June 1992 Wayne let out a low whistle when they turned into the neighborhood of their last task of the day.
"Not a bad way to end the day," Wayne said.
"I guess," John said. Of course, they were there to investigate a crime, so John wasn't sure the friend of their victim would appreciate the sentiment.
They pulled onto the driveway of the house in question and got out. John looked around the immediate surroundings. Wayne did, too, but John always felt his partner was scoping things out rather than looking for potential clues or information.
They were only here to interview the victim's friend. She'd been beaten unconscious and had apparently only just today realized something worse had befallen her friend. Her friend hadn't been so lucky as to just be beaten, though.
"Let's get this over with," John said.
He knocked, using the fancy door knocker that was about at his eye level on the front door. He spotted the doorbell off to the right too late, giving them a minute to answer the door before trying that instead. The house was big enough it would take them that long to get to the door if they weren't right there.
They hadn't even been aware of a potential witness until she'd called in after reading a story about her friend's rape in the local newspaper. The police were stymied so had decided to run an article in the paper asking for any tips or people who might have been in the vicinity of where the victim had been found the night of the incident to come forward.
Neither detective was too sure about this errand, but their sergeant demanded they check it out. It was one of few legitimate potential leads they had as the victim couldn't seem to remember anything about the entire day of her attack.
She'd taken quite a beating, so that wasn't altogether unusual. They just hoped she'd remember eventually. Rape cases were hard to get a guilty verdict on as it was, it always seemed as though the state had to prove the victim hadn't done anything wrong rather than that her attacker had done something wrong. If the woman couldn't even identify her attacker, it made it even more of a challenge.
John hadn't wanted to come here for another reason beyond thinking that it was a possible wild goose chase. He hadn't set foot in Shermer, Illinois in six years and doing it today was way too soon as far as John Bender was concerned since he swore he never would again.
A woman he thought maybe looked familiar answered the door.
"You're late," she said. "I had to put off giving her her pain medication because she insisted on talking to you today."
"We're sorry, ma'am," John replied. "We got caught in traffic." It was four o'clock in the afternoon. What did she expect?
"Well, come in then," she said, letting them in.
"Thank you, ma'am," Wayne said.
They followed her upstairs to a bedroom. She left the overhead light off, turning a bedside lamp on instead. The room was nice as bedrooms went, though it didn't really look lived in.
"The police are here, Claire," the woman said, adjusting the bedding around her.
"Thanks, Mom," she said. John frowned a bit. He knew that voice. What were the odds? He supposed he should have asked Wayne for more details when his partner mentioned they were headed to Shermer.
He suddenly found himself very relieved the same thing that happened to her friend Sophie had not happened to her, too. Not that he'd ever say that aloud – while on duty anyway. He was pretty sure, though, that if someone, anyone had done to Claire what had been done to Sophie he'd be the next one on trial.
"Would you two like coffee?" her mother offered.
"No, thank you, ma'am," Wayne said. John didn't answer, debating on how to handle this. They hadn't spoken much after he broke up with her just before prom their senior year. He'd said some pretty callous things in an attempt to push her away from him and his poisonous life when she started talking plans for the summer and beyond.
"I'm sorry, what?" she said.
"You heard me, Claire, I know you did. This just isn't going to work."
"Why not?" she frowned. She genuinely seemed confused.
"Christ, why do you think?"
"John," she said.
"Come on, you know I don't want to be tied down. You're talking about plans as if I have no one else to hang out with. There are more people in my life than just you, Claire."
"What?" She looked thoroughly confused now. Rightfully so, as he hadn't so much as looked at another girl since that day in March.
"Come on," he said again. "Like I want to do any of these things you've been talking about. Going to the beach with you and your friends? Barbeques with those same friends? Fireworks. No, thanks."
"But they're fun!"
"Sure, for you. Or for the guys who are with girls who aren't frigid as hell."
"You're the one who said no that day!"
"Sure, I did, because losing your virginity at school is just wrong, even I know that. Believe me, if I'd known that was going to be the only chance I'd have at getting you out of your skirt I wouldn't have said no."
"Yeah, no interest in being the queen's sidekick. Find someone else to look good standing next to you."
"I bought tickets."
"I'm sure you can find someone."
"I want to go with you."
"I don't want to go with you. The payoff isn't worth it. Anyway, I've got to go."
"John, come on, talk to me. What is wrong with you?"
"Nothing is wrong with me. I'm just being honest for the first time in over a month with you and myself. Bye, Claire."
Over eight years later and he still remembered the tears in her eyes as he left as if it was yesterday. He'd never broken someone's heart before, not really. He'd broken a piece of his own heart that day, too, but she had no idea that was the case. He'd driven home his 'I don't want to be tied down' speech by being seen with someone new every day.
She'd gone to prom, of course. They'd graduated. He'd wallowed in self-pity for a while during the summer, much rather preferring to be with her than stuck at home. She'd gone on to her Big Ten college (University of Minnesota he learned recently) as planned and fallen off his radar until about six months ago when she'd crept up on everyone's radar. Someone wore one of her designs to the GRAMMY Awards. The gown had been a hit, pictured on every magazine cover afterward for a few weeks.
He'd known she was good, of course. So, to see her become successful wasn't surprising in the least. It was the reason he'd pushed her away. He had no doubt she was – at least potentially – the one for him, but he also knew he'd do nothing but bring her down. It was in his nature to do that to anything good around him.
"Miss Standish," Wayne said, approaching the bed. "I'm Detective Todd. This is my partner, Detective Bender. You called saying you had information regarding an open case we're investigating."
She frowned, looking directly at him. If he could've left the room without arousing his partner's suspicions he would have. Then, finally getting a look at her, maybe he wouldn't have. He couldn't see any visible cuts, but she'd been worked over pretty good.
"Yes," she said. Apparently, she wasn't going to acknowledge him. He couldn't blame her, he supposed he was the last person she ever expected to see in her bedroom. He'd certainly thought about being in her bedroom years ago, but never under these circumstances.
The look on her face when he'd shown up at prom with someone else – someone whose name he honestly couldn't even recall because he'd gone out with so many the last few weeks of school in an attempt to forget about her. The girl hadn't even been a senior, he remembered that much. She'd been crushed. He didn't have to be a people person to know that. He felt he'd had to do it, though. The final nail in the coffin as it were, any chance she might accept an apology and take him back for a second chance flew out the window that night.
"I didn't know anything had happened to Sophie or I would have called sooner."
"It's all right, Miss Standish, you've clearly had your hands full recovering."
Wayne seemed to want to take point on this interview and John didn't mind one bit. Of course, it gave him the chance to take in her bedroom. She didn't live here anymore, of course, he knew that. Still, it gave him a glimpse into the person she'd been. It was clean and everything, her parents hadn't changed much of anything.
Her closet was open and he even caught a glimpse of the dress she'd worn to prom. She'd made it, of course, so it was as one-of-a-kind as she could get. He remembered it vividly because he was pretty sure he'd never seen anyone prettier in his life.
He wondered what PEOPLE or even VOGUE would pay for a glimpse of her closet. He knew the prom dress wasn't the only Claire Standish original in there.
"Do you mind," she said, shifting against her pillow.
"Sorry," he said. He couldn't help but smirk at the posters of Ralph Macchio, Footloose, Van Halen's 1984 record, Prince's Purple Rain record, and Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. record still on the wall. She'd gone to the Bruce Springsteen concert the July after their senior year he knew. It was one of the many things she'd planned on doing with him.
She relayed the information from the night in question. She hadn't seen her attacker, presumably also Sophie's attacker, as he'd come at her from behind. She did mention there'd been a guy hitting on Sophie, sending her drinks at a bar they'd gone to close to the end of their night. Other than that, she told them where'd they'd been that night.
It was better than the no information they'd had until talking to her.
"If you think of anything else, give us a call," Wayne said, handing her a card.
"Thanks," she said, taking the card. She glanced at John and he looked quickly at the floor. God, he hated seeing her look like this, and look at him as if she'd rather it be Jeffrey Dahmer in her bedroom than him.
She didn't always look at him like that. For close to two months she'd looked at him as if she thought he could walk on water. She'd made him feel pretty damned good about himself, too. It was the first time in his life he'd ever felt that.
"We hope you feel better soon," Wayne said.
"Thanks," she said.
"So, what was that about?" Wayne asked when they'd gotten back in their car once her mother had shown them out.
"I don't know what you're talking about," John answered.
"You didn't ask her one question."
"You were pretty thorough," John said with a shrug.
"Just never seen you that quiet before."
"I wasn't expecting it to be legitimate."
"Well, it's not a lot, but at least we have some places to start at looking for things."
"True," he said, wondering why Claire was out barhopping anyway.
"You think she was honest?" Wayne asked.
This time of day, it was going to take them over an hour to get back to their precinct. He'd be lucky to be home much before seven o'clock. He hated days like this. There was no set time to shifts being a cop, he knew that, but at the end of their day like this there was nothing they were going to be able to do with the information from the interview until tomorrow anyway. Some of the places she named off John knew didn't open until later in the day.
"I don't think she lied or anything, no. There's probably things she doesn't remember yet," John shrugged. Claire was nothing if not honest, at least in John's experience. He supposed that could have changed, but he didn't think so.
The attack happened Saturday, it was only Tuesday. Claire probably spent at least Sunday night in the hospital herself.
"See you tomorrow," Wayne said when they'd gotten back to the precinct.
They'd agreed to start a little later tomorrow since bars didn't open at nine o'clock in the morning and work later in the day than usual.
"Yeah," John said.
John didn't care much for Wayne. He was one of those guys who thought that he was God's gift. It was an attitude foreign to John because not even in high school did he have that high an opinion of himself. Girls liked him, he liked them back but he never let it go to his head. If one didn't like him back, well he didn't dwell on it.
Then he'd only really ever dwelled on one.
He got home about thirty minutes after leaving the precinct. It was after six, but before seven so not too late. He grabbed a beer from the fridge, sliding his tie out of its knot and out from around the collar of his shirt before grabbing the cordless phone. He found the number he was looking for in the yellow pages and dialed it. It was after hours, but he was hoping he could use his credentials and the fact there was an open case to get information from a duty nurse.
Sophie had been a patient there, too, so he was hoping the nurse he got would want to see the guy caught.
He got transferred to the floor they'd been patients on. He just wanted – needed – to know how seriously she'd been hurt.
He hung up, relieved she was overall all right. Some bruising on her ribs, recommended rest as much as possible and no strenuous activity. Common sense stuff. No damage to her face beyond the bruising he'd seen. All things that would heal.
He'd never used being a cop to net information before that wasn't pivotal to a case. Of course, if they caught the guy, they could get him for his assault on Claire as well as on Sophie. The hospital had taken pictures of her injuries, unsure initially if they'd both been raped or not.
After he hung up with the hospital he wondered if she'd be staying at her parents' house for a while then. She probably wasn't too thrilled about that if that was the case. Remembering back, she liked her dad well enough so maybe it wouldn't be too unbearable.
He finished his beer while seeing about dinner for the night. Dinner. It was something he had never had, not consistently anyway. It was something he tried to be sure was at least a regular Sunday through Thursday night thing in his life now.
Everything about the past few years had been as far removed from his childhood as he could get. He wanted to do right, be certain everything he'd done and gone through hadn't been for nothing. He thought he was doing all right, but it was hard to tell some days.
Word Count: 2,771
John opened the door, certain he was seeing things. How did she even know where he lived? Not to mention it'd been weeks since he and Wayne had interviewed her.
"Uh, hi," he said, unable to hide his confusion at seeing her standing on his doorstep.
"Hi," she said. "I, sorry, but I didn't really know how else to get you without your partner around."
"What can I help you with?"
"Your partner is a jerk."
"Thanks for that newsflash. Is that all you needed then? Because you can file a grievance with the department with probably better results than coming here."
She narrowed her eyes, regarding him. He was kind of regarding himself truthfully. Why in the hell was he being rude to her? She hadn't done anything. He just hadn't expected her to be any part of this life he'd worked so hard at establishing over the years.
"I've called him a few times when I've remembered things."
"Okay, that's good. What's the problem?"
"He seems to think I'm hitting on him or something."
John snorted. "Yeah?"
"You, on the other hand, are a jerk but I know you're an honest jerk who aren't going to take my saying I remembered things as some sort of come-on."
"Thanks for that ringing endorsement. I'll be sure to include you as a personal character reference whenever I take the sergeant's exam."
"I've remembered some things," she said.
"No one," he said shortly.
He watched Claire's reaction as Elizabeth came into view. Of course she would be curious because John very rarely had visitors. He just didn't like bringing people home.
Claire's eyes widened and he saw confusion there. It was on the tip of his tongue to explain, especially since Elizabeth just got out of the shower and he'd been told she looked older than she actually was. He didn't see that, but others had mentioned it so he could only believe it was true. He didn't owe Claire any explanations, though, so he refrained.
"I guess I was wrong about you being an honest jerk. Really? You're a cop!"
"Claire," he said, not liking her thinking he was some sort of pervert at all.
"Forget it. I saw nothing, it's none of my business anyway. Here's a list of everything I've thought of from the time Sophie and I met up for dinner. All of the places and times we were there I've thought of. There are some names there, too."
"The guy who was hitting on her?"
"Yeah, first name only."
John couldn't help but wonder who'd been hitting on Claire, but it was none of his business the same as who Elizabeth was to him being none of hers.
"All right, I'll look it over. Thanks. How did you find me anyway?"
"You're in the book," she said.
"Oh yeah," he replied. "If I have questions, I'll call."
"Okay," she said.
"Bye," he said, watching as she turned to leave. He fought the urge to invite her to stay, they still had to eat dinner. He could explain his living situation to her.
"Hey," he said.
"Yeah," she said, turning to face him.
"You look better."
"Than the day you saw me laid up in bed? I hope so."
"How are your ribs?"
She shrugged. "A little sore, but I've been told that's to be expected for a while yet."
"Yeah, good, just do what the doctor's said and you should be fine."
"Bye," she said.
"I'm glad you're all right, Claire."
"You could have fooled me that you even ever cared anything about me, but thanks for the sentiment. I'll have something nice to put in my diary tonight, I guess."
What the hell was he supposed to say to that? He watched her walk the rest of the way to her car, shutting the door behind him once she'd gotten in. She'd made no move to come back and talk more, not that he could blame her.
"That's her," Elizabeth said once he locked the door.
Theirs wasn't a big house, but it was decent and in an okay neighborhood. He didn't have to worry about Lizzie being home alone after school anyway. It did them all right and what was more John wasn't going broke paying it off. Neither of them were afraid to get their hands dirty. That's why Elizabeth had been in the shower when Claire got here. They'd been working on the basement. Finishing it would add more living space. The older Elizabeth got the more on top of each other they were, and he imagined she'd welcome some privacy the same as he would.
"Her who," John asked.
"The girl in the picture that you have."
"What are you talking about, Lizzie?"
"In that secret pocket in your wallet."
"I don't even want to know what you're doing in my wallet."
"I was looking for lunch money a while ago and saw it."
"So you ask me for lunch money."
"You were sleeping and I couldn't wake you."
"Oh," he said. He knew he could be difficult to wake sometimes.
"What's her name?"
"None of your business."
"Why was NOYB here?"
"What does that even mean?"
"None of your business. Why was she here?"
"She was involved in a crime."
"Not the one doing the crime, I hope, or you're not very good at your job."
"Ha ha. No."
"Is she all right."
"Why did she show up here?"
"Because Wayne was hitting on her, I think."
She rolled her eyes, she wasn't fond of Wayne either.
"So, what's her name?"
"Why do you care?"
"Because it's the only personal thing you have in your wallet. As far as I can tell it's the only thing from before we stopped living with Mom and Dad you even have."
"Claire," he said simply. He hated when she called them mom and dad. It's who they were, he knew that, but just because you make the kids doesn't mean you earn the right to be called those things.
"Was she your girlfriend?"
"I'm not answering any more questions about her, kiddo. Who she was or is isn't important anyway. I'm sure I'll never see her again."
"I guess," John said, as if he hadn't noticed. He had, of course. It'd been a few weeks since he and Wayne saw her and she'd done a lot of healing in that time. She probably had some makeup on to cover up residual bruises, but overall she looked pretty damned fine.
"So, what's for dinner then?"
"Can I help?"
"You bet," he said. "Come on." He glanced at the paper Claire had given him, noticing as he set it on the counter in the kitchen near his keys that she'd written her phone number on there, too.
"Go set the table."
"But you said I could help."
"You can, but first set the table."
"I don't know why you care so much if the table is set or not."
"Because I do. We eat at a table together like normal families do."
"Normal families see their parents."
"Normal families don't have our parents."
"I know," she said.
She didn't. Not really. Not the full extent anyway. He'd worked hard to ensure she never knew. He had some help, too, along the way to help him get to where they were today.
The first few times he'd gone to the school nurse she'd bought his excuses. By the middle of his freshman year, though, she was no longer buying them. His mom was still pregnant with Elizabeth at that point and by the time Mrs. Schultz started actually questioning his excuses Lizzie was here.
He never thought he was capable of giving a shit about anyone or anything but himself. No one else gave one about him that was for sure. He'd taken one look at his little sister, though, and swore she'd never go through what he did.
Mrs. Schultz did more than turn a blind eye, though, as she dealt with the aftereffects of his father's handiwork. She offered him advice, which he initially balked at. It took him dating Claire, actually, to make him see that if he wanted to do anything for Lizzie he had to have something to offer her. A better alternative than what she had in their parents. She helped keep him focused on the promise he'd made her when he finally acknowledged she was right.
Too afraid Elizabeth wouldn't be taken out of the house, too, or that they'd be separated – possibly for good – Mrs. Schultz helped keep his secret for years so John wasn't removed and could stay home to be sure his sister was safe. He'd owe her for the rest of his life for that. He sent her Christmas cards every year, just to let her know how they were faring.
He saved what he could from selling his weed, always being careful not to get caught. He never sold to someone he didn't know. It didn't matter who they claimed to know he know. And he never sold to more than one person at a time.
He'd been able to work his way through college, thanks to his seeming gift for fixing cars. He'd seen his father fix too many growing up for the know-how not to be there. Once he turned eighteen he stopped selling altogether. He wouldn't do Lizzie any good in jail so he'd had to stop.
Getting custody of Elizabeth hadn't been easy. He was in college and working. She was almost four his first year of college, but by then Mrs. Schultz was retired from the school and only working as a fill-in nurse at Shermer Hospital. Couldn't get much better of a caregiver than a registered nurse.
The nurse also certified to all of the injuries she'd witnessed John having while in high school. She documented things – including his excuses – well so she wouldn't be culpable when questioned why she hadn't reported anything during those years of treating him.
Ironically, it'd been Claire's father he'd gone to for legal help. He didn't know anyone else who was a lawyer and he knew her dad wouldn't overcharge a friend of his daughter's. Of course, if he knew how John had treated his daughter their senior year maybe he would have charged him double. He hadn't, though.
The fact he was really the primary caregiver to begin with worked in his favor. He fed her, bathed her, put her to bed most nights, got her to daycare, and generally did things like play or just spend time with her over his parents. (Why they'd had one kid let alone two he would never know, because they clearly didn't want either of them. He could only assume that protection broke or was forgotten twice in their marriage, resulting in John and Elizabeth.)
By summer break in between his freshman and sophomore year he was basically a full-time dad. He also had his career plan because he actually found the legal system oddly fair when he needed it to be.
He worked hard, taking classes every summer so he was sure to be done in four years. He lucked into a job right after graduation, finding a city who was hiring. Not all were. He knew Chicago PD had waiting lists. That'd been four years ago and despite not caring for his partner he didn't regret any of it.
Elizabeth was eleven now to his twenty-six. She had vague memories of their parents and living in that house, none of them bad thankfully. John had enough bad memories for the both of them. He never undressed in front of her, never let her see him without all of his clothes on because while he did what he thought was right and the best thing for her (and really, his parents hadn't put up that much of a fight. In fact, once they found out John wasn't going to go after them for any financial help they practically handed her to him). Well, he didn't want her to see what they did to him.
Maybe one day she'd want to know them, see them. He doubted it, but he knew as she got older and grew curious about things she might. Would he show her then the leftover evidence of what they'd done? He wasn't sure. He'd cross that bridge when he got to it. For now, though, he didn't want to fill her head with the idea that they were monsters.
She set the table as he asked her to and then he let her help cook the spaghetti. He knew how to make his own sauce, but today they were settling for jarred sauce with some browned beef added to it.
"So, was she your girlfriend?"
"Really?" he asked.
"Yes, come on."
"Sort of," he admitted.
"Why didn't you invite her to stay for dinner?"
"Because I don't want her here, is why."
She frowned as she stirred the noodles.
"What?" he asked, watching her? In part he was watching to be sure she wouldn't burn herself.
"Nothing," she said.
"Uh huh," he said, browning the meat he'd add to the sauce so at least it had a little better flavor than straight from the jar.
"Her, silly," she said, rolling her eyes as if it should've been obvious what she was asking about.
"Careful," he cautioned when she held her hand a little too far over the middle of the pot of boiling water and noodles.
"I'm fine," she said, but she'd jerked her hand away so he knew the steam had gotten her a little.
"Nothing happened. It was high school. We went out, we stopped going out."
"I bet if I looked in Wayne's wallet he wouldn't have a picture of a sort of girlfriend in it eight years later."
"Wayne wouldn't remember who he dated eight years ago let alone two months ago."
Ironic, Claire would probably say the same about him.
"I wish you had Pete as your partner still."
"Pete got passed over as detective this last go around. We probably would've been separated anyway. Wayne has more experience. They tend to put the green guys with the experienced ones."
"We could have him over for dinner some night. He'd come."
"Sure," she said.
"I'll call and ask him."
"Maybe we could go out to eat."
"Does she still live in Shermer?"
John scoffed at the very idea of her staying in Shermer. "No, she lives downtown somewhere I think I heard." Her telephone number reflected a downtown area code, but that could have been her office number.
"What does she do?"
"She's a designer."
"Yes," he said.
"Well, you could have meant interior design."
"No," he said with a chuckle.
"Is she good?"
"How would I know?"
"John," she said.
He turned the burner under the meat off and moved the pan to the burner behind it.
"John, I'm sorry," she called after him when he left the kitchen.
"John," she said again when he didn't answer.
"What's that?" she asked.
"That's one of her designs," he said, regarding the magazine in question he set on the counter. He flipped the magazine open to the page that featured the dress worn at the GRAMMY's better than the cover photo did.
"Yes," he said.
"I remember that dress. It was gorgeous. My friends were even talking about it the next day at school."
"So, you just happened to have this?"
"Yes," he said, taking over the spaghetti duties because she was now focused on the magazine and the short write-up it had in there about Claire. "I'm done talking about this now. It's time to eat."
"Okay," she said. "It is beautiful."
"What?" he asked
"The dress," she said. She was impressed, John could tell. Little seemed to impress Elizabeth these days. She had interests, but nothing jumped out at him as being something that really grabbed her attention. He wondered if there was something wrong with what he was doing with her. Shouldn't she have something special by now?
"I guess. Eat now, Lizzie, before it gets cold."
"Okay. I can't wait to tell Abby about this."
"That you know the person who designed the gown! She was one of the people talking about it."
"Great," he said. Just what he needed, her pre-teen girlfriends asking him questions about Claire he didn't want to answer even if he could.
Word Count: 6,905
His phone ringing late at night wasn't unusual. Detectives were called out to scenes at all hours of the day or night. He always turned the ringers off in the rest of the house before going to bed so it wouldn't wake up Lizzie if he got called to a scene late.
"Hello," he said gruffly. If this was another gang thing he wasn't going to be happy. There'd been an onslaught of them lately in their pretty gang-free town, until the past six months or so anyway.
"Uh, yeah, this is. Who's this?"
"It's Claire. Claire Standish," she added, as if he wouldn't know which Claire was calling him. There was pretty much only one Claire as far as John was concerned.
"Jesus. It's bad enough you show up at my house, now you're calling me in the middle of the night. What the hell is wrong with you?"
"Someone broke into my condo."
"Call the police," he said.
