"There. You're all buttoned up and while it's been a while since I've braided your hair I think it's pretty good. You haven't wanted me to do that since like third grade."
"Thank you," she said.
"You look very nice."
"I feel very weird," Liz said.
"Why? You look fine, aside from the cast on your arm anyway," John said.
"Very funny," she said. "I feel like I should just stay here and go with you when you're done with work."
"Claire's parents' invited both of us, not just me with you added on as an afterthought. Claire offered to pick you up and bring you with her so you're not sitting here by yourself all day."
"Only because they feel sorry for me."
"No, that's not it at all. They invited you because they are decent people and want you to have somewhere to be while I have to work. I'll be over there as soon as I'm done."
He hadn't really asked her how she felt about going. The invitation had been made and he'd accepted. He did so assuming she'd be excited at the idea of spending Thanksgiving with people. A family. The way Thanksgiving was supposed to be spent, and something they'd never had before since it'd always just been the two of them.
"Listen," he said with a sigh. "If you really don't want to go we can stay here. I can bring home a pizza or something when I'm done with work."
"You'd do that?"
"If you really don't want to go that badly, sure. It'd be incredibly rude because they invited us and we accepted. Claire probably wouldn't be real happy with me, but she'd probably get over it. I'm not trying to make you do something, Lizzie. On the other hand, chances are they're going to be in our lives for a pretty long time so you may as well get to know them."
She sighed softly.
"No, I don't want to be rude or have Claire mad at either of us or anything. I just… We've never done formal Thanksgiving."
"I know. You don't think I'm nervous? That I'm totally not looking forward to it or not worried I'm going to mess up somehow? I'm the potential future son-in-law and a cop. I have no clue what I'm going to do or what they're going to think of me when they actually sit down for a few hours with me. Never mind that they know she's planning on moving in here whenever her condo sells."
"I know. I'm sorry," she said. "It doesn't help that I can't wear the dress I wanted to because I couldn't get my arm through the sleeve."
He leaned in and gave her a kiss. "You look nice just like that. They're going to love you, kiddo."
"I'd just feel better if you were there with me."
"Claire's not going to leave you alone. Her brother's going to be there, too. It'll be fine. It's better than sitting here."
"I guess," she said.
"Her parents' aren't bad people, Lizzie. I wouldn't do that to you."
"Yeah, but I've heard you two talking…"
"You've overheard what are supposed to be private conversations because we knew one another in high school. We know things about one another, our pasts, and things about those pasts that may concern us about being adults and one day parents. We talk. No one's parents are perfect, Liz. Hers were no exception. They were good to her, provided for her, obviously look at what she's doing with her life. They just had some issues. Everyone has issues. No marriage is perfect, no matter what it may seem like to you and me watching a couple. They're not evil or anything."
"Unlike ours, you mean?"
"Ours aren't evil either. They were just crappy parents and should never have been allowed to reproduce once let alone twice. Maybe they are decent people to their friends. I don't know. I've never wanted to find out what they're like outside of the house because I found out enough about them not to care."
"You don't ever want to know?"
"No," he said. "Look at it this way. They could contact me through Claire's dad, our lawyer, if they really wanted to. His name is on all of the documents for both proceedings. The state case worker who was in our lives for two years would be an option, too. Even if he's not there anymore I bet our file still is. It's only been five years since it was all closed. I bet they keep that stuff for decades. Yet they haven't. Not once. They've made no effort. They haven't looked me up and said ‘Hey, John, here's some money for Lizzie's birthday or Christmas'. They don't want to. They don't care. They're free to do as they please. It's just how they are and you are better off."
"Would you tell me?"
"Probably not," he said. "Not until you're older. And I wouldn't take their money either."
"At least you're honest."
"Nothing good would come out of that, Lizzie."
"I know that," she said.
"But you're still curious?"
"I don't even remember them. Someone asked me what they looked like and I had no clue."
"Well, I am your dad legally so what does it matter? Why are you talking to your friends about them anyway? If it makes you feel less weird, tell them I'm your dad. I don't really care."
"Except people know you're not really my dad. I call you John first of all and you're too young."
"You're too young," she said again and he chuckled a little at that.
