You fed him some bananas and held him. These are things fathers do every day, John. You said you wanted to spend time with him on your own so you have to learn. I'm offering not trying to force anything on you."
"Yeah, I'll help, Princess."
"I brought everything to this bathroom. That's how the argument with my parents started. They wanted to know why I was going to give him his bath in here instead of in our bathroom."
"You share a bathroom with your parents?"
She laughed. "No, I share a bathroom with him, the one I shared with my brother."
"That led to you coming over again and who you are."
"You told them."
"I kind of felt like I had to. You know. You're coming over tonight and you're going to have lunch with me tomorrow. My mom would wonder."
"Is she going to eat with us tomorrow?"
"I don't know what she's doing."
He rolled up his shirt sleeves as she opened the door leading to the bathroom. She glanced at him briefly and he kind of wondered what she saw. This wasn't the first time he wondered what someone like her would see in someone like him.
"Can I pick him up?"
"Sure," she said from the bathroom. He heard the sound of water running as he leaned over the edge of the playpen to pick Jack up. He hadn't quite thought what picking him up from here meant. He'd have to walk with him to the bathroom unless he just stood here and waited for her, but even still yesterday he hadn't held him standing up or anything.
He remembered Claire answering the door yesterday morning with him at her hip like it was nothing. John went with putting an arm under Jack's butt once he'd let his head rest against his shoulder. The other hand he rested over the back of Jack's head as he walked toward the bathroom.
John's problem was he really wasn’t a very delicate or gentle guy. Nothing about his existence to this point had warranted him behaving that way.
Except Jack's mother.
He'd obviously failed there, though. He hadn't the first clue how to behave around someone like her. Not and keep her anyway. He briefly wondered if he'd have the same problem with Jack.
"I hadn't really thought past the picking him up part."
"You're fine," she said, reaching around John's arm to unsnap Jack's little suit.
"Here, I'll take him for a minute," she said, sitting with him on the closed toilet. She slid the bodysuit thing over his head and off.
"Baths with him aren't too fun yet. You can't ever leave him."
"Alone in the tub. No leaving. Not to answer the phone. Not to answer the door. Not to grab a cigarette. Not for any reason. There is no just a second for someone this small and a few inches of water."
"Oh yeah. Right, I guess I wouldn't have even thought that was up for debate. You mean people do that?"
She shrugged. "You'd be surprised," she said. "In our bathroom we have one of those shower heads that's on a cord so it's real easy to wash his hair, but in this tub I have to use a cup."
He watched as she washed his hair, using not even a dime-sized drop of shampoo. After his hair was shampooed and rinsed she used a washcloth – a baby-sized one – and washed his body. She handed the washcloth and soap to him after a couple of seconds and moved out of his way.
Christ, he was real tiny he realized as he ran the washcloth over his body. With clothes on for some reason he didn't seem quite so compact. He seemed to like having his toes washed. John didn't get a full laugh out of him, but it was kind of a giggle.
"He has some toys in the other bathroom, but I didn't plan on leaving him in here for very long. He likes to splash if I leave him in for too long and I figured you wouldn't enjoy getting a bath of your own."
"It's fine, Claire. I wouldn't have minded I mean. It's just water."
She grabbed a small towel after a few minutes because it didn't take that long to wash him and laid it out on the floor. John got out of the way as she picked Jack up from the tub and set him on the towel. It had a little pocket-like thing that went over his head and hair. The rest she swaddled around him almost like a blanket.
She grabbed a diaper, showing John which side was the back and which was the front before sliding it under his butt and putting it on him.
"You won't want to wait long to put the diaper on him either."
"I've never had him pee on me, but I've taken too long a time or two and he's gotten the wall, the floor, and his sheets."
"Oh," he said with a chuckle.
"Girls it's not such an issue with. Well, that's what I've heard."
"They don't have equipment that aims you're saying?"
"I would assume that's the reason, yes."
"Were you upset he was a boy?"
"Upset? No, of course not. He was healthy and everything. What more could I ask for?"
"I suppose nothing, I see that. I was just wondering. I'd think someone like you would thrive with a daughter of your own."
