Late night calls to crime scenes were probably John's least favorite part of the job. He didn't mind getting woken up or having to go out to a crime scene at all sorts of crazy hours. He just hated the phone calls, because it meant something had happened to someone.
Tonight the call had been about Sophie and Claire's attacker. He wouldn't have been called ordinarily, but as he and Wayne had been working the case they were called.
He knocked on Claire's door, hating to wake her because he knew she hadn't been sleeping well. He'd heard her cry out in her sleep more than once the week she'd been staying with him. He didn't mention it because he didn't want to embarrass her, and well clearly if she wanted to talk about it she would.
They hadn't been alone since last Saturday, hadn't kissed since then either. He suspected she didn't want to and he wasn't going to push her. For all he knew she had a boyfriend somewhere, but she hadn't kissed him as if that was the case. And if he was her boyfriend, he wouldn't let her out of his sight until this moron was caught. Then, John was perhaps weird that way, he wasn't sure.
He closed his eyes when she opened the door, counting to ten in his head before opening them again. Of course she was sleeping and so would be wearing something to sleep in, but he really, really didn't need the visual of her standing there half naked right now.
"Is everything okay?"
"Yeah, he's apparently struck again."
"What?" she asked, sounding confused.
"Yeah, I don't know. Maybe it's not him because unlike you and Sophie this one was left for dead, but someone found her before that could actually happen. Wayne and I are going to check it out."
"Okay," she said.
"Do me a favor, okay?"
"I can try," she said.
"Don't leave the house until I get back."
"Well, that's easy because I don't have a car anyway."
"I know, but don't call your parents, brother, or any friends asking them to come get you or anything else that might lead him here."
"Just don't, okay? I'll feel much better believing you've dropped off his radar."
"I can't stay here forever."
He kind of liked the idea of her staying here forever, but it was pretty clear she had things other than a relationship with him on her mind.
"I know," he said.
The cops had cleared her condo and he'd gone with her so she could see to the living room getting painted and an alarm being installed. He wasn't letting her go back there yet, though.
"I'll leave some money on the counter if you or Lizzie need anything from Jewel or something, but otherwise just order a pizza."
"You have food here. I can make her something to eat, too. I'm perfectly capable of doing that."
"Okay, that'd be nice of you."
"I have to go."
"I always am. I'll see you later. Go back to sleep."
"Yeah, well, try for the both of us."
"Oh, hey, I just did but if you could let Lofton out again later, that'd be great."
"Sure. He'll let me know when he needs to go out again?"
"Yes. You'll know."
He left then, pretty sure the image of her standing there in just a shirt wasn't going to leave his mind anytime soon. Oh, sure, she probably had panties on underneath it, but he had no problem telling she hadn't fallen asleep with her bra on. It was a very nice albeit probably inappropriate thing to think of as he was driving to a rape scene, but it sure beat thinking about what he was going to see when he got there.
"That's not right," he heard Lizzie say as he walked in from the garage. He silenced Lofton, stooping down to eye level with him and petting him as he listened.
"Why not?" Claire asked.
"Because she looks pink," Lizzie said.
"Well, maybe she is pink," Claire said.
"But people aren't pink," his sister said.
"Well, no, obviously, but you can fix that easily enough," Claire said. "You shouldn't let something like the skin color get in your way if you're in a good place."
"How can you fix it?" John could hear the frustration in her voice and he wondered what in the hell they were doing.
"Well, see, here," Claire said. There was a couple of minutes of silence. "There. Now it's not so pink."
"My friend Abby would be so jealous of me right now." Lizzie said.
"Why's that?" Claire asked.
"Because you're, like, showing me stuff. It's so cool. She loved your dress."
"I'm glad," Claire said. "I'd love to meet her."
"Are you married?" Lizzie asked.
"No," Claire said simply.
Claire laughed. He wasn't sure why the question was funny, John found himself curious as to the answer as well as Lizzie was. There wasn't anything wrong with her, far less now than there had been in high school and even then he'd been pretty hard-pressed to find anything truly wrong. Girls that age were supposed to be into themselves, John was coming to learn that dealing with some of Lizzie's friends who had older sisters.
"I'm not sure, really. I mean first I need to find someone I want to marry I guess. I assume that's how it works."
"You haven't even met anyone you want to marry?"
"Nope," Claire said.
"I don't get that. You're beautiful, though, and so smart and talented."