"I think I'm too young, too, but I also want you to fit in and be comfortable."
"It wouldn't help because I'd still have questions to answer about where my mom was."
"Yeah, that gets complicated since you legally don't have one."
"See? I'm a freak."
"You're not a freak. You're better off where you are. Does it matter what they look like? Really? I mean, you have their genes. I don't think you look like either of them personally."
That wasn't exactly true. He saw a lot of their mom in her and since he'd been told by more than one person she looked like John he imagined that meant he looked like their mom, too. The mom he'd seen only faded pictures of in a shoebox he'd found by mistake one day when he'd been looking for her stash of weed before he'd been in a position to get his own. He'd looked through the box amazed that the girl in the old photographs could be her. He wasn't sure if it was his dad or something leading up to her being with his old man, but he'd never thought of his mom as beautiful before. She'd been a head-turner, Lizzie was going to be, too, and he dreaded that day coming wholeheartedly.
She sighed softly. "I just feel so weird some days."
"You'd feel weirder living in their house, trust me. And you think your friends ask you harsh questions now, you don't know the half of it."
"Listen, I'm sorry. I'm sorry if this year is difficult on you because you're at a new school with people who didn't know you before so it's not just a given you don't live with them. It is what it is. Your parents were crappy. Your big brother adopted you so you wouldn't be treated crappily. There is no other explanation necessary."
"Lizzie, I'm done talking about this today. It's Thanksgiving. We're going to have a nice time at Claire's parents' house. I don't want to go to work in a bad mood thinking about things I'd really rather not think about today. Can you just trust me and listen to me when I tell you that you're better off here with me as things are?"
"I do. I know. I'm not stupid, you know. I don't remember much about them because I was four, but I remember going to court with you. The things you said. The questions the judge asked me. It had to have been bad if you got custody of me."
"You never talk about it."
"Because it's not my place to talk about it. They never did anything to you so I'm not going to taint your mind with ideas that they're John Wayne Gacy or something. They sucked as parents'. We got out. They never touched you. I made sure of that. Simple enough. Now what else do you need help with before I go?"
"All right. Well, Claire will be here within the hour."
"I know, she was running late."
Her running late was the reason John got stuck braiding her hair. Claire had told Lizzie she'd French braid her hair, which was the reason she hadn't done anything with it as she normally did. French braids exceeded John's knowledge when it came to doing girls' hair. Abby's mom had tried to teach him once, but his fingers just weren't nimble enough he guessed to do it.
"Not because she was working. Her power went out and she overslept."
"I know, you told me. I'm glad she isn't working as much."
"Me, too, but I don't think there's such a thing as not working for her. I think even when she's sitting here with us eating dinner or watching TV she's still thinking about something."
"Yeah? You think so?"
"Sure. I can see it when she sees something that interests her. It's so obvious."
John chuckled at that a little.
"It is," he agreed.
He knew the look Lizzie was talking about well. He could always tell when Claire's mind had wandered to places John would likely never understand. There were times that he wondered if he could even compete with those moments and the thoughts in her mind those moments produced. He'd heard the phrase about someone being in their element. He'd never seen it applied to someone so completely before. It was a little frightening for him because as well as things were going for them he kept waiting for her to change her mind and say she was just kidding or something. She'd done such a complete about-face in such a short timespan that he really couldn't be sure what was driving her. If it was exhaustion, when this was all done with and she was caught up (for the moment) would she wonder what she'd done?
Her dad had a friend who was a realtor who was trying to sell her place as quickly as he could. Today was the twenty-sixth and tomorrow was a legal holiday, so he was betting it wouldn't happen before January first if it was going to happen at all before the lease on her office space was up in February. She'd already started moving stuff in here and spending the weekend here instead of him going to her since Liz's accident. She planned on using this weekend to move everything to his place she needed and then spending an hour or so there every day afterward packing stuff up. He imagined by Christmas she'd be paying on a condo she didn't even stay at anymore that contained boxes of packed stuff and nothing else.
"You really think you're going to marry her?"
"If she agrees to marry me when we get to that point. Are you all right with that?"
"Why wouldn't I be?"
"I don't know. It's just been the two of us for so long."
