"I'm still not sure why this was a rush job," Chris said.
"Who knows? People with unlimited income seem to think their whims are more important than people who actually need a new roof," Scott said.
"No kidding," John said. "It shouldn't surprise you, though."
"Well, it's surprising only because there's nothing wrong with the roof other than a few spots that new shingles could be put on," Chris said.
Chris and Scott were the closest things John had to friends. They went out drinking after work a couple of times a week. Well, Chris and Scott drank, John didn't drink anything harder than Coke anymore. Somehow the three of them always ended up on the same crews together for their company, not that John was complaining. The three of them worked hard, they'd each worked with a few who didn't work so hard so it was nice to be teamed up with others with the same mentality.
"Obviously they can afford it," John said with a shrug.
"Did you see the chick that lives here?" Scott said.
"No," John said.
"And you shouldn't be looking either, Scott," Chris said. "I thought you and Tina were engaged."
"Engaged, man, not blind or dead," Scott said. "She's nice looking. There's nothing wrong with appreciating things of beauty."
"Better not let Tina hear you say that," John said with a chuckle. He'd met Tina a couple of times. She was pretty nice as far as girlfriends went. He hadn't been surprised when they started working again in the spring to hear Scott had taken steps toward the permanent leap. John didn't understand the need to take that step, but he supposed when you found the right one and she puts up with you as Tina clearly did Scott you tie her to you.
"When did you see her anyway?"
"I got here a little early and she drove off. I guess it must have been before you two got here, I couldn't remember what time it was."
"I'll have to be sure and get here early tomorrow," Chris said.
"I think the two of you need to worry about things other than women," John said.
"You studying to be a priest or something, John?" Scott asked.
"What?" he sputtered. "Why on earth would you think that?"
"You don't drink and you never look."
"Drinking just causes trouble." John shrugged. "As far as women, you've seen one you've seen them all."
"One of these days we'll get you to tell us who broke your heart."
"No one broke my heart. I just have better things to worry about than shackling myself to someone."
"But it's fun being shackled," Scott offered.
"For you," John spat.
Yeah, he'd thought about for a while. His attempt at a relationship lasted exactly one week. Their worlds were just too different. That's what he told himself anyway. He liked her, more than just a little, and that was dangerous because their worlds were never going to mesh. This was her world. Houses like this with more space than anyone in their right mind would know what to do with. He'd pushed her away, rethought it after a few weeks when he realized she would be worth fighting for. He'd even offered to take her to prom.
She hadn't quite laughed at him, but she'd told him to get lost just the same. His fault, he should have known better than to think she'd give him a second chance after walking away once. Her reign as queen hadn't been called into question despite being seen with him in the halls of Shermer for the week after that day of detention. She, of course, had no problem getting a date for prom to get her crown.
She'd never called him again. He picked up the phone more than once to call her but never dialed. They graduated, he'd gotten this job, and he'd gotten busy working at saving to get out of his parents' house. He hadn't thought much on her beyond wondering if she was home for the summer, but he had no idea which college she'd gone to. They hadn't gotten to the point of talking about things like that in their week together.
He lied, too, when he'd said that seeing one was seeing them all because he'd looked awful hard the past year or so. No one came close to her. It wasn't as if they established some intense relationship over the course of a week. That wasn't it. It was the way she looked at him. No one had ever looked at him as if he'd mattered until that day. Hell, no one had ever told him he mattered until that week.
She'd teased him about all the pictures of girls he had in his wallet. None of them looked at him the way she did. Half of them didn't look at him at all unless he had a joint, or the ability to make one, to offer them. She hadn't wanted or expected anything out of him. He hadn't been quite sure what to do with that.
It just wasn't worth the trouble because chances were he wasn't going to find someone like her again. Crazy sounding since he was only nineteen, but he just didn't see it happening.
"Here she comes, Chris," Scott said about an hour later.
John glanced over to see a pretty nice Grand Prix being driven onto the driveway and around back to where the garage was. They'd be doing the roof on the garage, too. For whatever reason they were putting a new roof on everything on the property, which also included a shed, a gazebo, and what looked like some sort of guest house.
John was more than a little surprised to see Claire get out of the car. Last he'd seen she was driving a sweet TransAm. He had no idea what nineteen-year-old would trade in a TransAm for a Grand Prix, as nice as the Grand Prix was it didn't look nearly as sweet.
"Quit checking her out," John said way more vehemently than he'd intended. He really didn't like the idea of anyone looking at her like they were, but certainly not Chris who wasn't shy about approaching women if he thought there was a chance with them. "She's out of your league anyway, Chris."
"You know her?" Chris and Scott said at the same time.
"Yeah, grew up with her. Dated her in high school for a while." A while was a bit of an exaggeration, but since he'd dated no one before or after her it was certainly a while for him.
"Yes," he said. "Me. What's wrong with that?"
"And you didn't know this was her house?"
"Well, I never came to her house, so no."
They both stared at him.
"What?" he asked. "So I didn't know this was her house."
"Prove what?" he asked.
"That you know her," Chris said.
"Her name is Claire."
John noticed someone else leaving the house now. Claire's mom he guessed based on the fact she was basically a middle-aged version of her. She didn't have the red hair Claire had, but even from the roof he could see the resemblance.
"That doesn't prove that you actually dated her."
"Are you ridiculous? What do you want me to do?"
"Go knock on the door."
"We're at work, you idiots."
"It'll take five minutes."
"What is it you don't believe exactly?"
"That you dated her," Scott said.
"Why is that so hard to believe?"
Scott narrowed his eyes at John and he shrugged. It had taken him over a month last summer to get comfortable going shirtless. At first he kept his shirt tucked into the back of his shorts, replacing it whenever someone got close to him. He'd gotten over that eventually. Scott was the only one who'd ever said anything about the scars.
"Yeah, so," John said, knowing what Scott was implying. There was no way in hell someone like her was going to be involved with someone like him. His being from the wrong side of the tracks was an understatement. Except she hadn't balked at him taking his weed out of his locker that day of detention and she'd been the first to join him in smoking it in the library.
"You guys are assholes. You know that? Anyone who was really my friend would just take my word for it. It's not like I claim to have dated every girl my age whose house we roof."
"Not about chicks that look like she does."
"Fine," John said.
The fourth in their team hadn't shown up today for whatever reason so it was just the three of them. No one would see him make a complete ass of himself. To prove what? That for a fleeting moment in high school he'd been something more than the guy most everyone thought was a loser, if they'd even thought of him at all.
"You're finding me another job if I get fired for this," he said, making his way off the roof. Chris and Scott followed him.
"You're going to watch me?"
"Well, yeah, how else are we going to know she really knows you?"
He rang the doorbell at the back door while the two of them hung back a little. They were trying to look inconspicuous but they weren't succeeding too well.
"Can't find your keys again, Mom," Claire said as she opened the door.
She was clearly stunned to see him. He was, too, for that matter but for an entirely different reason than seeing her because he knew she was inside as of a few minutes ago. He did not know about the baby she currently held against her hip.
"John," she said with a panic-stricken frown.
"Uh yeah. Hi," he said, processing things in his head. He was no expert but the kid couldn't be more than six months old. He wasn't a genius, but he could do the math well enough especially since there'd been no one before their one time together.
He turned to where Chris and Scott were standing. "Forget it," he said, walking away. "I lied okay. Let's get back to work."
She frowned, regarding the three of them.
"Did you guys need something?" she asked, clearly confused. "My mom just left, but if there's something you need I can try to help."
"Yeah, John here says he dated you in high school," Chris said.
"You really are an asshole, Chris," John said. "I said forget it, I admit I lied."
He walked toward her car, which she hadn't parked in the garage.
"John?" she said as John glanced in the backseat of the car.
The car seat in the backseat of her car explained the need for something like the Grand Prix versus a TransAm.
"I don't understand," she said. "You want to know if I dated him?"
"Well, yeah," Scott said.
"Okay. Uh, yeah, senior year. Not for very long, though."
She knew he knew. He shook his head as he regarded his friends. As much as he wanted to, he couldn't talk to her about this here. Not now at least. He was on the clock and he wasn't going to embarrass himself in front of people he worked with.
"You have your answer. Can we get back to work now?"
"That's it?" she asked.
"For now," he said.
"Cute kid," Chris said.
"Thanks," Claire said, closing the door.