"I'm not any of those things, but thank you for thinking so."
"You are! People who aren't talented don't get their picture on People."
"I think some probably do. Like Vanilla Ice? Do you remember him?"
Lizzie gave a soft laugh. "Yeah, okay, I guess you might be right."
"I was just lucky."
"What do you mean?"
"My friend knew the girls that were going to the awards show. They didn't have a lot of money because they'd put everything into the album that they got nominated for. We made a deal. They got to keep the gowns. I have to admit, I think I kind of made out better on the deal."
"Can you remember who was wearing the dress?"
Lizzie was quiet for a minute. John honestly couldn't remember either. He could picture her, sure, because he'd looked at the picture more than a few times over the past few months. He'd debated about calling her, in fact, when he found out through the brief write-up about her that she was still in Chicago. He hadn't known, assuming she'd moved to New York, LA, or somewhere more on the cutting edge of the fashion world than Chicago was known for being.
"No," Lizzie admitted.
"Not that people know me either, don't get me wrong. I'm not stupid enough to think anyone would recognize me or anything, but they remember the dresses not the girls wearing them. We all got our fifteen minutes of fame, I'm just going to get further from it than they are. I hope so anyway."
"It's a lot of work," Lizzie said.
"It is, and I'm nowhere near being finished."
"When did you start drawing?"
"I can't remember a time I didn't draw. I was always drawing. My parents' refrigerator was covered with my artwork before I ever went to Kindergarten."
"I'm not very good," Lizzie said.
"You do fine. Practice and you'll get better if it's something you want to do. Here," Claire said. Another few minutes of silence.
"This was one of my first designs."
"Pretty ugly, right?"
"A little," Lizzie said.
Both of them laughed.
"I keep it to remind myself of where I came from. I was maybe a little older than you when I did that. In my thirteen-year-old mind it was perfect, but when I tried to get it to work I couldn't. I've come so far, but if I'd assumed because of this that I didn't have what it took to create things. Well, I wouldn't be putting things together for Fashion Week."
"I'm sorry you can't go to work."
"Me, too," Claire said.
"I'll be honest. I don't spend a lot of time there, at least not lately. I go there to sleep a few hours every night and go right back to work."
"You sleep more here," Lizzie said. John had noticed that, too.
"I guess I do. I really need to find somewhere to have my things moved if your brother thinks I shouldn't go back to my office. That's why I sleep more I think, I don't have all of my equipment, and it's so much easier when I'm alone."
"Where are you going?" Claire asked.
"To my room."
"Why?" Claire asked.
"I don't mean to bother you."
"Liz, you're not bothering me. That's not at all what I meant."
"Are you sure?"
"Positive. This is fun. It's been so long since I've drawn just to draw. First I had those dresses for the GRAMMY's to do, and now Fashion Week. I'll make a deal with you."
"What?" Liz asked.
"You come up with an idea that I think will really work and your brother won't hate me for you wearing it, we'll make it."
"It'll be fun. There must be something you could wear a dress for in sixth grade."
Lofton let out a small sound of protest when John got up to head toward where they were. The dog was fast on his heels. It was odd to him how loyal the dog was because he'd never experienced loyalty in any form other than from Lizzie. It was different, though really he guessed not so much because both of them depended on him.
"Hey," he said, regarding them. His dining room table looked like a tornado struck. Paper, fabric, colored pencils, and he wasn't even sure what all else was strewn all over.
"Hi, John," Lizzie said.
"What do you have all over your face?"
"Just some makeup."
He glanced at Claire. "Really? Makeup? She's eleven."
"She was watching me get ready. It's just blush and eyeliner. It'll wash off."
"Yeah, you go wash your face," he said to Lizzie. "You come with me," he said to Claire.
"John," Claire said. "It's no big deal."
"She knows my rules. She's too young."
"I wasn't going to go anywhere with it on," Liz said.
"She told me your rules. I made her promise me if she left later she'd wash it off."
"That's sort of splitting hairs, isn't it? Makeup is makeup."
"She was curious, that's all. She said she's never seen anyone put it on. No one is going to see her."
"I saw her."
Claire sighed softly. "I'm sorry. I didn't think it would be a big deal as long as she washed it off."
"You still need to come with me," he said.
"I already said I'm sorry. What more do you want?"
"Just please come with me," he said. He walked to the backdoor with Lofton next to him, opening it. "Lizzie, wash your face."