"It'd be fun, sure," she shrugged. "One day maybe, and this way she'd have a big brother to look out for her and teach her boy stuff just like I did."
"I'm not sure how successful your brother was at teaching you boy stuff, Princess. You're pretty much all girl as far as I can tell."
"Yeah, well, I might surprise you when we're not in school."
She took him out into the main room then and set him on the floor.
"Here," she said to John.
"You can do the rest if you want."
"The rest what?"
She pointed at the clothes.
"You've got to be kidding me, I'll never get all those little buttons."
He frowned a little, regarding her. She wasn't making him. She'd do it herself if he said no, he knew that, but he was never going to learn if he didn't do it. He really would like to be able to help her once he got more comfortable with these things. Give her a night off or something before she went back to school and had to get by on six hours of sleep again. Six months solo, he figured she deserved a night off.
"Yeah, all right," he said, sitting on the floor beside her. The body suit thing, which she called a onesie was easy enough. It slid over his head and only had three snaps at his crotch. The sleeper, however, he took three times to get the snaps aligned right. He kept missing one and coming up with an extra one without a mate.
"Yes," she said, grabbing a blanket from the playpen. "Now you can bring him to the couch if you want."
"Yeah? He's going to stay up with us?"
She shrugged. "Why not? He'll fall asleep pretty soon. He always does after his bath."
She let them get settled on the couch, draping the blanket around Jack sort of tucking him in around John. She ran a fingertip along his arms and a scar there. John couldn't be sure if it was intentional, but it almost had to be. How she managed it, he wasn't sure but Jack was snug against him and when John settled his cheek against the top of Jack's head he felt his heart stop for a second.
"He smells good."
She laughed softly as she put the movie in. "It's just Johnson's Baby Shampoo, Ivory Soap, and some baby lotion."
"Still smells good."
She set the remote control down on the coffee table once she'd started the movie. She grabbed his pop from the other table and one for herself from the fridge.
"What are you doing?" he asked when she sat on a chair next to the couch.
"Watching a movie with you?"
He frowned a little.
Was this a trick?
He hadn't imagined the kiss earlier today even if the touch to his arm a few minutes ago hadn't been deliberate. And now that they were going to be alone together for the next few hours she chose to sit away from him.
"Well, yeah," she said.
Was it a test?
Was he supposed to suggest she sit by him? If he didn't was there some underlying meaning to it? Would she get mad? Would she think he wasn't interested? God, he hated women. It was too confusing, too, because his interest was split at the moment. He wasn't thinking exclusively about her.
"You don't have to. There's plenty of room for you here."
"I know. I just…"
"Claire, come on," he said.
She moved next to him, but not right next to him. It was a pretty nice sized couch so there was certainly space for them to sit and not be on top of each other. Jack moved his head to look at her, made a soft sound that sounded almost like a hum and laid his head back against John's shoulder. He was facing Claire now, though. He couldn't help but think Jack had pretty good taste, his mom was pretty nice to look at.
"It's pretty nice, isn't it?" she asked.
"Holding him like that. He's quiet and mellow, ready for sleep but not quite there yet."
"Only one person I can think of I'd enjoying holding more."
"Yeah, well, that's a different kind of holding and probably best you not think of her when you're here with us."
It was on the tip of his tongue to correct her, but he let it go. He felt her eyes on him, though, as the movie started. She was probably thinking she'd kissed him earlier not knowing whether he had a girlfriend.
Jack fell asleep about twenty minutes into the first movie. Claire took him from John and set him in the playpen behind the couch. She sat next to him again.
The main guy in Top Secret, Val Kilmer, was pretty hilarious. Claire laughed a few times, but not out loud as John did more than once. Maybe it was a guy thing.
"You want a glass with ice or something," she asked when she got up to take Top Secret out once it was done rewinding and to put Beverly Hills Cop in. "Or some chips? I could bring up the Fritos."
"No, I'm fine. Quit trying to wait on me."
"I'm being polite."
"Yeah, well, I like you better not so polite."