The best course of action? Work and work hard to get through the rest of the day without thinking about what he'd seen.
"Why'd you break up?" Chris asked.
"Shut up," John said.
"Wow, okay. It was just a question. I mean, why on earth would you walk away from that?"
"Chris," he said as evenly as he could, though he really felt like punching both of them about now.
"Senior year. That was a year ago. You graduated last June, right?"
"Yes," John said through clenched teeth.
"He probably just doesn't like the fact she obviously broke up with him and moved on," Scott said.
"She didn't break up with me and I'm not talking about this anymore today. Talk about your fiancée or whatever else you want to talk about. Just not Claire."
"Hey, you're lucky, man, just think at least you aren't saddled with that responsibility like some other poor shmuck out there is," Scott said.
"Do you know who she dated after you?" Chris asked.
"No," he spat. "Do you not understand the meaning of the words I don't want to talk about it anymore? She answered your question, told you I dated her. I don't want to talk about it anymore. Just leave it alone."
She left during the afternoon. John couldn't help but stop what he was doing and watch her as she strapped the baby into the car seat he'd spotted in the back of her car. She glanced up at him on the roof before she got into the car. She saw him watching her but didn't do anything beyond get in her car and drive away.
Scott's question made him wonder, though. It was possible he was off in thinking the baby was about six months old. Was it possible it was a little younger than that? Maybe. What he knew about babies was next to nothing. It couldn't be too much younger, though, because it was holding its head up and stuff. Was it possible it was someone else's? He supposed anything was possible, but he really didn't see her as the type to have sex with someone else in the last month or two of school. Especially since after that day of detention she'd barely let him kiss her! She hadn't seemed to be rushing into being sexually active after giving up her virginity.
Word Count: 4,409
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.
Word Count: 3,515
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.
Word Count: 1,632
"You have time for a beer quick?" John asked Scott out of earshot of Chris.
"You're drinking beer?"
"No, but I'll buy you one."
He glanced at Chris who was putting stuff away.
"Sure," he said. "I was going to Tina's for dinner, but I can call her and tell her I'll be late."
Scott shrugged. "Sure. I see her every night, it's not like I'm canceling on her."
"All right. Thanks. Meet at Bud's Place?"
"Sure. See you in a bit."
John stopped to pick up a couple of movies on the way but still got there first. He'd sort of figured he might since Scott would have to stop at a pay phone and call Tina. Bud's Place wasn't as busy as other bars they went to after work, but it was still a bar and therefore prone to being loud.
He ordered a beer that Scott liked; producing the fake ID he'd gotten last summer and ordered himself a Coke. Scott came in about fifteen minutes later.
"The kid's yours, isn't he?"
John didn't say anything at first, nodded simply in response.
"I kind of figured. You're not the type to back down from being dared to do something and I saw the look on your face."
Scott frowned. "Not exactly, no. Surprised for sure. Mad definitely. No fear, though, and actually a little excitement."
"I think you were seeing things."
"I don't know your full history, John, but I could see why a guy like you might get excited at the chance to do better than what you had. And besides you like her."
"I did last year. I screwed up," he said and relayed the story to him. He actually told him the whole story, including the day of detention because he had to tell him the truth in order to get advice.
"So you blew her off because you were scared."
"Well, yeah. Come on. You've seen my scars. You saw my parents' house last summer when you had to pick me up before I got out of there and had a car."
"You've seen her house."
"I mean, I tried to get a second chance."
"But she'd already been embarrassed and knew she was pregnant. She was probably afraid you'd find out and leave her again. And probably for good that time."
John closed his eyes, wondering if that thought entered her mind. He didn't think he would've, but he really wasn't sure a year ago what he would have done or said.
"I wouldn't have."
"Are you sure? And does she know that?"
"No," he admitted.
"Because you couldn't tell her how you felt?"
"So, someone did break your heart."
"No, Jesus, get over this broken heart shit. I just," he huffed. "I knew I wasn't going to find someone like her again. So, why bother."
"So you saw her last night?"
"Well, yeah, I couldn't talk to her about Jack with you guys hanging around."
"Understandable. She invited you for lunch?"
"Yes. She let me hold him for a few minutes before taking him inside to bed last night. I fed him some bananas today. I sort of invited myself over there later to help put him to bed and watch movies with her."
Scott's eyebrows arched up at that.
"She kissed me before I left from eating lunch."
Scott rolled his eyes at that.
"So, what's the problem man? You clearly had chemistry once before. You don't want her to kiss you?"
"I'm not sure I want her kissing me right now. Christ. She didn't tell me! I have a son that I didn't know existed until yesterday."
"Well, I don't really know what to say to that. It sounds like she had legitimate reasons for not telling you. I saw your dad, man, and she was right. You had to get out of there and you had to have a chance to make it not just get by. Maybe you would have thought of a job like this, but chances are you probably wouldn't have because you would've been panicked."
"So, what I'm supposed to just forgive her and start cuddling with her on the couch?"
"That's up to you. You just said you knew you were never going to find someone like her again. To me, speaking as one who found someone like that, you need to decide if she's worth it or not. She did something wrong, sure. Unforgiveable? I don't think so, because like it or not her intentions were solidly spot on. You said yourself you didn't seek her out to be sure you hadn't gotten her pregnant."
"She'd come tell you who she believed slept with a different girl every day of the week that she was pregnant?"
John huffed again. "It was part of my reputation. What guy in their right mind is going to admit it's partially fabricated?"
"Does she know you haven't been with anyone since that day?"
"No," he said quickly.
"John, she kissed you so that means she might want more. You need to decide if that's what you want, but you can't lead her on. If you're intentions are solely to see your son you need to be honest with her. She doesn't deserve to go back to school thinking you're possibly going to get together."
"I don't want her sleeping with anyone else!"
"Well," Scott said with a chuckle. "I think that's pretty much your answer. If no one else can have her that's a pretty good indication you want her for yourself."
"And what? See her on weekends once in a while?"
"It's better than not at all. I mean, people do it that are in the military and stuff. It's a couple hundred miles. Hell, maybe during the winter you could go stay there."
"You going to help her?"
"The kid, you moron."
"Oh yeah, of course. I figured Friday I'd take some money out of my savings account and give it to her."
"Good man. Is she a good kisser?"
John chuckled at the question. "Yes."
"If she didn't have Jack and she'd kissed you what would you do?"
"I'd be all over a second chance."
"You know it's not wrong to think about what's best for both you and your son. They may even be the same thing."
"And if I'm misreading the kiss?"
"Do you think you are?"
"No, because that's how she let me know she was interested in the first place."
"Sounds to me like you guys need to actually learn to talk to one another."
"But it was much more fun that way."
"And now look at where you are!"
"He is a cute kid."
"Babies can be cute, but you better be sure if you two get beyond kissing you suit up."
"Don't worry. That was the first and last time I'll ever let my dick think for me."
"Probably not the last time. She's nice looking I can't deny she'd probably distract me from thinking logically, too, but your son needs her to finish school."
"You ever thought about it?"
"Kids?" He shrugged. "Sure, I mean, we're getting married so of course."
"Even though we have downtime during the winter?"
"Sure. Tina works. There's temporary agencies. There are factories or warehouses that are always hiring. I mean, for now I collect unemployment, but if the need was there I could have income. Her dad's paying her rent you said, though, so like I said earlier. If you two are together you could spend the winter down there. She might appreciate the help with Jack."
"Did I help?"
"I'm not sure."
"Do what you feel is right, John. I can't tell you what that is. If her kissing you makes you uncomfortable you need to tell her. Maybe she was just trying to be nice. Maybe she was seeing if you still find her attractive, or even if you ever really did. Sounds like the way you got together was kind of intense and then it fizzled pretty quickly."
"I ran away!"
"It doesn't make me uncomfortable I'm just not sure I should let her do it this soon."
"You reject her again, John, she's not the type to give you a third chance. If you're not comfortable and you're not honest with her she's going to assume you're not interested. She's going to go to school and someone will be happy to accept her kisses and someone will not mind being around Jack either. Not everyone in a college town is college aged to where a kid would put them off."
God he hated that idea.
"And if the idea bothers you as much as it seems to I say again, that's probably your answer. If you let her go, though, John, then you must let her go. And you have to move on, too. She has five or six weeks before she leaves?"