"I know that's not normal. Besides you like her so you should marry her."
"I more than like her, and I've done what's best for you."
"I know," she said.
"So, now for my question. How do I look?"
"You look fine. Why?"
"It's a new suit."
"Oh, I didn't even notice."
"I'm not sure I should be upset about that or not. This one cost me about twice as much as probably most of my suits put together."
"Hmm. She took you shopping?"
"Yes," he said with a sigh and Lizzie laughed at him. "Don't ever get involved with someone who deals with rich people and celebrity types."
"You're dating someone rich and possibly famous who is going to be living here soon."
"Yeah, well, do as I say not as I do. Isn't that the saying? And don't remind me."
"You wouldn't want her to be famous?"
"I want her to be more famous than Calvin Klein ever was. I can't say I don't dread the things I'd have to do with her as her boyfriend or husband, but I'm just more comfortable in jeans than a tuxedo." He kissed her on the forehead. "I have to go or I'm never going to get to her house later."
"Be good and if her parents' are making you uncomfortable, tell her. She'll figure out a way to get you away from them for a while. She understands this is new for both of us."
"You at least know how to get along with your friends' parents. I don't have that."
"You should have more friends."
"I've been kind of busy making sure I don't lose you. Besides Pete is a pretty good friend. I just don't make them easily."
"You don't trust people easily, you mean."
"Yeah," he said.
"That's not just because you're a cop either, is it?"
"No, it's because of how I grew up, knowing people can be two-faced. I hope I've given you the chance not to be as skeptical as I am of everyone. You have friends anyway."
"You like Sophie."
"Well, sure I do. She's a nice woman. I feel bad what happened to her."
"But glad what happened to her didn't happen to Claire."
"What makes you say that?"
She shrugged. "I can sort of see it in your eyes when the two of them are here. You look at Claire… I can't describe it. Just relieved."
"Yeah, I am, because I'm not sure anyone ever truly recovers from that. I guess I'm grateful in a way because if it hadn't happened we wouldn't be here today. I'm sorry it happened to her, though."
"I know," she said.
"Okay, don't forget the wine and the flower thing."
"It's a plant, John."
"Yeah, yeah, don't forget it whatever it is."
"Okay. Be good."
They were set to eat dinner at six o'clock. He got there at about five thirty. Traffic wasn't bad, but as he and Wayne were one of only two pairs of detectives on duty work was a little busier than usual. No one got murdered, shot, or anything else so John considered it a good day. Tonight might be a different story for those on duty. When he and Pete worked as officers they were called to more domestic dispute case on holidays over the years. Too much liquor, too much so-called quality time with family members that people didn't get along with, and a time of year some people just weren't overly fond of didn't make a good mix for some people.
As it was, John had something to look forward to on Thanksgiving for the first time in his life. He'd always cooked Cornish game hens with all of the trimmings for him and Lizzie, so it wasn't as if they didn't get a nice sit-down meal the same as every other American out there. Theirs just didn't have the pomp and circumstance others' probably had. And he did it for her not out of any sense of nostalgia or tradition. He didn't want her going to school the Monday following Thanksgiving telling her friends or teachers that she'd had pizza or Chinese takeout for dinner.
Wayne had given him crap about his suit more than once. Until he got a phone call and John discovered that he wasn't the only one having Thanksgiving dinner with someone. Wayne got quiet real quick about John's new clothes after that. Eight months they'd been working together and John had never heard of his partner going out more than once with the same woman until recently. Here he was sharing Thanksgiving dinner with one. Never mind the years before John made detective and he dealt with Wayne when cases required their paths to cross.
John about had a heart attack when he saw the price tag on the finished suit. Evidently, the tailor was someone who knew Claire because despite the panic-worthy price it was supposedly a deal. He couldn't deny it was a damned fine suit, but he hoped he didn't have to buy too many more of them for things he had to go to with her.
She'd offered to pay, of course, and he could pay her back but he'd shot that offer down immediately. He wasn't broke, he just hated spending money on something he wouldn't use much. He supposed he could add it to his selection of suits for work and get some regular use out of it that way.