"I am. You," she said.
"The Chicago PD, Claire. There's nothing I can do for you unless in the last few weeks you moved to my neck of the woods, which I highly doubt."
"I think it might have been him," she said.
That got his attention.
"Give me your address," he said.
He flipped on his bedside lamp and grabbed the pen and notepad he kept there for just this reason. He jotted her address down. He knew the neighborhood. It was a nice one, of course. He'd expect no less from her, even before she went and got famous a few months ago. "I'll be there in about forty minutes, sooner if I can. Call the police. It'll probably take them that long to get to you anyway since no one's dead."
"I don't want them here."
"You're in Chicago, Claire. I'll come check it out, but they need to process the scene. I can't do that, all I can do is tell them about our case here and help you answer any questions they may have."
"Okay," she said.
"I'll be there in a while," he said, hanging up.
He dressed, getting himself a Coke from the fridge for the drive there. He preferred coffee, but he kept Coke for just these occasions. Coffee took too long to brew and try as he might he couldn't stomach the instant stuff. Who knew there were some things John Bender could be a snob about?
It was after two o'clock in the morning, so traffic was relatively light as he made his way downtown to her place. He got there in pretty good time. Finding parking was actually the most time consuming part of the trip. He didn't see any sign of CPD on the scene yet as he walked to the front of her building.
There was a security entrance. He had to be buzzed in in order to get through the door. Certainly better than no security, but obviously it hadn't stopped this guy from getting in tonight. He either used the "left his keys inside, hold the door" excuse or he called unit after unit until he found one who was willing to just buzz him in. There were ways around these types of things, obviously.
He rode the elevator up, taking a minute to run his fingers through his hair as he contemplated how exactly it was he was here. He honestly hadn't thought about her for years until the GRAMMY's happened. He'd been too busy trying to carve out a life for himself and Elizabeth to dwell on her.
He found her unit once he got off on her floor. She opened the door almost as soon as he rang the bell.
"Thank God," she said. He had to say he'd never seen Claire Standish ever look this disheveled in the entire time he'd known her. Despite the fact she hadn't seem to be aware of his existence before that March day of detention their senior year he'd been fully aware of who she was for years. She was just one of those people that got noticed.
"Did you call CPD?"
"Yes, they're on their way."
"Good," he said. "So, what makes you think it's the same guy that attacked you and Sophie back in June?"
"You think I'm making it up? Just guessing? See for yourself," she said, opening her door wide so he could cross the threshold. He didn't need to walk very far into the unit to see why she thought it might be the same guy.
He wasn't sure what he was expecting exactly, but the fresh paint job on her wall spelling out IT WILL BE GOOD FOR YOU TOO wasn't on his list. He remembered his reaction at seeing her laid up in her bed after having seen Sophie and the idea that he'd be the one standing trial if the same thing had happened to Claire. He had that overwhelming feeling again tonight.
"Did you touch anything?"
"No. I mean, my light switch," she said, gesturing to it by the entrance. "Um, I put my keys down on the table there but I don't think I touched it. My phone to call you and the police. The bathroom."
"You stopped to use the bathroom?" he asked incredulously.
"I had to throw up! Excuse me for not being able to stomach the idea of that guy being in my place!"
"What've you been doing since you called me?"
"Nothing! I sat with my back against the door," she said, gesturing to the area in question.
"Is this the first time?"
"Was there someone hitting on both of you that night?"
"No! I didn't talk to anyone except her, our waiter, and our bartenders."
"How'd he find you then?"
"I don't know!"
"Claire," he demanded. He could give pretty good cop.
"I have no idea."
The buzzer rang and John prepared to stand on the sideline while the authorities with jurisdiction in this incident investigated. He got his badge out for good measure, willing to share what information he could with them.
He learned, standing there listening that she'd gotten some creepy letters since the GRAMMY's in February. They had all gone to her office, though.
However, it wouldn't be too difficult for someone in town to find her. They could have even followed her home from her office to find out where she lived.
"Do you have somewhere to stay tonight?" Officer Rodriguez asked.
"I, uh, well, I could stay with my parents' out in Shermer," she said.
"I can drive her there, I know where it is," John offered.
"You don't have to do that," she said.
"I didn't have to drive here in the middle of the night either," he said. "You shouldn't be driving. You're upset and scared, probably tired, too. The adrenaline from coming home to this will wear off and you're likely to get into an accident."
"He's right," Officer Rodriguez said. John had to admit, she at least seemed to get competent patrol officers to her crime scene. He'd dealt with some Chicago cops who would've treated this like it was no big deal.
"Fine," she said.
"We'll have to process the scene, but Officer Ward can go with you to your room for some belongings to take with you."
"Thanks," she said.
Claire couldn't believe this was happening to her as she led Officer Ward to her bedroom. It was absolutely insane! She could smell the paint fumes even back here in her bedroom.
"Did you notice anything missing?" Officer Ward asked her while she was scrounging in her closet for her overnight bag. At least the officer was giving Claire a little privacy. She'd almost expected her to be standing right behind her, cataloging anything and everything she put in her bag.
"No. I mean, the big stuff like my TV, stereo, and computer are all here. All of my design equipment is here. There's nothing else important."
"We'll photograph and catalog everything as we process each room for evidence. If you find anything missing we'll have our inventories so let us know."
"Okay," Claire said, walking to her bathroom then for her toiletries. The officer did follow Claire there since she was actually out of sight.
"Ready?" Officer Ward asked.
"Yes, thank you," Claire said.
She had some things at her parents' house because she stayed the night there when she had dinner with them once every couple of weeks. She was also their designated house sitter when they traveled because her brother Craig couldn't be bothered with such things. He was too busy doing worthwhile things like defending criminals.
"Okay," Officer Ward said, following Claire out to the living room.
"John, really, I can drive. I feel fine."
"It's fine," he said.
He didn't look as if he'd moved from the spot he'd been standing in since he got there. She wondered what he thought about all of this, if he even cared enough to think about it at all. His words to her on the phone had cut pretty deep as much as she hated to admit it.
"All right," she said.
"Oh, Miss Standish," Officer Rodriguez said.
"Yes," she said, setting her bag down near her feet so she could get her purse.
"Where were you?"
"You said you called Detective Bender as soon as you got home and saw the message."
"I was at work," she said. "New York's Fashion Week is coming up in September and because of the popularity of my dresses at the GRAMMY's in February I'm trying to take advantage of the notoriety and get some designs in while my name is hot."
"Until two o'clock in the morning?"
"Inspiration doesn't punch a time clock, Officer Rodriguez. And I don't pay myself overtime."
"Just wondering. Why'd you call Detective Bender before calling us?"
"It was obvious, even being freaked out, that it was the same guy who raped my friend. It's his case so I called him."
"I notice you call him John. You just happened to know his phone number?"
"I'm sorry, you think I painted that on my own wall? I called 411 to get his number. I called John because I don't trust his partner. I've known John since we were kids."
"Thank you, Miss Standish," Officer Rodriguez said.
"Sure," she said.
"We'll let you know when we've cleared the scene."
"Thank you, Officers," John said. He grabbed her bag for her, which was nice of him. Not that it was a heavy bag. She knew how to pack light, and hoped she wouldn't be at her parents' house for more than a day or two.
She grabbed her purse from the table near the door, glancing at the wall one last time. She shuddered a little. He'd been in here. He'd gotten into not just the lobby but her place. What if she'd been home?
John placed a hand at the small of her back and she jumped a little at the contact not at all expecting it.
"Sorry," he said. "The sooner we leave, though, the sooner they can get on with their jobs. And, well, the sooner I can get back home to bed."
"I'm ready," she said. He didn't take his hand away from her back she noticed. Even wondering why he was doing it she couldn't help but think that his hand felt nice there.
"Wait here, I'll go get my car. I'm down the block a bit."
"I can go with you."
"Claire, this place is crawling with cops, he's not coming back here tonight."
"I don't know them."
"You don't really know me either."
"Yeah, like how you became a cop."
"It's a job," he shrugged.
"Yeah, but you."
"And yet you trust me."
"I shouldn't, I know. You're a cop, though, there's nothing emotional involved here. You go with what you're familiar with I guess. At least I know you won't hit on me."
He unlocked and opened the passenger door for her before doing the same on his side. He worked his seat back forward a bit to put her bag on the backseat behind him before getting in.
"Are your parents going to freak?"
"That's putting it mildly, yeah," she said.
"Why haven't you guys caught him yet?"
"There are no real suspects. At least none Wayne and I have uncovered. He did leave some evidence so if we catch him we'll be able to connect him to it, but I'm guessing you and Sophie weren't his first time."
"Well, he knows where I live, John. What am I supposed to do? Move?"
"About that. I noticed you have no alarm on your unit."
"No," she said.
"Claire, you're an attractive, successful woman who lives alone. You admitted to getting some not so flattering letters the past few months."
"There've just been a couple. It happens."
"Invest in an alarm and be sure you use it. Don't get complacent and think because you're going out for a thirty minute errand you don't need to set it. You need to get your living room repainted anyway, you may as well get both done while you're not staying there."
"I know, I hear you. I will," she said.
"I just," she said with a sigh, trying to put it into words and sound rational. It was late and she was beyond exhausted. She'd been ready for bed about two hours ago. "God, he was in my house, John. What if he went through my things?"
"Claire," he said.
"I can't stop thinking what he'd have done to me if I'd been home."
"Claire," he said again.
"No, really, I mean. Why come after me? Clearly, if I could identify him I would have by now. I haven't."
"Sicko's don't need a reason to do what they do."
"And my parents. I have no idea how they're going to react. Dad will be all right, I guess. Mom, though, she practically blew a gasket when I got beat up in June."
"As she should have, Claire."
"Just because you weren't raped doesn't make what you went through any better or less of a crime," he said, setting his hand over hers lightly. She was clenching her hands into fists, nervous and flustered. He knew that obviously. She jerked her hand away instinctively. She didn't need him feeling sorry for her.
"I just don't want them to think I'm doing something wrong."
"You aren't. You and Sophie got on his radar somehow. Maybe there are others we just don't know about yet."
"Thanks," she said, appreciating his efforts at trying to make her feel better. "My mom, though."
"She can't blame you."
"She will find a way, John. If I wasn't working late."
"You'd have been home when he got there!"
"If I didn't get my name splashed all over magazines," she said.
"Being successful is not bad."
"She thinks it is."
"Still hung up on you being a lawyer like Daddy and Craig?"
"Until I give in."
"Not a chance."
"Why do you care?"
"Because you have a gift, it'd be a shame for it to go to waste."
"I hope he cut himself or something."
"You know, left blood or something behind so you can connect him to this, too, when you catch him."
"I hope so, too, Claire. I don't like the idea of him singling you out."
He was quiet after that and so was she. He slid his hand away from her leg, which is where he'd let it rest after she pulled her hand away from his. He'd done it to settle her down she was sure. It was more than she thought he'd do for her. She hated calling him tonight, but it was her first instinct. How sad was that?
"Where are we going?" she asked when they passed the exit to Shermer.
"My house," he said.
"It's late, or early depending on how you want to look at it. You're upset, scared, and worried. Your parents are going to be those things, too. Honestly, he may be able to find you at their house if he knows your name and stuff which obviously he does. I mean, Sophie may have been random. You, he had to find. That means he knows you. At the very least he knows your name. Maybe he researched it and that's why it's taken him this long."
"John, that's too much. I can just stay at a hotel."
"With your credit card?"
"Yes," she said, reaching for her purse to be sure she had it along. She did.
"Not happening. They're traceable. Besides, at least I'm trained and capable to defend you and myself if he happens to connect us and find me."
"John, really. I can get some cash from an ATM then."
"I have the room. I'm off tomorrow anyway. It's not the Radisson, but it's done me fine."
"It looked nice," she said after a few minutes of quiet between them.
"Thanks," he said.
She let her head fall back against the headrest. She could sleep anywhere really she was that exhausted. Burning the candle at both ends her dad would accuse her of and he'd be right.
Distantly she heard him talking, not to her though she realized. He was having a car go to her parents' house. She smiled a little at that.
"Thank you," she murmured, not even sure she'd managed to actually say the words. She was just that tired.
"You'd feel bad if something happened to your parents."
"You wouldn't," she said.
"What? What on earth did I do to make you think that?"
She laughed softly, turning her head a little against the headrest to look at him. "Your parents."
"Oh, I wouldn't send a car to their house, no."
"So, thank you for thinking of mine."
"Yeah," he said.
He pulled into his garage, unlocking the door leading to the house. She took a minute to get her wits about her, glancing around the garage while the light was on. She couldn't help it. He owned a house. How crazy was that?
"See anything worthwhile?" he asked.
"Sorry," she said.
"Come on in," he said, pushing the door open.
"Thanks," she said, following him inside.
"The spare room is pretty small, sorry."
"They all are in these older houses. We're hoping to have the basement finished by the end of the year so we can have a bedroom down there."
"You're doing it yourself," she asked.
"When do you find the time?"
He shrugged and she couldn't help but notice how strong he was. He always had been, but it was more defined now. As if he spent a lot of time doing things requiring physical exertion.
Like finishing basements.
She was pretty sure she wouldn't know the first thing about doing something like that if her life depended on it. Her solution would be to hire someone.
"Anyway, it's clean and everything. My old partner used it once in a while instead of driving home after a beer turned into more than that, but the sheets were washed since he last stayed here."
"It doesn't matter, I'm so tired I'd be grateful for your couch at this point."
He smirked a little, setting her bag at the foot of the bed. He walked to the window, opening it a bit to let some air in.
"Clean towels are in the top dresser drawer. My linen closet is pretty small and this way, Pete always knew where his things were."
"The bathroom is there," he said, pointing to it from the doorway. "My room's at the end of the hall if you need anything. If you wake up before we do, help yourself to whatever's in the kitchen you want or need."
"Okay," she said. "Thanks again, John. You didn't have to do this."
"Don't mention it and try to get some rest."
"Sorry I woke you," she said, not liking the thought of the other part of the 'we' he spoke of getting woken up, too, by her phone call. God, what in the world was she jealous for? She was obviously tired to be worried about who John was or wasn't having sex with.
"Part of the job," he said, grabbing the doorknob to shut the door behind him. "Night, Claire."
"Yeah," she said. She used the bathroom and brushed her teeth before sliding into bed.
She was pretty sure she fell asleep before her head even hit the pillow when she woke later that morning. She laid in bed, processing everything that had happened the night before. She'd had an excellent day at work. She'd stayed at work so late because her ideas were not just working but they were good, too. Sometimes the two didn't always go hand and hand, working ideas weren't always good and good ideas didn't always work.
'Those are not ears,' she heard.
'They are, too,' John said. 'See.'
'You need help,' the other person said.
'I have all the help I need.'
The girl laughed.
'Shh,' she heard John say.
'Why are you shh'ing me?'
'Because while you were busy getting your beauty sleep or whatever you call it I was out being a cop and there's someone in the guest room.'
'Oh, I didn't know. Sorry.'
'It's all right.'
'Anyone I know.'
'You're letting random strangers stay at our house now?'
'I said you don't know them, I didn't say I didn't.'
'Oh,' she said.
'It's Claire Standish.'
'Really,' the person said.
'Yes. Now back to your hurtful words. Come on, it looks just like those Mickey Mouse pancakes you got when we went to Disney World.'
'They're not even close, John.'
'Fine, I'll eat them myself. You can make your own pancakes.'
'I didn't say I wouldn't eat them,' the person said.
'Ah ha, see.'
'I never said they weren't edible, just that the top two pancakes don't look anything like mouse ears.'
'Fine, I'll practice.'
Claire couldn't help but smile at the conversation. She felt a little bad for eavesdropping, but it was hard to miss the conversation since she was awake. She'd never heard a joking John. She never knew John knew how to cook let alone pancakes.
She changed and decided to join them in the kitchen. No sense putting it off. She wanted to meet the woman about as much as she wanted to go back to her condo and see those words on her wall again. God, it was crazy how much it hurt to hear him happy with someone. She'd kind of hoped when he broke up with her that he'd fall into a hole and never find his way out again. That had been one of the kinder ways she'd thought of his demise finding him. There'd been some not so pleasant ones when he showed up at prom.
Things better not to be dwelled on. It was years ago, but she'd be a liar if she said it didn't still hurt. She'd thought they were fine. She understood maybe making plans, thinking of things to do might have been foreign to him, but it wasn't as if she had been asking him to marry her or move in with her or anything. It was the summer before she was going to college, she'd wanted to have fun and do those fun things with her boyfriend.
"Ah, see, you woke her up," John said, obviously hearing the door from the bedroom open.
"No, no one woke me up but me," she said.
"You didn't get much rest."
"Neither did you," she said back.
"I was sleeping when you called me. You were just getting home for the night."
"I'm used to it."
"You still need more rest."
"I have to go back to work."
"I told you last night I was in the middle of something. My intention was to go home and get some sleep for a couple of hours and hit it again."
"Claire, it's Saturday."
"Is your staff around?"
"No," she said. "I don't have a whole lot of staff yet. Contrary to what everyone may think, I completely lucked into the GRAMMY thing. I was in the right place at the right time, a friend of a friend. You know? I can't just sit back and wait for another fifteen minutes to come my way."
"Claire. Ordinarily, I'd understand and agree with you, but you've got a maniac leaving you messages on your wall. He got into your locked condo. What's to stop him from getting to you at work?"
Her shoulders slumped a little. She'd hoped he wouldn't think of that. She just wanted to hole herself in her office and work in an attempt to forget all about everything.
"Do you want some pancakes?" the girl asked. Claire regarded her, realizing she had to be the same girl from the day she came to John's house last month. She looked a bit younger today. A lot younger.
"Before you jump to conclusions and call me a bad name again or call the police on me, let me just be clear. She's my sister."
"What?" she frowned. "You don't have a sister."
"Of course I do."
"Of course you do? I never met her."
"She was sleeping already I think the one or two times you ever came into the house."
The girl, his sister, seemed genuinely confused by their conversation and was waiting for an answer from Claire on the offer of pancakes.
"I'd love some pancakes," she said finally.
"I wondered why John made so much today. He fried up a whole package of bacon even. Usually he skimps on the bacon."
"Wow," she said. "Well, I'm glad he made extra today then."
"Orange juice? Coffee?" John asked.
"Yes, please," she said. "I can get it," she said when he started to stand. "If I have a problem finding anything I'll tell you."
"Okay," John said.
Claire went into the kitchen and poured herself a glass of orange juice. She found a plate and silverware, bringing them to the table before going back for the cup of coffee that she really wanted. She found some cream in the refrigerator and some sugar on the counter, mixing in enough to where she could drink it.
So what did she say to her ex-boyfriend's sister that she never knew existed? John was watching her, clearly amused.
"So, you have me at an advantage, John's sister, and since he seems to have forgotten his manners, maybe you can tell me your name."
"Elizabeth," she said.
"Wow, that's a pretty grown up name."
"John calls me Lizzie."
"What do your friends call you?"
"Liz, sometimes Lizzie. I don't like it so much anymore."
"I suppose," Claire said, understanding. She'd never had a nickname. There wasn't much you could do with Claire or her brother's name Craig. She remembered friends, though, who got out of grade school and suddenly being called Johnny or Susie or whatever wasn't what they wanted. "Well, I'll call you Liz if that's all right with you both."
"Sure," she said. John said nothing, so Claire could only take that as his acceptance.
"What grade are you going to be in this fall?"
"Oh, a new school, huh?"
"It's pretty scary."
"It is. Some of my friends are going to a different school."
"That happened to me, too. I'm sure it happened to John. I had friends I'd been with since Kindergarten and all of the sudden they lived in a part of Shermer that was too far from my junior high and they had to go to another one. You'll make new friends, though, and a lot of them you'll see back in high school. At least I did."
"Would you be able to do whatever you wanted to do at work at your parents' house? Or here?" John asked.
She frowned. "What?"
"I saw you had equipment at your condo, so clearly you work from home sometimes. Were you creating designs last night? Or were you actually creating the samples or whatever they're called?"
"Oh, just creating mostly."
"So, if you had your tools, your things, you could do that anywhere."
"Yes, I suppose. My office is obviously easier because I have the most space there."
"Yeah, well, the CPD would tell you the same thing I'm saying I'm sure. I could, however, drive you down there to get whatever you need."
"I can't not go to work!"
"It's a Saturday. We'll worry about Monday when it comes around. You've got to have a way to forward your phones."
"Well, sure, if I had somewhere to forward them to. I've worked from home before days I've been sick or whatever."
"Your parents wouldn't let you do that?"
"I doubt it."
"You had your own line."
"Yes, which they disconnected long ago."
"Oh," he said.
"They probably would. I just really hate involving them in all of this, especially if it means they wouldn't be safe. I mean, if he knows where they are and sees I didn't go there…"
"I can't pretend to understand how he thinks, but hopefully he'd just leave. You don't know, though. That's why I asked Shermer PD to do some drive bys of their house."
"I remember, and I thanked you. Thank you again, though."
"Not a problem."
"Lizzie, excuse me, Liz, was going to go swimming with her friends today. Mary's mom is picking you up, right?"
"Yes," she said.
"I could take you down to get your things. I could take you to pick up your car, too, though I almost think it might be better off if you left it there for him to wonder where you are if you aren't driving there."
"Like maybe he'd think I'm staying at a hotel in the city instead of in Shermer with my parents?"
"Something like that."
She sighed softly, taking a sip of her coffee. "All right. I'm sure Mom would let me use her car if I needed to."
"What time is Mary's mom coming to pick you up?"
"Um," Liz looked at the clock. "In about an hour."
"Okay, that should work. Be sure to bring your key and if I'm not back yet you lock the door behind you."
"I know the rules, John."
"How does she have friends here?"
"What?" John asked.
"It's a long drive from Shermer to here, so I assume Mary is a local friend."
Lizzie giggled softly and Claire wondered what joke she was missing. Had she asked a stupid question? She didn't think so. She spent weekends with her brother sometimes once he'd gone to college and moved out, but she never made any real friends while visiting him.
"She doesn't live in Shermer."
"I'm confused then because your parents still live there."
"You've seen our parents?"
"Well, no, but I'm sure Mom would've mentioned it if they'd moved. She remembers we were friends."
"Liz doesn't live with them, Claire."
"Oh," she said.
"She lives here," he added.
"All of the time?"
"Yes, every day."
"Since your dad helped me get custody of her actually."
"I didn't know any lawyers at the time and he was fair to us. He seemed to like the challenge of the case."
"That was her dad?"
"You remember him?" John asked, sounding surprised.
"A little. He always had those yellow candies on his desk."
Claire smiled a little. "The butterscotch disks?"
"Yes. I loved them."
"Me, too," Claire admitted. "I used to love going to my dad's office just to get one because he never kept them at home. He never said anything."
"Probably because I was his client," John said.
"Well, yeah, but," she shrugged. "Anyway, it's not important. I'm very glad you knew my dad then, and he was able to help you."
"Me, too," John said.
Too late to help John, though, really. She understood why he did it, though. John couldn't live with his parents forever and there was such a huge age difference between them that he'd have been living at home into his thirties otherwise. Her eyes fell instinctively to his arm, picturing the scar she knew was there. There were others. She'd never seen them, but she knew they were there.
God, she felt awful realizing that while she (and probably everyone else) thought he was stupid for staying and putting up with his parents' abuse he was doing it to protect his sister. Tears formed in her eyes at the idea of someone hurting her. She'd known her for less than an hour, but even Claire could tell she was smart and good, everything that had been taken from John long before that day of detention when she'd gotten to know him beyond the name and image that went with that name.
She thought for a while there he still had it in him, some goodness. Contrary to his claims of not believing in exclusive relationships he'd actually treated her very well. His breaking up with her had, literally, come out of nowhere. She hadn't seen it coming. It wasn't even that she was conceited enough to wonder why anyone would break up with her. She thought they were happy. Obviously, she'd been wrong.
"She's fine," he said.
"Good," she said.
"So, we can head downtown to get your stuff and go from there. If you don't want to involve your parents, or if you'd just feel safer here my spare room is available."
"It is, huh?"