"That should give you some time to see if things are working. You don't have the peer pressure that was in high school so that shouldn't be a factor this time. Just see how things go between now and then and when she's ready to leave you either ask her to be exclusive or you let her go."
"You're not going to be exclusive?"
"Well, yeah, just sounds so odd to hear that word used in conjunction with any facet of my life."
"Sounds like you wanted it to be a facet of your life all along with her you just chickened out."
"I was a moron."
"Yeah, you were, but who knows where you'd both be now if you hadn't been."
Word Count: 3,705
"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.
Word Count: 3,142
'Yes,' she said.
"I didn't think it was your mom, but I've never heard her on the phone so figured I'd be sure. It's John."
'Is everything all right?'
'You're supposed to be working today I thought.'
"Oh yeah. I guess I didn't tell you last night. We got everything done yesterday after all so we're off the hook for one Saturday anyway."
'Oh, that's good.'
"Yeah. If I don't have to drive to McHenry again in the same pickup as those guys anytime soon I'll be happy."
'It was better than all of you spending your own money on gas.'
"Oh, definitely. We just don't know why our boss took the job to begin with. Usually we just stick with the Northwest suburbs."
Locally they usually drove their own vehicle as they did for the job at Claire's house last week. Occasionally, though their boss would take a job that was further away like the one this week had been. For those jobs they were able to use company vehicles to come and go with. They could in town, too, but none of them wanted to wake up the thirty or forty minutes early it would require to get to the shop and then to the worksite on time. Occasionally, in the really, really nice areas like Inverness or Barrington, the client would specify no more vehicles present than necessary and they'd have no choice. Typical suburban families didn't seem to care as much, though.
"So, I was thinking," he said. "Are you busy today?"
"Is that a no or you actually have something planned but just don't want to say so."
'I was going to let Jack sit in his pool in the backyard for a while again. Mom said it was only supposed to get up to the high seventies today so I was going to do that after lunch maybe. I didn't really have anything planned. Mom and Dad went to a flea market or something this morning so they'll be gone until dinnertime at least.'
"Your dad went, too?"
'Yeah. I don't understand it either, but they do things like that together sometimes. He says sometimes he sees things he's interested in Mom wouldn't know about or their worth.'
"Well, sure, I suppose that makes sense since they're married and at the point their kids are going to be gone soon."
'Don't remind me,' she said with a laugh.
"So, would you and Jack like to go to the zoo?"
"It was a pretty sincere question. It's a nice day."
'You realize he won't get much out of it?'
"Sure, but I only have a few weeks before you guys are gone. When's the last time you were at the zoo?"
'I'm not sure,' she said.
'Sure, I'll pick you up, though.'
"I sort of figured we'd have to take your car, yeah."
'I have to shower and stuff.'
"Laziness becomes you, Princess."
'He let me sleep in a little later than usual today.'
"We must have worn him out."
'I guess so,' she said.
He'd come over for a while after work as he had a couple of times during the week. Jack was in his baby pool when he'd gotten there. He couldn't do much more than sit and splash, but he had fun with the few toys and balls he had in there. Once he was done and she'd gotten him dressed they stayed out in her back yard until John had to go. Obviously, Jack didn't do anything physically to exhaust himself, but she mentioned that fresh air could really knock kids out.
"What's a little later than usual?"
'It was after seven.'
"Princess," he said.
Seven o'clock was not sleeping in for a college student on summer break. It still bothered him that she'd elected to do this by herself to this point. Soon, in a few weeks, she'd be one hundred twenty miles away and by herself again.
'It was nice!'
"If you say so."
'Well, you called me and it's before nine o'clock so you obviously knew I'd be awake.'
"Well, sure, but it bothers me you think seven o'clock is sleeping late."
He sighed softly. "How long will it take you to get here?"
'Um,' she said and he could almost see her mentally going over what she'd have to do get ready. She hadn't given Jack his bath last night, but he'd been in the water in the pool so he doubted he really needed a full-on bath this morning. 'I can be ready in thirty minutes.'
'Yes, really. I've perfected the art of getting ready fast.'
"I meant, he's eaten and everything?"
'Oh, yes, of course. I just didn't take my shower not realizing I'd be going out.'
"Okay then, Princess, see you when you get here. You remember how to get here?"
'Yes,' she replied. She'd driven there once because he'd wanted her to know where he lived. She hadn't come in or anything, but she knew which apartment was his.
"I guess I need to make sure all my socks are picked up from the floor then this time, huh?"
'If you plan on letting me in, I guess so,' she said with a laugh.
"All right, I'll see you when you get here then. Take your time. We have all day."
'Okay,' she said, hanging up.
The zoo was nice. She was right, though; Jack got absolutely nothing out of it. She brought a camera and took some pictures of the animals they saw and stuff, but Jack would never remember being there beyond being told he was here. John didn't really care, though; they spent most of the morning and afternoon together. John hadn't been to a zoo in years; Claire said she hadn't been to one in a while either so it was a nice thing to do together. A memory they made that was more than watching movies on her couch.
"Want to come in? I don't have any movies, but I'm sure there's something on TV and we could order Chinese or something."
"Are you sure?"
"I asked, so of course I'm sure."
"I just wasn't sure if you had something else to do."
"You're not using your fake ID tonight?"
"Why not? It's Saturday night."
"I don't have anything to go out for, not really. Overpriced watered down Cokes aren't that great."
"I'm glad you're not drinking."
"Yeah, that makes two of us," he said.
"Have you thought about whether you're going to tell them?"
"About Jack? My parents you mean?"
"Yes," she said.
"There wasn't anything to think about, no."
"You don't think they should know?"
"Should they know? Maybe. Do they deserve to know? No."
"I was just curious. I mean, they're his grandparents."
"And, trust me; he's not missing out on anything not knowing them. I mean, what, were you planning on dropping him off there for a weekend or something?"
"Well, see, why should I bother telling them if they can't do anything with him anyway. He'd get taken from you if you knowingly put him in a harmful situation."
"I haven't seen them since I moved out. They don't know where I live and I have no desire to change that anytime ever."
"And you're sure your mom wouldn't…"
"Wouldn't what? Turn over a new leaf? Get all misty-eyed and maternal over a grandchild when she couldn't do it with me? No, I don't see that happening. And even if I did, even if there was a chance she would be different to Jack than she was with me. She'd still tell my father. He'd get drunk and say something cruel to her and she'd use that as a way to win their argument."
"You think she'd do that?"
"Princess, I lived with them for eighteen years. I know how their fights work."
"I guess. I just feel kind of bad."
"Don't. There are far more important things to be worrying about than my parents and whether they'll ever know Jack. Besides, she probably wouldn't have too many nice things to say about you given the way I found out I was a dad."
"I suppose not," she said.
"Hey, don't worry about it. I'm just saying. So, Chinese? There's a pretty good place I could order from and run and pick it up. They deliver, but they charge a pretty hefty fee considering they're only a mile or two away."
"Sure," she said.
She settled Jack on a blanket she carried in her car all of the time for just these occasions. It wasn't a full-sized blanket, but was bigger than his regular baby blankets so she could put him on it with some toys and she didn't have to worry about anyone's carpet or floor getting dirty from him spitting up or drooling on it. She wasn't sure what she'd do when he started crawling. She could tell he was tempted to try it more and more these days. He'd see something just out of his reach. One of these days he'd be mobile. She was not looking forward to that, especially as chances were it would happen when she got back to school and was on her own again.
She called her parents to tell them she'd be home late after he'd ordered the food and left to pick it up. She took the time while he was gone to look around his apartment some. She wasn't spying, she didn't look in drawers or cupboards or anything. She just wanted confirmation she supposed that her decision not to tell him had resulted in him doing okay.
The apartment wasn't fantastic. It was bordering on a not-so-great part of town, but as it was just him it didn't matter so much. He didn't have a lot of things, but the couch he had was pretty nice. He'd told her that he'd recently bought it after the one he'd bought at a rummage sale fell apart. He had an easy chair that reclined, too. There was a small two-seater table in the living room off the kitchen. From the mail and stuff on one end of the table she didn't guess he had too many people eating with him. His room didn't have a lot of odds and ends; a bed, dresser, and a desk. She wasn't sure what he needed the desk for and she couldn't bring herself to be nosey enough to look. She did look at his bookcase, though, which didn't have just books in it. He had some cassettes, albums, videotapes, and even a few CDs on the shelves, too.