"What is your issue? It was eyeliner. It's not going to hurt her, and I don't think she's going to start sleeping around with guys or anything because she wore it for a couple of hours."
"That's not why I asked you to come out here," he said.
"Okay," she said.
"Come here," he said.
"If you're going to yell at me, I'd rather not."
"I'm not yelling at you," he said.
"You look like you're going to yell at me."
"Would you just come here?"
"Jesus, are you always this difficult?"
"I'm not trying to be."
"Well, you do an outstanding job of it naturally then, it seems," he said, closing the distance between them.
"John," she said when he slid his arms around her.
"See, not yelling," he quipped before kissing her.
She pushed him away.
"I told you I can't do that. Nothing's changed."
"I'm glad you're all right," he said, unwilling to let go of her even if he stopped kissing her.
"Of course I'm fine. We didn't go anywhere just like you asked me not to."
"I'm glad, thank you. I just meant in general. I'm glad he didn't really hurt you."
"Oh," she said. "Is she going to be all right?"
"Too soon to tell, they seem to think so. I do need to tell you something I shouldn't tell you."
"Just stand right here. I'd rather Lizzie look out here and think I'm unsuccessfully trying to kiss you then hear what I'm about to say."
"I'm not going anywhere," she said.
"First of all, the hospital checked you out, right?"
"I didn't stop at the station before coming back home, so I can't remember. They did a rape kit on you, right?"
"Yes," she said. "I didn't want them to because he didn't do anything like that to me."
"You were awake the whole time? You didn't pass out or faint or anything?"
"No," she said. "They didn't believe me, I don't think. That's why they did one anyway, I guess."
"Sophie needs to go to a doctor."
"You absolutely did not hear this from me, you understand. I could get in vast amounts of trouble, because the whole innocent until proven guilty thing is taken pretty seriously. He has rights, just the same as Sophie, you, and this woman from tonight do."
"I get it."
"Please just tell her to go to a doctor and get checked out for anything that may not have shown up the night of the attack. And, if you have any doubt…"
"But he didn't…"
"I can't make you, but you'd probably feel better to be certain for the sake of anyone you've been with since that night."
"Anyone I've been with?"
"So, he has something? Is that what you're telling me?"
"I'm not telling you anything. You understand me?"
"Yes," she said.
"Just be a good friend to Sophie and suggest she get looked at. You know?"
"I will," she said.
"How is she, by the way?"
He stepped away then. He didn't care who heard the rest of their conversation.
"She's all right. I haven't seen her in a couple of weeks, but I talked to her the other morning while you were at work."
"She's getting counseling?"
"No, I'm fine. My work is my therapy."
"About that," he said.
"Oh God, now you're going to tell me I can't even work, aren't you?"
He chuckled. "No, I wouldn't do that to you. I heard you talking to Lizzie when I came in. That was nice what you did, offer to help her make something."
"I wasn't doing it to be nice, John. She was truly excited to draw some things. Anyone with that much enthusiasm at least deserves the chance to explore it."
"Well, thank you just the same."
"You're welcome. Don't get mad at her about the makeup. She did tell me your rules, so it's my fault for disregarding them. I just didn't think you'd get mad about some eyeliner that washes right off."
"I wasn't that mad, it just gave me an excuse to send her away from us for a few minutes."
"Oh," Claire said, sounding relieved.
"However, if you make her up to look like a streetwalker I will not be happy."
Claire chuckled softly. "I wouldn't do that for a streetwalker, so you don't have to worry."
"Yeah, I remember that about you."
"Are you okay?"
"How do you mean?"
"I don't know what you saw or anything, but are you okay?"
He shrugged, whistling for Lofton who ran toward them.
"Do you have any of that wine left?"
"I have some, yes. Why?" She regarded him then. "You're going to drink my wine?"
He chuckled. "No, but I could go for a beer if you were of the mind to join me."
"The last time we did that you kissed me."
"I can't deny I wouldn't love to do that again, but not with Lizzie here."
"You just did."
He snorted. "That wasn't the type of kiss I want to do again with you."
"You're the one who said you shouldn't get involved with me."
"I said right now, that's not the same as not getting involved with you at all. Besides, we were already involved."
"Why aren't you married?"
"Lizzie asked you if you were married."
"You were listening?"