"And even better, it's free. You do have to share a bathroom with Lizzie and she's a horrible slob."
"I saw that when I went in there," Claire said. "What a mess. I thought it was just that your maid had the day off."
"You could use the dining room table to work on."
"Why are you doing this?"
He shrugged. "Because I don't like the idea of you being in danger and something happening to you that I could have stopped. It's bad enough knowing you got beat up once already."
"Let me think about it," she said.
She wasn't sure it would be a good idea staying here. Her parents' house, though, the idea of endangering them really bothered her. She didn't like them most of the time, but they were her parents and she loved them at the end of the day. Unlike John's parents' they'd never actually hurt or harmed her, they just weren't very loving toward one another and that had made for some pretty miserable moments in the Standish household.
"Well, whatever, the offer stands even if you go there and change your mind."
"Okay. These pancakes are great, by the way."
"See," John said to Liz.
"I never said they weren't good."
"They don't look at all like Mickey Mouse ears, John," Claire said.
"I see how it is. You girls need to stick together and gang up on the cook. Make your own pancakes next time. See how close you can get to Mickey Mouse ears."
'When did you go to Disney World?" she asked.
"Right before John made detective," Liz said.
"When was that?"
"About eight months ago. I'd only been on the job as a detective about six months when I saw you."
"How long were you there?"
"A whole week," Liz said.
"Wow. I bet you had fun."
"I have a friend from college who lives down there, he let us stay with him so I didn't have to shell out hundreds on a hotel or even food other than what we ate out."
"That was nice."
"His house had a pool," Liz said.
"I think most of them have pools down there," Claire said.
"That's what John said, too."
"I think your brother's right."
"Thank you!" he said, standing to take his and Liz's plates from the table. "You want more coffee or juice?"
"I'd love some, but I can get it."
"I'll get it, eat," he said.
"Thank you," she said.
"If you hadn't agreed with me on the pool thing I'd throw the rest of it away."
"It'd serve you right."
"John won't let me drink coffee."
"Why do you want to?"
"It smells good."
"I never drank coffee until I was in college. My mom wouldn't let me have any either. Why Coke was okay and coffee wasn't I'm not sure."
"See, that's what I try and tell him, too."
Claire shrugged, nibbling at her lower lip. She tried to remember a sixth grade John. She could look in her yearbooks and see him, but she honestly couldn't bring up his face at this age. She wondered if Liz looked like him. She was pretty sure that she did. They had the same color hair and eyes. She also wondered how many times John got mistaken for a very, very young dad.
"What?" John asked when he returned with more coffee for her.
"Don't nothing me. I recognize that look, you're thinking something."
"She looks like you," she said.
"Well, yeah," he said.
"You must get mistaken for her dad sometimes."
"Sometimes," he shrugged. "I mean, theoretically I guess I could be."
His eyes widened a little as he regarded her. He seemed to know what she had been thinking.
"Not possible," he said. "I wouldn't be here, living and breathing with you two if someone showed up at our doorstep in that condition when I was fourteen. Trust me, that wouldn't have flown in my house."
"One of my friend's mom's totally likes him," Liz said apparently oblivious to their conversation.
"Lizzie," John said.
"What? It's true. She asks me about you all of the time."
"Yeah, and she's like thirty-five."
"That can't be the only one," Claire said.
"Yeah, well, I have my hands full with her, a house, a dog, and a job. No thanks to someone with three kids of her own."
"That's not nice," Claire said.
"I don't have to be nice in my own house. I'm nice to the friend's mom and everything and if she was here I'd be nice. I'm not a complete asshole, Claire, but that doesn't mean I have to go out with every woman who thinks because I'm good with Lizzie I'll be a good daddy to their kids, too."
"You said a bad word," Liz said.
"I wasn't implying you were."
"How did we get on this subject anyway?"
"I was just saying she looks like you. Does it make you feel old when they think that?"
"It makes me feel very weird," he said. "I mean, I don't think I look old enough, but I guess people see what they want to see. No other parental units in the picture so they assume."
The phone rang and Liz got up from the table to answer it.
"Hey," John said. "What do you say?"
"Excuse me," she said, running to answer the phone.
"I'd feel better if she meant it and wasn't just saying what I wanted to hear."
"And you didn't when you were that age?"
"Well, sure, but if I didn't say what was expected of me I didn't just get scolded."
She winced at that.
"Sorry," she said.
"No reason to be sorry. It is what it is. She's out of it, that's all that matters."
"Does she see them?"
"No," he said.
"They have nothing to do with her?"
"And she's okay with that?"
He shrugged. "I can't make them even if she wanted to, which she doesn't. For now. That may change."
"Does she know?"
"She knows what she remembers coming out at the hearings. Remember Mrs. Schultz?"
"Yeah," Claire said.
"She helped us a lot, too, testified on my behalf to all the things she treated on me over the course of high school."
"My dad, the school nurse. I didn't know."
"I didn't want you to know."
She winced at that. "I get it," she said, hating to be reminded that he obviously hadn't cared about her at all.
"You want more coffee?" he asked.
"No, I'll go get ready unless Liz needs the bathroom."
"No, she's been ready since before I woke up."
"Really? On a Saturday in the summer?"
"I don't get it either, but she was looking forward to swimming today."
"Good, I'm glad she has friends."
"Me, too. I was a little worried she wouldn't, you know? That she'd be thought of as weird because of our living situation, but she seems fine with it."
"She seems great, John, really. Whatever you're doing you're doing it right."
"You don't need me to tell you that."
"No, but it's nice to hear anyway."
"Yes, from a person who has no kids and is hardly ever around them."
"Well, actually, in a way, yes, you're probably more objective than others would be."
She finished her orange juice and stood from the table. "I'll go get ready," she said, grabbing her plate.
"I'll get it, I'm just going to put them in the dishwasher anyway."
"Okay," she said. "Thanks for breakfast. You do need to work on the ears."
He chuckled. "I'll get right on that."
Word Count: 4,070
"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.
Word Count: 4,734
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."
Word Count: 3,716
(Please excuse my ability to put *anything* Buffy related into a non-BtVS fanfic. There were quite a few good movies to choose from the summer of 92, but I tried to think of one that would most appeal to an 11-year-old girl and her friends.)
"Are you sure you wouldn't rather see something else?" John asked Liz while they were standing in line to buy their tickets. When she'd seen them looking through the newspaper's movie listings about an hour ago she'd offered her opinion on her choice in movie immediately. Claire said she didn't care. John would rather have seen something else, but apparently several of her friends had already seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer and she was feeling left out.
He wasn't sure how appropriate of a movie Batman Returns was for him to take her to anyway, which would have been his choice. It probably wouldn't have been a huge improvement at any rate. He'd seen some pictures of Michelle Pfeiffer in her Catwoman costume.
"I'm positive," Lizzie said.
"Claire's our guest, maybe she'd rather see that Madonna movie about baseball."
"Claire already said she didn't care," Claire said. "I really don't. It's welcome just getting out for a while."
"Yeah, you have been holed up pretty much all week long," John said.
She hadn't complained and he hadn't minded having her there pretty much all day, every day for the past week. Bizarrely, if he could convince her just to stay and forget about going back to her place at all other than putting it up for sale and getting her belonging he would do it. Now that they were spending time together again, even if it was out of necessity not mutual desire or want he didn't want her to get away a second time. Something told him he wouldn't get a third chance. He'd found out during the week that she did own her place, but she still had to get permission from her association or whatever to get the alarm system installed. They'd agreed when his department offered them the paperwork surrounding not just the case of the break-in to her condo but the attack on her and Sophie.
"It's okay," she said. "I understand."
"I'm glad, because I really am only trying to keep you safe the best and least complicated way I know."
"I wonder what he'd do if Sophie started to remember that night?"
"I'd love it if she did," John said.
He couldn't help but believe it was the only sure-fire way they were going to get a conviction to stick on the more serious crimes he'd committed. Claire he thought could identify him for his assault on her, but that certainly didn't carry the prison-time multiple rape convictions did.
"She remembers some things from the day that she didn't before."
"I know, we're hoping because she's the best hope we have. Until then, you're stuck with us. I mean, it has to be better than a generic hotel where you have to eat every meal out or on a tray."
As it was, she was relying on an answering service to take her work calls. She'd had one all along, but only during non-business hours. As soon as he'd found out she'd had that at her fingertips already he told her to up it to all day until the guy was caught. From what she told him, the service was better than an answering machine in that clients got a live person who sounded more like a receptionist taking a message than a machine. People tended to not hang up on live people. They were also able to answer basic questions and offer general information about her services. He'd honestly never given much thought to such services being any better than an answering machine except for a doctor, but he could certainly understand in the case of a pretty new small business like hers. Having the service twenty-four hours a day was the only thing that he could come up with to keep her whereabouts totally unknown. They'd get his machine with his name on it if her calls were forwarded to his house. She hadn't been bothered by that for the short-term, but John hadn't been willing to chance it.
The drive-bys of her parents' house by Shermer PD continued several times a day, primarily at night. There'd been some activity there last weekend, but nothing since. Her parents' had no idea where she was staying. As far as John knew, no one did.
He slid his hand along her back once he'd bought the movie tickets.
"I know Lizzie wants Raisinets. What's your poison?"
"I can buy my own, but thanks."
"I know you can, Claire. You're not though. It's a date, remember? Women don't pay on dates."
"You obviously haven't met some of the guys who've wanted to date me."
He grimaced a little at that. He hated the idea of her dating anyone. He'd tried to picture over the course of the past week who would be her type of guy now. He'd seen pictures of Brian Johnson, a successful computer guy whose picture had been splashed across magazines like Forbes, Fortune, and Business Week. He was a pretty good looking guy now, too. He'd obviously taken to the gym while in college and bulked up some. Certainly computer nerd was safer than a cop. And yet, he couldn't picture Claire with anyone like that. She didn't have a nine-to-five job, and he suspected she'd find anyone who had that kind of monotonous job boring.
So, who did she date then? And why hadn't she met anyone she wanted to marry? He believed her answer about being too busy to some degree, but believed if you fell in love lack of time or pretty much anything else was secondary to wanting to see it through. So, certainly she had to have dated. Had she gotten hurt again? Again was probably putting more stock into her relationship with him than he should be doing. He realized that. Surely after the GRAMMY's the interest in her had to be off the charts crazy. Local woman done good. Who didn't eat that shit up? And who wouldn't be all over her after reading about her?
"Well, hopefully their loss is my gain," he said.
He reached up, touching her hair to tuck some behind her ear because it'd fallen to her cheek. She preferred it off her face he knew and she sighed softly when he did that.
"Don't worry, you're safe from my attempts to kiss you. For now."
"Well, at the very least until Lizzie is asleep."
Her eyes widened a little. "You do remember what I said, right?"
"It's a kiss good night, Princess. Surely I'll be entitled to that much after a date."
"Maybe," she said. He couldn't tell if she was being flirtatious and coy or serious.
"At least I can't complain you're easy," he said with a chuckle.
"No," she said.
"All right," he said once they were next to order their concessions. "Let's go see what Buffy does to those vampires." For some reason, he really had a hard time taking a movie with that title seriously. He hoped he was wrong at least a little bit.
The movie wasn't terrible. It wasn't that good either, but it had its moments and was funny at times. Lizzie seemed to enjoy it, though. He'd sat in between the two of them. Claire had actually let him put his arm on the back of her seat and leave it there. He'd done it as kind of a test, expecting her to push it away or something.
Lizzie talked non-stop at dinner afterwards about Pike from the movie. It was good, though. He liked hearing her talk about normal stuff. The past week had been weird, their routine skewed a bit having someone else live with them.
"I suppose you like him, too," John asked Claire. She'd sat next to Lizzie for dinner. He wasn't sure why, hoped it wasn't because she didn't want to sit next to him anymore.
"Luke Perry or Pike?"
"Do you watch Beverly Hills 90210?" Lizzie asked her.
"I don't," Claire said. "I've seen a few episodes, and I know who he and Jason Priestly are, but I just haven't had the time the past few months to watch any TV."
"You avoided my question, Princess." He didn't miss Lizzie's eyes widen in surprise when he called her that. He hadn't in front of her until now. She didn't say anything, though, and didn't look mad or anything.
"He's cute," she admitted. "I'm not blind. You should talk. Like Kristy Swanson was hard for you to watch for ninety minutes."
"I don't know, ditzy blondes aren't usually my thing."
Claire scoffed a little at that and he imagined she was probably picturing more than one of the girls he'd gone out with after breaking up with her. He'd made a point of going out with anyone who wasn't remotely like her.
"But she saved the world."
"There is that, I guess," John said.
"So are we going to get ice cream, too?" Lizzie asked.
"Well, that's up to Claire. She may be ready to get to work. I promised her that she could have the rest of the weekend if she came out with us. That means you've got to leave her alone, kiddo. I know she told you she'd work with you, but she has a job to do and it's got to be getting close to crunch time for her. I imagine especially now that her working situation is very cramped that's doubly true."
"I know," Lizzie said.
"Ice cream is fine, under one condition," Claire said.
"What's that?" Lizzie asked.
"I get to buy," Claire said, watching John.
John sighed softly. "I guess I can let you pay for ice cream."
"Thank you. Then ice cream is a definite. And, Liz, you're not a bother. I don't mind if you want to watch me or something, but I do need to get my things done. I have to be ready to go in less than two weeks."
"I know," she said, not sounding happy about it.
"That doesn't mean you can't work on your idea while I'm working on mine."
"Oh yeah," she said.
"When I get back in September I promise we'll work on it and have something nice for you to show off to all of your friends."
"What if John catches the guy, though, and you're back home?"
"I'll come get you and take you to my office, which is even better because you can actually see how I put things together."
"Okay," Lizzie said and John hoped Claire wasn't making promises she had no intention of keeping. She seemed sincere, he didn't think she'd do that. He knew how busy people were, though, and Lizzie wasn't her sister or responsibility so it would be fairly easy for her to come back from New York and forget her promise if she was able to return to her normal routine.
It went against everything John believed in to let her pay for the ice cream. She'd paid for so much when they dated in high school and he didn't want her ever comparing that time, that John, to today.
"What would you be doing if I wasn't here?" she asked once back at his house.
"Working on the basement probably, which I will probably do anyway since I promised to leave you alone."
"That's the only thing you can come up with to do in order to leave me alone?"
"At the moment, yes," he admitted. Anything else would involve being upstairs where she was and it'd be far too tempting to bother her.
"You haven't shown me what all you've done down there yet."
"You want to see it?" That surprised him. He didn't think she cared, not really.
"Let it be known I am not reneging on my promise."
"It's my idea, I'd like to see it."
He had most of it done by now. The floors, walls, and ceilings were in place. What was left was aesthetic stuff like shelving, a bar, lighting fixtures (besides the ones already in place in the ceiling), furniture, and things like that. He looked forward to having some of his friends over in September to grill and watch a Bears game down here.
"Wow," she said, sounding genuinely surprised. "This is really nice."
"Thanks," he said, unable to deny that he was pretty damned proud of himself. It was the first time he'd tackled something of this magnitude on his own before.
"And you did it all by yourself?"
"Well, other than the plumbing and wiring, yes. Lizzie helped a bit, you know held things here and there when I needed more than two hands. She hammered a few nails and stuff like that, too."
"How long have you been working on it?"
"About a year, some weeks I had better progress than others."
"Well, sure, especially with your job."
She ran a hand along one of the walls.
"What's going to be down here?"
"The main room will have a TV, stereo, and stuff. Lizzie's trying to talk me into buying some video game system. I'm not sold yet, but we'll see. I'll have a pool table, too. A bar over there," he said, pointing to where he envisioned building the bar. It was the nice thing about doing his own work, if he changed his mind and decided he wanted the bar somewhere else it was no trouble to change it.
"Are you going to stock the bar?"
"Well, sure, the basic essentials at first. Eventually I'd like to have everything," he said. "The furnace room will be left as is for storage and whatever. The sectioned off room will be my bedroom." He turned on the light so she could see into it. "I'll have a little area there that I can put a desk in and use to do some work if I need to."
"You're not worried it'll be too cold down here?"
"Baseboard heating," he said, gesturing to the walls where they met the floor.
"Oh. Did you know it was going to turn out this nice?"
"Well, I sure hoped it would. I mean I've never done anything this major, but I did learn some handy skills from my father."
"Sure, he was too cheap to pay anyone a dime he didn't have to, so things around the house and with the cars got done by him, us when I was old enough."
"You actually sounded kind of …"
"Nice? Yeah, it doesn't happen often, but I bet even Hitler had his good days. He taught me some useful skills, I won't deny that. Working on cars kept me in legitimate work during college and around my class and fathering schedule."
"Well, I'm glad you got something out of it."
"I didn't have a choice. I either helped or got punished."
"I hate that you're so matter of fact about it."
"It is what it is, Princess. So anyway, I'm thinking just area rugs down here. I've never had water get in down here since we've moved in, but it'd sure suck to get good carpet down here only to have the storm of the century cause flooding and ruin it."
"Sure, that makes sense, and if you put them by like the couch and your bed the floor won't feel so cold during the winter."
"You know, I never saw this."
He frowned. "What?"
"When you told me last week you were bringing me to your place, I sort of pictured…"
"A one room shack with a leaky roof and peeling paint? Maybe a shutter or two not secured to the house anymore, swinging in the wind?"
"More like an apartment."
"We started out in one. We had a one-bedroom with bunk beds."
"Your social worker allowed that?"
"I know, right? I didn't have a whole lot of better options open to me. I'm sure they prodded her with a million questions to be sure I wasn't molesting her or something. I was going to school, though, working only as much as I had to in order to survive. I got financial aid, so that helped pay for school stuff and I always had a little left over. I still had stuff for her to buy, though. Honestly, I had a couch that folded out into a bed and I slept on that more than in the room with her, but they needed to see that we both had a bed for some reason."
"Right. I can't imagine. I thought balancing school and art was hard."
"So it's livable then?"
"The house or the basement?"
"I mean the basement, but if you're contemplating the whole house, don't let me stop you."
"Very funny," she said, frowning a little.
"I'm not entirely sure I was trying to be funny, Claire." He stepped toward her then, closing the distance between them so he could set his hands against her hips.
"We just went on our first date. With your sister along. It's a little fast to be talking about whether I like your house, isn't it?"
"Not our first ever date."
"No," she said. "But you also said you don't do that here with Liz home."
"So you want me to live here, but not sleep with me? Like a roommate?"
He scoffed, grazing her hip with his thumb. "Hardly."
"Then what, John?"
"I have just avoided bringing anyone home. I don't want her to get attached to anyone, and well, I don't want her to think sex is no big deal."
"I'm not that guy, Claire. Even if I was I still wouldn't have sex with random women with my kid sister in the room down the hall from mine."
"If you say so."
"What about you?"
"What about me?"
"You aren't that same girl either."
"No, I haven't changed much, though. Not really," she shrugged.
"You didn't need to change much anyway."
"Thanks," she said.
"You know, being down here like this. You could bring stuff down here if you need more room. I know you've got things to do, if you need this space it's yours until you can go back to your office."
"Really?" She eyed the space a little differently now. He could see her processing, analyzing, picturing where she'd put what.
"I'll think about it. I have one other option. A friend of mine owns some office space, I was thinking of asking him if he had anything vacant that he could lease to me for the next month."
"Off the books?"
"Yes," she said with a sigh.
"Good. Well, I promised you I wouldn't bother you for the rest of the weekend. So, I guess we'll start now. Wayne and I are going to be working nights the next week or so, starting tomorrow night."
"You're all right being here with Lizzie? Or should I ask one of her friends' moms?"
"I'm fine with her as long as she's okay staying with me."
"I'm going to talk to my captain and see about getting a car from the department for me to use so you can use mine until it's safe for you to go home. That way you're not stuck here all of the time, but you have to be careful especially with Lizzie along."
"Of course I'd be careful if she was with me. I can rent a car, John."
"If we have to go that route, I'll charge it and you can pay me back once the charge comes on my bill."
"I'm sorry to be so much trouble."
"You're not. We're going to work the bars you and Sophie went to. We have some female vice cops who we hope will catch his attention. He struck again in this area, so we're assuming now he's local. Until the incident this morning we weren't sure, you know? Wayne and I checked out the bars you went to and everything, don't get me wrong. We're going to hit it full-on this week, though, hopefully bring him out of hiding and trip him up."
"That sounds dangerous," she said. He smiled a little at the comment.
"That's what cops do, Princess."
"I know. I've just never thought about it, or been part of the reason they're in danger."
He led her upstairs to the dining room. It was a good thing he had a table in his kitchen for them to eat at because he wasn't going to be able to eat in here anytime soon. At least not as long as she was here.
"How much is this costing you anyway?"
"You don't want to know," she said.
"Yes, but it's a once in a lifetime opportunity. I saved a ton hiring some local girls to model who want the chance to walk a New York runway and get noticed."
"If you say so," he said, running a fingertip along the edge of one of her designs. It was all foreign to him beyond the fact it was supposed to be turned into clothes when she was finished with it.
"Well, I'll let you get to work then."
"Thank you," she said. "And thanks for the movie. I needed it I think."
He regarded her. She was looking at him, too, probably trying to figure him out the same as he was her. He leaned in and kissed her. She didn't pull away immediately, but didn't draw it out either to where he might think she'd be open to more.
"Good night," she said.
"I'll leave Lofton out here to keep you company. If he barks, there's a reason."
"Keep me safe, you mean."
"Yeah, that, too. You can put him in my room whenever you go to bed, just open the door. I don't lock it or anything."
"Ever?" she asked.
"I," he frowned. Was she asking what he thought she was asking? "I imagine if I had a reason to not want anyone walking in I'd lock it."
She didn't answer him, focusing her attention on whatever design caught her attention. He couldn't even be sure she heard his answer, or if he was answering the question she'd been asking.
Word Count: 2,873
"Wow, it smells great in here," John said, looking very sleepy. He'd come in during the night when she'd been in the bathroom and had been in his room, presumably asleep, by the time she'd come out. Maybe he hadn't realized she was really still awake, but she'd left the lights on in the dining room.
"Thank you," Claire said. "There's a plate for you in the oven, I figured you'd be up soon."
"You did, huh?"
"Well, yeah, Liz said you never slept real late even the nights you worked late."
"What about Liz?"
"What about her?" Claire asked.
"She eats, too," he said, walking to the oven to pull out the plate. She'd just made a breakfast casserole dish. It was the only thing she could come up with that would reheat or keep warm without looking disgusting after a little while of sitting.
"Well, of course she does. I know that. She ate with me and helped me put the dishes in the dishwasher."
"Oh," he said. He sat at the table and she brought him a glass of milk.
"You really thought I wouldn't feed her?" she asked.
"I wasn't really sure," he admitted. "She's not your responsibility."
"Bad night I take it because I know you know me better than that. First of all, the fact I cooked enough for you would tell you I did for her, too."
"An unproductive one. No offense, but your description is so vague."
"I'll remember the next time that I'm attacked to pay more attention to details."
"That's not fair or at all what I mean. It's just that it doesn't exclude many guys from the suspect pool. We know he's not blonde."
"Or black or red hair. I can't remember more than brownish."
"Yeah, like I said, vague."
"I know," she said. She was more than frustrated at herself. She wanted to help Sophie. She'd talked to her friend more than a couple of times and wished she could help ease her friend's mind that the guy would get caught.
"Thanks for breakfast. And if Lizzie didn't thank you, I will for her, too. This is real good."
"She did," Claire said.
"Wow, so that stuff that I teach her that she bitches about having to learn and do has paid off," he said.
Claire couldn't help but smile at that. "Yes, it seems to have worked with me anyway."
"Sit with me while I finish eating? Where is my sister anyway?"
"Um, she went for a bike ride with Mary."
"That's all right? She said you'd be fine with it."
"I am. It is fine. Usually she leaves me a note, but I guess she figured you were the note."
"Not your first time working late nights I take it?"
"No. Why are you wearing the same clothes as you were when I left?"
"I haven't slept yet."
"Claire," he said, sounding very much as if that bothered him.
"I will soon. I couldn't go to sleep in the middle of something."