It was clean, neat enough considering he had less than an hour to straighten up that morning and he probably wasn't planning on asking her to come in at the end of their day.
Overall, she was happy for him. He'd mentioned wanting to move into a better place once his lease was up next spring.
They found a movie to watch before Saturday Night Live came on.
"You could stay you know," he offered when she was getting Jack's things together to put back in the bag she carried.
"I can't. My parents wouldn't approve."
"What are they going to say? We have a kid together."
"If we were together maybe, but they're helping me too much to risk upsetting them."
He sighed softly. "About that together thing."
"John, neither one of us should make a decision like that right now. You just found out about Jack. It's probably natural for you, for me too, to be tempted to make something out of nothing."
"Nothing? You think I tell just anyone I love them?"
"No. I was sort of hoping you were really tired that night and were saying things you didn't really mean to say."
"I meant everything I said, Princess."
"I'm going to be over one hundred miles away from here in about a month."
"Yeah? I said I could come see you on weekends. I mean, I might have to work some Saturdays so I wouldn't be able to get there until Saturday night but I'd have all day Sunday."
"Can't we just wait and see? Once I leave you may not want to do that."
"Well, I'd want to if for no other reason than to see Jack."
"Yes, I know, but seeing me may not be part of that. I mean, once I leave you may have time to think about all of this and you might get mad at me. Really mad at me. I wouldn't blame you either, honestly. I keep waiting for it to happen. Besides, I'm not having sex with you."
"Who said anything about sex?"
"Why else would you tell me I could stay?"
"So you don't have to drive home after midnight after a long day. I know you're tired and Jack's sound asleep."
"Yeah, on the floor!"
He grimaced. "I suppose I need to look into something to put him in."
"If you want him for a night or something, yes. Soon he'll be crawling. You could probably just get away with a playpen."
"I'll look into it."
"I'm not trying to be difficult, but two weeks ago…"
"Don't two weeks ago me, Claire. I haven't dated anyone since you."
"I've gone out a couple of times, you know, sure but it was meaningless and a mistake."
"Wow. What did you say about sex with me to people?"
"I haven't said anything about you to anyone until last week anyway. The only mistake where we're concerned is on me, Princess."
"I just need time, John."
"You kissed me!"
"Sure, because I like kissing you. A lot. I'm attracted to you. Clearly. I'm just not ready to jump into something because of Jack."
"It's not because of Jack. I still would have told Chris and Scott I'd dated you. I still would have knocked on your door because they wouldn't have believed me. I still would have seen you that day. Nothing would have changed except there'd be no Jack."
"No reason for you to come back to my house that night."
"Maybe, but who knows? If Jack wasn't here I may have talked to you more at your door, too. I don't know."
"I just think we need to see what happens once I leave for school. You may change your mind."
"Not happening. I even went out this week and bought an answering machine for you."
"Yes. I don't care if anyone else is able to get a hold of me or leave me a message. You I want to be able to leave a message if I'm not here."
"You're welcome," he slid an arm around her, drawing her to him. He kissed her. "I'm not trying to push. It was an offer because I don't want you driving home tired. I wasn't trying to get you out of your clothes."
"You've never seen me without all of my clothes off."
"I am well aware of this fact, Princess. Believe me, and one day I will change that. For both of us."
"I didn't see you either."
"Yeah, I know," he said, sliding his hand along her hip. "Lifting up your skirt and taking you from behind has to be one of the biggest turn ons I've ever experienced in my life."
"Why?" she whispered. Not the response he'd expected. He figured she'd get mad at him or tell him to shut up again.
He slid his lips along her jaw, grazing his tongue along the skin there before reaching her ear.
"Because it's kind of naughty, Princess," he whispered. "Good girls don't have sex with guys they essentially just met in closets at school. They certainly don't lose their virginity with the guy in them from behind. It was good, though." He kissed her earlobe, nipping it with his teeth. "Don't you think?"
"Uh huh," she murmured.
"You have no idea how often I've thought of that day. That nice skirt around your hips, your panties still in place, you begging me to slide my dick inside of you."
"Because you felt good. You were sliding it between my legs and I was caught up in the feeling."
"There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Getting caught up, letting go is good, Princess. Trust me when I say I can't wait for you to let go again."
"John," she whispered.
"I know it's not going to be tonight, but when you're ready. Shit," he whispered.
He took one of her hands, sliding it to the front of his jeans. "I'm hard just thinking about being inside of you again, Claire. Thinking about the things we could do on my bed."
"We did okay that day."
"Yeah, well, I'm glad you think so but we can do better than okay."
"Yes," he hissed, finding her throat and kissing her there. "Definitely."
"I have to go," she murmured.
"I know, Princess," he said, but he noticed she hadn't moved her hand away from the crotch of his jeans. She wasn't doing anything but touching him, but that didn't really matter to him. "God, I want to watch you do that sometime."
"Oh," she said.
"Too much for tonight?"
"I, no, but I have to go home."
"I'll walk you to your car."
He shrugged. "Sure. It'll go away."
"I'm sorry. I'm just not ready."
"I know, it's okay. I do want you, though."
"I know it's just a lot to get used to. Two weeks ago I was a single mom and now I have to get used to the fact I have help."
"Of course I am going to help. Whatever you'll let me do. I know it was just money last week, but I want to do more than that."
"Call me when you get home?"
"So I know you got home okay."
"Yeah, okay," she said.
"Thank you," he said grabbing her bag while she took hold of Jack. He let her handle him since she was better at picking him up without rousting him from being asleep and putting him in his seat.
He walked her to her car, questioning his sanity for doing and saying the things he'd said in his apartment. If she didn't call him tonight like she said she would he'd be left to wonder if he pushed too far, but he had to remind her how good it was between them. And if it'd been good in that situation he could only imagine (and he had several times over the past year) what they'd be like normally.
Word Count: 1,965
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 … 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 don't 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.
Word Count: 2,610
She'd been gone for a couple of weeks now. Since she was moving into a house that was essentially hers she was able to go down there whenever she wanted to. He tried not to take it personally that she'd elected to go down there sooner than necessary. She'd said it was so Jack would get adjusted to a new environment before her classes started. There was probably some truth to that, but he couldn't help but think she was running away from him.
Running might be too strong a word. He had her address and phone number so it wasn't as if he wouldn't know how to get a hold of her. She wasn't here, though, in town. As much as he'd like to claim it was Jack he was missing it just wasn't entirely the case.
He had taken Jack for a couple of overnight visits the week before she left. The scariest couple of nights of his life because for that entire time he was responsible for the guy. It wasn't as difficult as he expected it to be. She'd given him a bath before bringing him over both days so he hadn't had to do that. So, it was just feeding and changing him, plus keeping him entertained the little while he was awake during the evening before drifting off to bed. He'd managed all right.
He never thought he'd see the day he had things like baby food and bottles in his kitchen cupboards, but there were a few things there. It was a good thing the stuff didn't go bad because John couldn't be sure when he'd have him next without going to Claire and seeing him down there.
The playpen he'd bought was folded up and put away until the next time it would be used. He'd glanced at the space in his bedroom more than once, unable to shake the feeling that something was missing now that it wasn't there anymore. It'd only been there for a couple of weeks, but he'd sort of grown accustomed to working around it in the mornings as he got ready for work.
He'd gotten a letter from her today, surprising him to say the least. She hadn't said much, but had included a couple of pictures of not just Jack but Jack's bedroom so he could see how it was setup. He'd appreciated it, though there was a part of him that felt as though he should've been down there helping her setup not just Jack's room but the other stuff. He'd had to stay here, though, to work.
To this point she hadn't gotten lawyers involved. She and her father both seemed to feel that until he started reneging on the money he'd been sending her it wasn't necessary. He'd made sure both understood he had been giving her extra now to compensate for any slim months during the winter. There were temporary jobs to be had, sure, but since he didn't have to look into those things last winter he wasn't sure how much money they'd bring in.
John paused at the voice on the other end of the line. It was a guy, so very obviously not Claire. Had he dialed the wrong number?
"I think I have the wrong number."
'Who are you calling?'
"I'm looking for Claire. Claire Standish."
'Right number. Let me get her.'
