"So, that was Mary's mom," John said once he'd hung up the phone. They'd been back at his house for a few hours. They'd gone to her office, gotten as much of her stuff as she could get, and made space on his dining room table for her to work. If she was going to be here longer than a day or two he'd have to take her to her parents' house so she could get one of her dummies. She had several at her office, but she could make do with one if she had to.
"When will Liz be home?" Claire asked.
"It sounds like she won't be."
"Is everything okay?"
"Yes, evidently Mary, Abby, and Liz decided they wanted to do a sleepover."
"Ah sure. So, her mom was calling to get your permission?"
"How do you feel about that?"
"I'm not sure. I'm still getting used to it. It's just been the last year or so sleepovers have been a thing for her. Until the end of fourth grade it was just after school or weekend day playing."
"Has she had a sleepover here?"
"No! I'm not equipped to deal with two girls."
She laughed softly. "Sure you are. You have a TV, an oven to cook pizza with, a refrigerator to keep pop in, and a bedroom of your own so they have privacy. That's all they need."
"I suppose. She's never asked, I think she knows it exceeds my area of comfort for now. I guess they haven't even left to come back here yet so since it was going to be late when they get back. Mary's mom just figured it'd be easier to bring her home tomorrow."
"Where'd they go?"
"They went up to Zion."
"Oh, nice. Has she been there before?"
"No," he said.
"She'll love it."
"If you say so."
"You haven't been?"
"No," he said.
He scoffed. "I haven't had a whole lot of time to go to beaches."
"There's always time once in a while, John."
"Well, when you have the state watching your every move for any indication they made a wrong decision you tend not to waste your time on things like that."
"But part of being a parent, or a guardian, is doing stuff with them, too."
"Does it seem like I do nothing with her? Keep her locked in her bedroom?"
"No," she shrugged. "That's not what I meant. Don't get mad at me."
"I'm not mad at you, but our lives are pretty different. They always have been. Going to the beach was probably no big deal to you."
"Yeah, you were pretty clear about that being a problem when you broke up with me. I get it. I'm not coming onto you, John. I'm just talking to you. You're doing a nice thing for me, I figured the least I could do is make conversation with you. I'll just go to the dining room and work then."
She stood from the table they'd been sitting at. He was having a beer, she was having a glass of wine. He'd stopped at a liquor store on the way back so she could buy a bottle. She figured she deserved a glass or two of wine after last night.
He grabbed her wrist before she could go far.
"Claire," he said.
"No, don't. I get it, okay. We were never friends to begin with. You were brutally honest about the fact you wanted nothing more to do with me. I guess I was foolish enough to think maybe now we could be, that whatever I did would be forgotten or at least forgiven eight years later. Forget it. I should've just gone to my parents'. At least there I'd be wanted."
"Come on," he said.
"No, just forget it. I don't know why I bothered trying. I'll get my things, you can take me to my parents' house and I'll be out of your way. Very likely out of your life unless you catch the asshole who's doing this. Then I guess you can pawn me off on your creepy partner so you once again don't have to deal with me any longer."
God, she was such an idiot! Why didn't she learn eight years ago that he would never do anything but hurt her? Who didn't like having someone to talk to? She thought maybe they could do that. Talk. Apparently, she'd underestimated him or overestimated her ability to hold a conversation with a cop.
She heard him in the other room as she worked on gathering her things up again. She just wanted to work! Evidently she wasn't even going to get to do that this weekend because some psycho decided to come after her.
"I'm not taking you to your parents' house," he said from behind her. He wasn't right behind her, more like in the doorway leading from the dining room into the living room.
"Fine. I'll call a cab," she said. "My brother might come get me if he's not on a date or something."
God, she was crying. Again! What was it with him being able to make her cry so unbelievably easy? She didn't get it. Why could he hurt her so deeply in a way no one else ever could?
He walked up behind her. She felt him there more than heard him.
"I don't want you to go."
"Maybe I want to go."
"John. I'm not going to stay where I'm not wanted. So either take me to my parents' house or give me the phone so I can call someone to come take me to my parents' house."
He grabbed onto her shoulder, turning her to face him. He saw the tears and he actually looked upset he'd caused them. She scolded herself for thinking that.
"This was the last thing I wanted to happen while you were here," he said.
"What? Making me cry? Quit being an asshole and saying mean things to me. I get that you don't like me. All right? I'm sure I'm the last person you want to be stuck with on a Saturday night. I'm sure you have girlfriends you could be out with since Liz is spending the night. You invited me to stay here!"