"All right. I'm not going to have you get sick on my watch."
"What do you guys do when you work late like that anyway?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, he seems to be out on weekends."
"Right, we've noticed that, too."
"So, why are you working all nights this whole week?"
"Well, we're interviewing everyone we can: bartenders, waitresses, security, and customers. Some we've already interviewed, but we're starting from scratch after the last girl."
"Wouldn't someone have come forward already if they had information?"
"Not always. Some don't want to get involved. Some don't even realize they saw or know anything. We're also asking about potential victims before you and Sophie. Even women who picked up a guy that turned a little too rough even if they got out of it unscathed for the most part."
"And people just talk about that stuff?"
He smirked a little. "About sex you mean?"
"Well, that, too, sure, but something that turned rough? They just tell you that."
"A month ago probably not, but when someone comes close to dying sometimes they start talking about things that they were embarrassed about the last time we spoke."
"Oh," she said.
"This is really good, by the way."
"I'm glad you like it."
"Sewing and cooking. What else can you do, Princess?"
"Evidently not identify a suspect."
"You did fine. I'll get it," he said when she reached to take his plate from the table.
"Thanks," she said. She stood when he did, though, watching as he cleared his plate. He rinsed it off before setting it in the dishwasher with the rest of the breakfast dishes. She hated to admit how much she liked watching him do things.
"What?" he asked. He'd obviously caught her looking.
"Nothing," she said.
He closed the distance between them, backing her up against the kitchen counter she was standing near.
"You don't look like it's nothing."
"Nothing, I swear," she said.
He slid his hands to her hips and tugged her to him gently.
"You were looking at me," he said.
"Yes," she said.
"You like what you see?"
"You know I do, I always have."
"That's good," he whispered before kissing her. She expected it, knew he was going to, and wanted him to more than she thought possible. She moaned softly as their lips met, sliding her arms around his neck as he parted his lips. She did, too, eagerly.
"I like you disheveled," he whispered, finding her ear and kissing her there.
He chuckled, sliding a hand from her hip to her stomach under her top.
"You're all untucked and stuff."
"Yes," he groaned, sliding his hand higher along her stomach. "Makes you more touchable."
"Oh," she said, unable to say more when he cupped a breast.
"No bra either?"
"I took it off hours ago."
"No complaints," he murmured, finding the skin just under her ear. She gasped as he ran his tongue on the skin there.
"You sure? I could put it back on."
"No," he said, laughing softly.
He used his other hand to work the buttons on her top.
"Liz," she said.
"Will be gone for hours."
She slid her hands under his shirt then, pushing it up along his torso.
He stopped her, gripping her hand at the wrist preventing her from going further. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," he said.
"Okay," she replied, thoroughly confused. Weren't they doing this? "I thought…"
"You aren't wrong," he said.
He sighed. "Can't it just stay on?"
"I'm sorry," she said, drawing away from him a bit. "What?"
"What's the big deal?"
"I'm supposed to let you undress me, but I can't do the same to you?"
"I need yours off to touch you."
"So do I."
"You don't need to touch me."
She saw when he realized what he'd just said sounded like. She didn't give him time to explain, clarify, or make some asinine excuse, though. She pushed him away and slipped out from in front of him.
"Claire," he called after her. She didn't turn around, though. She went to her room, closing the door behind her. She found one of the buttons on her top he'd worked open and tried to redo it with shaky hands.
"I'm so stupid," she said, letting her head fall back against the door.
"Claire," he said on the other side of the door.
"I'm not until you at least open your door."
"What? No, why would I do that?"
"Just open the door, Claire. One minute is all I'm asking for."
"That's rich," she said. "You don't deserve a minute. You are no less confusing than you were eight years ago."
"Claire, that's not fair. We're not in high school anymore."
"I don't want to see you right now."
"Please can you open the door? You do realize I could just open it myself."
She opened the door after a minute. It was his house.
"I didn't mean that the way it came out."
"You mean the part where you don't even want to get undressed before having sex with me? That part didn't come out sounding right?"
"I can see how it could be taken that way."
"I'm reminded of the fact you're also the one who said no at school that day."
"Shit. You're throwing that at me, too? It was wrong on so many levels for you to lose your virginity that way. I'm sure it was more enjoyable for you whenever and wherever it happened than in that closet."
"Whatever. I just wish you'd make up your mind."
"I want you."
"It doesn't seem that you do."
He turned around then and she sighed.
"Walking away proves my point."
"I'm not going anywhere. Lift up my shirt, Claire," he said.
"Why bother? I'm not having sex with you."
"Claire," he said, glancing at her over his shoulder. "Just do it before I change my mind and agree that this is better if this never happens between us."
"Fine," she said, lifting the bottom of his shirt. She got less than halfway up when she sucked in a breath at the scars and marks there.
"Not so pretty to look at or touch, is it?" he said.
"That you think this would bother me or stop me from sleeping with you is the most ridiculous and stupid thing I've heard."
"You want to see that?"
"Want to? Of course not, but it's part of you so in that way, I guess, yes I want to."
She leaned in, sliding her hands along his back and kissed one of the marks once his shirt was up high enough she could. She moved her mouth to the next scar, kissing it, too. She slid her hand around him, grazing his chest with a fingertip before letting them drift lower to his stomach.
There were so many, some were scars on top of scars so they were really raised and rough, festering looking and she couldn't even imagine what they'd looked like when they were fresh. It broke her heart he had so many, broke it even more at the idea that several had to have come at the expense of keeping his sister safe. He could've stopped it, fought back or left the house, but he'd stayed knowing it'd be her if he hadn't.
She worked his jeans open, her hand sliding inside and lower until she reached his length to cup him.
"Hmm," she said. She knew for a fact that he was a lot harder in the kitchen.
"Sorry," he whispered. "It's not you. The idea of you seeing those sort of dampened the mood."
"It's okay," she said softly, rubbing her cheek against his shoulder before kissing him there.
"Listen, I know being with someone who looks freakish is so much less than you deserve."
"Shut the door, John," she said.
She worked the one or two buttons on her top she'd managed to get fastened again, letting her shirt fall open while he shut the door. She slid his shirt further up, over his head and off. She dropped it on the floor at his feet.
"There's absolutely nothing wrong or freakish about you," she said. She kissed his shoulder, sliding her mouth to his collarbone to kiss him there, and finally his throat.
"You're sure she's gone for a while?" she asked.
"Yes, when she and Mary go for bike rides they're gone for hours. We'll be lucky to see her for dinner."
She kissed him then, lips parting almost immediately to meet his tongue. She took his hand, placing it over her breast again. He stroked her peak with his thumb. She gasped at the feelings coursing through her body because of him touching her. She'd reacted much the same way that day of detention and for whatever reason had never reacted to anyone as strongly again.
He slid his hand lower into the waistband of her pants.
"Why do you wear skirts every day except today?"
She laughed softly. "Just to be difficult I guess."
He worked her pants open, sliding his hand lower. She did the same, finding his length again.
"Better this time?" he asked.
"I wasn't mad or offended."
"If you say so, but I can assure you just the same it wasn't you," he said. He slid a finger through her curls on his way to finding her opening. She was so ready for him and she knew he felt the evidence of that.
She drew away a little and he followed her the short distance to the bed. He slid his shorts off before joining her there.
She watched as he slid on top of her. She gasped as he took a peak between his lips while he slid her pants off. Lower he kissed until he found her nub. She gasped as he licked and sucked her there. She gripped the sheets beneath her, clutching them as she lifted her hips off the bed. Eventually, he slid a finger all of the way inside of her after licking her opening.
She finished so hard and so fast that her body practically shuddered from the feeling that it caused.
"Been a while for both of us, I guess," he whispered as he slid himself up along her body. She hadn't noticed him do it, but he was naked now and pressing himself against her opening. She took him in, welcoming him, groaning softly and biting his shoulder a bit as he slid into her deeply. She explored, touching him everywhere that she could reach. She kissed him places, too.
He kissed her neck, sucking on the skin there causing her to gasp as he brought her over the edge again. She slid a foot along his calf, arching herself off the bed a little more as he increased his tempo of his thrusts inside of her.
He cried out, pulling out of her way before she was ready to have him gone. She watched as he slid his hand along his length, eyes open watching her as he finished over her stomach. She ran a fingertip through it, sighing softly for some reason at the feel of it against her skin.
"Sorry, you didn't say if you were on the pill or anything and I guess you'd have no reason to be."
"No, but it's okay. I'm not mad or mind."
"I'm glad because I wasn't willing to risk it."
"I know, I understand."
"I'll be right back," he said.
She frowned a little at that. He was leaving?
"What?" he asked
"Where are you going?"
"I was going to go to the bathroom to get you a washcloth."
"You don't have to. I have to shower later when I wake up anyway."
"I don't want you to go yet," she admitted. "Unless you need to go."
"All right," he said. "I was just trying to be considerate."
He slid next to her on the bed and she settled against him. She ran a fingertip along his chest, unsure what exactly to say now.
"So," he said, breaking the silence after a few minutes.
"How is that possible?"
"I've been busy," she said with a shrug.
"You said you haven't in a while either."
"Yeah, but I'm not smart, talented, rich, or beautiful let alone all of those things in one very appealing package."
"I just haven't wanted to."
"Princess," he whispered. He rolled onto his side to face her. He slid a finger along her throat and shoulder.
"Don't worry. I don't expect you to marry me or anything. I wasn't waiting for anything like that."
"Well, after we've dated for a while maybe."
"What about Liz?" she asked.
"What about her?"
"You said you don't do this when she's home."
"I think I'd be open to rethinking that policy with someone I was seriously involved with."
"Would she mind? You have a good relationship, I wouldn't want to interfere with that."
"I don't think she'd mind, no. I've done so much, everything, for her, I think she'd be reasonable enough to realize I deserve something, too."
"Some of her friends' mom's might."
"Yeah, well, they don't matter."
"I'm glad you think so."
"You realize I can't spend the night with you," he said.
He chuckled, lowering his mouth to her shoulder.
"At your place. If you wanted to spend the night together it'd have to be here."
"Unless you brought her to my place, too, but yes I know what the situation is."
"Assuming you want to do this again you mean."
"You're the one who said we shouldn't be involved."
"Yeah, I'm an idiot."
She laughed, sliding on top of him. She slid herself over him, not real surprised he was hard again.
"I guess you want to again."
"I made it bad for you?"
"I can tell. Have I mentioned I love a woman in charge?"
"No, but you can show me how much," she said, taking his hand and sliding it between her legs.
Word Count: 2,434
"What in the hell is she doing here?" Wayne asked.
John and Wayne were each nursing a mixed drink with more mix than liquor in them. They had to fit in, and sitting in a bar not drinking was not blending in. The place was crowded, a given since it was Friday night.
Tonight they had three women here working undercover. He'd attacked his victims on Friday nights, so they were watching everyone. They had cops dressed in street clothes and undercovers working at all the bars Claire and Sophie had been in the night of their attack.
"She wanted to come."
"And you let her?"
"He likes her, or is mad she got away. Something. She has caught his eye. We were kind of hoping the local media attention she got after landing that contract with Marshall Field's would make him think about her again."
"John, man, setting your woman up to potentially get attacked again is not the way to keep her."
"Keeping her holed up at my house isn't either. She wants him caught. She came back from New York with a ton of work on her plate, she can't stay in hiding forever. We have undercovers following her every move."
"You mean Maguire knows she's here?"
"Yes," John said.
"Why didn't I then?"
"Because she's a good looking woman. You not checking her out would be suspicious."
Wayne shook his head, lifting his drink to his lips to take a sip. Wayne did just that then, checked her and her friends out. John wanted to tell him to keep his eyes off of her, but that would defeat the point of all of this. Wayne was interested in any woman who walked into a bar whether they had a man with them or not. It was just the way he was built.
"And she's not mine."
"You want her to be and she clearly wants to be."
"You have no idea what you're talking about."
"Yes, because any woman in her right mind would choose to stay with you at your house with your sister and dog versus a nice hotel."
"Hotels cost money."
"Her parents have a cabin in Wisconsin she could have hidden out in and worked just the same as at your place."
"Yeah," John said. "Anyway she's been different since her trip."
He was trying very hard not to watch her too closely or too often. It was hard, though, because of all the women in the bar, including the four she was here with she was the only one he wanted to look at. She wasn't the prettiest, though she and her friends were certainly some of the most attractive and best-dressed women there.
Sophie was in a room off the bar where there were security cameras. She'd remembered more and more and was willing to see if being here again would shake anything loose. Neither she nor Claire wanted another woman to fall victim to this guy. The last victim was in no condition to be here, but she'd mentioned being at this bar, too. It was the reason they were focusing the bulk of their attention and manpower here.
He saw Claire stand and go toward the bathroom. She tucked some hair behind her ear and he noticed then the slight shaking of her hand. He'd gotten real familiar with her the couple of weeks they'd shared his bed before she left for New York. They hadn't gotten to the point of sharing it with Lizzie home, but they certainly had using it when she wasn't home down pat. She'd said she wanted to be sure his sister was okay with them being together before she saw them sleeping together.
It had seemed legitimate at the time, but now since she'd been back he'd wondered. She'd kissed him, but she'd been back for a week and they hadn't used his bed once. Not that he just wanted sex from her, but she'd been just as willing to have it as he had been before her trip. She never initiated the kisses between them either.
What had her scared? Or upset? He scanned the bar for anything or anyone that may have caught her attention, but he couldn't see anyone focusing on her. A couple of women, one being an undercover cop went to the bathroom, too.
"Settle down," Wayne said.
"Huh?" John asked.
"I don't know what you're thinking, but I can tell you're itching to go after her."
"Of course she is. Leave her alone or you'll blow the reason she's doing this. Hopefully after tonight she won't have reason to be scared anymore."
Wayne flagged a waitress down and sent a drink to a woman not among Claire's group. John rolled his eyes at his partner. Leave it to him to try to pick someone up even under these circumstances. Then again, if they were supposed to be behaving normally, Wayne picking up women was about as normal as he could get.
"That would be nice," John said.
She was ready to go back home and back to her office. He understood why. She had work to do, a lot of it from the sound of it. His house was acceptable for doing some things for a few models to wear on a runway, but she had to come up with multiple designs for not just a large company but one based out of Chicago. She wanted to succeed probably more for that reason than if it had been a company from Paris or London wanting her stuff. There was something about the hometown girl doing good that appealed to her. Who could blame her?
He'd asked her for a little more time. She'd come up with this idea, which led to them being here tonight with him sitting helplessly by wondering what the fuck was going on with her that she went to the bathroom shaking.
Wayne stood, stretching a little and regarded the area around them. He nodded at the woman he'd sent the drink to who seemed (as they always were) receptive to his unspoken invitation. "I'll see what I can find out. You sit here and drink your watered down rum and coke."
"Yeah," John said. So there he was sitting at the table alone, scanning the room without being obvious about doing it. What had she seen? Anything? Nothing?
With Wayne gone John was left to replay the conversation he and Claire had had earlier today in the basement while Lizzie and Abby had been upstairs doing whatever eleven year old girls did together looking through some samples of things Claire had brought home with her from New York.
"So, tonight?" she asked.
"Yeah. We're all set. I'll be there and Wayne will. There'll be undercovers there looking out for you, too. You'll be fine."
"I know, I trust you."
"And then tomorrow."
"Yeah, I know back home you go."
"Yes. You know this means I'm going to be busy."
"Yeah, I know."
She'd sighed, looking at her feet instead of at him. That didn't bode well. "I mean real busy like deadlines every week that I can't miss busy."
"Yeah, I get how it works. I may not be the smartest guy in the world, but I get that you signed a contract and they expect you to abide by it."
"That means I'm not going to have much time."
"Much time for what exactly?"
"Claire," he said cautiously.
He hadn't expected this to come out of her trip at all. They'd talked once while she was gone if talking for about ten minutes could be considered a conversation. He didn't think it was, but then what did he know? He'd tried more than once to call her, but he never caught her in her room. He left a couple of messages with the front desk of the hotel she was staying at, but after the second or third one didn't get returned he'd stopped. She eventually called late one night. She'd apologized for not returning his calls, but hadn't offered a real seeming reason. Busy just seemed so vague and as if she was blowing him off.
And then this conversation.
"I just think that maybe we should take a break for a while."
"A break from what? We haven't even started anything yet. Not really."
"Yeah, and I think that's probably best. I'm just not going to have time. I mean, this is Field's we're talking about, John. It's like the mother ship for me. Do you get that? Do you know how many times I've shopped there with Mom over the years and thought, 'God one day that's going to be my dress on that mannequin.'? It's happening."
"Yeah, I know, but I'm still not sure where the break comes in. It's not like I don't have a job and responsibilities, too."
"I know," she sighed softly. "I just don't want to hurt you."
"Hurt me? Jesus, and casting me aside doesn't hurt?"
"I'm not. I'm just asking for some time. You know? Let me get started and then we'll see."
"What I can balance. I'm just not sure. I've never had much of a personal life before to worry about."
"What about Lizzie?"
"What about her?" Claire asked. "I didn't think you'd told her anything about us."
"Not that. You made her a promise."
"And I'll keep it, I promise I will. I just can't commit to what you want from me."
"You don't know what I want from you."
"I do. You want dinners and movies out and me to spend the night here."
"I thought you wanted those things, too."
"It's just real bad timing, John. I can't right now. I told you that first night that I'd been too busy and I meant it. I have to be focused on this. I can't have distractions."
"So, what I'm supposed to just sit here and wait for you to what? Decide you want to make time for me? A relationship with me? That I'm no longer a distraction?"
"I don't expect you to do that at all, no. If you've found someone else well then I guess that'll be my loss to deal with."
"I told you before I'd be happy to bring you lunch or dinner at work."
"I know, but instead of eating at my desk in five or ten minutes I'd be tempted to take an hour or longer and I just can't afford to do that."
"You can't work yourself to death either."
"It's my choice, John. I have a chance, a shot, I can't back away from it."
"I'll keep my promise to Lizzie, I swear I will. After tonight whether you've caught him or not I'm going back home."
He'd never been … broken up with before. He wasn't even sure that's what she'd done. Asking for time. What the fuck did that even mean? It wasn't as if they were married or he expected her to see him every second of every day.
He swore if it was at all possible for his heart to break again because of her it did. Only this time it wasn't through his own stupidity. He'd never gotten close enough to anyone again to feel anything for them. He'd forgotten what it was like, but then he'd always loved her so he imagined that's why it felt as though she'd pulled his heart out from his chest with her bare hands.
He saw some activity going on toward the rear fire exit and decided to go check it out. He had to do something to stop that conversation from replaying in his head.
"Your girl and her friend have identified him," Wayne said, pulling him aside from where he'd been headed.
"Claire said she smelled his cologne. Her friend…"
"Sophie," John corrected.
"Yeah, whatever," Wayne said. "Recognized his ring."
"His ring?" John said. "No one said anything about a ring."
"I know," Wayne said. "Anyway, he just left with someone so let's go."
"No, not Claire. She's fine, still in the bathroom. She was asked to stay put. We're not even sure he saw her."
"All right," John said.
"When this is done you can tell me why you have that kicked in the gut look about you tonight."
"Not talking about it."
"All right," Wayne said, leading him outside. They were pointed in the direction the guy had gone by one of the undercovers who'd left the bar as soon as he'd left with someone new.
The takedown went fairly easily, considering. He wasn't so tough against two pretty big guys. The woman he'd left with didn't seem to understand at all what was going on as they slapped the cuffs on his wrists and escorted him to a waiting squad car.
"Meet you at the station?" Wayne asked.
"Go talk to her, I know you want to. Just be quick about it. The sooner he's processed the sooner we can go home."
"I know," he said, returning to the bar.
He knocked on the bathroom door, flashed his badge at the civilian who answered the door. She left without John having to say anything, so did the two cops in there with her. Claire was huddled in the corner, looking more than a little afraid just then. He was reminded of what she'd looked like in her bedroom that first day he and Wayne went to interview her. It still made him want to kill the guy, but he wouldn't do that. She'd never forgive him if for no other reason.
"We got him."
"You did?" she asked.
"We did. I have to go to the station for processing and everything."
"I'd appreciate it if you could stay with Lizzie for tonight."
"Yeah, sure," she said.
"Thanks," he said. "I know you're probably itching to get home and everything, so thank you."
"Okay then, I have to go."
"Good luck," she said.
"Thanks," he said, leaving the bathroom. He was prepared for a very long night and very grateful to have a distraction from the fact that tomorrow his house would be missing someone he'd kind of gotten used to having there for the last little while.
Wayne was right, she could have stayed at a hotel or at her parents' cabin but she'd stayed with him. That had to mean something, right? If only he could make her see that, because otherwise it did him no good.
Word Count: 4,230
He wasn't sure who'd been bummed out more about Claire going back to her place, Lizzie or him. He was pretty sure his sister had gotten more than a little attached and used to having her there, too. Not to mention she was someone at least one of her friends was envious about Lizzie not just knowing but being on a first name basis with.
He left her alone for a couple of weeks. He knew she was legitimately busy with deadlines, but regardless of what she said he wasn't going to just leave her alone entirely. He couldn't do that. Well, he could, sure, but he didn't want to. Instead he wanted to prove to her somehow that it could work even if she was busy.
He showed up at her office today. Office was an understatement. He'd never really looked around before to see how much equipment and room she had. He supposed she needed it. She had people working for her now where a little over a month ago it was just her with a temporary employee paid to come in and do some of her office work a few hours a week.
He hadn't called first because he knew she'd have told him no. He had no idea what the woman's name was sitting at the reception area. From what Claire said the temp agency didn't always send the same person over every week. There was one she preferred he recalled her saying, but sometimes she went out on longer-term jobs. He imagined she probably needed someone out here, answering phones all of the time now. An answering service was fine, but he didn't see Claire letting an answering service field her calls when she was dealing with the company she was.
"Hi. I'm looking for Claire," he said.
"Can I say who's here to see her?"
"Yeah, sure, John Bender," he said.
She picked up the phone, punched a button or two, and spoke into the phone.
"Follow me," she said, eyeing John curiously. He clearly wasn't someone who belonged here from the standpoint of being one of her employees, a supplier, or anything like that. Perhaps she was curious about the bag he held. Who could tell?
"John," she said when the woman showed him into Claire's office.
"Hey," he said. "I thought you might be interested in some lunch."
"I shouldn't," she said, eyeing the bag. "Is that?"
"It is," he said, holding up the bag in question. He knew which Chinese place she loved near her office. She'd told him when they'd come down here and was talking about what all was in the area.
"Oh my God."
"I won't overstay my welcome, I promise. I figure we can eat, talk a little, and when you're done and ready for me to go I'll leave."
"Let me get some plates," she said.
He set the bag down, walking to the doorway to watch her as she went to the small kitchen area for plates. He enjoyed watching her do most anything. That had always been the case, and the reason he knew today just as well as he did years ago that he was pretty gone when it came to her.
"What?" she asked when she came back into the office.
"You have that slept-in look again."
"Yeah, I haven't been home yet."
"I will later, I swear. I'm just trying to get a little ahead."
"Is it working?" he asked.
He opened the large, heavy-duty brown paper sack that held their food. He pulled out the containers, setting hers nearest her spot on the table. She wasn't going to eat at her desk today and that was good as far as John was concerned.
"I'm not sure yet."
"You have people here today."
"I know, right? I have a staff. Like a full-time staff. I have payroll. It's crazy."
"You love it."
"I do," she admitted.
"Are things going well besides the uncertainty about getting ahead?"
"Yes. I haven't forgotten about Lizzie. I swear. If that's why you're here. I was going to see if she was free this weekend."
"That's not why I'm here. I told her you still intended to work with her on whatever you two had arranged and everything. She was admittedly a bit unhappy, but she understands. She said something about going to Field's with you in the spring. I don't know what that was about."
Claire laughed as she portioned out some food onto her plate, taking an egg roll, too. "She wants to me to point out what's mine."
"Oh, is that what she was talking about? I don't understand it I admit. Sorry."
"It's okay. I understand it wouldn't interest you."
"Everything about you interests me. Whenever you take her I'd go, too."