"Thanks," John said, wondering if this was the guy in question her father had mentioned. He'd tried in a roundabout way to get her to admit to being involved with someone. He didn't want to ask outright because then he'd have to reveal his conversation with her father and John didn't think that would go over well. He had no idea if the comment about her dating someone last year had been true or part of the lie to see what might deter John most.
'Hello,' she said after a few minutes.
"Uh, hi, it's John."
'John, hi,' she said. 'How are you?'
"Fine. You? Both of you?"
'We're fine. I just got back from grocery shopping, though, so I was in the garage when you called. Sorry.'
"It's okay. I got your letter today, thank you for the pictures."
'You're welcome. I just thought you might like to see his room. It feels much more permanent this time than it did last winter when I put his room together.'
"I bet. You know you're staying put this go around. No leases to renew or anything. It's a nice thing your dad did."
'I know. I'm not sure how I'll ever repay him beyond being certain I get accepted into University of Illinois' law school program when I get to that point.'
The house her dad had bought was about an hour's drive out of town, sort of in between Champagne and Bloomington. Illinois State didn't have a law school program, but University of Illinois did. This way he'd get his money's worth out of the house if she was there not just for the next three years of college but for law school as well. It was a little closer to Bloomington than Champagne, but it was a straight shot on the Interstate to both schools. Her father had really thought it through.
"I'm pretty sure he doesn't want to be paid back beyond you being successful."
'I know. I still feel as though I should.'
'Yes. I had to pick up a couple of things for dinner.'
"What's for dinner tonight then?" he asked, noting now that it was kind of late for her to be cooking dinner.
She laughed. 'Actually, I'm just doing macaroni and cheese and some hot dogs. After I bought the stuff I got home and realized I don't want to cook an actual meal.'
'Yeah, at least the food will be here.'
"Well, I can let you go make your macaroni and cheese. I really just wanted to say thank you for the letter and pictures. I liked getting them."
'You're welcome, I'm glad. You don't have to go, though. I'm in the kitchen and Jack is in his playpen in the living room while I cook.'
'Sure, I can talk and boil noodles and hot dogs at the same time.'
'All right," he said. "I was thinking I could come see you guys this Saturday if it would be a good weekend."
'Sure, if you want to. I don't have anything planned.'
'I'm pretty positive. I mean, I'll probably have some homework, but I'll be sure to get it done before you get here. Unless you'd rather I not so you can spend time with Jack while I study.'
"No, that wasn't my intent."
He chuckled softly. "I guess neither of us are very sure of anything, but yes, I'm sure. I want to see both of you."
'Okay,' she said.
He sighed softly.
'What's wrong?' she asked.
"I have to ask. I have no business asking. What you do with your time is your thing and I realize I'm absolutely not in a position to expect explanations out of you."
"Why is there a guy answering your phone?"
'He babysat for me.'
'Because it's nice to get out of my house for a few minute trip to the store without having to strap Jack in, make sure I have a diaper in case in that fifteen minutes he needs a new one, and not have to worry about what kind of mood he's going to be in while there.'
"Who is he?"
'John,' she said. He could hear that she wasn't too happy with his questioning her, but he had to know. He was probably an idiot for feeling that way, but if he was wasting his time even thinking he had a chance with her well he wanted to know.
"I just find it hard to believe you have no one down there."
'You think I lied?'
"I think you weren't expecting to see me and maybe you didn't want to upset me by admitting to being involved with someone."
'Hold on, one second,' she said. 'Don't hang up,' she added. She didn't sound as though she really wanted to be talking to him anymore, though. She put her hand over the phone.
'Thanks Steve, I really appreciate it.'
'No problem, he's a breeze to take care of. He just wanted nothing more to do with that seat for the day. It happens.'
'Oh, what do I owe you?'
'Nothing. Forget it.'
'Okay, well, that's nice of you. Thanks,' she said. John couldn't help but thinking it was a little too nice of the guy. Free babysitting. Great.
'Have a good night,' the guy said. John heard the faint sound of a door opening and closing again and assumed Steve was gone now.
'Sorry,' she said. 'He brought the last bag of groceries in for me.'
"How nice," John added dryly. The guy wasn't stupid anyway. Offer to babysit, help her bring stuff into her house so she didn't have to leave Jack alone for any length of time, and he had no idea what else the guy had offered to do while John wasn't on the phone with her. John had never before taken notice of women with kids, but he had to admit if he had he'd be doing the same thing Steve there was doing.
'So, you think I'd kiss you if I was involved with someone else?'
"I don't know what you'd do, Claire. I really don't. I didn't think you'd have my baby and hide it from me either. So, who's to say you wouldn't do that? Keep your options open. I turn into the deadbeat bum you expect me to be you've got steady Steve there to fall back on."
'I should hang up on you. You know that, right? You're being an asshole.'
"Yeah, well, I'm not the one who didn't tell you about a girlfriend last year."
'I'm sorry, what?'
"You heard me. You had a boyfriend last year."
'Oh my God. I did not. I had a friend or two that I went out with, sure. I had no boyfriend. I was pregnant. Who the hell would want to date me like that?'
"I certainly would've if you'd given me the chance, and well, I've heard that pregnancy may not exactly be a deterrent to some guys."
'You think I slept with them, too?'
"I don't know what you did."
'I don't have a boyfriend. I didn't have a boyfriend. I've never really had a boyfriend because I don't consider a week with you a relationship. Steve is my next door neighbor, and he's married. He has two kids. Jack was cranky when we got home, Steve was out in his yard and saw us. I realized I'd forgotten to pick something up for dinner and Jack didn't want to have anything to do with going back in his car seat. Steve offered to help me. I took him up on his offer.'
"Is Jack okay?"
'He seems to be now.'
"What's wrong then?" John asked. He only had less than two months with the little guy to this point, but John had seen babies who wouldn't stop crying. Jack wasn't like that.
'My car got warm, I'm sure that's all it was.'
'My air conditioning broke on the way down here.'
"What? And you haven't gotten it fixed?"
'I haven't had the chance,' she said. 'I've been kind of busy unpacking and setting things up so I'm ready when school starts.'
He sighed softly. "I'll pick up parts and bring them with me when I come down on Saturday."
'You don't have to do that.'
"Yeah, I do."
'You're coming down to see Jack.'
"I'm coming down to see both of you. You can't be driving around in August and September with no air conditioning. I don't want Steve or anyone else thinking I don't know how to take care of what's mine."
'So you go from thinking I'm sleeping with Steve to my being yours? You can't have it both ways, John.'
"I wasn't expecting a guy to answer your phone."
'Well, he probably wouldn't have except he had to have heard me pulling into the garage, so he probably did it just to be nice. So whoever was calling would just have to wait a minute rather than get the machine. I don't know.'
"I'm sorry," he said softly.
'If I didn't know how difficult that was for you to say I'd pretend I didn't hear you and make you say it again.'
"I can say it again. I'm sorry."
'It's okay. And I did not hide being pregnant from you. I didn't tell you, but I wasn't in town avoiding you I was miles away at college.'
"No, it's not okay. I have no right to say those things."
'What's this boyfriend stuff anyway?' she asked.
"I could ask the same thing. You don't consider me a former boyfriend?" Her saying that had hurt more than he thought simple words could hurt. He didn't walk around announcing he'd dated her, but he certainly considered her an ex. His only ex.
'Well, no, not really. I mean, it was a week and you freaked out. I sort of assumed that meant I wasn't a very good girlfriend and left it at that.'
"So you haven't dated someone because of my reaction to dating you?"
'More or less, I guess. I really had no time, John. I was busy, and the last thing I wanted was that.'
"Someone to count on would be bad?"
'Well, no, that probably would've been nice. Someone expecting sex from me would be.'
"Ouch," he said. "I guess I should apologize for leaving you with that impression. I didn't think I showed you a bad time."
'We were in a closet in school.'
"Yeah, it seems to me you enjoyed yourself to some extent."
He closed his eyes. Really? Her answer to that was she guessed. "I didn't know. I've spent the last couple months thinking at least you didn't walk away from it hating sex and getting knocked up out of the deal. You certainly seemed to say you enjoyed it at my apartment that one night. I don't think I was hearing you wrong."
'It's not your fault. I don't mean it like that. I won't lie and say I didn't enjoy myself. You saw to it I did, I know that. I just don't want people to see me with a baby – or last year pregnant – and assume I'm going to sleep with them. So, I've just avoided the possibility altogether.'