"No, that's not what I meant," he said. He tilted his head a bit, regarding her. "Though the crying bothers me." He slid a hand to her cheek, grazing his thumb along her skin there to brush the tears away there. "I didn't want to be alone with you."
"I didn't plan it! I didn't even know you didn't live alone when you brought me here."
"I know you didn't plan it. I suspect Lizzie may have, though."
"What?" she asked, thoroughly confused now. How could his sister have planned for her to be here?
"I don't hate you, Claire."
"Could've fooled me."
"I never hated you."
"And again, could've fooled me."
"I said what I needed to say to get you the fuck out of the absolute abysmal piece of chaotic shit that was my life."
"You should've given me the choice."
"I didn't want to drag you down with me."
"John," she said, shaking her head a little. He was confusing the crap out of her. Was she hearing him right? He was saying he'd broken up with her for her not because of her or any problem with her.
Her confusion quickly escalated to heart pounding chaos when he slanted his mouth over hers to kiss her. The hand at her cheek slid back a little, his fingertips touching her hair as he tilted her face up a bit so he could deepen the kiss. She absolutely, positively had no business responding but she couldn't stop herself any more than she could stop breathing.
He parted his lips first, but she was right behind him finding his tongue with hers. God, she wasn't even sure she remembered how to do this anymore, but as she always seemed to be with John she was completely out of control. He groaned softly as she nipped at his lower lip when they stopped kissing for a minute or two to take a deep breath. They didn't stop for long, though.
"I want to kill him myself," he whispered when they took another breath.
"What?" she asked. Had she missed a part of the conversation?
"The guy. For what he did to you. I mean, sure as a cop what he did to Sophie was terrible and I want to solve the crime. I had no emotional response to it, though. I can't. You know? As a cop, you can't let yourself get emotionally invested or it'll eat away at your soul. You, though. I saw you lying there and if he'd been in the room at that moment I'm pretty sure I would have been the next one to go on trial, but for assault or murder not rape."
"Why?" he asked. "Because it bothered the hell out of me that someone, anyone, would hurt you."
"You hurt me," she whispered.
"I know. I had to. I didn't want to. I didn't want to date anyone else. I certainly didn't want to go to prom with anyone else."
"But you did!"
"Claire, I was looking at living with my parents until Lizzie was old enough I could convince her to run away with me. Do you get that? I would have been absolutely no good for you, and my dad didn't seem to get as much satisfaction from wailing on me the last year or so. I was afraid to leave Lizzie alone any more than I had to. That included dates with you."
"You could have brought her along!"
"Right," he scoffed. "Real sure fire way to impress you. Not only did I not have a car of my own, relying on you to drive me around. But, oh yeah, do you mind going to see The Muppets instead of The Karate Kid? You probably would've really thought she was mine not just teased me about it."
"I wouldn't have."
"I know what you thought of me. What everyone thought of me. Knocking someone up when I was fourteen would've been right up my reputation's alley."
"I didn't think anything of you. Nothing bad."
"I know. That's why I had to do and say those things. I had to make good and sure you hated me."
"I did. You broke my heart."
"Believe it or not, mine too. I hadn't really gotten around to hating my parents' until then. You were the first good thing I could remember having."
"Don't apologize. I never thought I'd see you again. Then I saw you. Your mom looked vaguely familiar when she answered the door, but it'd been so long since I'd been back in Shermer before that day we came to talk to you. I saw you laid up like that, I wanted to leave."
"Because, damn it, that shouldn't have happened to you. I stood there wondering, you know. If I hadn't broken up with you would you have been out with Sophie that night."
"I'm fine, John. Really. A little freaked out right now, but I'm fine."
"I know you say that, but I also know that despite the bruises and things healing, outwardly you look all right. I know inside you're never fully right again when someone does that to you."
"What happened to me is totally different than what happened to you, John. They were your parents. It was just one time for me. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"I know," he whispered. "I hope you get to be a hell of a lot more fully right than I ever will be."
"I think you do fine. God, you're doing an incredible job with your sister. There are people, John, who wouldn't have thought twice about anything but getting out. You stayed for her. You took her out of there."
He shook his head. "Why do you do that?"
"Make me feel … Good."
"I don't know. You let me?"
He chuckled. "Don't go," he said.
"You want me to stay because you kissed me? I'm not sure that's going to solve anything."
"I kissed you? I think it was pretty mutual after the first few seconds."
She blushed and he shook his head a little at her before lowering his mouth to hers again. He slid his hand along her blouse, finding the buttons along the front he started working them close to her stomach so he could slide his hand inside there against her abdomen.