"Shut up," she said.
"It's your stuff. Isn't that what people do for one another? Support them when they've had successes?"
"I wouldn't know."
"Yeah, I'm not too up on it either, but it seems to me that should be the case if it's not."
"John," she said.
He held up his hand.
"Don't. Okay. Just don't. I'm not asking you for anything. Lunch. That's what we're having. We're talking. You had to know I wasn't just going to let you walk out my door."
"I figured I'd start with this, let you see that I can abide by your time restrictions."
"You shouldn't have to."
"Oh, I know I shouldn't have to. You shouldn't have to deal with wondering if when I leave for a shift one day I won't come back either. It's what people do who love one another, Claire."
"You had to bring that up. I hate the thought of it and I was only there for a couple of months. I don't know how Lizzie deals with it."
"Trust me, I'm very careful because she has nowhere else to go, but things do happen. I'm not sure she's really thought on it that hard. The possibilities, I mean."
"She's not dumb."
"I know, but she's eleven. She probably doesn't really think of the danger involved in my job."
"How is she?"
"She's good. She misses you."
"I miss her, too. She's fun. I haven't had anyone to just sit and doodle silly designs with since, God, high school maybe."
"I miss you, too."
"Me, too," she admitted.
"Tough to admit?"
"It's just so unfair to you."
"Life isn't fair or easy, Princess. So, whenever that happens. Your stuff is in the stores, include me."
"All right," she said. "This is delicious. Thank you."
"When was the last time you ate anything?"
"I had a yogurt," she glanced at the clock on her wall. "Like eight hours ago."
"Claire, you're not going to do yourself, these people you're paying, or Marshall Field's any good if you get sick or worse end up in the hospital."
"I know. I swear, once I feel comfortable I will slow down."
"Somehow I don't see that, but you need to do it."
"How are things with the case?" she asked.
He shrugged. "His attorney is being a dick. He's trying to pick apart Sophie's identification of him. He doesn't seem as concerned with you for some reason."
"Probably because beating me up doesn't carry as severe of a charge as rape."
"Well, attempted murder is pretty steep a charge, too, but you're probably right. I'm glad Sophie's all right, by the way."
"Me, too. Thank you for telling me to talk to her about that stuff."
"I'm glad they caught everything in time."
"Me, too," she said. "Your partner would never have said anything, right?"
"Nope," John said. "I wasn't supposed to either. Remember? I told you that. It violates their right to privacy or some absolutely stupid shit that makes no sense to me, but I have to follow procedure and the law same as everyone else. I just had to say something."
"Because you thought maybe I might have been …"
"Because she's your friend and I knew you'd never forgive me if I knew and she got real sick or couldn't have kids or something because of it. And because I wasn't one hundred percent sure you hadn't been, too."
"I like to think I'd have understood you were doing your job."
"Yeah, well, as long as you remember that conversation never happened we're good. You were just being a good friend, pointing out something that your friend probably hadn't thought of with everything that had happened. I'm not sure his lawyer won't find it odd that Sophie went to the doctor two months later or not." he shrugged. "So, I bet you're glad you've been paying the rent on this space now."
"Yes," she laughed. "It's still pretty small, but it's better than no space at all."
"You'll make it work."
"I hope so."
"You'll do fine, I know you will. You've worked hard and I've never known you to fail."
"Thank you. And thank you for lunch."
"You're welcome. It was okay?"
"It was delicious."
"Not the food. I meant me just showing up here."
"Yes, it was okay," she admitted.
"I'm not going anywhere, you know that, right? This isn't then. I'm not going to walk away from you or let you go over a job."
"I just, it's so unfair to you."
"You say that, but isn't it up to me to decide what's fair and not fair to me? You've been honest with me about your schedule and when you're available. So, it's not fair to me. To what? See you for dinner once in a while? It's better than not seeing you."
"Yes, but before I left we…"
"Yeah, okay, sure I miss that, but that's not the only reason I want to spend time with you. If it does or doesn't happen again for a while, I'd rather have time like this."
"You would huh?"
"Well, I mean, ideally? I'd love both, sure. I'm not an idiot. We also probably wouldn't have had sex if you weren't staying at my house, so I can step back and let things progress normally."
"Why do you want to? There are other women out there who'd probably be available every day for hours every day."
"Maybe there are. I don't want them and I don't need hours every day from you. I got by just fine in my life without you in it, finding things to do while you're busy doing your thing here will not be a hardship. I still have work to do on the basement."
"And that came out wrong. I didn't mean it like that, I'm just saying it's not as if I have nothing to keep me busy when you're busy. I have plenty, but none of my stuff comes with a deadline, so if I get to have dinner with you whatever it is I had planned can wait."
"I knew what you meant."
"Today was just a test sort of, to prove to you that I could see you for a while without monopolizing your time or interfering with your work."
"You need to eat, Claire. So don't feed me a line about how I did interrupt your day. Had you asked me to leave I would have left the food and left."
"So, maybe Friday night if you call me and let me know you're working late I can bring something again."
"Yeah. You know if you wanted to."
"I think I'd like that."
"I could bring Lizzie with me since you mentioned talking to her this weekend."
"No, I'll call her and come out to get her."
"What if I brought her and we crashed at your place Friday night."
"I don't know if I'll be home."
"Yeah, I got that. She'd be downtown then at least, save you a trip out there."
"That's too much."
"I get dinner with you and maybe breakfast, too. Lizzie gets to see you. I can't see why that's too much. Maybe you'll even go home Friday night and sleep."
"You just want me to sleep with you."
"I'd love for you to sleep with me every night, but for now I'd settle for just seeing you."
"If I came home Friday night what would you tell Lizzie?"
"You only have two bedrooms. I think logic would dictate I'd sleep with you unless you delegated me to the couch."
"No, I wouldn't, I wasn't sure what you'd say to her, though."
"Well, I think I can behave myself for a night with you so we could leave your door open. I've sort of had the birds and the bees talk with her because she's at that age. "
Claire laughed softly.
"I think I might have paid lots of money to hear that conversation."
"Yeah, talk about out of my element. And as much as I would have liked to I couldn't rely on one of her friends' mom's to do it for me."
"You're not sure how she'd react, I take it."
"You know, I don't know. She likes you and she knows I like you, but I'm not sure she's thought through what it could potentially mean. I thought about talking to her about it while you were gone."
"I'll bet you're glad you didn't."
"Did you really think I'd just go away?"
"It wasn't a test, was it? I mean, you do know I'm not that guy anymore, right?"
"I do, and no it wasn't a test. I'm just trying to be fair to you."
"What about being fair to yourself? You deserve to do more than just work all day, every day."
"In a few months I can think about that."
"Okay, so for the next few months we do this. I bring you lunch once in a while, maybe dinner once in a while, Lizzie and I could stay at your place one of my nights off, and maybe once in a while I can talk you into leaving your office here and stepping outside like a human being for a while to a movie or even just a walk."
"And you're okay with that?"
"It beats the alternative, which is you not in my life. Again."
"I still think it's not fair."
"Let me worry about what's fair and not for me. Besides didn't you mention you're going to have parties, dinners, and stuff like that to go to?"
"Yes," she said. She eyed the Chinese takeout container, but pushed her plate aside so she was obviously done. There was enough left between his and hers that she'd have at least one more meal. Most likely she'd get two more out of the leftovers. He'd ordered something she liked, too, knowing he was going to let her have the leftovers.
"Well, don't you like need an escort?"
"You want to go to parties with me?"
"And again, isn't that what people involved do for one another?"
"I guess it is. I just wouldn't have thought you'd want to. You'd have to wear a tuxedo or a suit might be acceptable for some things."
"I own a few suits, probably not as nice as what you're talking about but I can fix that. And, hey, I have an in with someone who has an eye for fashion so you can be sure I won't show up looking like a bum or in a blue Armani."
She laughed softly. "Steve Martin was funny in that."
"He was," John agreed. "Then Steve Martin is funny in just about anything."
He helped her close up the containers of food and rice, placing them back in the bag. She had a refrigerator in her little kitchen area. He knew that because she'd told him when they came here to pick up her stuff before.
"You know I still look at my dining room and wonder what in the hell I'm going to do with the table and all of that room now."
"I did kind of take over and make a mess, didn't I?"
"You're welcome to make a mess there anytime. As you saw, Lizzie and I aren't hosting dinner parties very often."
"What about your friend? Your old partner?"
"Pete? Sure, but we don't usually use the dining room table. I honestly am not entirely sure why I bought it, other than I had a dining room it seemed logical to put a table in there. Something normal, you know?"
"Your parents didn't have a dining room table?"
He scoffed. "My parents wouldn't have known what a table was for. Their laps were their table for so long I don't even remember ever sitting down to dinner with them."
"I'm glad you do it with Liz."
"Me, too. It's important, I think," he shrugged. "During the summer it isn't such an issue, but now that she's back in school sometimes breakfast or dinner is the only real time we have to see each other. We don't always talk, sometimes we just eat and go on to do our thing. She knows I'm available, though, and that's crucial."
"It's important for you, too. You need interaction with more than just your employees and clients."
"I could maybe be talked into using it if you thought you could spare a couple of hours some evening and have dinner with us."
"I'll try. Thank you for lunch, John, really. I hadn't looked at a clock since before the sun came up I don't think."
He stood when she did, carrying the bag of food while she took the plates. He set the bag in the refrigerator while she rinsed off the plates and put them in a dishwasher.
"A dishwasher? That's new, isn't it?"
"Yes. I figured it was better than people leaving coffee cups and stuff piling up in the sink."
"Especially since I'd be the one washing the dishes most likely. I hate washing them at my condo let alone here."
She reached up and kissed him lightly, surprising the hell out of him.
"Thank you again," she said.
"You're welcome again. I'll do it again tomorrow if it gets me another kiss out of the deal."
"You know you don't have to buy me lunch or dinner when you come."
"No, you're a good cook."
"Hmm, now I have to cook and bring you food?"
She laughed a little, sliding her arms around him. He did the same, letting her hug him as tight as she wanted.
"What am I going to do with you?"
"I'm not sure. Why?" he asked.
"It'd be so much easier…"
"Yeah, life isn't supposed to be easy, Princess. I figure this doesn't work between us this time it's not going to be because I walked away or was an asshole."
"But I am?"
"I didn't say that. I'm just saying that I'm not going anywhere. I'm willing to make an effort as long as you are, too. I know you're busy, but even simple things like hugging me are nice. I'm not asking you to drive out to see me every day so long as I know I'm wanted here."
"You need to talk to Lizzie," she said.
"Well, if you're going to come spend the night with me once a week I'm not going to sleep with my door open every time. I can see for a while to let her get used to it and everything."
He chuckled softly. He lowered his mouth to hers, kissing her, and found himself immensely relieved that she was kissing him back. Kissing him back like before the trip not after it, as if she wanted to kiss him.
"I'll see what I can do," he said. "Maybe I can work it out so she spends the night with Mary, Abby, or Chris one of my nights off."
"You have to talk to her, John. If we're going to do this, she needs to know. That's not fair to hide it from her."
"I know. I just dread it."
"Nothing to be sorry for. She teases me about Cynthia liking me, but I'm just not sure she's thought the whole process through of what it means if I have a girlfriend."
"Is that what I am?"
"It's what I'd like you to be, yeah. Is that a problem?"
"No, no problem."
"If I'm going to be buying suits and renting tuxes, I'd better get a girlfriend out of the deal."
"I have to…"
"Get back to work. I know. You took longer than I thought you would, honestly. I'm glad."
"I needed it, so thank you."
"I'm sorry. What was that?"
"Yeah, yeah. Don't go getting big headed about it or anything."
He slid a thumb along her lower lip. "Call me later?"
"I don't know when…"
"Oh, I don't care when. Just at some point it'd be nice to know that a thought of me crossed your mind."
"I can do that."
He lowered his mouth to hers again.
"Any thoughts for dinner on Friday?"
"I don't care."
"Okay, I'll surprise you then maybe with Lizzie's help."
"You really need to stop calling her that."
"Yeah, I know, old habits are hard to break. She's still my kid sister, you know?"
"Yes, but if you've had that talk with her she's not really a kid anymore."
"Don't remind me. I may call you one day in a panic. I've heard it can start as early as now."
"I'd help, though I'm not sure I'm going to be much better."
"Thank you. I mean, at least you're a girl, that has to be a vast improvement over my knowledge," he said very relieved at the offer.
He was glad the social workers were out of their lives now because he was pretty out of his element with pre-pubescent-close-to-pubescent girls. Well, unless you counted chasing and kissing them, but he doubted that counted for much.
"Where are you going?" he asked when she followed him out.
"Walking you to your car."
"Wow. Are you sure that's safe? Have you seen daylight recently? With your red hair and fair skin you might combust if it's been a while."
"Very funny. I did yesterday. And I will go home at some point today to shower and get some sleep. You noticed that couch in my office?"
"There's a blanket and pillow for it. I take naps there sometimes."
"Well at least you're sleeping, that's better than I figured you were doing."
She leaned up and kissed him again once they were at his car.
"Thank you again. I'm glad you came. I planned on calling when I got caught up, but I do feel better."
"I'm not sure I should be glad you feel better after you made the decision you did, but I get it."
"I'll see you Friday."
"You know where to find me at any rate," she said.
"I'll talk to you before then."
"That'd be nice. I don't expect hour long phone calls or anything."
"I know. Say hi to Liz for me."
"I will. Should I tell her we're coming here Friday or not?"
"It's up to you. If you want to surprise her that's your decision."
"I'll think on it. She would be surprised to pull up here."
"You know she could invite Abby to come along."
"If it's okay with Abby's mom any way to spend the night downtown, but I bet they'd both like to see everything now that I actually have things here going on."
"I'll see. I'm not sure how her mom would feel about that."
"Yeah, I know, she likes you."
"No, I mean, that may be, but that's not why I'm not sure. I'd have to tell her we'd be staying at your place."
"You think she'd be bothered by that?"
"I don't know. I've never asked her if I could bring her daughter to spend the night at my girlfriend's house. You realize something, though, right?"
"If Abby comes with us, you're taking Friday night off."
"Why?" she asked.
"Because I'll probably need you to save my sanity."
"Oh come on, Abby comes over all of the time."
"During the day and I know she's going to go home eventually."
"Deal," she said.
"Yes. I may bring some work home with me, but you have a deal."
"I could always tell her mom I'll be sleeping on the couch."
"Abby would tell her you didn't."
"How do you know?"
"She likes you, she's going to ask where you slept."
"I suppose you're right."
"Yes, I am."
"We could both sleep on the couch."
She laughed softly, shaking her head. "I don't think so. Just let me know so I know who to expect, but I have to go."
"Thanks again for lunch. And dinner, too, I guess."
"Yeah," he said just as he was about to get into his car.
"It was good to see you."
"You, too, Princess. I'd be fine with not going two weeks without seeing you again, though."
"We'll work on it."
"That's all I can ask for."
Word Count: 5,133
She'd surprised him more than a little bit calling Friday afternoon to tell him she'd be ready for them to get there any time after five o'clock.
He was doubtful, she could tell, and didn't blame him. She'd forced herself, though, to stop everything around thirty minutes ago. Everyone had the entire weekend off. She'd probably come in at some point, but she couldn't expect everyone else to care as much as she did. They weren't their designs they were working on, they were just there to put things together so Field's could see the patterns worked. From there, once they were satisfied, they'd go to whoever Field's used to produce the mass amounts needed to stock their stores.
She'd had no idea what to expect out of Fashion Week. She assumed she'd get a couple of nibbles, maybe some larger scale boutiques like the smaller ones she already serviced in the Chicago area. She'd about had a heart attack when they started talking contracts and the amount of money involved. It was easy for John to judge her inability to do anything but work, but he had no idea the dollar figure she was so close to getting. It wasn't a huge figure if she'd been part of a large company, but since she had little overhead and wasn't a large company the figure was astounding. Something to celebrate.
That was why she'd decided to take the weekend off. She'd been so busy since, God she couldn't even remember when she'd taken a weekend for herself. Living with John didn't count because she'd been forced away from her office, and even there she'd taken very little time off once they'd gotten her stuff there.
She'd brought a change of clothes with her, used the shower in the bathroom that only she had a key for. She wasn't even sure anyone knew what was behind the locked door and she didn't plan on changing that because she only used it for emergencies. Tonight wasn't really an emergency, but she still thought it was a pretty good reason to use it.
It'd been so long since she'd had an actual date. Again, she didn't really count the times she did things with John while staying with him because they'd already been together when he suggested them. This, though, he was driving out here to see her.
Granted, Liz and Abby were coming along so she supposed it wasn't really a date as far as dates went, but she didn't mind. She liked Liz and she totally understood that she came as part of the deal with John. Abby Claire didn't know well enough to like, but from what she'd seen to this point the girl hadn't done anything to make Claire think she wasn't nice, too.
It had blown Claire away that one of Liz's friends liked the dresses featured in the People from the GRAMMY's well enough that she'd become a fan. She supposed that was how it worked, but it was still odd for her to think that anyone she knew in any capacity knew her work before they knew her.
"I thought you said she had a secretary," Liz said from the front.
"She does. I don't know where she is."
"She, along with everyone else, are gone for the weekend."
"It's not even five o'clock yet."
"I know. I told her to put five on her time sheet anyway. I figured everyone deserved a bit of a break this weekend. I've been kind of a madwoman."
She rolled her eyes. "I know, right? Shocking!"
"You look nicer than when I saw you Tuesday."
"Thank you. I'd be insulted except I know I looked pretty bad Tuesday."
"Well, bad is relative. Bad for you is still pretty good."
"Thank you," she said. "I'm still glad you think I look nicer."
"So you guys want to see some things now?" she asked Liz and Abby.
"Really?" Liz asked.
"Well, yeah, isn't that why John brought you guys?"
"I thought he was joking."
"Nope, not joking at all. Come on back, I think there's quite a few things that are close to being done. Just pardon the mess."
She stood aside a bit, letting Liz and Abby look around. She answered their questions when they asked something, but overall they just seemed to think it was cool to see the different stages. There were things here from the very beginning of getting put together to things as finished as they were going to get waiting for Claire to review them and give the final approval.
"What are these things?" Liz asked.
"Well, I already have clients so I have to keep producing things for them, too. So, I'm trying to keep everything separate as best as I can. Those stations are the two people I have to work on those accounts. That way no one gets confused."
"Some of these things look kind of big," Abby said.
"Oh, yeah, those are for a maternity store in Northbrook. It's actually one of my favorite accounts because I've seen some pretty awful maternity clothes for businesswomen over the years. And, the best part is they have a small selection of baby things so I even get to design some of those things. Like special outfits for the baby. You know, coming home from the hospital and baptisms."
"You design baby clothes?" John asked.
"Not a lot. I'm certainly no expert on what sells every day, but I know what people who have big, formal baptisms are looking for it seems because the stuff sells like crazy."
"Huh," he said.
"Who knew?" she asked.
"I sure didn't."
"And I'm not supposed to tell anyone this, but I'm designing a dress for someone going to the Golden Globes in January. That's being worked on here. It's just about finished."
"Really?" Liz and Abby both asked.
"Yes. It's for someone in the show Married…With Children. It's set in Chicago, and I guess she decided it'd be neat to use one of my designs since I'm from Chicago."
"That is so cool," Liz said.
"The mom?" John asked.
"No," Claire said. "Not the mom."
"She's been nominated a few times, I figured it'd be her."
"Well, they haven't announced the nominations yet I guess, but she assumes the mom would be nominated again. So I'm designing the dress she'll wear assuming the mom gets nominated."
"Is she picking up the dress?"
Claire laughed. "No, and I wouldn't tell you even if she was."
"Oh come on," he said.
She laughed. "Yes, just what I want to do, tell you when someone you think is beautiful is going to be here."
"She's cute, I wouldn't say beautiful."
"I can't wait until spring," Liz said.
"Me neither," Claire said.
"John said you'd take me with you to Field's one day."
"Sure, if you still want to go then. I'd love to. My mom's excited, but she sort of thinks it's not as big of a deal."
Claire laughed a little. "Well, she says it's because she isn't surprised, expected it all along. You know? I'm not sure if that's the real reason. She's not real good at showing emotions. Maybe inwardly she's as excited as I am. I'll never know."
"Thanks for letting us see," Abby said.
"Sure," she said.
"All right, guys," John said. "Let's go before Claire changes her mind about going to dinner with us."
"I'm not going to."
"You say that, I believe you mean it, but I can see your mind working even as we stand here."
"Well, of course, that's why I work so long because my mind is always working, seeing what I can improve."
"You're not going to improve anything tonight except maybe my mood."
"Your mood, huh," she said.
"Yes. Dinner with my girls puts me in a good mood for some reason."
"And you think it could be improved?"
He chuckled softly, grabbing her hand. She went to him when he tugged her toward him and kissed her.
"That's a definite start in the right direction," he said softly.
"I think my mood is better, too."
"That is very good to hear," he said. "You have a few weeks to make up for."
"I take it you talked to her," she whispered.
"I did," he said. "You hungry?"
"Good. Let's go. We brought a couple of movies."
"Oh, okay, you didn't have to…"
"I know, they wanted to."
"Liz thought you and I might want to go out for a drink or something later," he whispered against her ear.
"Liz thought that?"
"I like the way she thinks because I could use a drink."
"Why are we whispering?"
"I'm not sure how much Abby's going to go back and report to her mother about us."
"Oh," she said, blushing deeply. "Are you wanting her to go back and report things?"
"Only good things."
"Well, we better work on giving her lots of good things to report then."
"Yeah, she seemed to take you going home as some sort of…sign."
"I see," Claire said. "She thought what? I'd just stay there once the case was done?"
"I'm not really sure what she thought. I imagine Liz told Abby who told her mother that you weren't around anymore and didn't come around either. It probably made her think…"
"Does she not know the concept of having a job?"
He chuckled. "I don't know what she knows. I told you I have no interest in her and I've never given her any indication I would be."
"Oh, I believe you."
"I'm very glad, though I don't know it might be kind of fun to see you jealous," he whispered. He kissed her neck, drawing away. "Let's go then."
"I have to lock up and stuff, so I'll be right out. Okay?"
"Sure, are you going to leave your car here?"
"That's fine. You can bring me to get it later on or tomorrow."
"I can do that."
She flipped out the lights, made sure everything was shut down and quiet for the weekend before heading out. A part of her thought taking tonight off was a real bad idea, but seeing the excited look on Liz's face made her think it wasn't as bad as all that.
She locked the door behind her, pulling on it to be sure it was secure before walking to his car. He was waiting by her door for her.
"Wow," she said as he opened her door for her. "What's that for?"
"You deserve it."
"Thank you, but really. What's it for?"
"Well, you do deserve it, but it's to show them that they should expect it, too."
"Oh," she said, glancing at both girls in the backseat before she got in.
They went to a restaurant that served everything from sandwiches and burgers to salads to actual meals and everything in between. It was a pretty popular place downtown and it was Friday night, but they'd gotten there at a decent enough hour that they didn't have to wait too long.
"So how are you guys liking sixth grade?"
"It's good," Abby said.
"It's fine," Liz said.
"You're at the same school, right?"
"Yes, Mary and Chris are, too," Liz said.
"Well, that's good at least. It has to help even if you don't have a lot of classes together."
"We don't," Abby said.
"No, just lunch."
"Maybe next semester you will."
"Maybe," Abby said.
Claire remembered sixth grade, switching classes for the first time. It was a little overwhelming.
"I still can't believe another one of your dresses is going to be on TV."
"It probably won't be. It'll be at the awards ceremony, presuming the mom gets nominated as expected, I guess. I don't know what she'll do if she doesn't. Go to the ceremony anyway? The dad gets nominated, too, doesn't he?"
"Yeah, they're both pretty funny. You don't watch?" John asked.
"I've seen it, but not regularly, no."
"We'll have to fix that."
She leaned in to kiss his cheek before brushing her lips against his ear.
"There have to be better things you can think of do with me when I have free time than watch TV."
"Well, yeah, plenty. Would you like a list?"
She laughed softly. "No, that's okay."