"Is that why you didn't want to fool around with me?"
"The few times we were at my apartment you always stopped me."
'No. I was honest with you. I was leaving and, well, I don't want to get pregnant again.'
"There are things you can do where pregnancy isn't a possibility. Lots and lots of things, Claire, trust me. There are also ways to prevent them."
'Well, I don't know that I'd trust any of them.'
"Claire," he said softly.
'I have to go, John.'
"You don't, you just don't want to talk about this anymore. That's fine. We can talk about something else."
'Do you have to work Saturday?'
"Maybe. Probably. It shouldn't be a long day, though, just finishing up. It rained on Monday so we got a little behind on this job."
"If I get done Friday you want me to come down Friday instead?"
'If you want to,' she said.
"Claire," he said.
'That'd be nice,' she said.
"All right. Now I'll let you go so you can eat."
'You're such an ass,' she said, though he could tell she was teasing him.
"Yeah, so you keep saying. You must like that in your men, Princess."
'I don't have men.'
"You have me. And Jack."
'He's not a man yet.'
"Give him time."
'I'm definitely going to teach him not to be an ass. I kind of like him this age,' she said, almost as if an afterthought.
He chuckled. "He is pretty cute. I can understand that. Give him a kiss good night from his old man, all right?"
'What about his mom?'
"You can do it yourself."
Had he missed something? "No, what?"
'I was asking if I get one, too.'
"Oh," he said. Oh indeed. "By all means. I'd love it if you'd get beyond good night kisses, but that'll do for now."
'I'm sorry I made you think I didn't enjoy it.'
"One day, Princess, I hope you'll let me show you what we could be like doing it like normal people do it."
'We aren't normal?'
"That day we sure weren't."
'No, I guess we weren't.'
"Eat your macaroni and cheese."
'Thanks for calling.'
"You're welcome. Thanks for the pictures. I'll see you Friday or Saturday, I'll call before I leave so you know which day to expect me."
He hung up not at all sure whether it was a good conversation or not. She hadn't hung up mad at him or telling him to stay home this weekend, so he supposed that meant it was good. It was hard to tell with her. He couldn't blame her, he supposed, he had to prove he could be reliable and not run away at the first sign of getting scared or freaked out.
Word Count: 3,991
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.
Word Count: 2,604
He didn't sleep well, but he'd expected that for a few reasons. She, however, slept just fine. It was after five o'clock in the morning going by what her alarm clock on the other side of her bed said.
He shouldn't be thinking so hard, he knew that. It was hard not to, though. He certainly hadn't expected to be here, laying in her bed with her sleeping beside him this weekend. Sure, he was trying for that end, but he'd assumed based on how she acted before coming down here that sleeping with him was far from being on her mind.
At some point during the night she'd turned onto her side, her hand settled against his chest. He'd done a number of mental exercises to keep from doing something completely stupid at that moment. He'd given into the temptation to at least touch her, though. Surely she couldn't get mad at him for doing that when she was touching him. He ran the pad of his index finger along one of her nails. They were painted a nice shade of red, but he felt a slight chip or blemish in the paint job so he imagined she did them herself versus going to a salon. He doubted she had time for things like that anymore. He kind of liked that she still kept them painted, though.
"Why aren't you sleeping?" she whispered, sounding sleepy.
"Just thinking," he murmured.
"What are you thinking about?" she asked.
"You," he admitted.
"What about me?"
He shrugged. "I don't know."
"You must know, you're thinking it."
"You can tell me."
He sighed softly, turning onto his side a little to face her.
"I don't want to wait. I'll give you space, can't get much more spacious than more than a hundred miles separating us, but I want the chance now."
"John," she said.
"No, don't John me. I love you, damn it. I knew over a year ago I did. I've tried to meet other women, but they're not you. I'm not mad at you about Jack. I'm still not overly pleased I missed out on the first six months of his life and seeing you pregnant."
"Yeah, that was a treat," she said softly.
"To you I'm sure not, but I think I would have liked it. I certainly would have taken care of you as you deserved not left you alone down here to fend for yourself while you went to school and everything."
"You talked before we went to bed about how you feel. What about how I feel? I know guys who've gotten their girlfriends' pregnant and they're out the door as soon as the word baby is mentioned. I'm here, I'm giving you money, and I'm trying. Isn't that worth something? I'm not saying we have to get married, but I want to try for that."
"Marriage? You want to get married?"
He shrugged. "One day, sure. Maybe try for that little sister you mentioned." He settled a hand against her cheek. "I love you. Do you get that? Do you get how hard that fact is for me to admit to myself let alone you? I want to get letters from you and know you wrote to me because you miss me not out of some motherly obligation that you think you have to for Jack's sake or because I'm giving you money. I want to come down here on the weekends I visit and have this spot right here every time."
He slid his thumb along her cheek, lower to her lips.
"I know how hard that is for you to admit."
"Then give me some credit and believe that I actually know what I'm talking about. I've had over a year to think about what my feelings for you are and to explore if they were real. They're real."
"I don't want to hear about it."
"Yeah, well, I don't like thinking about you down here meeting anyone either."
"I haven't met anyone."
"You will," he said. "There's probably some single dad in the neighborhood somewhere just itching to meet someone to be a mommy to his kids."
"You've thought way too hard on this"
He moved them so he was on top of her. Her breath caught and she slid her hands to his shoulders, pushing a bit but not forcefully pushing him off of her.
"I have all day to think on things when I'm working. Manual labor is great for clearing your head, but it's pretty solitary for the most part. You have your own duties, responsibilities so that gives you time to think."
"You think about me?"
"God, yes. Aren't I supposed to?"
"I don't know."
"If you can look me in the eye and tell me that you're not interested. I don't expect you to say you love me, I know I screwed up and I have to earn your trust. I want to do that, though. I want to prove to you that I'm not going anywhere this time."
"What is it you want from me exactly?"
"I want you in my life along with Jack. I want you to come home on weekends sometimes, too. So that we're both making an effort. I know it's not as easy for you with Jack, so I don't expect it all of the time but once in a while it'd be nice. Or even if you called me and said you wanted me to come down to see you instead of me asking."
"I did want to see you!"
"Could've fooled me."
"I've just been so busy and there's so much on my mind."
"I really wasn't sure how you'd react once we were gone and you had time to really think about all of this."
"This being our son? I'm not mad. I'm not happy, but certainly if I can lay here with you and forgive you for withholding that you can forgive me for freaking out about a situation that was totally foreign to me. And, yes, I can admit that's what I did, but can you blame me. Really? A chick like you giving me the time of day doesn't happen, certainly not at our school."
"I know," she whispered.
"I'm sorry. What?"
"I said I know. That's not really where I have my problem."
"Right. It's that I'd get home from being with you this summer, kissing you, and I'd be happy."
"That's good. Why is this a problem?"
"I'd close my eyes and I'd see your wallet that day at school. All those girls…"
"None of them were you. Had I met you first I never would have had those pictures."
She scoffed. "Right."
"You don't believe me?"
"I find it hard to believe, yes."
"Because you said you don't believe in it!"
"Because I hadn't met you, hadn't been presented with a person I wanted to believe in it with."
"So you can do that? Have a relationship with me? Not sleep with other women while I'm at school, knowing I won't find out?"
"I don't want to sleep with other women. I have tried everything I can think of to get over what I feel for you, including that, and it never works."
"It doesn't work?"
"No! The one or two times I've actually seen the act through the whole way I left feeling like shit so I stopped trying."
"Because of me?"
"Because of how I feel for you. I mean, at the time I never thought I'd see you again. Unlike Chris, I don't believe that part of me is going to solve all of my problems."
"You could've fooled me," she said.
"And again, you don't know what I've been doing the past year so stop saying things like that. And, really, if it weren't for that part of me we wouldn't be here right now so I guess at least once I knew what I was doing even if it was an accident."
"John," she whispered.
"I know I said I wouldn't push, but hearing that guy answer the phone earlier this week just made me feel things I never thought I'd feel."
"I didn't mean to make you jealous."
"I get that you didn't," he laughed softly. "If it doesn't work at least we can say we tried and this time we know for sure it doesn't work."
"You hurt me."
"I know I did, Princess, and I'm sorry probably more for that than I am Jack."
"Me, too," she whispered.
