He'd gotten out of working Saturday. It would have only been a partial day anyway to make up for having to quit early on Monday. Hector had called in more than his fair share of times over the course of the summer. Scott understood why he wanted the day off. Chris seemed like he tried to understand, but thought it was a hell of a long way to drive for someone who didn't seem to want him in her life.
He wasn't one to kiss and tell, especially since there hadn't been much to tell about since her anyway. He'd confided in them more than once, though, trying to figure her out. There were times she acted as if she liked him and times she acted as if she was pretty indifferent. It was confusing and Scott at least had the knowledge of his relationship to offer advice off of. Chris, well, that was a different story.
John realized he should probably agree with Chris, but if nothing else he'd go down there to visit Jack even if he had no interest in Claire. As long as she was cordial about it and willing to let him stay there he didn't see the problem. He just wished she'd give some indication of what she was thinking where he was concerned. As it stood, he had no clue. Physically they were attracted to one another, Jack was blatant evidence of that fact.
He realized after he hung up from talking with her earlier in the week that there could be a number of things wrong with her car's air conditioning. He picked up some basic things like fuses and a coolant recharging kit. If it was something like her compressor well he'd have to buy parts down there because he wasn't going to shell out money on parts he didn't need. If nothing else he should at least be able to get it working until she had the time to get it looked at somewhere that wouldn't rip her off.
He called when he was leaving so she knew not to expect him until probably late since he'd gotten back to his place after six and showered before leaving. She hadn't gotten mad at the idea of him getting there as late as eleven o'clock so he had to presume she was really okay with it.
The drive was a pretty boring one once he got out of the Chicago area. Lots of nothing. He'd never been this far south before, no reason to go this way. When he was in grade school their class took a trip to the state capital, Springfield, but John's parents' couldn't come up with the money so he'd had to stay behind.
Her directions were easy to follow so he found it easy enough. The house was a decent one while not being overly pretentious for someone her age. Her dad had to know it would only be a short-term investment so there was no sense going with more than what was necessary. It was in a nice neighborhood, though, with sidewalks so as Jack got older he could ride his bike or play without being right on the street. Weird that John paid attention to shit like that the past couple of months. They roofed houses in areas where there were no sidewalks and all kids could do was play right on the street. He couldn't see how that was very safe. Sure residents to the area would know there might be kids around, but not everyone who drove on a street lived there to know that.
He rang the bell, hoping she hadn't fallen asleep. He hated the idea of waking her because he knew she still wasn't getting much sleep. Having to drive a bit of a distance to campus every day didn't help, but he understood why her dad had chosen a house here. It made sense and he probably would've done the same thing if it was him shelling out an investment like a house.
"Hi," she said, seeming genuinely happy to see him.
"I'm glad you found it all right."
"Yeah, you give good directions. Thanks."
She stepped away from the doorway, letting him enter. He set his duffel bag on the floor at his feet not sure exactly where he'd be going with that. She had two spare bedrooms he knew, but he'd only seen pictures of Jack's bedroom so had no idea what the layout of the house was. He was glad to see her garage was an attached one so she wouldn't have to walk outside to and from her car with Jack during the winter.
"Are you hungry?"
"Sure, I could eat" he said. He was honestly famished because he hadn't eaten since lunch. He'd sort of forgot about eating in his hurry to get on the road down here in a timely fashion.
"I just made some spaghetti for dinner I hope that's all right. I wasn't sure if you were going to get here tonight or not when I made dinner."
"Spaghetti is fine."
"Okay," she said. "Come on in then. Jack might still be awake if you wanted to check on him."
"Yes," she said.
"Then I can wait until tomorrow."
"All right. So, that means you got your job done today?"
"No, it means I told Hector if he didn't show up tomorrow and left just Scott and Chris to finish the job just the two of them the three of us would be sure he didn't get any more work the rest of the season. I very rarely ask for weekends or days off so it's not like he covers for me all of the time."
"You could do that?"
"If we brought up how many times he was late, yes."
"But don't you guys get paid? I mean, wouldn't the people writing his check see that."
"Not always. Not how late he is all of the time or the days he just doesn't show without calling in because he was too hung over."
"Oh," she said. "Well, I hope he shows."