"Pity. It's pretty lengthy."
"Maybe some other time."
"It's going to keep getting longer."
"Hmm, you think of that many things?"
"Only every day."
"That sounds like it may take us a while to get through."
"Oh, you know, fifty or sixty years maybe."
"I'll make it that long."
"I think I like that idea."
He cleared his throat softly, glancing at Liz and Abby who were watching them rather intently. Neither seemed to be really listening to what they were saying, though. Claire was glad of that. She rested her head against his shoulder lightly as she let her hand rest against his thigh.
"So, what movies did you guys bring?" she asked.
"Jurassic Park, Sleepless in Seattle, and, um," Liz said.
"The Fugitive, wasn't it?" John asked.
"Yes! Have you seen any of them?"
"No, I admit I haven't, so all good choices. I assume they are anyway, because you picked them."
"Really?" John asked. "None of them?"
"No. Why would I?"
"I don't know."
She lifted her head from against his shoulder to look at him. "You think I exaggerate when I talk about how focused I've been. I'm not exaggerating. I haven't done much of anything."
"I think just that admission has made me add about thirty things to that list."
She laughed softly. "I know, I've lived a very sheltered existence."
"Jurassic Park was like huge last year. How could you have not seen it?"
"I don't know. Now ask me what colors were in last year and I could run circles around you."
He sighed softly. "Now I'm reconsidering that drink."
"Well, yeah, I sort of feel like it's my duty."
"To make me watch movies?"
"Put like that it's pretty ridiculous sounding."
"She could keep the movies for a while," Liz offered. "Couldn't she? I mean, it's not like after watching them tonight or tomorrow I'll need to watch them again for a while."
"She could," John offered.
"I'll never watch them if I don't with you guys, so take them home tomorrow and whatever I don't watch tonight I'll watch with you the next time I come over. Your brother mentioned my coming over for dinner one night."
"Sure," Liz said.
"So did you bring your design with you?"
"No, it's not done yet. I started over because Abby said she thought it was dumb."
"I did not!"
"You did, too. You didn't have to say it, I could tell you thought it was dumb."
"Well, I don't know, it just wasn't you, you know."
"Yeah, that's the tricky part when you're designing for yourself. What you like and what are good for you may not be the same thing. You should've brought it with you. Did you throw it away?"
"Next time I'm there we'll look at it, maybe there's something we can do to make it more you."
"Maybe. I tried."
"I'm sure you did. We'll figure it out."
Dinner didn't take that long so they were at her place by seven o'clock.
"You're setting your alarm I see," John observed.
"I admit I do feel safer, and I know that's probably not the greatest thing."
"Alarms are better than none."
"I know. You don't have one."
"I have Lofton. I don't need one, but you won't get a dog."
"I can't take care of a dog, John!"
"I know, I'm just saying. You want the protection it's either one or the other."
She showed Abby and Liz to their room, hoping they didn't mind sharing a bed. She'd told John she only had the one spare bed. She'd certainly slept with her girlfriends at sleepovers over the years when she was younger. John followed her to her room.
"I guess I never paid attention to your bed."
"How do you mean?"
"Well I've only been here a couple of times and it wasn't for a social call, so I never paid attention to the fact you have a king-sized bed."
"Oh, yeah, I splurged."
"I guess. It seems a shame to let all that space go to waste."
"I've thought that fairly regularly the past month or so."
"Never had any reason to."
"Hmm," he said.
"The door's supposed to stay open, though, remember?"
He chuckled. "Yeah, I remember. Doesn't mean I can't think about it."
"No, I suppose not."
"Thanks for coming to dinner with us."
"Thank you for dinner. I had fun."
"It's good for you. You look better."
"I looked bad you mean?"
"No, I don't mean that. You just look relaxed. Like you're letting your brain stop working for a little while."
"I suppose I am."
"Well, that's good, right?"
"I guess so."
"So, movies or drinks?"
"Movies for now."
"All right," he said. "You're sure?"
"Yes. Maybe after the first one I'll change my mind. I'm not used to just sitting still for hours at a time."
"Okay. We'll play it by ear then."
"You get every weekend off?" she asked.
"One of the perks of being a detective, barring an open case that requires us to work. Yes. Why?"
"I was thinking at dinner it would be kind of nice if maybe this became a habit for you and Liz."
"You coming down here, staying a night with me."
"Yeah, you could even, I don't know, leave a toothbrush here or something."
"What if I don't want to bring Lizzie every Friday night?"
"Well, that'd be up to you, I guess."
"So, it's not a package deal?"
She laughed. "That's a loaded question, because of course she's included. Not to say I wouldn't welcome some time with just you, too."
"A toothbrush, huh?"
"Yeah, well, you know, a razor or something, too. So you wouldn't have to worry about having what you need every time."
"That's a pretty quick turnaround, Princess, from not wanting to even see me."
"I changed my mind."
"Do I get the same thing?"
"Same thing what?"
"One night during the week from you? Barring some catastrophe that legitimately keeps you at work or me at work, but of course you'd still be welcome to stay there."
"It might be late when I'd get there."
"So you call me when you're leaving so I know you're on your way and if I fall asleep between the time that you call and when you get there you wake me up." He chuckled softly. "It shouldn't be that difficult to answer."
"I just don't want you to get mad at me if I can't."
"I get you have deadlines, but one night during the week you'd get some sleep. Is that so bad?"
"No," she sighed. "I'd get sleep, but I'd also have to leave your house super early to get to work on time."
"You are the boss, aren't you? Your employees know what they're supposed to do if you're not there, right?"
"I mean, because I know you have meetings with clients and stuff so you're not there every second of every day to begin with."
"You can think on it. It's a deal from my end without my having to think about it."
"I don't have to think on it either, not really."
"Is that a yes?"
"It's a yes."
"Hmm. Then I choose Wednesday and Saturday."
"Well, because Saturday means it could turn into most of the day Sunday so I'm almost getting two days out of my day."
"You watch football on Sunday."
"I can watch football here with you."
He chuckled. "Oh come on, I'm willing to wear a suit and stuff for you."
"Yeah, I know."
"Okay, let's go watch some movies with them then before they think we've forgotten about them. You can let me know your decision later."
"No, I don't need to. I'll watch football with you. I may work while it's on."
"I'd expect no less from you, Princess."
"You say that and I can't help but thinking it's not a good thing."
"It is what it is. It comes with part of the package, I accept that."
The Fugitive was really very good. She knew about the TV series, of course, but she didn't know much about it beyond the one-armed man angle. Liz put Sleepless in Seattle in next.
"I thought you wanted me to see Jurassic Park."
"I'm going to save it for when you're at our house next time," Liz said.
"That's my sister, always plotting."
"I think you paid her."
"Maybe," he said with a chuckle.
"Isn't this a love story?" she asked.
"Uh yeah," he said.
"And you'd rather see this than a movie about dinosaurs?"
"How do you know there are dinosaurs in it?"
"Because the cover shows pictures of dinosaurs. I can see, you know?"
"I told Lizzie it was her and Abby's choice what we watched since I wasn't even sure we'd be here to watch."
"Oh," she said.
"Besides, there's nothing wrong with love stories. I like Tom Hanks."
"All right," she said.
She evidently wasn't the only one tired because Abby and Liz went to their room before the movie had finished.
"School must be hard work," John said with a soft laugh when they'd left the living room.
"Then, maybe they're trying to give us time to be alone since we didn't go out somewhere."
"I'd have felt kind of bad doing that my first time seeing her after so long."
"Maybe next time then."
"That was sweet," she said when it was over.
"Yeah, it wasn't bad. I wouldn't watch it twenty times in a row or anything, but it's enjoyable. Funny at times."
"True. You're not a bad guy."
She shrugged. "I don't know. I know guys who wouldn't own a movie like that let alone choose to watch it."
"I'm secure with myself to be able to watch and like a movie like that and not think it makes me weird."
"You're not going to make me watch it again, are you?"
She laughed. "No," she said, standing from the couch. She offered him her hand which he took and led him to her room. Liz and Abby had shut their door, but from what she could tell they were quiet now. They hadn't been right away, but Claire had expected that.
"What are you doing" she asked when he started shutting the door.
"Relax. I'm not going to shut it all the way."
She went to her bathroom then to get ready for bed. It was very strange to do that with him here, knowing he was in her room waiting for her. He was going to use her bathroom, she presumed he was anyway because he was sharing her room with her.
They talked for a while after he joined her in bed. They didn't talk about anything, just things. It was sort of weird, something completely foreign to her. It was nice, though. Very nice, she had to admit, to lay there in his arms and just talk about when it rained last, the fact she needed an oil change on her car, and that his partner had gone out with the same woman more than once.
She turned in his arms when they both seemed ready to try to sleep.
"Why are you wearing pants?" he whispered, kissing her ear.
"You heard me, I know you did."
"I can't not wear them with them here."
"They're eleven not two. They're not going to come in here in the middle of the night needing us."
"Well, you could take them off if they really bother you."
"Yeah?" he asked.
"I wouldn't stop you."
"Much better," he whispered once he'd slid them off.
"You still have something on," she said.
"Shorts, which wouldn't stop you from touching me if you really wanted to," he said.
He chuckled softly, grabbing her hand and bringing it to the front of his shorts and the slit there.
"See," he whispered. She didn't pull her hand away, touching him instead. He was already hard, which she supposed was because he was in bed with her and it had been a while. He slid his hand between her legs, too, fingers touching her and sliding inside of her the way she really liked.
"John," she whispered.
"Shh," he said.
He used his arm to draw her closer against him. She went willingly and then he was there and her breath caught for a minute as he slid inside of her. He kissed her shoulder to her neck, sliding a hand along her thigh before finding her nub.
"Fast or slow?" he asked against her ear.
"Well, how worried are you they're going to catch us?"
"Not that worried. You know how they sleep better than I do."
"I like that answer, because fast didn't appeal to me at all tonight."
"Nuh uh," he said.
It was the last thing either of them said for a while. They'd never purposely been quiet before because they'd always been alone before now. She'd heard women talk about men from behind not appealing to them and she couldn't fathom why at the moment. Not only did he feel absolutely incredible inside of her this way, but he was able to touch her everywhere yet almost make it seem as if he was hugging her at the same time. The only downside was the lack of kissing, but he made up for not being able to kiss her mouth by kissing every other part of her he could. He was anything but fast when he finally finished. He stayed like that, too, and she thought it was a pretty nice way to fall asleep.
And to get woken up the next morning. He wasn't as slow or gentle this time, but she didn't mind at all. He used his fingers to be sure she finished before he did.
"Good morning," he said, kissing her shoulder before rubbing his cheek against the spot.
"Hi," she said.
"Hope you don't mind my version of a wakeup call. I came back to bed after going to the bathroom and I guess I couldn't resist."
"No, I could get used to that."
"You could, huh?"
"It definitely works if you don't want to get caught obviously having sex."
"Hmm," she said.
"And no I haven't done that because Lizzie was down the hall before."
"I know. You said you didn't do that with her home. I believe you. You knew you were going to do that before you did it?"
"I thought about it. I wasn't sure you'd let me."
"Well, I don't know. Some women don't like that."
"They're stupid and clearly don't know what they're missing out on."
"You're not missing out on it."
"I'm just lucky then, I guess."
"That mean you'd like to do that again?"
He chuckled. "I meant some other time, but it's early yet I could probably be convinced to again if you were of the mind to use your hand."
"Oh, no, that's fine. I just wasn't sure what you were asking. Yes, I'd do it again."
She turned in his arms then and kissed him.
"I did miss that," she said.
"Yeah, sorry. I did the best I could."
"It's okay. I'm not complaining."
She got up to go to the bathroom.
"Are they awake yet?" she asked when she got back into bed.
"Not that I've heard. It's not even eight o'clock, they'll probably be asleep for a while yet."
"Good," she said.
"Yeah? What did you have in mind?"
"You did tell Liz, right?"
"Yes, I did."
"And she was okay with it?"
"Our being involved? Yes. She didn't say much, I think she sort of figured it out on her own that we like each other."
She giggled softly at that.
"I don't know, the simplicity of that statement is funny."
"What that we like each other?"
"Well, we do. She said she knew the day we went to the movie and dinner and I called you Princess. She said she'd never heard me call anyone anything like that before."
"Oh, I know, just thinking about it from an eleven-year-olds frame of reference and ours is kind of funny."
"Uh huh. So what were you thinking?"
"Well, I was going to see if you wanted to take a shower with me."
"Yes," she said. "Then after we get dressed we could make them breakfast. I went grocery shopping Thursday night before I came home so my fridge is full of all sorts of stuff. I even bought orange juice."
"I thought so. I tried anyway."
"You want a shower first?"
"With you would be nice."
"You realize I, uh, may not stay completely focused on taking a shower, right?"
"I sort of figured that might happen."
"How big is your shower anyway?"
She laughed softly. "It's not that big, but I'm sure we can make it work."
"Please tell me we're going to shut the bathroom door?"
"And then cooking breakfast?"
"Yes. That seems a logical progression of things."
"Okay," he said. "I think I like this spending the night at your place thing."
"I don't know. I'm not complaining about you before, don't get me wrong, but I always felt as if I was the one suggesting things. You know? I like hearing your ideas, too."
"I'm getting to the point where I'm getting a few."
"You didn't last month?"
"Not really. I wasn't even sure what I was doing!"
"You did just fine."
"Should I be wondering why you think you know what you're doing now?"
She laughed softly. "Probably not for the reason that you think. I've just had lots of time on my hands. I draw people, bodies, figures. It's logical that when I'm drawing them now that I have experience to put with those bodies I think of things."
"I see. Well, you have ideas you want to share with the class don't be shy or wait for me to call on you."
"I just told you one of my ideas."
"And I like it. Let's go before you change your mind."
"I'm waiting for you."
"Oh well, I'm sorry I'm holding things up."
Word Count: 3,350
"Hey, Claire," John called from her bathroom.
"Is there something you're not telling me," he asked.
Liz was spending the whole weekend with Mary and Abby at Mary's house. That meant John was here the whole weekend. She offered to stay a night at his house, but he'd insisted that wasn't necessary.
He came out to the kitchen dressed in just a towel and she couldn't help but stare for a minute. She knew he thought she saw only the scars, but honestly while she knew they were there the scars weren't what made her stop and stare at him, getting breathless. Actually, they kind of were because they were a part of him. They made him who he was today, inside and out. The guy who would protect his sister no matter what. He'd do the same for anyone he loved who treated him well. She was trying very hard to treat him right.
"What?" she asked.
He smirked a little because he knew by now that she liked looking at him. He held up the long wrapper that had evidently caught his attention in her bathroom's trash. Shit.
"What's your question?"
"No, no. Don't do that. I know that look in your eye, you can't distract me. You know what my question is. Is there something you're not telling me? Or trying to tell me by leaving this for me to find it?"
"But you thought there might be?"
"Uh, yes," she admitted.
"Enough to buy a test?"
"And you weren't going to mention it?"
"There wasn't anything to mention."
"Claire. You thought you might be pregnant. You didn't think I should know that?"
"But I'm not."
"That's not my point. That means you were late, late enough you went out and bought one of these."
"It was negative!"
"Still not my point. Would you have even told me if I hadn't seen the wrapper?"
"No," she said. "It was negative."
He sighed. "Why wouldn't you tell me?"
"Why worry you over something that wasn't even true?"
"Because the fact you thought it was a possibility means I forgot…"
"Yeah," she said.
"That first weekend here."
"No, that was very bad of me."
"It was an accident. You didn't mean to."
"And you're absolutely positive that it's negative?"
She laughed softly at that. "Yes, I'm positive. Had I waited about six hours I would've had my answer without spending money on the test."
"Oh," he said, regarding the wrapper for a minute.
"Are you mad?"
"Yeah, well, that would certainly put a crimp in your work goals, don't you think?" he asked.
"Yes, I'd thought of that."
"And yet you didn't call me panicked and freaking out about possibly being pregnant."
"Nope," she said.
"You didn't blame me?"
"No. Why would I blame you? I certainly didn't think you came here that weekend with that as your intention."
"Why would you do that?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. I wouldn't. Some guys might, you know, feel threatened or something that you have this…success in your grasp."
"You're not some guys. You're my guy and I know you wouldn't do that. It has gotten me thinking, though."
She laughed again at the outright panicky look on his face.
"No, I don't want one," she said quickly.
"Oh, that's good. Very good. I mean, you know, one day maybe."
"Well, that sort of depends on you, too. I don't know. Do you want them?"
"Why wouldn't I?"
"I've proven I could run it from your house if I had to. Besides, it's a baby not a life threatening disease. I'd be off for a couple of months not forever. Since I'd know I was going to be off I could do things in advance and could still do some things while on leave."
"So that's a yes?"
"Right this second, no, which is what I was thinking about. Maybe we shouldn't rely on those anyway. There are better things we could use until we both decide that that moment is the right one."
"Yeah, all right," he said.
"Yeah, all right? You have no opinion?"
"Well, you do what you think is best. I don't know anything about the options. I've never had one fail."
"Have you used them as regularly as we are?"
"No," he admitted. "I'm pretty sure I've never had regular sex to use them regularly."
"Pretty sure, huh?"
He shrugged a bit.
"Well, I'm no expert either, but I made an appointment with my doctor. I don't smoke or anything so that seems to mean I'm a candidate for the pill which would be easiest."
She sighed softly, not sure what to say now. She'd made the appointment as soon as she'd actually gotten her period hours after taking the stupid test. She'd admittedly been a little more panicky about it than she'd just let on to him. She hadn't been mad, just she wanted to know right then what the answer was.
"Are you feeding him people food?" he asked. Evidently he'd finally spotted Lofton laying on the kitchen floor where Claire had been putting their breakfast together. She hated to admit it, but she kind of liked having him around.
"I'm not! You said not to. He seems to think maybe I'll give him some, though."
"Yeah, he's not stupid."
"You really expected I'd tell you?"
"Well, yeah, why not? A 'hey I might be pregnant' might have been nice."
"Because that way if you'd said, 'hey I'm pregnant' I wouldn't have been shocked."
She laughed softly. "I'll try and remember that."
"I hope you don't need to."
"And besides it seems to me you shouldn't have to deal with that on your own."
"Well, I didn't wait weeks or anything. As soon as I was late I bought it and took it. It's not like I've spent the last two weeks thinking I was or anything and said nothing to you."
She slid the wrapper out of his hand, crumpling it. "I honestly thought I'd thrown it out with the trash." She walked to her trash can in the kitchen, throwing it in there.
"It was on the floor, so must have fallen out of the basket or something."
"Oh. I'm sorry if I panicked you."
"Well, no, rightfully so. I forgot and I'm sorry. That's the last thing you need right now."
"Um, what we've just been talking about. A kid."
"Well, I would've dealt with it if it had come out positive."
She walked back to him, sliding a hand along his chest. "You obviously were concerned."
"Why do you say that?"
"You don't ever come out of our bedrooms not dressed."
"Well, when Lizzie's around, no. I don't ever want her to know what our parents' did."
"One day she's going to want to know."
She shrugged. "She's going to be curious. Can you blame her? One day she's going to fully realize that how you two have lived and existed is very different than just about everyone else in the world and she's going to want to know how bad it was that you were allowed at eighteen to get custody of a pre-school aged child."
"You don't know that."
"You're right, I don't. I don't know her as well as you do, but she loves you and I think she'll want to know."
"I'm still not showing her."
"I don't blame you for feeling that way now. One day, though, I think maybe you should consider it."
"You teach her things like how to set tables, you open car doors in front of her, you make her eat dinner with you, and all sorts of things that are very good. The car doors and things you do for me like pull my chair out and stuff you say is so she knows how to expect to be treated."
"You might want her to understand that there are things she shouldn't stand for either."
"Yeah, well, I'm not sure how example setting that would be. I did stay."
"Because of her! I think one day, John, she'll want to know that. Maybe it'll be ten or twenty years from now. Maybe it'll be because some guy breaks her heart so completely that she doesn't believe love really exists. What you did for her, everything you've done for her for the past eight years is the most selfless and loving thing anyone could ever do for someone. People choose to become parents, even if it's an accident they still make the choice to have the baby and raise it. You made a choice to be something even more valuable to her. You put her ahead of yourself from the time you were fourteen. She's eventually going to want to know why."
"Claire," he said.
She tugged on the part of the towel he had tucked in so it would stay wrapped around his waist.
"I'm not saying you have to show her. That's completely up to you, and I understand why you don't want to. I really do, but I do think you're not being completely honest with her if when she's older and would be able to handle it you keep hiding what life was like for you. And if you're trying to teach her things, isn't honesty the most important lesson."
"One of them," he whispered.
"And do I look at you like they matter?"
"No," he admitted.
"And you know it's because I love you, right?"
His eyes widened at that. "Yeah?"
"Mm hmm," she said.
"Say that again."
"That I love you?"
She blushed a bit at that. "Why?"
"Because I want to hear it again."
She leaned up and kissed his chin before making her way to his ear. "I love you, John."
"I love you, too, Princess."
"It took me long enough, huh?"
"You could say that again."
"So about babies."
"Shit, Claire, it wasn't really positive, was it?"
She laughed. "No, it wasn't. It did get me thinking, though."
"Well, you know, there is office space in the suburbs."
"And my lease on this place is up in February."
"Maybe you'd like to share your bedroom with me?"
"What does that have to do with babies exactly?"
"Well, we said one day, maybe."
"One day maybe implies in the future."
"It sure would be nice to be living together first, don't you think?"
"I think it'd be nice to be more than living together."
"It'd be a start."
"Is that a good yeah or a bad yeah? Am I moving too fast?"
"No. We should talk to your parents' first, don't you think? Make sure they're okay with that kind of an arrangement for a while."
"Because they're your parents and I imagine when we decide to go from that kind of an arrangement to the legally binding one you're going to want your parents' involved."
"Yes, of course."
"They may not want to be involved if we've been living together."
"You mean pay for it, right? They wouldn't do that."
"I'm positive. My mom wouldn't want to miss the chance to invite every one of her friends to show off the fact that not only did I make my own wedding dress but I designed it, too."
"I don't like the idea of you putting that much work into it."
"Because I have a feeling I wouldn't have being overly careful getting you out of it on my mind. It'd be a waste to ruin one of your originals."
"You'd manage, I'm sure."
"Hmm," he said. "I don't know."
"I like the idea of you wearing just what you are right now."
"I'm wearing your shirt."
"I can't do that."
"It's a nice shirt and it looks much, much nicer on you."
"You told me earlier you liked me better without it on."
"Oh, I do, but since you have to at least have two witnesses to get married that implies public, so that means you'd have to wear something."
"You wouldn't like that."
"I would too!"
She laughed. "No, not me wearing it, other people seeing me like this."
"You have a point. We'll just have no male guests except your dad and your brother."
"You're a very funny man."
"See, and I don't find anything funny about envisioning you wearing that and nothing else for a week," he said, working the buttons on the shirt. Slowly, almost too slowly.
"Where's Liz during this week?"
"Oh, I don't know yet. I haven't thought that part through. Your brother's? Your parents'? A friend's? We have time to figure that nuance out."
"Just not Abby's house I bet."
He chuckled. "Probably not. Then, maybe she'll finally set her sights on someone who might actually be interested in her."
"You are quite a catch."
Finally, he had the shirt unbuttoned completely. It excited her to no end when he did this, parting the shirt front just enough to catch a glimpse of her breasts. He got this look in his eyes that told her he really liked what he saw and that turned her on so completely it almost scared her.
"Says me," she said, sliding her arms around his neck so she could kiss him. With the towel gone and his shirt unbuttoned she could tell very plainly he liked touching her this way. He slid his hands to her hips, drawing her closer against him before lifting her up. She gasped as he slid inside of her. He'd only been inside of her the one night without protection before it was weird that she could tell the difference. She was fully aware he could because he'd told her.
"Hmm. You know you caught me a long time ago, right?"
"I did not."
"Did, too, it just took me a while to realize it. Or to want to realize it."
"John," she said cautiously.
"Yeah, I know. It's just you feel real good like this."