"He's the best thing that's ever happened to me."
"I haven't had as much time with him as you have, but I can understand that way of thinking."
She ran a fingertip along his jaw, lower along his neck and throat, and over to his ear. His eyes fell closed as she touched him.
"I do love you," she whispered.
His eyes flew open at that admission.
"Is that a yes?"
"It's a yes," she said.
"Don't sound so excited about it."
"Tell me about it," he said. "At least you don't have my dad breathing down your neck, waiting for you to screw up."
"My dad's not going to hurt you."
"No, but if I hurt you again, your dad will make my life hell."
She didn't respond.
"And you agree with me obviously."
He chuckled softly.
"And you still want to try?" she asked.
"No sisters for a while," she said.
"I think we'd need to do it the right way this time."
"The right way? I thought we did fine."
He moved his face a little to nip at her fingertip before kissing it.
"We did do that fine. I meant the order in which it happens."
"Oh, yeah, right," she shrugged. "I'm not sure my dad would blame me if I didn't want to get married."
"I don't know. One day maybe. I think having someone I can count on is more important than a piece of paper."
"I agree," he admitted. "Neither of us has the best examples."
"You really want me to go home more often?"
"I want you to come see me not go home."
"Oh," she said.
"I didn't say often, just once in a while. You know, so I know you actually want to be with me."
"But my inviting you down here would be as good?"
"As good? Maybe not as good, but pretty close. Why?"
"I like you being down here."
"Why?" he asked.
"It feels nice."
"Yeah, you know. We're here in a house with Jack. It's like we're a family."
"We are, Princess, that's why I changed my mind about giving you time. It may not be as significant to you because you grew up being a part of one. Laying here with you tonight, though. No way can I do it. I can't walk away from this chance, I can't look back and think I did something to let the two of you slip through my fingers when I had it in my grasp. Giving you time just seems a perfect way to let that happen. I want to be nice to you, but there's such a thing as being too nice. About this I can't be too nice."
"We're not going anywhere."
"Yeah, well, until tonight I wasn't so sure."
"You know what I mean," he said.
"Yeah," she said.
"What do you do for babysitting for him anyway?"
"I have a day care I use. It's close to campus and they're fairly reasonable. Why?"
He shrugged. "I was thinking maybe in November when work is done for the year I could come down here."
"Okay? You'd be okay with that? Just like that?"
"Maybe I didn't understand."
He chuckled softly. "Yeah, maybe not. I meant until spring. I could take care of Jack for you while you're in class, maybe find a part-time job somewhere doing something in the evenings or on weekends. I wouldn't be able to collect unemployment I don't think if I wasn't in the Chicago area."
"You'd keep your apartment, though?"
"Yeah, I'd have to because my lease isn't up until July, which is why I'd have to get a job."
"That seems silly to live here but pay rent there."
"It'd only be for like four months. I need a place to live up there, and well, it's the only credit I have to this point, paying my rent on time."
"I know, I get it, it just seems silly."
"So, you'd be all right with that idea otherwise?"
"Maybe? What's with the maybe?"
"I don't know. You'd leave after months of being here every day. I'd get used to it, Jack would, too."
"There is that," he admitted. "I was just thinking more along the lines of a few months of a break for you from day care and having to drive him around everywhere."
"It would be nice."
"Is that the only reason it'd be appealing?"
"Maybe," she said.
"You and your maybes, Princess."
She reached up and kissed him, deepening it as she slid her arms around his neck to draw him closer to her. He went willingly, didn't need to be encouraged by her too severely to kiss her back.
She broke the kiss, finding his ear with her mouth and kissing him there. "Does that answer your question?" she whispered.
"Maybe," he said softly.
"And I'd love to have you here every day."
"Yeah," she said. "Maybe there's a roofing job that you could find down here."
"I'd thought of that."
"I wasn't sure you'd think it was too soon."
She shrugged. "For some people I'd say yes. Not for us, though."
"All right, I'll look into it then."
"Are you going to fall asleep now?"
"Probably not," he admitted.
"I was afraid I'd do something stupid in my sleep to piss you off."
"Oh," she said. "And if I said I wouldn't get mad?"
"I could probably sleep. You're sure? It's been a while."
"For me, too," she whispered.
"Yeah, I suppose it has. What time does Jack wake up?"
"I have about an hour now, maybe less."
"And then he goes back to sleep?"
"Yes, until about nine."
"I'll get him and then come back in here."
"You're the one who didn't sleep all night, though."
"If I let you get out of bed you'll never come back. I'm not stupid. You'll see a box that needs to be unpacked or clothes that need to be picked up or a dish that needs to be washed."
"Are you accusing me of being a slob?"
"No, I just want you to stay here and keep my spot warm."
"I can do that."
"What do you normally sleep in?"
"In the summer?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered.
He chuckled. "As little as possible. I brought these clothes with me, assuming if nothing else I'd get up with Jack if he woke up during the night or something."
"I think I'd like to see that," she whispered.
He leaned down, kissing her before sliding beside her. "Go back to sleep, Princess. You're obviously delusional."
"Okay, tell me that again tonight and we'll talk about what I sleep in then."
He chuckled softly as she settled against him again. Only this time he felt a lot more comfortable with her being there than he had a little while ago.
Word Count: 2,721
New Year's Eve 1991
"When do you think he'll be old enough to realize that the ball in Time's Square doesn't drop because it's his birthday?" John asked.
"I hope not for a while yet," Claire said.
The birthday boy in question had fallen asleep on the couch next to them almost as soon as the clock struck twelve. He'd expressed the grossness of seeing his mom and dad kiss very clearly first. He'd had a party earlier in the day. There was something about having a dozen boys in the house that made Claire feel exhausted by the end of the day. She'd promised him he could watch the ball drop, though, so she'd forced herself to stay awake hours later than she probably should have.
"He's going to be crushed."
Claire laughed. "He'll get over it, I'm sure. You've got him?" she asked.
"Yeah, not sure why I'm the one who gets stuck carrying him and you get the easy load."
"Because you're the dad and stronger than I am. Unless you want me to drop him, he's safer being carried by you."
"Yeah, yeah," he said, taking him into his arms to carry him to bed once they were ready to go there themselves.
Claire went into one bedroom, John went into the other but he joined her a minute or two later. She was still changing Amanda.
"I don't know that he's ever going to quite get over the fact we told him we wanted him to have a brother or a sister and he didn't get the brother."
"He'll like having a little sister eventually. For now, it's new to him having her cry and wake him up in the middle of the night."
"Yeah, new to me, too. He was sleeping through the night when I came into the picture."
"You're getting the hang of it."
"I'm trying," he said. He was off for the winter by now and she was in the middle of her last year of law school so John was doing everything he could do to help be sure she did what she needed to do to graduate. That included babysitting the kids whenever she needed to study or sleep. She studied all of the time and didn't sleep as much as she should, especially since she was pregnant for all of the past semester.
"He gets along with Scott and Tina's daughter," she said.
"Sure, for an hour or so. It's a little different than living with her. If you remember I didn't know what to do with girls very well either when I met you."
"You knew what to do with girls very well by the time I met you. Jack's proof of that."
"That's not what I meant. That was the easy part."
"It was, huh?"
"Sure. I think it's innate for guys to know what to do with that part of their anatomy. It's the rest of the aspect of girls I was pretty clueless about."
"Yes, you were," she agreed.
"You don't have to agree so quickly."
He kissed the top of her head as she took hold of Amanda to set her in her crib. She'd sleep for a few hours before waking up for John to handle feeding and changing her. Claire was on break, but he figured it was better to get used to waking up with her from the get-go and just keep it that way. When he had to start working again in the spring she'd take over some of the middle of the night feedings, but until then he had no problem doing it.
Scott had moved down to the area about two years ago. He and Tina were tired of living in the city and for whatever reason he and John started talking about going into business for themselves on one of Scott's visits down to see them. He'd complained about the help the company they worked for was finding.
This past summer was their first full season and they'd done pretty well. One of Claire's professors had helped them draw up papers so all was by the book not just as a business went but between the two of them. Neither John nor Scott were confident they'd remain in the area once Claire was done with school and had passed her bar exam. Scott was here because of John more or less, though they seemed to like the area well enough. They had put in the contract that they'd offer to sell the other one half of the business before anyone else. Claire had mentioned staying put for a while, seeing if she could find work somewhere in the area instead of having to uproot all that was familiar to Jack. They were close to her parents without being too close and neither of them were too keen on moving back to the Chicago suburbs with kids.