"John," she said softly, taking a spot on the couch again. She didn't get any closer to him and that sort of bothered him. In fact, she leaned against the arm of the couch, curling her feet up around her so in a way she was even farther because she was leaning that way instead of toward him. He reached for her ankle, setting a hand on it.
"Why are you so far away?" he asked.
"Because Jack's asleep."
He frowned a little at that reasoning. "Why because he's asleep?"
"Well, you don't need me around if you're not holding him."
"You thought that was why I wanted you to sit here?"
She glanced at him then, mirroring his frown. "Well, yeah."
"I don't know, John. Where should I start? You just found out like thirty-six hours ago that you're a dad. That's a lot to digest; you don't need me bothering you, too."
"Bothering me? When have you ever bothered me, Princess?"
Fuck, did she really think she was a bother?
"I invited myself over here to watch movies with you not Jack."
"Why'd you do that?"
"Why not do that? It's better than driving here just to see him for a few minutes and leave again."
"Your someone else was busy I take it?"
"I don't know, you'd have to ask her," he said.
"I don't want to."
"Well, I'm not sure what to tell you."
"You let me kiss you!"
"I didn't kiss you back!"
"You didn't look like you were upset I did it."
"Well, of course not. A pretty woman kisses you what's to get upset about."
"You have a girlfriend."
"You're making presumptions, Princess."
"But you said…"
"I know what I said. I didn't say who."
"Well, who else would it be? You don't have another kid," she frowned at that. "You don't, do you?"
"God, no. Are you nuts? Trust me, I'll be investing in a life-time supply of Trojans from this point forward because I'll probably wear two."
"That'd be silly. You didn't wear one so it's not as if it was defective."
"Yeah, well, obviously my swimmers work, don't need them doing that twice."
He tugged on her ankle then.
"Come here, Claire."
"I don't want to. I'm comfortable here."
"Yeah, I can see that. I'm more comfortable than the arm of a couch."
She moved, though, sliding toward him.
"I don't have a girlfriend," he said once she'd settled against him. "I wouldn't be here right now if I did."
"Because seeing Jack I'm sure she would understand if I had one, seeing you not so much."
"I'm his mother. I'm not going to just give him to you after a day."
"Well, sure, something like lunch today would be reasonable, but not sitting alone with you watching movies while he's sleeping. There's no legitimate reason for doing that with you. Besides when you love someone it has a way of showing in the way you interact with them. It'd be painfully obvious to anyone who knew us that's how I felt."
"Who was the other person then?"
"Christ, Princess, did you hear what I just said? And you're still on this girlfriend thing?"
"I heard you."
"And that's your response?"
She leaned away from him a little to look at him. "Yes, that's my response."
"The only other person I'd enjoy holding more than him would be you. Satisfied?"
"Why didn't you kiss me?"
"You surprised me! And I had to get back to work."
"Oh," she said.
"I can now if you want."
"Why'd you say that?"
"I've said a lot of things."
"The love thing."
"Because it's true."
"A week is too soon? I know, believe me. Every argument you could come up with for it being the craziest thing in the world I've thought of over the past year. I knew the moment you told me to stop baiting Vernon. I never dreamed you'd come to me. Shit, I would've been happy with you saying hi to me in the hall the following Monday."
"Even though you think I lied?"
"You didn't lie. You withheld a crucial piece of information I should've had a year ago, but while I don't like it I can understand why you did it. Scott sort of told me the same thing you did last night about my getting out, finding a good job instead of just a job. If you'd tried telling me last night he wasn't mine I'd be furious."
"I wouldn't do that."
"Yeah, I know you wouldn't, and that's the reason I'm not as mad as I could or probably should be. I know you weren't setting out to hurt me. You were trying to do the right thing for everyone except yourself. Jesus, Claire, raising him on your own is not the way to do it. I would have happily gone and bought you Baskin Robbins and if they were closed I would have gone to Jewel and gotten you the next best thing."
"Thank you," she said, leaning toward him again. She didn't rest her head against him this time, though. She kissed him instead and this time he kissed her back, letting her know very easily he'd wanted to earlier, too.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com