"When's that doctor's appointment?" He led them to her room, pulling out of her once there only long enough to put one on.
"Next week, but they said it'll be a while before it'll be effective."
"How long's a while?"
"Like a month after I start again."
"And you just finished I'm guessing by you taking that test the last week or so?"
"So, not forever."
"No, just a few weeks."
"I can handle a few weeks."
"I'm glad you can, because I'm not sure I can."
"God, yes, I like the look on your face when you're inside me that way."
"Hmm, we could elope and start working on them right away."
She laughed softly. "Not happening. I have way too much to do. I'd at least like to have a couple of months' notice to know we're going to start trying before we start. And besides, you want to take my wedding dress off."
"Because I plan on wearing absolutely nothing underneath it."
"Really? Under your wedding dress?"
"That's a very nice image, but I'm not entirely sure an appropriate one for me to have while in church."
She laughed softly, groaning when his beeper went off on her nightstand.
"No way," she said.
He chuckled, nuzzling against her neck before he reached for the offending device.
"It's Mary's number," he said, reaching for her phone.
"I thought they had my number?"
"They do, maybe just in case we're not here or not sure I was here or at home."
She ran her hand along his hip as he dialed the number waiting for them to answer.
"Hi Tony, this is John."
She couldn't hear what Tony was saying only his voice. She'd met Tony once when she'd picked Liz up at Mary's house, but it was the only time she'd seen him versus the moms of Liz's friends.
"Oh, okay, yeah, I'll be there as soon as I can get there. Thanks for calling."
"No, I understand why you didn't take her last night."
He disconnected, eyeing her appreciatively but she already knew that was as far as they were going to get anymore today.
"What happened?" she asked.
"They went roller skating last night I guess and Liz fell. She said it was nothing, but today I guess her wrist and hand are all purple and swollen. It's bent funny and she can't use it."
"Tony says she swore she was fine last night or they would've called me when it happened."
"Well, sure, kids fall roller skating all of the time."
"I know. I'm not mad, but…"
"I know. I'll put a sandwich together for you so you at least have something to eat on the drive."
"You could come with."
"If you want me to I can, I wasn't sure."
"Well, we're just a few minutes ago talking about getting married and making babies I think you coming with me while I go to the hospital to see her is acceptable."
"I know, but she's your sister."
"Yeah," he said, drawing away from her. He kissed her lightly before pulling away and out of her completely. He grabbed her ankle, tugging her toward the edge of the bed. "Come on, sleepy head. Get dressed."
"Me! I was making breakfast."
"You left that wrapper on the floor."
"I did not do it on purpose."
"About gave me a heart attack when I saw it."
"You knew what it was?"
"I knew there are only a few things that come in wrappers like that you'd have need for in your bathroom. It was too long to be those other things, and I saw enough of those wrappers to know what they look like."
"Shut up. I'm a guy, okay? I'm not supposed to be comfortable talking about those things."
"You're a guy with an eleven-year-old living with him. You're going to have to get comfortable."
"See," he said, walking to her bathroom. "And that's my plan. Get you to move in with me before that happens so I don't have to deal with it at all."
"No way is that fair."
"Life's not fair, Princess, haven't you learned that yet?" He walked into her bedroom again and proceeded to slide a pair of boxers and jeans on. "You'd really make me go through that if you were living with us when she started all of that?"
"I should the first time, just for expecting I'd deal with it!"
"Very nice. I see how it is. You're a girl. Would you have wanted your dad explaining that shit to you?"
"Well, no, of course not, but…"
"No, there is absolutely nothing you can say after admitting what you just did that will make me think I'm a better candidate for that task versus you."
"Fine," she said. He smirked as he slid a shirt on, not the one she was wearing earlier. "You're entirely too proud of yourself."
He chuckled. "Let's go, Princess."
"Give me a minute to get a change of clothes for tonight."
"Okay, I'll get Lofton leashed up and down by my car."
"Why don't you just take your car, I'll be right behind you in mine. I'll walk Lofton before we go. That way you're there first. And that way you don't have to drive me back out here tomorrow."
"All right," he said, brushing a kiss over her cheek. "Thanks."
"She's going to be fine."
"I know she is because there is no other option."
She smiled a little at that. She heard him tell Lofton to stay. The dog whimpered softly, not at all accustomed to being left here with just Claire as company. She got a bag together and found Lofton's leash before setting her alarm and heading out.
Word Count: 3,234
Luckily, she had a key to his house so she was able to drop Lofton at the house before heading to the hospital. She hadn't even thought of that before he'd left, but they'd given one another keys after the weekend he, Liz, and Abby had stayed at her place. She'd given him a key because it seemed logical he have one in case he came here one night and she was still at work or stuck in traffic somewhere. She hadn't really needed a key for his place before today because someone was always home.
She found him in a waiting room, looking rather lost. She couldn't even imagine.
"Hi," she said, taking a seat next to him.
"She's in surgery."
"Yeah, something about the position of the break and them being worried they wouldn't be able to set the bones right."
"Oh wow. Did you get to see her?"
"Yeah, they couldn't have operated without my permission."
"Oh, yeah, I guess that's how it works."
"One of the many reasons it was important to me I adopt her, otherwise our parents' would have gotten the call if I wasn't here. This wasn't urgent they could wait thirty minutes, but if it was a busted appendix or something."
"Even if you were her legal guardian?"
"Well, if I was an hour away from getting here I don't know what a hospital would do. I would hope for something life threatening they'd operate first and get me to sign the papers later. I just wanted their names off anything to do with her."
She slid her hand over his, clutching it tightly. "You don't have to explain or justify yourself to me, John. You're doing what's best for the both of you. You got here. She's going to be fine."
"I know," he said.
"Where are Mary's parents'?"
"I told them to go ahead and go home and I'd call when she was ready for visitors. I figured they could bring Mary when they came back. Abby's mom picked her up I think, too, but may bring her by later."
"She'd like that."
"What do you need?"
"I don't know," he said, resting his head against the wall behind his chair. He hadn't looked this tired when he left her condo. He was scared and trying not to let it show.
"Has she ever been hurt before?"
"No. I mean, she's fallen and gotten the basic cuts and stuff, sure. What kid hasn't?"
"Have you?" she asked.
"Have I what?"
"Ever been hurt?"
"You're actually asking me that? Really? Did you fall and hit your head between your place and here? You need a reminder or something?"
"Not that kind of hurt, John. Don't get angry at me. I was just wondering if you'd ever been hurt, like your parents had to bring you to the hospital because you broke your leg or something."
He exhaled sharply, turning his head to regard her.
"No. Sorry. I just couldn't imagine why you of all people would ask me that."
"Because I didn't know if you had."
"Hmm," he said. "Nope. I guess from that sense I had the ideal childhood. I don't think I ever saw the inside of a hospital once."
"We'll ignore the fact you should've."
He snorted. "My parents' did just fine in that department, wouldn't you say?"
"Ever hurt? No. My brother was. He broke his arm playing football when he was like eleven. I remember sitting at the hospital with Mom. He had to have surgery, too."
"Was he okay?"
"He kept playing sports, so yeah."
"Good," he said.
"She'll be fine. They do this type of stuff all of the time, John."
"Yeah, not on her they don't."
"I know. Do you want me to get you anything? You didn't have breakfast."
"Yeah, someone distracted me."
"I did not!"
"Leaving that wrapper out where I'd find it was a pretty clever ploy to get out of cooking for me."
"I like cooking for you."
"Yes," she said.
"I like when you cook for me wearing my shirt and nothing else."
She smiled a little at that. "I know you do, but that doesn't answer my question now. Do you want me to get you anything?"
"A pop would be nice."
"I can do that," she leaned in to kiss him. She ran her hand along his cheek. "You didn't even shave."
"Nope," he said. "Like I said, you distracted me and I figured I'd have plenty of time to shave later."
"You look so tired."
"Okay. I'll be right back and then if you need me to do anything, let me know. Even if it's go home."
"I don't want you to go home."
"I just may not be interested in talking, but you right in that chair there is good."
She stood then and went to find the cafeteria. She'd never been here before so she had to ask for some help, but found it eventually. She bought a Coke for him and a Diet Coke for herself. She bought a couple pieces of fruit and some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, too. They had some cold sandwiches, but she wasn't sure he'd eat right away and didn't want to buy something that would just go bad. She had no idea how long Liz would be in surgery, but she doubted John would be leaving the hospital again until he was able to take her home with him.
She sighed heavily when she saw Abby was there, not because Abby was there. Claire liked Abby and was glad to know Liz seemed to have good friends who weren't already getting involved in bad habits. It was because Abby's mom and siblings were there as well. She'd never met them before, catching glimpses of Abby's older sister when she'd picked Abby or Liz up from their house. She was pretty sure she'd never seen the younger brother before today. John never said where their dad was. She presumed he was around somewhere.
"Hi Claire," Abby said brightly.
"Hi Abby, how are you?"
"I'm all right."
"I can imagine. She'll be fine, though."
"I know. She was fine last night. She said her hand hurt and it hurt to bend it, but she did bend it. Even the skating guard asked her to bend it."
"No one's blaming you guys," John said. "People fall."
"Of course they do," Abby's mom said. "Remember last year Brandon practically lived here in the emergency room he had so many accidents?"
Abby's mom had seated herself in the chair next to John's and there wasn't one on the other side of him. She made no move to get up either. Claire twisted the top on the bottle of Coke and handed it to him.
"Thank you," he said.
"You want the gourmet delight that is peanut butter and jelly with a banana? Or an apple? They both look surprisingly good and not over-ripe."
"I could eat a sandwich."
"I thought you might be hungry."
"I'd much rather be eating the French toast you were getting ready to make."
"Well, I can make it another time."
She handed him one of the sandwiches, setting the second one on the small table next to him.
"You're not eating?"
"No, I'm fine. Maybe later. That's why I went with peanut butter and jelly."
He stood then, grabbing the second sandwich and moved to the doorway leading out of the waiting room. He leaned in toward her, she thought for a minute he might kiss her except he wasn't big on kissing in front of people. She wasn't really either for that matter. In front of Liz was still new to her let alone a group of people who'd known John for a while.
"I was going to tell you that you could go back to my house if you wanted, but now I want you here."
She sighed softly. "I wouldn't have left anyway unless you need me to let Lofton out but he's used to going quite a few hours in between being let out."
"Yes, he should be fine for a while. Thank you."
"What is she even doing here?"
"I don't know. Lizzie, Abby, and Mary have all known one another since we moved into the house when she was in second grade. Their friend Chris didn't come into the picture until last year so I wouldn't expect her to be here."
"Maybe now that she sees I'm here she'll leave."
"I can only hope. I don't dislike her or anything, but I really don't want a room full of people sitting here either."
"Did you tell her that?"
"No," he said.
She reached up, touching his cheek again. "Because you're too nice. Abby's her friend, I don't blame you."
"Thank you. Just don't leave me again all right?"
She chuckled softly before reaching up to kiss him lightly. "Whatever you need."
"More of that would be nice."
"Later would probably work better."
"Mother," Abby's sister said. "Why are we even here?"
"Because Liz is Abby's friend and we're worried about her."
"Yeah, but why are Brandon and I here? We're not Liz's friends. Sitting here in this waiting room isn't doing anything for her anyway. Besides, his girlfriend's here. Do you think they really want us here, too?"
"Margaret, of course they do," Abby's mom said.
"Whatever. I don't know why you can't take a hint that he doesn't want someone old enough to be Liz's mother. He's not her dad, you know? He's even got a hickey on his neck. I bet even Abby knows you don't get those just from kissing."
"That's enough," Abby's mom said. "Not in front of Abby and Brandon."
"You don't think they can see it? You are so stupid," the older sister, Margaret, said. She got up then and stormed out of the waiting room. She likely wouldn't go far, at least not if she wanted to get home without walking.
Abby had taken a seat next to her brother by now who was watching his oldest sister and mom looking somewhat confused.
"See? Just like the Brady Bunch. I told you I've learned teenaged girls can be mean," he whispered.
"If I'd ever called my mom stupid…" Claire said.
He scoffed. "You want to compare notes on what would have been done to you versus me?"
"No, I can imagine what would have been done to you."
He slid his hand into hers. "I have a hickey on my neck?" John asked her quietly.
"Uh, yeah, it's pretty small. Sorry."
"I guess I was real distracted getting out of the shower this morning, usually I notice those kinds of things."
They took a seat in a different spot than he'd been sitting in before. Abby's brother looked pretty bored, but he was at least trying to look like he wanted to be there. Claire talked to Abby a little who was interested in hearing about more things Claire was designing that would get attention. After the Golden Globe's Claire was pretty sure that would be it for a while. Then again who knew? If her Field's stuff was received well maybe she'd get more things like it.
She liked designing one-of-a-kind gowns for some reason, knowing who the person was she was designing it for helped of course. It gave her a great feeling to design something only one person would ever wear. The dress she'd just finished for the Golden Globes would probably be put in a closet and forgotten about. The dresses she'd designed for the band appearing at the GRAMMY's she doubted their dresses and what they meant would ever be forgotten.
The doctor came into the waiting room a little later. John had eaten both sandwiches while Claire had eaten the banana. He'd offered her the second sandwich, but she'd rather see him eat it anyway.
Claire stayed put while John went to talk with him in the hall. Abby's mother had been oddly (maybe not so oddly) quiet after Margaret lashed out at her. She'd come back about fifteen minutes later, sulking as she took a seat as far away from her mother as she could get. No form of apology was given as far as Claire could tell.
Claire stood when he came back into the room, looking a lot better than he had ten minutes ago.
"She's out of surgery and fine. They're going to keep her overnight to be sure there's no infection, but she'll be home tomorrow and should be back at school Monday."
"Good," Abby said.
"No roller skating for a while," John said. "No pins or anything were necessary and she has a cast. She'll have it for six weeks and it sounds like there may be some physical therapy afterward to be sure she has full motion of the wrist once the cast comes off. Probably he said they'd send her home with the things to do versus having to go somewhere, but exercises she'll have to do just the same."
"We're all glad she's okay," Abby's mom said.
John grabbed Claire's hand, lacing his fingers through hers. "Thanks for coming, and if Abby wants to say hello that's fine but then she'll need to be left alone for a while. She's going to be a little groggy yet the doctor said, told me not to worry if her words are kind of slurred and stuff. I'll have Liz call Abby, Mary, and Chris when she's settled back home tomorrow."
"Okay," Abby said.
"Come on," he said to Abby. Claire went with because she didn't have a whole lot of choice since he was holding her hand.
"Sorry about Margaret and my mom," Abby said. "I didn't want to come here. I mean, I did, but I knew there was nothing I could do but sit here. She insisted that you'd need the support. I told her Claire would be here but," she shrugged.
"It's alright, Abby," John said.
"No, it's not. I agree with Peg, I don't know why she can't take the hint. I mean, you're cute and all, don't get me wrong, but that'd just be kind of weird for you to date my mom. Ever."
"I kind of think so, too."
"You're also kind of young for her."
"I kind of thought that, too."
"You never told her that, though."
"No, I didn't want to insult her. Your mom's nice, she's helped me over the years taking Lizzie in when I had to go into work in the middle of the night. I try not to make people angry who do nice things for me."
"Well, I'm sorry she dragged us all here. My sister hardly knows Liz beyond saying hi to her when she comes over. They don't like hang-out or anything."
"It's all right."
"I just don't want you thinking I haven't like told her about Claire or anything. Liz and I both have."
"Abby you or your mom haven't done anything wrong, you certainly have nothing to be sorry for. You're fine."
"Yeah, but she like took what was obviously supposed to be Claire's spot as if she belonged there or something."
They got to Liz's room.
"You go on in and talk to her for a few minutes. Just remember what I said, she may be kind of groggy yet."
"Okay. You're not coming in?"
"We'll go in when you're done."
"Okay," she said, pushing the door open.
"Wow," Claire said.
"Right? You'd think her mom would see that's what she's putting her kid through."
"Well, like I said this morning you are quite a catch. Stable employment."
"It's still stable. A homeowner. A good father."
"A good father-figure. Is that better? I can't blame her."
"Yeah, well, I'm glad you kissed me in there."
"Yes. Maybe she'll get the hint that you're not just my friend."
"You sleeping in my bed every weekend isn't a hint? Besides if she didn't notice the hickey before Margaret mentioned it, she's aware of it now."
"I don't know what Abby told her. She may not have said anything. Despite what Margaret said hickeys do not always necessarily mean more than kissing occurred so I'm not so sure she'd assume it did. I told you I didn't date in front of Lizzie, I didn't bring women around, or anything like that. If I had a date I picked her up or met her somewhere. Lizzie's never had a clue I'd done anything more than go out with other cops."
"True, but she knows Liz comes with you to my place."
"And stays the night."
"She's just hoping we'll break up."
"Yeah, well, you could move in tomorrow and I suspect it'd still be this way."
"Would you like me to move in tomorrow?"
"That's a ridiculous question. Why?"
She shrugged. "Well, I was thinking of putting my condo. up for sale. It should sell pretty fast because they're in pretty high demand. I figure if Dad asks I could tell him even with the alarm I still don't feel totally safe."
"You were thinking that? You don't feel safe?"
"I do, because he's in jail, but what if he gets out?"
"But not completely unlikely."
"Well, no, sadly, our system is not perfect."
"If that's too soon for you."
"Talk to your dad, see what he says. Be sure to tell him where you plan on living, too, so that's two birds killed with one stone."
"Okay. I'll talk to him this week."
"That means I'm not going to get my dinner with you Wednesday, doesn't it?"
"Probably, but I'll come over after I've met with him."
"Yeah? I could bring you dinner in bed," he said, settling his hands at her hips.
"I don't think you'll need to worry about bringing anything to bed but you."
"Nope." She leaned up and kissed him, running her lips along his jaw. "I'm glad Liz's all right. Go see your sister, John. She loves Abby, but you're who she's really going to want to know is at her side when the anesthetic wears off."
"You're coming with?"
"Yes, I'll be right there. I'm going to let you talk to her for a while by yourself."
"You're not going to start a fight with Cynthia, are you?"
She chuckled. "No, that hadn't entered my mind. I'm not threatened by her or her interest in you. There's some chairs over there," she said, pointing to a small area obviously designed for people to wait while doctors or nurses followed up on patients. "I'll be right there when you're ready come get me."
"It's the first time she's ever seriously been hurt, you feel bad because you weren't at home when it happened, never mind that she was out when it happened so it would've regardless. You feel responsible. You feel probably lots of things, including fear that it could've been something more serious and you could have lost her. So, go spend some time with your sister." She gestured to her purse. "I have pencils and stuff in here. I will distract myself."
"Thank you," he said, kissing her.
Word Count: 4,773
"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."
Word Count: 5,307
John woke with a start at the sound of Lofton's barking. He was pretty familiar with all of Lofton's various needs and the barks that came with them. This one was alerting him to the fact that all was perhaps not well in the house. He tried to ignore it, but the barking wouldn't stop.
"What's wrong?" Claire asked.
"You stay in here," he said. She was barely awake enough to follow him anyway.
John grabbed the baseball bat he kept near the door leading from his bedroom. He had his weapon in a safe next to the bed, but he wasn't going to take that out. It was probably nothing, a neighbor's cat in the backyard or something. He opened the door from his bedroom cautiously just the same.
"What's wrong, boy?" he whispered.
Abby was spending the night and Lofton hadn't wanted to come to bed with him and Claire while the two of them were still awake. It was John's first experience with a sleepover. He was surprised in a way that Cynthia had agreed to it because she'd been sort of different since Lizzie got home from the hospital. He hadn't spoken to her beyond mutual hellos when he was dropping Lizzie off or something since then, but he'd sensed somehow that Abby maybe wasn't supposed to come over here so much. Maybe he was just imagining things, too.
Lofton's barks grew a little softer with John's appearance, but he wasn't letting up exactly either. John made his way through the hall, checking the doors to the garage and backyard on his way to the living room. Both were locked and secure.
John followed Lofton toward the living room where he stopped at the door leading to the basement, which was closed. He usually kept the door open so the basement wasn't quite so cold. He opened the door and frowned slightly at Lofton's unwillingness to go downstairs with him. He'd stopped barking now, though.
He made his way downstairs, heard giggling and groaned softly. Had he been barking because the girls were down here with the door closed? They didn't usually come down here because there really wasn't anything to do down here yet. Shutting the door behind them must have scared him or something. He turned around to go back upstairs until he heard a voice that wasn't Abby or Liz's.
"Finally. I thought he'd never shut up." The unfamiliar voice said. Not only was it not familiar but it was also very obviously not a girl's voice.
"Shh," Lizzie said.
"Come on. If your parents aren't awake already after their dog barking they're not going to wake up now."
So what did he do? There was someone in his house who wasn't supposed to be here. Never mind the kid had evidently snuck in, not realizing Lofton wouldn't like that at all. Lofton was a sucker for routines and anything that strayed from that bothered him, rightfully so.
It was times like this he had to remind himself that he wasn't here to be Liz or Abby's friend. He wasn't here to be anyone's friend. He was here to do the right, responsible thing. He knew when she got older it wasn't going to be easy because he'd known all kinds of types of girls growing up.
The right and responsible thing, the fatherly thing meant getting the guy out of his house who was here after eleven o'clock. Without permission and probably without his parents' knowledge either.
John walked further into the basement toward the voices, not at all sure he was ready for what he would see. They were eleven, no telling the boy was, too, he supposed. He didn't sound too much older from his voice. Then again, John remembered being interested in things at eleven he'd never admit to Claire let alone Lizzie when it came to girls.
They had one of the overhead lights on and were sitting on the floor. The boy, whoever he was because John hadn't seen him before, was holding Abby's hand. He dropped it pretty quickly when he saw John standing there holding the bat, though.
"Elizabeth," he said and she gave a loud shriek that caused Lofton to run down the stairs and start barking all over again. He flipped the rest of the lights on in the area they were sitting. He couldn't smell any smoke and while it had been quite a while since he'd smoked anything but cigarettes he remembered full well what it smelled like. There were no bottles or cans on the floor so it didn't seem like they were doing anything but sitting there. That kind of baffled him, sneaking into someone's house to do nothing seemed pretty stupid to him.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"Why are you in my house at eleven o'clock at night uninvited, Tom?"
"I, well," he said.
"Yeah. That's what I thought. Let's the four of us go on upstairs and we can call your parents. Both of you."
"John," Abby said.
"No, sorry, Abby, this I can't just blow off or pretend didn't happen."
"But Mom will…"
"Be mad? Yeah, I imagine she will. I would be. In fact I am that you thought somehow it was all right to do something like this in my house."
"Oh and Tom, don't try to leave because my dog here," he said with a whistle to get Lofton to go upstairs. "He won't let you right now until I've told him to let you."
He waited for Lizzie who to this point hadn't said anything at all. She was staring at him, too. He'd like to think she was embarrassed but he wasn't getting that vibe off of her. He knew what she was like when she was embarrassed.
"Your first sleepover and you do this?" he murmured when they were on the stairs.
She didn't say anything, which he sort of expected. She was probably embarrassed at getting caught.
He called Tom's mom first. God he hated doing it, it was a conversation he wasn't at all looking forward to. It was certainly a call he'd hate to get in the middle of the night about Lizzie, but he had to.
"Mrs. Mitchell," he said. "My name's John Bender. Your son is here at my house."
"He was here seeing Liz and Abby, which would be fine ordinarily but they snuck him in."
'He was just in bed.'
"Well, I assure you he's here now. Here," he said, handing the phone to Tom. "You talk to your mother."
"Lizzie, what were you thinking? You know Lofton would react to anything happening in here once I've gone to sleep."
"I didn't think he'd be so loud when he saw it was me!"
"You mean you left and came back?"
"We met him down the street," she said.
"Who the hell is he?"
"Abby likes him."
"So why is he in my house?"
"Won't let her date boys yet? Yeah, I think Cynthia isn't so stupid on that point. Eleven is too young. Do you know what people would say about you at school if they found out he was here in the middle of the night? And you think not having a mom legally makes you a freak. I can assure you people thinking you're sleeping around at your age would result in them thinking that, too."