"Me, too. Chris and Scott won't hate me or anything if he doesn't, they understand why I'm taking the day off. It's a good paying job, and for a guy like him and well me last year, it's not bad. You collect unemployment during the winter and get paid to sit on your ass more or less. I mean, you don't get your full paycheck amount, obviously, but it's enough to live off if you know how."
"You're not going to do that this year?"
"No, I'm going to find something."
She shrugged as she pulled out a chair for him. He sat as she put a plate together for him.
"I could do that myself," he offered.
"Yeah, I know you could. I don't mind. You worked outside all day and then drove here. You have to be tired so sit."
"All right," he said, watching her. The days he'd eaten lunch with her he'd still been pretty shell shocked about Jack to observe her. She was obviously comfortable in a kitchen, something he would never have imagined about her until seeing her in one. He supposed even if she wasn't before last year she had to get to be that way because she wouldn't have had a choice.
"Ranch, French, or Bleu Cheese?"
"Salad dressing. I don't have anything else, sorry."
"Uh, Ranch, I guess," he said. "So, what are you apologizing for?"
"Just that you have to work this winter when you hadn't planned on it."
"Life goes on, Claire. Things happen. It could've been my car crapping out on me or something, too. Who knows?"
"Well, I'm glad you can see it that way, but I can understand why it would appeal to you."
"What? Being a bum?"
"No, that's not what I meant. It's just I saw how hard you guys work and the long hours. I imagine by the time you're done for the year you're ready for a few weeks of nothing."
"Yeah, I was in no hurry to climb ladders last November until I had to again," he said with a soft chuckle as she set food in front of him. "Thank you," he said. "It's certainly more than I expected."
"You didn't expect me to feed you?"
"I don't know, not this. A sandwich or something maybe."
"Well, I have to eat, too, so I just made something I figured anyone likes."
"True. I suppose you can't go wrong with spaghetti."
"How was the drive?"
"Yeah, it is that. I don't know when I'll go home next. At least Jack travels well, but that could change the older he gets."
"Knowing I'd see you two made it bearable."
"Good," she said. "I tried keeping him up late, but he conked out on his own about an hour ago."
"It's fine, Claire. You don't get enough rest as it is, I know this. So, keeping him up late when there's no guarantee he'll sleep later isn't necessary."
"Okay, I just feel bad."
"Don't. I'll have all day tomorrow and most of Sunday to see him and I can't say I mind spending some time with just you even if it's just for a while before you crash."
"I crash? You must be tired, too."
"I am," he admitted. "How are classes?"
She shrugged. "You know, classes. They're fine. It's not going to be as easy as it was last year."
"Last year was easy?"
"Well, I only had him for one semester and I was still taking pretty much all liberal education classes. This year I have some harder things and I have him all year."
He sighed softly. "I can imagine. It's too bad your parents couldn't spring for a live-in babysitter."
"I wouldn't have let them anyway. I wouldn't want someone living here."
"I thought you were getting a roommate?"
"I might. We'll see. I'm seeing how it goes first on my own. I don't need to. No one knows my dad owns this place not me, so I'd charge rent and have a little money coming in. I wouldn't charge anything crazy, but I'll have to see how much things like gas cost me once I'm into the semester. It would be nice to have someone to help out once in a while, even just to watch Jack while I mow the lawn."
"You need me to do that this weekend, too?"
"No, I don't need you to do anything but spend time with him. I'm perfectly capable of mowing my lawn."
"I'm sure you're capable, but if I can help you."
"Thank you, but I can handle it."
"It's not going to be so easy this winter when you have to shovel snow."
"I know," she sighed. "I can't do that around my own schedule. I'll have to shovel whenever Mother Nature decides to make it snow. I'll be fine. Dad bought a snow blower for anything real deep."
"Good," he said. He still hated picturing her here by herself. It was a nice town, though, and judging by Steve over the phone she wasn't going to lack for people to help her. It still bothered him, though. "So, what else have you done with the place?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you showed me the before and after pictures of Jack's room. I assume you did more than that room."
"Oh, yeah. His is the only one I finished. I can do the rest around my schedule. I'm in no hurry. His room's done and furnished obviously. Mine is, too, for the most part. The living room pretty much, too. There's a bed in one of the spare bedrooms, but that's about it yet. I figured I'd wait to see if I decide to get a roommate before I do more with it. Dad had new carpet installed before we moved in, so I just have to do things like paint."
"He's not bad."
"Yes," he said.
"I guess. He just wants me to be able to focus on school and Jack."