It was weird being a business owner. They were small enough that they had to do the work themselves, which was fine. Neither of them was opposed to getting his hands dirty. It also meant a lot of after-hours work. The fourth bedroom had been turned into an office complete with a computer for John, which he swore he'd never have reason to use before a year ago. Payroll, invoices, estimates, accounts receivable, accounts payable. It was a lot to digest, but for some reason the bulk of the paperwork had fallen into John's lap. Scott claimed he wouldn't know what to do with half the stuff and at least John had Claire to help him figure stuff out. John sort of figured Scott just didn't want to be bothered, which was fine. It was probably better if only one of them did all that anyway. Scott was better at dealing with the customers, drumming up business so they both had their niche.
He watched Claire put their daughter to bed. He wasn't quite sure what he'd done to deserve her. All of her teasing aside he knew he wasn't what anyone would consider a suitable match for her. They talked about getting married when she found out she was pregnant with Amanda, but they agreed to wait. Wait for what? He wasn't sure. He agreed with her, though, he didn't need a piece of paper or a wedding ring to make him treat her the way he would a wife. Hell, he thought they treated each other better than a few married couples they knew, including their parents'. Not that he ever saw his to know how they were getting along today.
He checked to be sure this end of the baby monitor was on before following her out of the room. Her room was a little further down the hall than Jack's and she was so soft about crying sometimes that if it wasn't on he had a hard time hearing her. Maybe he just wasn't in tune to it, he wasn't sure if you had to be a mother to have that or what. He swore Claire could hear her cry before she'd even started.
Off for the winter was subjective. He and Scott still had work to do, but he could bring the kids along to things like estimates if he had to. Jack was in school except for right now being Christmas break, so ordinarily it would only be Amanda he had to bring along. Their goal was to be booked a full two months before the snow had even cleared enough to start working. Sometimes he thought bringing Jack along helped them get business, he wasn't sure why it worked that way but there'd been a few houses they thought for sure were going to take their business elsewhere. Maybe it was because bringing kids along put faces to who he was working so hard to feed. He'd probably never know.
"So, do I get my New Year's Eve present?" he asked as he waited for her to finish in the bathroom.
"There are no New Year's Eve presents."
He scoffed. "You better not tell Jack that."
"Besides, Amanda is only…" she stopped. "Oh," she said.
"The Princess realizes I'm teasing."
"We've got to work on this December baby thing with the next one."
"Another one? I thought you were joking. You can't be serious."
"Well, I don't know why not. Maybe we should get her out of diapers first and I should find a job, too."
"Hey, at least your dad's not charging us rent. I thought for sure he'd start when we told him."
"Me, too. He likes you, though."
"At least we wouldn't have to plan it around your school schedule."
"There is that."
"It kind of takes the fun out of it."
She laughed, joining him on the bed. "I didn't realize it was that much of a sacrifice for you."
"That whole trying like crazy during the month of February when I wasn't working or anything was pretty tough. You kept waking me up and distracting me from important things like watching hockey."
She laughed, settling herself next to him. "I think my dad would probably like us to be married if we have another one."
"Yeah, he sort of mentioned that to me at her baptism."
"Yes, he I think believes she's my fault the same as Jack was."
"I never told him that it was."
"Clearly he has no clue that his daughter can't keep her hands off of me anymore than I can keep mine off of her. He probably has this image of you grinning and bearing it."
"God, I don't want him picturing me like that at all. And, hey, the pill worked when I was using it."
"I couldn't tell him that! It's probably better he doesn't think we were trying for her anyway."
"Probably so," she said, kissing his neck before finding his mouth.
"Happy New Year, Princess."
"You, too. It's going to be a good one, I know it."
"Yeah, they've all been pretty good with you so far so I can't complain."
"I'm glad you think so."
"You get your rest, I know that party took a lot out of you."
"I was fine."
"Yeah, you're always fine. I watch, there seems to be some unwritten code for moms. You all say you're fine, but we dads know that's not the case all of the time. We just don't push because we don't want to make you angry on top of not being fine. At least the smart ones don't push I've come to realize. Jack doesn't know what went into having Amanda to know that organizing a party complete with spending almost the entire day on your feet cooking food and baking a cake is probably more than you needed to be doing when she's less than two weeks old."
"All the more reason he deserved a party."
She shrugged. "I didn't want him to think because she came along that all of the sudden he's not important."
"I'd say he's pretty important, Princess. Certainly without him we wouldn't be where we are today."
"Maybe I should have gotten him a better present then."
He chuckled, shifting on the bed so he could bring the covers around her. "Yeah, we'll keep the hows and whys of it between us. We don't need him getting a big head or anything."
"We wouldn't want that. He'd be just like you then."
"Funny woman. Now about this being married thing for the next one."
"Maybe we could talk your parents into babysitting for a long weekend once you're done in June."
"Someone would if they won't."
"Well, I figured if they knew it was for that they'd be happy to."
"June is awful soon."
"Well, I was thinking just us. Maybe get married on the beach in Jamaica, Key West, or something."
"Really? That sounds beautiful and relaxing."
"I thought so, too. Find out when you'd have to take your exams after you're done and we'll work around that so you don't miss that."
"You're not doing this because you want another one, are you?"
"Not really, no. I knew you wouldn't want to while you're pregnant, but I sort of figure it's time to make an honest woman out of you."
"I always hated that saying. There's nothing dishonest about me now."
"No, but have you seen the way that guy on Cherry Street looks at you when you're walking to the park with Jack?"
"Uh no," Claire said.
"Of course you wouldn't notice these things. I do and he looks at you as if he'd like to do things to you that would probably make me blush."
"I find that very hard to believe."
"That he has improper thoughts about you?"
"No, that there's absolutely anything that would make you blush."
He chuckled softly. "Maybe there aren't many, but I think he knows what those things are. And wants to try them with you."
"So, no church?"
"No church, no guests, no gifts, and no pomp and circumstance. I'll wear a tux if you want to go the formal route, but otherwise. If we have to fly someone down with us to be witnesses we can do that, but I want it to be just us."
"All right, and I'm not saying yes because of anyone else having improper thoughts about me. I don't notice anyone else."
"This is good, Princess."
"I'm not sure I'm ready to change my name, though."
"Yeah, about that, there was a reason I told you to give Amanda your name, too."
"Okay," she said.
"And, yes, I know that bothered you a lot. I don't want them to have my name, I'm not overly attached to my name. It's just the name of the people who made me and they don't deserve having grandkids share that name."
"I know how you feel."
"So I was thinking I could change my name instead."
"Odd, I know, but who says you have to do it. You're the one becoming a lawyer with a dad who's a pretty prominent lawyer himself. Certainly having his name will help you more than having my name would."
"Maybe." She frowned. "You're sure?"
"I've thought about it since you told me you were pregnant. I knew when she was born you'd want her to have my name. We'd avoided the conversation about changing Jack's name, but we couldn't let them have different last names."
"No, I agree. And you're sure?"
"As sure I was years ago about loving you, yes. I know we don't have to, but I imagine in your line of work being all legally attached will look better than living with someone you've had two kids with."
"You'd thought of that?"
"Yeah," she admitted. "It was one of the reasons I figured I could look around here for a while first where people know me."
"Yeah, see, and that shouldn't be why you make a choice like that."
"What about you? You have a company here."
"Actually, Scott and I have a company. If Scott bought my half I could probably start my own. I know how to do the hard work."
"See, and I think the actual roofing would be the hard work."
"Of course you would, but that wasn't what scared me about starting a business. It turns out I'm not so bad with the day-to-day stuff. Granted I had you to help me at first, but I got the hang of it pretty quickly."
"About another one."
"Oh God, what?"
"It would be kind of fun. We certainly have perfected the art of making them."
"For you! Talk to me after giving birth isn't fresh on my mind. You remember what you said to me that day of detention about having too many kids?"
"You're not going to get fat. If we have another one, I'm not waiting seven years in between them so you'd have little ones to chase after with me to keep us both from getting that way."
"I suppose. I still don't think Claire is a fat girl's name."
He chuckled. "Get some sleep, Princess."
"That is the best thing I've been told to do all day."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com