"Sure," he shrugged. He wasn't going to apologize for wondering what they might talk about while he was gone. "Call me protective. I had the chance to eavesdrop, I did."
"Don't worry, I wouldn't tell her any stories about you."
"Actually, I wouldn't worry about that anyway. I may not be entirely forthcoming with her about everything, but I don't lie to her either. If she asks a question I answer it as honestly as I can. So, why aren't you married?"
"I have no time. Running a start-up isn't easy. My parents' have been helpful for sure and I've gotten some accounts with boutique type stores in the city and some outlying suburbs so I have money coming in and everything. It's a lot of time, though. I'm always on the go, trying to find stores willing to carry my items. At first it was just me. You know? I was my designer, secretary, and janitor. Eventually, I got temp help, someone to answer the phones and file once in a while. I'm still pretty much my own janitor, though."
"You've done well, obviously."
"I agree with her, though. You're pretty, smart, and talented. Any guy in their right mind wouldn't mind being squeezed into your busy schedule."
"I guess I don't know any in their right mind then."
"I could ask you the same question."
"I've found very few women who are completely understanding about Lizzie. They try to be. First impression, of course, is that I'm her dad and if they think that they think I'm a loser. They say they are, understanding I mean, but I think between the danger that comes with being a cop and realizing that I've been a dad essentially since I was barely older than a kid myself they find reasons to move on."
"You mean they don't like what you're doing for your sister?"
He shrugged. "I don't know if it's that. I mean, I don't tell them why I have custody of her. I'm not a moron. If I was laying that shit on them I'd expect them to run in the other direction, too. I don't know, I can't pretend to understand the minds of women."
"Yet the one that came here last week wants to date you. I assume she's the one Lizzie was saying asks about you all of the time."
"Cynthia? Yeah, I think so, I don't know. I haven't really paid attention when she's mentioned it. I already told you, I don't date the moms of Lizzie's friends."
"Did you ever?"
He sighed. "A couple of times in the beginning and she lost friends because of it."
"What? That's terrible! Why would anyone do that?"
"Oh, you know, we stopped dating or one date didn't turn into more. Either way, feelings got hurt or I was all of the sudden a bastard and suddenly Lizzie isn't invited to so and so's birthday party or whatever."
"I didn't do it very many times. I was in college, you know. And it was a new thing for me, women wanting to be with me."
"I wanted to be with you."
"I know you did, Claire. We both know I wouldn't have done you any good. You'd have gone to college and I would have been a burden, something back home weighing you down. You were talking about doing all of these things that I couldn't afford to do."
"I would've paid."
"Yeah, just what every guy wants to ensure even footing. You drove us everywhere, I was supposed to let you pay for everything, too? Anyway, I learned quickly and stopped that right away. She switched schools and day cares when we moved in here anyway so there was no permanent damage. I've been too busy to worry about it."
"You know, people would probably tell you worrying about Lizzie and only her isn't good for you."
"Yeah, well, people would probably say the same thing about you."
"Yes, except she sees that you're doing it and probably feels a little guilty."
"As if she'd tell you," Claire said.
"Are you applying for the job?"
"Of what? Dating you?"
"Sure, why not?"
"We tried that once, it didn't work so well."
"Yeah, in high school when you had everything and I had nothing."
"Really, we're talking about this now? You just told me last week we shouldn't be involved."
He shrugged. "If it weren't for that, would your answer be no?"
"My answer would be I'm super busy and on a tight schedule that's already gotten tighter."
"You have to eat and sleep."
"Well, sure, I usually eat at the office."
"Every meal of the day?"
"Breakfast and lunch. I may pick them up and bring them with me, but I usually eat there. Dinner," she shrugged. "Sometimes I don't eat dinner."
"Yeah, I sensed that was the case. That's not good for you, you know? It's a good way to get sick."
"Now you're worried I'm going to get sick?"
"Worried? No, just saying. Certainly if I was dating you I'd worry and I'd be sure you ate and slept more than you do."
"How would you do that?"
"I'm not sure, when I figure it out I'll let you know."
"I can't date you, John."
"You said we shouldn't."
"I shouldn't do lots of things."
"I'm not going to compromise being able to prosecute him if he's caught."
"When he's caught," John said.
"If you say so."
"Let's start small then."
"My partner and my captain know you're staying with me. I explained that I wanted you safe, they agree that being somewhere not obviously connected to you is best. Who the hell is going to think I dated you back in high school?"