God, he was nervous. It was the first time he was seeing her parents since she'd told her dad that she was going to move in with him. She hadn't told him much as far as his reaction to that news so he had no idea what he was walking into tonight. He imagined they wouldn't have invited him and Lizzie if they were completely against such an arrangement. Her dad hadn't shown up at his house or his precinct with a shotgun demanding he marry her. So, he had to presume while they may not approve they realized they couldn't do anything to stop her.
He had no idea how much money she was going to have left after selling her place. He hadn't asked, it was really none of his business, but he couldn't deny the thought of doing some work on the house besides the basement to accommodate a third person would be a nice thing to be able to afford. He hadn't approached her with that yet. His wouldn't be the first house on the neighborhood to have a second story added. He'd gone the easy route when it was just him and Lizzie and finished the basement to add room.
He had to think about more than just him and Lizzie now, though. Claire. Possibly kids. Somehow he didn't see her wanting just one. Then what did he know? He had memories of his mom being pregnant. It was astounding to him that she'd been able to go nine months while pregnant with Elizabeth without drinking. She hadn't stopped smoking entirely, but she'd cut back drastically he remembered that much. She and his dad hadn't fought as much either, probably because they weren't both in foul moods due to drunkenness all of the time.
Damn if seeing that pregnancy test wrapper hadn't scared the living shit out of him. He'd thought about ignoring it, but as he'd toweled off his hair staring at the stupid thing he actually got a little pissed off.
Had it been positive and she wasn't telling him because she was going to get an abortion? He hadn't really thought she'd do that, but he'd had to ask. She was going on the pill now and there was no way she could be on that if she was pregnant. She wouldn't have been far enough along to get an abortion that quickly in between taking the test and when he'd seen the wrapper.
It hadn't scared him for the reasons he, say six months ago, would have thought it scared him either. Six months ago he would have told anyone who asked he never wanted kids. Becoming a father when he was eighteen and being responsible for Elizabeth when he was learning to be responsible for himself hadn't been easy. Having the state watch his every move for two years, waiting for him to fuck up so they could return Lizzie to their parents hadn't been a cake walk. Even after the adoption was final they still watched him, not as vehemently as they had when he was just her legal guardian but they were still around.
It had scared him because he knew what it would look like to a lot of people if he'd gotten her pregnant a few months after seeing her again after high school. It would've looked like he'd done it on purpose, trying to catch a ride on the potential gravy train that was her career blossoming into what he knew eight years ago it had all the potential of being.
He still couldn't believe he'd forgotten and not just once either. For an entire weekend. Okay, they hadn't gone at it like rabbits because Lizzie and Abby were there, but it had certainly been more than once. He'd never forgotten before. Granted, he'd never spent the weekend with someone before either. He'd never not used one before, though. Ever. It just proved to him what a difference loving someone made because he found over the past couple of weeks since that morning that maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if she had been pregnant.
He'd been very relieved when she'd given the answers she had, though. He was looking forward to not having to use them anymore, too, because damn if he ever wanted to wear one with her again after being inside of her that way. He hadn't known what the difference was never experiencing it before.
He knew now.
He knocked on their front door and Claire answered almost right away, so she must have seen him pull up.
"Hi," she said, giving him a kiss. A very nice kiss, too, considering they were at her parents' house.
"Hi to you, too," he said when they stopped kissing.
"You're here on time so the day must not have been too bad."
"No, it was pretty uneventful. I think Wayne and I lucked out getting the early shift, though."
"Oh," she said. "Will you get called out later?"
"Doubtful that much will happen."
"Good. Because I plan on the entire weekend with you."
"You just want help moving."
"You got me."
He was going to go to her condo a couple of times a week and look through things that she would be setting aside for donations or selling. They both agreed that in the spring they could participate in the neighborhood garage sale. Neither were counting on making a lot of money, but some of Claire's stuff would probably sell because it was nice. She wasn't sure what he already had beyond the basics so it was the easiest way they could both come up with not having duplicate irons or whatever. He assumed she wouldn't get rid of everything she had, storing it at her parents' house or in his attic. Some of her things would replace his things because they were nicer or newer.
"Only because you're moving in with me does the idea of moving you out of your place hold appeal to me."
