He almost didn't go to the door when he saw her car wasn't there, but he knew she was expecting him so he thought it was pretty stupid to sit on the driveway and wait for her to get home. Her parents would see him sitting in his car and think he had something to hide.
He was very glad they hadn't gotten any further than kissing one another because when her dad answered the door he was pretty sure the man would know full well what had happened between him and his daughter. He just had that look about him, he wasn't street smart but he wasn't dumb either.
"Hi, Mr. Standish. Claire said to come by around one o'clock."
"She mentioned you were coming by. She and my wife should be home in a little while. Come in," he said, stepping aside. It was a friendlier greeting than the first night John had come to do the door about three weeks ago now, but not much. John supposed he would react much the same way if he was in her father's situation so he couldn't blame the man.
"Thanks. I can wait out back if that'd be better."
"No, actually, I wanted to talk to you anyway."
"Okay," John said.
Here it comes. Claire had told John how much her parents had shelled out for babysitting and rent since she had to live off-campus. He didn't think he could really be held accountable for things like her rent when he had no idea she was pregnant or had a kid. The medical bills and babysitting? Maybe. He wasn't sure and doubted he'd have much of a leg to stand on if her parents chose to go after him.
"Come on back," Mr. Standish said, heading toward his den. "Would you like something to drink?"
"I'm fine, thanks," he said.
"You've been seeing a lot of Claire and Jack."
"I've been trying to when work allows it, yes."
"I'm sorry?" Was that really a necessary question to ask? The answer should be fairly obvious.
"You and I both know that Claire has a bright future ahead of her."
"Having a child while not ideal isn't going to stop her."
"It shouldn't, no. She's mentioned you've helped her a lot so she can keep going to school."
"I have. I bought a house down there this summer so she has somewhere steady to live in for the next three years. She can get a roommate or two if she wants to, that's up to her."
"That's good," John said. It sounded like a good idea to him. No rent, her dad would pay a mortgage and in the long-run get something out of the deal in the way of money back on helping support Claire and Jack. "I'm going to send her money, too."
Here it comes. He was going to tell him he was going to get a lawyer involved, which would mean John would be screwed come winter time when he was unemployed or just working temporary jobs to supplement his unemployment income.
"I want you to stay away from her."
"I'm not really sure that's possible since I plan on seeing Jack," he said, adding, "Sir," at the end not wanting to be completely disrespectful.
"See Jack all you want but when Claire leaves here I want it known you want nothing to do with her but involvement necessary through Jack."
"Why would I do that? Listen, if you think that I was slacking or irresponsible, I would've helped out as much as I could from the beginning if I'd known. She didn't tell me!"
"I'm aware of that. I'm also aware of your Ö family situation."
Ah, there it was. He didn't want his reputation and that of his parents' to sully the good Standish name. Guilt by association and all of that.
"Call my employer. Ask them about me, whatever I need to sign for you to get information about me I'll sign. I work hard, haven't missed a day of work since I started, and am one of their best workers. I don't drink or anything else anymore. I'm not my parents."
"No, but I don't want Jack to have any other name but Standish."
"I've never asked Claire to change it. I don't want my parents to know about him even if that means my name isn't listed on his birth certificate."
"You don't understand what I'm saying here, John. I'm sure you're a good guy. Other than getting my daughter pregnant and evidently not looking back until over a year later you haven't done anything to leave me thinking anything bad about you."
"She didn't tell me she was pregnant."
"Did you ever ask?"
"Well, no, of course not, because I'd never encountered the situation before to think I needed to ask. So, yeah, that's on me, but it took two of us to get her that way and she didn't rush out to tell me either. I asked her to prom, she knew, and she didn't tell me."
"She deserves better."
"Better than what exactly?"
"Better than being saddled out of some sense of obligation to make things work with you because of a mistake."
"Jack isn't a mistake. I may be six months late into things, but I can tell you already he's the best thing that's ever happened to me. Besides, that's up to her, isn't it?"
"Yeah. I'm not going anywhere unless she tells me to."
He pulled out a checkbook then and a nice gold pen, engraved with his name no doubt. "Just tell me what it will take for you to leave her alone."
John wasn't sure whether he should be insulted and angry or amused as hell.