Her brain was telling her to stop him, to pull away and walk away. Her heart, though, was hammering in her chest, encouraging her to let him keep going.
His fingertips brushed along her skin, higher and she knew the instant the pads of his fingers met her bra at the underside of her breast that her heart was winning the argument.
"Why'd you choose my dad?" she whispered.
"My dad. Why'd you go to him?"
"I didn't know any other lawyers."
"But he's a criminal lawyer."
"I know, I figured if nothing else he could refer me. I knew, though, no matter how shitty I'd been to you if he happened to ask you about me you'd know I had a legitimate reason for needing him and wouldn't tell him I was a scumbag or clearly guilty of whatever crime I was needing his services to defend."
"I'm glad he could help you."
"He didn't charge me for the custody case."
"What?" she asked, surprised.
"He said he wanted the challenge, and well, when he saw the physical evidence I had he seemed all for getting Lizzie out of there."
"He did charge me for the adoption proceedings, though."
"Yeah, I had a probationary period, you know. Custody was granted to me, but I had to jump through hoops and walk the straight and narrow until the state deemed me fit. Home inspections any time of the day or night. They were able to go and talk to her at school any time to be sure I wasn't partying or having orgies in front of her."
"Once that was finished I went ahead and adopted her."
"Oh," she said.
"That bothers you for some reason?" he asked.
"No, I just didn't realize. So you really are her father."
"Well, on paper. I mean, yeah legally and everything. She knows I'm not and she doesn't call me dad. She certainly doesn't introduce me as her dad, but to her school and everything I am. I just didn't want my parents coming to their senses and deciding to challenge the custody decision."
"But you had the testimony."
"Sure, but they never touched her."
"Sure, because they had you!"
"I know that, you know that, and your dad knew that. Anyway, we didn't even have to go to court beyond making it official. Your dad caught them on a payday when they were drinking and drugging their paycheck away. They signed the papers. They didn't show up in court to contest it. Lizzie said she wanted to be adopted," he shrugged. "All tied up in a neat little bow. It took me a while to pay him, but he was nice and fair about it. I don't know where we'd be if it wasn't for him. The adoption wasn't important, getting her out of there was and as tempting as just taking her and running away with her was I didn't want that type of life for her."
"I understand," she whispered.
"So, it occurs to me I might be losing my touch," he said.
"I've got your blouse unbuttoned and my hand on parts of you that fit very nicely in my hand and you're talking to me about Lizzie."
She smirked, pushing on his chest a little. "Losing your touch, huh? That's not a real good phrase to use if you want your hand to stay there."
"I don't want it to stay there," he said, sliding his hand to her hips. He kissed her again. She gasped as he lifted her up, setting her on the table. He broke the kiss, letting his mouth drift lower to her neck. "Smell so good," he murmured, kissing her skin there.
"Thank you," she whispered.
"What is it, anyway?"
"The perfume. I wondered then, I wonder now."
"How do you know it's the same one?"
He chuckled, sliding his mouth lower along her chest to the swell of a breast. He kissed each one in turn.
"You'd be surprised what I remember about you, Claire Standish. Your perfume is just one of many things."
"Chanel No. 5."
"Ah, I should've known."
He shrugged, leaning up to kiss her on the lips again. "It suits you. Timeless, classic, elegant yet simple and pretty understated."
"You're a perfume expert?"
He shrugged. "No, it's just not one of those perfumes that you smell a mile away. It's there, but it's subtle."
"Thank you," she whispered.
He groaned, not sounding at all happy when the doorbell rang.
"I swear to God if Lizzie forgot her toothbrush and she's coming here for that I'm going to kill her."
Claire chuckled softly. "No you won't."
"All right. Myself?"
"I might join you," she said.
"Stay right there," he said, stepping away from her. "I'll be back."
"John, if it's Liz I can't be sitting on your dining room table."
"She has a key, she'd use it if it was her."
"Oh," she said, setting her hands at the edge of the table for support while John left the room. His dog followed him, which he seemed to do most of the time. She debated about what to do. If she stayed on the table she'd definitely be saying she wanted more. While kissing John was – very – enjoyable she wasn't altogether certain she should be doing it right now.
She wanted to believe everything he'd just said, but God he would know exactly what to say to get her to consent. She would have been out of her skirt and panties the day of detention if he hadn't said no.
She jumped off the table, fixing her skirt and blouse as she straightened her things on the table. She'd gotten most of them out of the way when she was putting them together to leave.