"I have the day off."
"Let's go to a movie."
"We can't do that."
"You can't leave Lizzie here or pawn her off on a friend to go see a movie with me."
"I wasn't planning on doing either."
"I figured we could take her with us. A date but not. We've never been out of my house together. Call it a test run. If we're at each other's throats at dinner afterward then we'll know."
"You know, I really do have work to do."
"It's a few hours. I won't bother you for the rest of the weekend."
"Somehow I doubt that if I agree to this."
"A little," she said, surprising him with the answer.
"I don't want to get hurt again, John. I really don't. What's to stop you from changing your mind again? Our lives are still pretty different. I'm going to New York and I'll have parties, dinners, interviews, and people to meet, and if things go well I'll be incredibly busy when I get back. My world may not be my parents' world anymore, but it's still different than what you're accustomed to."
"I'm not that guy, Princess."
"I'm better equipped to handle it. I can actually buy a woman like you wanting to be with me, something then I had a hard time believing I wasn't more of a curiosity. A fuck you to your parents even maybe. I never could figure it out."
"You weren't any of those things. I genuinely liked you."
"Do you still?"
"John," she said.
"Give me a chance to prove it. I don't convince you, fine. When this case is over I won't bother you again."
"This is a bad idea."
"It's a movie."
"He must live around here," she said.
"That's why I was figuring we'd go somewhere else."
"Fine," she said.
He smiled then.
"I'm only agreeing to seeing a movie with you and your sister. Nothing more."
"I'm not sure what more you think you'd be agreeing to."
"I'm not agreeing to dating you, kissing you, or having sex with you."
"I don't think I'd mentioned the last thing once."
"No, but it's a logical assumption if you want to date me and we're in the same house together."
"I don't do that."
She looked puzzled at that. "Do what?"
"Uh, with Lizzie in the house. I don't do that."
"Oh," she said. "Well, then I guess I don't have to worry about that happening so that's good."
"Wow, that's good?"
"That's perhaps another conversation at another time. Let's go check the paper for what's playing before Lizzie thinks we are doing that out here."
"She has left us along for an awful long time."
"I told you last weekend, I think that sleepover was a setup."
"Her eleven-year-old attempt at playing matchmaker." He shrugged. "She knows we dated in high school."
"How in the world did that come up?"
"That day you showed up at our house to give me the information because Wayne was hitting on you."
"Yeah, I remember."
"She recognized you."
He pulled out his wallet, reaching into the little pocket that was in there. He pulled out the picture she'd given him years ago. It was her senior picture, something John had not had done. He wouldn't have had anyone to give pictures to even if he had been able to afford such a luxury.
"She saw this while looking for lunch money I guess. She know I usually keep a twenty stashed in my wallet in case of emergencies."
"You still have that?"
She took hold of it, glancing at the back.
The words were pretty faded, but he had them memorized so he didn't need to see them to remember she'd written she loved him.
"God, were we really that young?"
She handed the photo back to him. He glanced at the picture, not really having looked at it in a while. He wondered who else she'd told she loved between then and now.
"Why do you still have that?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. Why not?"
"I remember what your wallet looked like the day we met. All those pictures."
"We knew one another before that day, Claire."
"You know what I mean."
She shrugged. "I honestly figured you'd tear up any reminder of me."
"Why would I do that? You were the only good thing I ever experienced."
"I'm glad," she said.
He slid the picture back into its spot. "Lizzie is the reason I've done everything I've done, but you – the idea that maybe there was something good out there for me – has been the reason I haven't ever given up."
"I'm glad you haven't. For Lizzie's sake. I can't imagine what she'd be like if she lived with your parents."
"I don't even want to think about it. She's never going to be as big as I am, certainly not as strong so she wouldn't have ever been able to fight back."
He shrugged. "Sometimes. For a while. Until I realized if I did he'd probably start going after her, so I stopped."
"I'm so sorry. I, God, if there'd been something I could have done."
"I did what I had to do. If I'd known we wouldn't have been separated or if she wouldn't have been returned to them once they completed some parenting classes or something I might have done things differently. Mrs. Schultz couldn't make any guarantees."
"I'm glad you had her to talk to at least."
"Me, too. She was pretty all right."
"You still want to see a movie?"
"God, yes, anything to stop talking about this shit."
She laughed softly. "Okay then. You'd better make it a good movie."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com