"I know. This - what he's done for you is very nice. You two will have a steady place for the next five or six years maybe longer if you find work down this way. That's good for both of you."
"Jack will start school here."
"Yeah, I thought of that, too, when I pulled up and noticed the sidewalks."
"Yeah," he said with a soft laugh. "I've noticed things like that since finding out about him. Kids having to play in streets and stuff."
"Oh, I wouldn't let him play in the street."
"Well, sure but with no sidewalk where else would he ride his bike?"
She nibbled at her lower lip, contemplating that. "I guess I hadn't thought of that. You're right."
"I hadn't either, believe me. I never had reason to. It's just something I've noticed recently."
"So, what did you want to do while you're here?" she asked once he was almost done with his food. He had to admit, sitting here talking to her about things that weren't Jack or their relationship was nice.
"Nothing in particular. Whatever you want to do. If you want me to just hang here so you can do things like grocery shop or study without interruption, I can do that."
"That's not very fun for you."
"I didn't realize I was here for fun."
"Wow," she said, looking a little hurt by his words. "You said you were coming here to see both of us so I assumed you wanted to see both of us. If you don't and would rather take him somewhere with you for the weekend you can do that."
He huffed softly, shaking his head. "That's not how I mean it. You don't get breaks from being a mom, I get that. I don't pretend to know what you do every day, but I know it's not a cake walk. So if my being here can help you in some way do things you wouldn't get to do ordinarily, then take advantage of my being here and do them."
"You know what I'd like to do?"
"Well, no, clearly, or I wouldn't be offering! Asking. Whatever I'm doing."
She laughed softly.
"Laughing at me does not help, Princess."
"I'm not laughing at you."
"Could've fooled me. I have no idea what you want from me while I'm down here."
She stood from the table then, clearing his plate to the sink before returning to the table and taking his hand. He didn't say anything as she led him out of the kitchen. He followed her, unsure of what to expect. Her leading him to her room hadn't even occurred to him. He figured the living room to watch TV or a movie or something.
He regarded her room as she shut the door and turned something on by the bed. He realized it was a baby monitor when he heard sounds through it that obviously weren't music or anything. The room was nice, certainly she had nicer things than he did. He wondered if these were the things from her bedroom at home. Then where would she sleep when she visited her parents? She had her own bathroom he noticed, which he imagined was a definite perk for anyone with kids. Jack would get to that point one day even if he wasn't there now where having her own space would be welcome.
"I'm not sure if I should be flattered, insulted, or ask you if you're drunk or something."
"I'm not drunk," she said.
"All right. That's one down."
He frowned a little, regarding her as she moved some pillows from the bed to a chair near where he stood.
"Well, yeah, I mean just because I drove down here doesn't mean…"
She turned then, cutting him off by setting her hand over his mouth.
"Stop before you say anything you'll regret."
"Claire," he said. "What do you think I'm going to think when you bring me in here? Weeks I've been trying to get you to simply kiss me and you wouldn't have any of that. Now all of a sudden you bring me to your bedroom?"
"I have a guest room if you want it."
"Well, no, put like that I don't want it. I'm just not sure I shouldn't question your state of mind."
"Just one night I'd like to sleep with you."
"Huh?" he asked.
She shrugged. "Is that so weird?"
"Weird? No, a little confusing. You just want to sleep with me once. And then what? A year from now I find out about another kid?"
"No," she said.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
She frowned. "Yeah, I deserved that, but no, that's not what I mean. I mean sleep."
"Sleep? As in actually sleep."
"Do you know how embarrassing it is?"
"This," she said, gesturing to the bedroom, but he suspected that's not what she meant.
"What?" he asked again.
"My … Our situation."
"Okay," he said cautiously. Was he supposed to understand what she was talking about?
"Not only am I one of very few women on campus with babies. I mean, there are some older ones who are like returning to school or whatever."
"I'm one of the only ones I know, though, who started college pregnant."
"Listen, I'm sorry. I don't know what you want me to say. Do you want me to tell you if I could go back and do that day over I would do something different? I'd get dressed in the morning and put a rubber in my wallet? What?"
"No," she sighed softly. "That's not what I'm saying."
"All right then," he said.
"The other women with kids, I look at them and think about what I missed."
"Yeah, you know. I didn't get anything afterward," she shrugged and glanced away.