"Uh hi Cynthia. Is everything all right?"
"I'm sorry for dropping by unannounced, but I thought since Abby and Liz are spending the night at Mary's I could interest you in a drink or something."
Claire rolled her eyes, double checking she'd buttoned all of the buttons on her blouse again. As if she needed a reminder of why she shouldn't get involved with John she was overhearing one very huge reason.
"I appreciate the offer, but I already have plans for the night."
"Oh, well, it was worth a try. If they fall through, you can give me a call."
"Sure," he said. She heard the door shut and took a deep breath, preparing herself for him to come back into the room.
"You moved," he said.
"I did," she said, turning to face him.
"I thought I told you not to."
"You did," she shrugged.
"Sorry about that," he said.
"One of your girlfriends?"
"No," he said.
"It sounded that way."
"I'm sure it did. It's not that way, though. I don't date the mothers of Lizzie's friends."
"You don't have to explain yourself to me."
"Clearly I do. You're all put back together and everything."
"Yeah. I wasn't going to have her come in here and see me half naked."
"I wanted to come in here and see you half naked."
"Sorry to disappoint you."
"Somehow I don't think you mean that."
He closed the distance between them.
"Are you still mad at me?"
"I don't know, John."
"You still want me to take you to your parents' house? If you really want to go there, I'll take you."
"No," she said. "Just quit being an ass to me."
"I'm not trying to be, not really. You have to understand, you're part of a case, Claire. You're a witness and will probably be called to testify if and when we catch the guy. Getting involved with you is not wise."
"Sorry to be an inconvenience."
"Quit with the attitude. I'm just trying to follow the rules, the rules that say not to get involved with you."
"But I can stay here?"
"If you have somewhere more anonymous to stay than your parents' house I'm willing to hear you out."
"Not really. My brother's, but that's probably the same situation."
"I'm not going to endanger any of my friends."
"Well then. They can't fault me for protecting you. Kissing you they could probably find fault with."
"Really? They can control what you do in the privacy of your own home?"
"Well, no, that's why I kissed you here."
"When Liz wasn't home."
"Yes," he said cautiously.
She sighed softly.
"I'm not mad."
"When this is over…"
"What if it doesn't end? What if you don't catch him? What if you do, but he gets off for some reason?"
"I don't know. That's a lot of what ifs, Claire."
"Well, it's something to think about."
He closed the distance between them. "We will catch him. We will find him and prosecute him."
"Unless someone like my dad gets him off."
"There is always that possibility. It's the way the system works. It's not perfect."
He leaned in to kiss her again, but she pushed on his chest.
"No, don't. I can't do that. I can't kiss you and then pretend in front of everyone else I feel nothing for you."
"All right," he agreed, stepping away a bit. His dog was standing off to the side sort of in between them, looking a little bewildered. John patted his head and he let out a soft bark.
"Does he ever really bark?"
"No. Well, yes, if someone were to come to the backdoor or try to get in through the garage."
"You come in through the garage."
"Sure. He knows what Lizzie and I sound and smell like."
"He's beautiful," she said.
"Thank you. He was a K-9 dog, but got injured on the job. His handler works in narcotics and needed to replace him. So, I took him in. Lizzie wanted a puppy, but I just don't have the time to train one right now. He's not aggressive, unless someone were to come in here with drugs on them."
"I'll leave them at home then."
He chuckled. "Good idea."
"How old is he?"
"A little over two."
"He is. Someone did something with their load of drugs that messed up his sense of smell. To this point, it seems permanent."
"Poor thing," she said.
"Well, he's good for us. Lizzie feels better having him around. And, well, it gives me something to do."
"Can you have pets?"
"I can. I don't because of my hours."
"I suppose. You should look into getting something. Even a small dog is better than no dog."
"Are you going to come walk it?"
"You're the boss, bring it to work with you."
"I'll think about it," she said.
"So, spending the night making out is apparently out of the question."
"I'd say so."
"You could call Cynthia back and take her up on her offer."
"I could, but I don't want to."
"What do you want to do?"
He chuckled. "I'd like to resume where we left off. It was just getting good."
"Show me what you're working on."
He gestured to the things on the table.
"Explain it in basic terms, but show me."
"That's what you want to do?"
"Sure. How often will I get the chance to listen to this moment's IT designer talk about her process?"
"I'm not the IT designer."
"Being humble suits you. You and I both know you're in a very good position right now. So, show me."
"Okay, well," she said, deciding where to start and wondering when he'd nod off from boredom.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com