"I'm glad you have room in your attic."
"I'd make room, and I bet your parents would, too."
"I know. I just hate having stuff here."
"You still have stuff in your bedroom."
"You remember that?"
"I do. I remember thinking that I could probably raid your closet and get People or Vogue to shell out some cash for a glimpse into what your teenaged mind came up with."
"I'm glad you didn't."
"Going to do that yourself when you're famous?"
"No! Those things are mine, I made them for me. They're…"
"I get it. Obviously I wouldn't have done it, but I sure thought it."
She smiled, running a fingertip along his lips. "You look very nice, by the way."
"For what I spent on this suit, Princess, I better look exceptionally nice."
He sighed softly. "Lizzie remembered the plant and wine, right?"
"Yes. The plant is on the table and the wine I believe is already gone. We do have beer, though."
"Yes, Craig isn't a wine drinker either."
"I knew I always liked him."
"You didn't even know him."
"I knew of him. Mr. All American of Shermer High."
"Oh God, yes, that's right."
He chuckled softly. "All right, let's get this over with. Is Lizzie okay?"
"She's fine. She seems to be having a nice time anyway."
"Good. She was a little nervous. I almost thought I'd have to call you and tell you we were bowing out."
"We've never done this before, you know? We've been invited to Abby's or Mary's over the years, but I always felt as though I was intruding. I usually volunteered to work the late night shift so we could eat and everything and then she would spend the night at one of their houses."
"Well, I'm glad you both made it."
"Yeah, I had my doubts, too."
"I'm sure you did. I like her hair, by the way."
"Don't you dare start with me, Princess."
"I know I'm not an expert or anything, but she hadn't asked me to braid her hair in like two or three years. I'm out of practice."
"No, I really like her hair. It's nice like that, off her face. She's really beautiful, but she's sort of like you I think in that she likes to hide."
"I'm glad you approve then."
"You really thought I'd make fun of you for braiding her hair? I think it's awesome you know how. I told her next time I'd French braid her hair even if I was running late. It doesn't take me that long to do it."
"Good to know."
"And I will try to teach you."
"I tried to learn."
"You just didn't have the right teacher."
"You'll be there to do it for her."
"What if I'm not there again?"
He sighed softly. "Then she can settle for a regular braid again. Come on. She's lucky I learned that much!"
Claire laughed softly. "She is pretty lucky. I can guarantee you my dad or brother don't know how to braid hair."
"Why did you learn anyway?"
"For some reason when she went to Kindergarten she had to have her hair braided every day. Every single day. No exceptions. First and second grades weren't as bad, by third grade it was a once a week or once or twice every other week thing. I honestly can't remember her asking me since then. Maybe once or twice in fourth grade."
"And you wonder why I love you," she said. She leaned up and kissed him again, taking his coat from him to hang it in the closet near the door.
"Everything's ready, so we were just waiting for you."
"Nice," he said, taking her offered hand.
"Would you really have stayed home with her?"
"I'm not going to make her be in an uncomfortable situation. She thinks your parents are feeling sorry for her."
"Oh," she said. "Well, they do know who your parents are."
"Yeah, I know. They won't tell them we came here or anything, will they?"
"No, of course not."
"It's not as if they see them or anything, but they know who they are."
"Yeah, I guess that goes without saying about my parents."
She squeezed his hand. "Relax."
"Says you. You're not the one who they think is defiling you."
"It takes two, you know."
"I know that. You know that. I don't think parents know that."
"They know. I honestly think they thought I'd never have a boyfriend so I think they're a little relieved."
"Hmm. I suppose the token grandbabies since Craig doesn't seem to be settling down."
"Something like that."
"All right, Princess, let's get this done with."
"You'll be fine. And maybe next year we can have them at our house."
"That, Princess, is the best thing I've heard you say yet today."
"Inviting my parents?"
"No, our house."
"Oh, well, I'm glad you like the sound of it."
"You know I do. I never imagined myself owning a house."
"Too much work."
"I suppose. That's what I'm for, right?"
He tugged on her hand a bit, stopping her from going further into her parents' house. He kissed her, lingering a bit. "I love you, you know."
"I love you, too."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com