"You think that'll work? I don't want your money."
"I don't want you with my daughter."
"Well, you'll have to find some other way to go about it then, because your money isn't going to do anything for me. I love her."
"She's not going to come back next summer."
"Yeah, I guessed that with you buying a house for her to live in while down there. Why don't you save your money then and just wait and see if the distance does what you want done for free?"
"Because I don't want another mistake to happen. She wants to go to law school, you know?"
"I do know that and I have no desire for a second one, neither does she."
"You've talked about it?"
"Not having another one, no, but that neither of us wants another one." Well, she'd said not right now. He was in agreement more or less, but he hadn't really voiced his opinion on the subject because for some very bizarre reason he hadn't found the idea of trying to get her pregnant objectionable. Not right now, but one day when she was done with law school.
He put his checkbook away; setting the nice gold pen in the holder designed specifically for it John had no doubt. It had a wooden base that probably, from Claire's dad's side of the desk, said something on it. John wasn't privy to that detail, though.
"I don't trust you," her dad said.
"I don't want any distractions for her. I donít want her losing focus on what's important: law school."
"And Jack," John said.
"That goes without saying," her dad said, though John sort of wondered if it wasn't an intentional oversight on her dad's part. "I don't want her down there, having her mind up here and what she could be doing with you."
"I have no intention of distracting her. I work late most days and come fall we do almost every day because everyone wants their roof done before the snow flies. I'm not going to walk away from her, though."
"You did once."
"You don't know what happened. I know what you probably perceive to have happened, but it's not my place to tell you. I did not walk away, though. If I'd known about her being pregnant I may not have dated her but I wouldn't have walked away either."
"She dated someone last year."
John did his best not to let his surprise show at that. She hadn't said anything about that. Not once. Who was he? What was he? Another budding law student or something else? Did Jack know him? That bothered John more than he wanted to admit, someone else being any type of father-figure to Jack. He swore she'd said there wasn't anyone involved with him, though.
"Yeah? We weren't committed to one another."
Scott's words about not everyone in a college town being a college student or being put off by Claire being a single mom came back to John pretty quickly.
"If she goes back there and decides she's still interested in him?"
"Well, then I guess her decision is made about a relationship with me, but I'm still Jack's father. I'm not going to go away because she has a boyfriend."
Was that why she was hesitant to get involved with him? She had someone else in mind to be with? She sure hadn't been acting like that, though. While they hadn't done anything but kiss one another in the past couple of weeks, she seemed to genuinely like spending time with him. They were getting to know one another in a way they hadn't gotten the chance to in their one week of dating one another. Much easier to do without his parents in the picture.
"You do whatever you need to do to be sure she stays focused on her schoolwork."
What the fuck did that mean? How the hell was John supposed to do that? He wasn't her teacher or anything. He was just a guy who very badly wanted to be her boyfriend, for the long haul this time not just a week of his life.
"Just a question," John said, standing from the chair he'd been sitting in. It seemed like their conversation was just about done.
"I'm just curious because I've never been offered what you were offering me."
"I can imagine not."
"What exactly is your daughter's happiness worth?"
"You're willing to pay me to stay away never mind I may make her happy. Never mind that it wouldn't look like such a mistake if Jack's mom and dad were together. Would it? I mean your country club friends probably wouldn't have such a bad opinion if we were together, making a go of it. So, what price did you have in mind as being enough to interfere in your daughter and grandson's lives?"
Her dad shrugged a little and John realized that this conversation may have been a test of some sort more than her dad being a complete asshole. Because anyone who thought he'd stay away from Claire for all of the money in the world was seriously delusional.
"I had to see if you'd do it."
"Not on your life."
"No plans to."
"I imagine she'll expect you to be down in the basement when she gets back with her mom."
"Uh, yeah," John said. "Thanks."
He walked toward the door, glancing at her dad briefly before leaving the room. Did people really do that? Test people like that? Offer them money to see if they were a good person or a person deserving of whatever Claire's dad was testing him about? He didn't get it. Not at all.
And then he wondered if he should tell Claire about the conversation or just leave it alone. She'd be pretty mad he knew, test or not. Probably better off keeping this one to himself.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com