"Okay, I'm being stupid or something," he said, trying to ignore the unshed tears he saw shimmering in her eyes. Whatever she was trying to tell him was obviously important to her so he needed to just shut up he supposed and let her say it.
"I didn't get a boyfriend, I didn't even get to wake up the morning after like normal people who've had sex with someone did. I mean, I remember when Tammy Pierce left school early the last semester of our senior year. Everyone knew why and everyone walked around talking about what a slut she was. Yet, I bet she at least got some time afterward to be with the guy."
"Ah," he said. "Have you slept with anyone since that day?"
"No! What kind of girl do you think I am?"
He chuckled. "Well, you're sitting here comparing yourself to girls others thought were sluts so I'm just going for a frame of reference."
"No, I haven't slept with anyone since that day."
"So, you think having sex once in nineteen years makes you a slut because you got pregnant out of the deal? Tammy Pierce was having sex every day of the week plus twice on Saturdays when she could. We," he said, gesturing to her. "We made a mistake."
"That, what happened between us, is not what I'm talking about. The mistake was not thinking. We got swept up in the moment, our emotions ruled us. We were seniors in high school, Princess, that's what we were supposed to do. And Jack is on me."
"He's not entirely. I know how it works."
"Yeah, well knowing and not having applied that knowledge aren't the same thing. I knew what to do and I should've thought it through. I didn't. I'm not sure why that surprises you, obviously where you're concerned I'm not so logical."
"I mean people ask me about you. Logical to think right that I have a boyfriend back home or at the very least an ex-boyfriend. I can't even say that!"
"That doesn't make you a bad person, Claire. Things happen. It was an accident, but you're doing the best you can with the situation."
"I'd just like once to have what those other moms have."
"I already told you! To sleep with you. To wake up with you. To," she shrugged. "Not look out my window at my neighbor Steve and his wife Paula and wonder if they'd be so nice if they realize I have nobody. That I'm completely on my own. That I got Jack out of something that wasn't even a one-night stand."
"Just once is what you're asking for?"
"Well, I get that you may not want more than that."
"What?" he asked incredulously.
She rolled her eyes, rubbing them a little to wipe away the tears. There were still some there, though.
"I know you don't want a relationship or anything. I don't expect anything from you. I'm not going to freak out after this weekend if you come down here next time and don't want to."
"Don't want to sleep with you."
"Yeah. I mean, I know you have other…"
It was his turn to cut her off.
"You have no idea what I've been doing with my time the past year or so, so now I'm going to tell you to stop talking before you say something you'll regret later."
"My point is I don't expect anything from you. I'm not going to expect a relationship, a proposal, or any classification of our relationship beyond the fact we're parents to a child. I just, God, some days I feel so alone. What my dad did is nice, buying this house and I appreciate it so much."
"I don't know anyone here. There's no college students here. They're all homeowners. Maybe there are some college students that live at home. I mean, I have Jack and now add onto that the responsibility of all of this stuff when I couldn't even have sex right."
"You had sex just fine."
"Not fine enough to not get pregnant!"
"Claire," he said.
"Sorry. I just feel so stupid."
"I'll sleep with you, Princess, under one condition."
"I'm not taking my clothes off."
"Pity, but that wasn't my condition."
"I get a fair shot."
"You. Us. This. I didn't haul my ass down here for the weekend for nothing. I could be a dick, you know, and make you meet me halfway with Jack and take him for the weekend. Normal couples who aren't together and have a kid, that's what they do. They don't stay with one another for weekend visits."
"I suppose that's true."
"I'm not saying we have to be dating one another tomorrow, but I want to at least know when you're ready I get a chance."
"When I'm ready?"
"Claire, you have a ton on your plate, I totally get that. I'm not trying to add to it. So, when you're ready for more that's all I'm saying."
"I think I can do that."
"Well then, I guess which side of the bed do you sleep on?"
She scoffed. "I don't really have one."
"I'm surprised your dad gave you a queen sized bed. That almost seems like he's encouraging you to have more babies."
"No, I've always had this size bed."
"I bet you have. Queen sized bed for the queen."
"Let me get my things and I'll be back. That'll give you a few minutes to do whatever you need to do. Or just reconsider whether this is what you really want."
"All right. Well, just the same. I'll be back in a minute."
"You're lucky I brought pajamas, Princess," he said with a chuckle as he left the room.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com