Tom handed the phone back to John before Lizzie could respond, but he knew she wasn't happy with what he'd just said. She had to know, though, somewhere in the back of her mind that he spoke the truth.
"Hello," he said.
"I'm very sorry, Mr. Bender. I'll be there in about ten minutes to pick him up."
"It's not your fault, ma'am, I'm sorry to have woken you."
He hung up and dialed Abby's number.
"You," he said handing the phone to Abby, "can talk to her without my saying anything first."
John was still waiting for Lizzie to say something, but she hadn't yet. Abby hadn't really yet either for that matter. Tom was standing by the door, waiting for his mom to come get him. He could tell by Abby's side of the conversation that her mom wasn't any more pleased with the situation than Tom's mom had been.
"Mom wants to know if you want her to pick me up, too. Or if I can still stay the night?" Abby said.
"It's up to your mother. If she's okay with you staying that's fine with me. The dog will be right outside your room for the rest of the night," he said.
Tom's mom showed up a few minutes after Abby had hung up with her mom. John had talked with her for a minute, reiterating that it was okay with him she stayed the night as long as it was acceptable to her. Abby had told him earlier that her sister and brother were gone for the night, too. John guessed that meant Cynthia wasn't alone tonight and didn't want Abby home until tomorrow night as planned.
"Again, I'm very sorry, Mr. Bender."
"Well, it shouldn't have. It won't happen again."
"I imagine it won't," John said. Tom hadn't been here to see Lizzie so he doubted the kid would come back here ever again, even if he was invited.
"Oh, hello Abby," she said.
"Hi, Mrs. Mitchell."
"And it suddenly makes much more sense. I hadn't heard the name Liz before tonight."
John shook his head a little. Since it was John opening and closing the door, Lofton let Tom pass without incident. It was one of the greatest things about him. He didn't let people he didn't know out of the house. So that meant someone could theoretically break into the house, but they wouldn't get out again until John came home. John was thinking at the time he'd been told about that little nuance of Lofton's that it would come in handy in case he was robbed or something. Now, though, he was thinking as Lizzie was pushing her teenaged years it wouldn't be so bad for situations like this either.
John shut and locked the door. Claire had come out of the bedroom briefly when they'd come back upstairs, but seeming to realize he had the situation under control she'd gone back to their bedroom. He couldn't blame her, he wanted nothing more than to be there, too.
"Now, you two," he said. "I don't appreciate you trying to take advantage of me. I like you, Abby, you know I do, but you can't blow me and my rules off just because I'm Liz's brother and not her dad. You had to know I'd catch you."
"No," she said.
"What would your mom do if she knew you were holding his hand?"
"Have you been holding someone's hand I need to know about?" he asked Lizzie.
"Uh huh," he said. "Somehow I don't believe you."
"You should talk you know," Lizzie said.
"I'm sorry. What?"
"You. You've been lying to me for years."
"You said our parents aren't that bad."
"I'm not sure that's what I said, Lizzie. I haven't wanted to fill your head with bad things about them, that much is true. What does that have to do with you two sneaking a boy into my house?"
"You've let me believe…"
"That they weren't evil? Yeah. So?"
He realized then for the first time in all the years it'd just been the two of them he hadn't grabbed a shirt before coming out of the bedroom.
"No, that's not right. You made me believe they, like, just didn't want us."
"I did not. I've never lied to you about why I took you from them. You said yourself not too long ago you remember being in court, the things Mrs. Schultz and I said. If I hadn't known Claire and her dad I would've taken you with me and runaway somewhere eventually."
"But you've let me think that if I was older and they contacted me I could talk to them."
"You could. I can't stop you. They're your parents."
"You think I'd want to?"
"I don't know what you'd want to do. I've been told by social workers and counselors at your school that it'd be normal to wonder who you are, where you come from."
"They hurt you."
"Well, yeah, I've never claimed they didn't."
"But I didn't know…"
"I didn't want you to know. I didn't want to fill your head with images of things you had no business thinking about. You're a kid."
"Lizzie, it doesn't change anything. I'm still your brother who just happens to legally be your dad. I had nothing to do with you being here, though, they did that. If when you're older you want to find them I wouldn't stop you. I wouldn't help you because I have to admit I think you'd be making a huge mistake, but if that's what you need to do."
"Let's go to bed, Abby," she said.
John wasn't sure if she was mad at him or what. He couldn't help but think that Tom's mom was probably wondering what his deal was, too.
He went downstairs, shutting the lights off before going back upstairs and double checking the front door. He told Lofton to lay down in front of Lizzie's door. He'd probably wander off during the night, but he knew to watch the door.
"Everything okay," Claire asked.
"Oh, just some punk sneaking into the house to see Abby."
"Yeah, I guess they even left the house, went to meet him down the street."
"Isn't she a little young?"
"Honey, not everyone was like you. You realize that, right?"
"What does that even mean?"
"It means not everyone waits until they're eighteen to kiss a guy for the first time."
"Yes, eleven. You don't even want to know what some of the girls I knew at that age would've done."
"Is Abby still here?"
"Yeah. I suspect Cynthia has plans tonight that don't involve any of her kids being in the house."
"I don't mind if she's here. She's not going to sneak him into the house twice in one night. Besides, Lofton won't let that happen twice."
"Is that why he was barking?"
"Actually, I think it's because they went into the basement and shut the door behind them. If they'd stayed in the living room or even left the basement door open I think they would've gotten away with it."
"You didn't say that, did you?"
"No, of course not, I'm not dumb. I'd rather them both think Lofton would react that way to anyone he doesn't know coming into the house."
"Is Abby going to get in trouble?"
"You know, I really don't know. I've never known her to do anything like this before, so it's hard to say."
"Hmm. Boys can make girls do uncharacteristic things."
"Yeah? You know about that I suppose. Forget coming to see me in that closet. You could've been caught by Vernon."
"I do. It's only been one boy for me, though."
"He must be very impressive."
"Or something," she said with a soft laugh.
"I hope Abby's mom isn't too hard on her. Do you think she'll make her go home tomorrow without watching the show with us?"
"I don't know. We'll have to see, I guess. They weren't drinking or smoking down there, and I hope they wouldn't have done much more than hold hands in front of Lizzie."
"Oh God. Really? Ugh."
"Hey, you know, hormones are crazy things."
"But Liz would know that was wrong."
"Well, sure, but I think she feels weird already because of our situation so she wouldn't say anything to stick out more."
"I hope that's not true. She's smarter than that."
"She saw, by the way."
"I assumed by Lofton's barking that someone was breaking in or something."
"I didn't put my shirt on."
"Oh," Claire said. "Oh," she said again, realization seemingly dawning on her as far as what that meant. She turned to face him then, running a fingertip along his jaw. "Are you okay?"
"What's to be okay with? I just wouldn't have done it ordinarily. She wasn't happy, though. She thinks I've been lying to her or something."
"She'll get over it, John. She loves you. She's probably just hurt you hid it from her for years."
"I'm not saying what you did was wrong, just that she's probably hurt. She trusts you, you're all she's known for years. Everything you've taught her about right and wrong, not even the things you teach her here at home but by being a cop."
"Is everything okay?" Lizzie asked when they got back later the following afternoon. It was the first thing she'd said to him, or directed remotely to him, since the night before. Not even at breakfast had she said anything to him. That wasn't normal, so he'd taken that to mean she was upset with him.
Abby was still there. She'd call her mom once the show was done they were going to watch together for a ride. John had assumed that would be the case. He had no idea who Cynthia was with, he only hoped it was someone who would stick around for a while so maybe she'd get her mind off of him for a change. Guys never seemed to stick around her long, though.
The alarm at Claire's new office had gone off about two hours ago now. John had taken her out there to be sure everything was okay. She could have gone by herself, he knew that. The cop in him wouldn't allow that. Okay, the boyfriend in him wouldn't allow it either. There was no way he was going to just let her go investigate something like that without him along.
"Yes," Claire said. "Everything is fine."
"It was a false alarm. Or someone trying to get in and when unable to do so they left before the police could get there," John said.
"It sure was nice not having to drive all the way downtown," Claire said.
She'd found some office space that suited her needs a few towns over. A few towns over and close enough to the city that her employees who lived in the city didn't have a commute that was hugely out of the way. That was important to her because she knew and liked the staff she had. She didn't want to lose them now when things were looking up. She said something about them knowing what to expect from her and her knowing what to expect from them. They worked well together. He could get behind that concept. The space was a little larger than what she'd had downtown, too, to accommodate business getting busier.
Her friend who was a realtor specializing in that sort of thing got her a good deal. She got a post office box at the post office in that town as well and all of her mail from her condo was being forwarded there rather than to his house. Not that he didn't want her to get mail at his house. She was free to give his address to anyone she wanted to. He just didn't want it on any documentation. Her friend had been willing to let her use her parents' address as her permanent address on the forms. He knew that wasn't where she was.
John was being cautious. They still had a ways to go yet before a trial, but in jail people could get a hold of information if they knew how to. He didn't want Billy Joe Phillips to find out anything about Claire or her whereabouts no matter the channels he'd have to use to get it. He also didn't want it easily discoverable by his attorney that one of their witnesses was now living with one of the arresting detectives.
"Yeah, that means you're adjusting to suburban life?"
"I'm working on it."
"Hmm, anything I can do to help speed the process along?"
She smiled a little at that.
"You've done more than enough."
"I have? Well, evidently I'm not doing it right if you're not completely comfortable here yet."
"I didn't say that! I'm more than comfortable here. It'll just take me a while to get used to this being my home now. I have a house. Well, I live in a house. I haven't since I was eighteen really."
"We have a house."
"Yeah, well, it's still your house. I'm not even technically living here."
"For now. We'll change that one day. Both it being our house and you technically living here. I'm just trying to be careful."
She sighed softly. They'd argued about this. He wanted to get the mortgage refinanced and have her added to it. He knew she had her own money from the sale of her place so she wasn't going to break up with him and take his house from him. Well, he supposed anything could happen, but he didn't see her doing that. She thought it was a little too early for that. He'd given in and agreed to put it off until she felt more comfortable taking that step. He really just didn't want her to think she was just a guest here or something. She would give him money for her share of expenses, but for the time being she was he supposed legally homeless.
"Would you guys stop talking," Abby said from her vantage point on the chair next to the couch. Lizzie was sitting on the floor with her back against the couch where he and Claire were seated. John sure hoped she'd quit with the silent treatment soon because it bothered him more than he realized it might that she wasn't talking to him. The past eight years she'd always been everything he had. All that he had. Claire was here now, true, but she was still pretty much everything he had.
"Sorry," Claire said.
He chuckled, draping an arm around her and tugging her toward him. He kissed the side of her head.
Just like with the Golden Globes to catch a glimpse of Claire's dress they were watching the GRAMMY's for the same reason tonight. This year's wearer was no one star-studded or attention grabbing, she was an opera singer or something. Well, he supposed to people who liked opera she could be attention grabbing, but John knew nothing about that world. He did know that it was still Claire's name out there before her line was unveiled for the spring at Field's coming up pretty soon here.
Neither the mom nor the dad from Married…With Children won a Golden Globe this year, so Claire's dress had only been spotted briefly when the mom and dad's names had been announced. They were all hoping tonight the person wearing her dress would actually make it to the stage.
This dress was much more formal than the one for the Golden Globes, one befitting an opera star. Claire had been absolutely thrilled to design it and John was pretty sure she'd been awake for over forty-eight hours straight before she'd been happy with the result. He hated seeing her work like that because she collapsed when she was done and slept for hours at a time. She was a six or seven hours of sleep a night person normally, so the first time he'd been with her and she'd slept for eleven hours he'd been convinced something was wrong. She'd just been exhausted, mentally more than physically.
The Field's line was out of her hands and in the hands of the competent (hopefully) people who would mass produce Claire's designs to be released in a few weeks throughout their stores.
"You don't even like opera," John teased Abby.
"So. I never got to see the dress when Claire was done with it."
"I was on a very tight deadline!"
She'd had less than three weeks to design and make a dress worthy of national television and possibly worldwide publicity since the opera singer in question performed everywhere in the world. It was huge and John couldn't have been prouder of her. Lizzie and Abby were pretty excited, too. Lizzie's other friend Mary wasn't nearly as into fashion and stuff as Abby was so she hadn't really gotten into being interested in anything Claire did. That was fine with John and probably Claire, too.
About an hour into the show, Claire went to the kitchen. Lizzie stood from where she'd been sitting on the floor closer to Claire than to him and sat beside him on the couch. She settled against him, resting her head against his shoulder.
"Hi," he said, sliding his arm around her. It'd been a very, very long time since she'd sat with him like this. He'd almost thought she'd outgrown the need to. He missed it in a way, that little sister who wasn't into boys and girlie things like French braids and wanting to make her own dresses.
"Hi," she said softly.
"We okay?" he asked, kissing the top of her head much the same way he'd done to Claire earlier.
"Yes," she said. "I'm not mad at you."
"Nope, not going there. Okay? You have nothing to be sorry about anyway. We're good, Lizzie. I love you and there's nothing I wouldn't do over again because it's gotten me here today with you and this house and Claire."
"Well, I'm still sorry."
"Don't be. I have you. They have nothing. I got the better end of the deal, Lizzie."
"Thank you. I'm not going to want to contact them, you know."
"I'm very glad to hear that, but if you change your mind I'd understand."
"I won't. They don't deserve me."
"You are more right than you'll ever know. Why did Tom think I'm your dad?"
"I don't think Abby told him who you were or anything, so he just assumed."
"Huh. Well, I told you if that makes you feel better, makes you feel like you fit in better I'm fine with it."
"You do me a favor, okay?"
"I can try."
He chuckled softly because that was so a response he'd give. "I want to meet a guy before I see him holding your hand."
"I have to make sure he's good enough for you. What other reason is there?"
She laughed softly, but snuggled against him more. Claire returned to the couch, not seeming to be upset that Lizzie had his attention for the moment. She sat next to him, holding his hand and seemed fine with that.
"I can't believe she actually won," Claire said once they were in bed later that night.
"She looked great. You did very well. You have every reason to be proud because she looked worthy of winning that award from head to toe."
"Thank you," she said. "I wonder what her winning will mean."
She snuggled against him. He was getting used to sleeping without a shirt on. Even being wintertime he got so hot sleeping with her every night. And, well, their clothes always seemed to come off eventually anyway more nights than they didn't so he'd stopped trying.
"For you? It means whatever you want it to mean, doesn't it? I mean, it's certainly something you can use to advertise your company."
"No People this time, I imagine, though. They only seem to cover rock and country for the most part."
"Not as hip I suppose. I'd say glamorous, but I bet she could put Whitney Houston or Madonna to shame when it comes to glamour and class. I'm sure there'll be press. There'd have to be. I mean opera has to have their own type of publicity, media releases, and people who follow it."
"Agreed. You're just not one of them?"
He chuckled. "Not hardly."
"Never been to one?"
"What would I do with an opera, Princess?"
"I don't know."
"Don't get any ideas in your head that I need to see one. I've survived just fine to this point without it. You'll get more business anyway, I'm sure," he said, hoping to change the subject away from that. He'd go, of course, if she asked him to. He just wouldn't want to. Dinners and parties he could handle, at least those he could understand what the people were saying when they spoke. He knew he wouldn't be able to say the same for opera.
"I hope so."
"What would you do if some place like a theater, opera house, or something asked you to work on their costumes?"
"I'd consider it as long as I was still able to do my own designing. I don't think I could just do that, you're too limited to what the script says and allows."
"I suppose. It'd be steady employment, though."
"It would," she agreed. "You worried I'm not going to be able to pay my share?"
He chuckled sliding a hand along her hip and drawing her closer against him. Almost two full months she'd been living here now and he wasn't sure he'd ever get used to sleeping with her every night. Oh, he was used to it, but the novelty of having her there in his bed every night to have sex with or just hold floored him.
"Deeply. I know your type. Move in, start shirking your responsibilities, leave me with a pile of debt I can't pay off."
"Yup, that's me."
"As long as it's not those Fashion Week expenses, we're good."
She snorted. "I suppose that means I need to actually start sharing figures with you when I do things like that, huh?"
"Well, if it means we might have to mortgage the house or something, yeah."
"Well, hopefully I won't have such a huge expense this year."
"This year? You're doing it again?"
"Yes! I have to, John. I can't put my name out there and then disappear. I have to keep showing my designs, prove I'm innovative and on the cutting edge."
"If you have vacation time you could come with me. You'll have been detective for over a year by then."
"Yes. I know I didn't handle myself last year very well so you're probably thinking I'm going to come back and freak out on you again."
"The thought did occur to me, yes."
"I just really didn't think it was fair to you."
"Do you still?"
"Some days," she shrugged and he kissed her shoulder.
"I don't regret anything about being involved with you. Neither does Lizzie. We love you the way you are, distracted and busy and always creating things in your mind even when you're sitting there seemingly staring at nothing."
"Thank you. I love you both, too."
"I love this," he whispered.
"What?" she asked, sounding confused?
"Just laying here with you, you're close and we're talking."
"So no congratulatory sex, is that what you're saying?"
"Princess, that's not what I'm saying. It's just this is cool, too."
"Hadn't thought much beyond us being able to have sex like rabbits, huh?"
"Truthfully? I just knew that I liked having you here, the rest of it didn't matter."
"Don't go thinking that means I don't want to be like rabbits. In a couple of years I'd very much like to be like them when you're not on the pill anymore."
"Mm hmm," he whispered.
"I'd like that, too."
Word Count: 2,930
"How do I look?" she asked.
"Really? You think that's at all a necessary question for you?"
"Princess, you look fine."
"Daddy?" Jenny said.
"Princess," she said, pointing at herself. Of course, it didn't sound at all like Princess, but he knew what she was saying well enough by now.
"Yes, you are Daddy's Princess, but Mommy is, too." He'd sort of gotten out of the habit of calling Claire that the past couple of years for just that reason. "And both of Daddy's princesses look just fine. More than fine. They'll be the best looking girls there, making me the luckiest Daddy there."
"Why am I more nervous than you are?" she asked.
"I have no idea. I suppose some could say spending the last two years as a lieutenant working Violent Crimes has prepared me for just about anything. Anything includes my sister's graduation. There's nothing to be nervous about. What's to be worried about anyway? It's breakfast."
She sighed softly. "Nothing. It's just a big deal. She's graduating and she's bringing me to see everyone."
"Well, of course it's a big deal. Eighteen years ago when I first saw her I never would have imagined the both of us coming this far."
"You're right. You've done an amazing job with her."
"You've helped. A lot. Don't sell yourself short that having you in the picture the past seven years hasn't made a huge difference," he said. "She's had a woman to talk to about stuff she's just better off not having to talk to me about."
Like boyfriends. Never mind the female issues that John was glad he'd gotten out of. He would have rather had to deal with those than the ones about boys. John was so glad he had to skip those conversations because he knew he'd be sorely tempted to pistol whip anyone who broke his sister's heart. Those conversations always stayed private, too, to a point. Sure, Claire would share bits and pieces, highlights so he'd know what was going on in Liz's life but overall what was said between the two of them stayed there. It made Liz trust Claire, and in the end him too because she knew he wouldn't push for information she clearly didn't want him to have. He thought they'd gotten through her teenaged years pretty well compared to some other families out there. He thoroughly believed the reason was the fact that there was trust in their house.
She seemed to escape high school with her heart fairly well intact, too. A couple of breakups, but none were jerks about it and the two boyfriends she had before the guy she was seeing now still came around the house sometimes when she had people over. John didn't understand that at all. He'd never been friends with someone he'd had any form of a relationship with afterward. John's version of relationships was vastly different than hers, of course, that probably made a difference. Then John had never been able to have people over to his house either growing up.
He'd been perhaps too lenient on that front over the years. If she asked, he'd said yes because he figured if he said no she'd just take her plans to someone else's house. And, well, he knew firsthand what it was like having a house you didn't want anyone to see. So, the fact that they had a home she wanted to bring people to let him know he was doing all right.
"Speaking of differences. I'm looking forward to a week in New York under very different circumstances than I'm used to getting with you."
He usually hated their trips to New York. She knew that. Fashion Week was nothing short of his idea of a personal hell as far as he was concerned. Crowds of people. Crowds of privileged people. Crowds of rich people. Crowds of people who wanted to be close to those people for the remote chance that privilege and wealth might rub off on them.
She was 'on' every second of every day other than when they were in their hotel room together. Otherwise, from the time she woke up it was non-stop. Not just the attention she got either. And had that increased over the years, this past year she'd designed over a dozen dresses for various awards ceremonies alone. He still couldn't believe there was a market for people willing to pay that much money for her (or anyone) to design a dress they'd wear once. It kept her name out there, though, and it put lots of money in her bank account with relatively little effort compared to the stores she spent months working on an entire selection of clothes for. Also, though, beyond the attention was her mind, always working and improving on things that before she'd left Chicago she'd been happy with. He wouldn't want her any other way, though, always the perfectionist creating. She probably did create in her sleep, he just didn't know it.
"Yes. No deadlines. No formal dinners. No kissing someone's ass because they show a speck of interest in your work. No press conferences. No reporters hoping to catch one of the kids picking his or her nose or me making an ass of myself. This suit didn't cost me more than my first car."
"I think most anything costs more than your first car anymore."
"You're probably right. Either way, I'm looking forward to an actual vacation with you."
Their honeymoon was a ten-day trip to DisneyWorld. Liz had come along, so it wasn't much of a honeymoon as far as honeymoons went. That had been Claire's idea not John's. He had suggested asking her parents or one of her friend's parents to take her for the ten days. She hadn't wanted to leave Liz behind. She'd been old enough they were able to go out a few nights by themselves to Pleasure Island and stuff. That was the first and only vacation they'd had together. So, this week coming up in New York was a big deal to him. Of course they weren't going to New York alone either, but he was still looking forward to it. The times he'd gone with her were more frustrating than they should have been. That close to things to do, like seeing the Letterman Show, and being unable to do any of them.
"So are you ready then?"
"We'll meet you at the ceremony then, I guess."
"I know. Are you sure I look all right?"
"You look perfect. Is that why you're nervous?"
"Because it's the first time you're going to be in the boat I've been in for the past fourteen years. People are going to look at you and think you're her mom. Being a breakfast for the moms sort of implies it."
"Well, people thinking I'm her mom is nothing new. Not really."
He knew that because she'd been legally Elizabeth's mom now for about five years. Once they'd gotten married and talked about trying for their oldest, Anthony, they'd talked to her about some things. The conversation had gotten started when John said he wanted to make her a legal guardian in the event something happened to him or like the time she fell and had to go to the hospital, someone who could make decisions for her. He hadn't wanted her thinking with a baby potentially coming (not that they told her they were trying) that if something happened to John she'd get shipped off to their parents while the baby would stay in the house she'd grown up with Claire. Somehow, he still couldn't say to this day how, it had gotten turned into a conversation about Claire adding her name to Liz's documents.
Funny, just as with the initial custody case that got them where they were today her dad hadn't charged him for that case either. Very different reasons this go around, though. Since he knew several judges it hadn't taken more than a few minutes to get the process done, Claire and Liz both saying they wanted to do it was about the extent of it. John slept better at night after that, knowing if something happened to him through the course of his job his sister would stay here and Claire would take care of her. Now she was legally an adult so she wouldn't get put into their parents' home, but it still made John feel better knowing that Liz would have somewhere to belong and to call home in the event something happened to him. Especially now that he was working Violent Crimes. He wasn't stupid enough to believe he was impervious to a bullet or anything else. Gangs were an ever growing problem in the suburbs, their influence expanding beyond the city of Chicago's borders further and further every day it seemed.
"Yes, but most of those people, parents of her friends, knew her situation and that we weren't really. These people today won't, you know. It's all the moms of all the graduates."
"You think that bothers me?" she asked.
"I think some women who aren't even thirty-five yet would be bothered by a high school graduate being mistaken for their daughter."
"Yeah, well, let them think what they want. I have no problem being mistaken for her mom. I'm flattered she invited me to the breakfast at all."
"Well, I don't know. Because I'm not really her mom."
"You've been the closest thing she has."
"You've got to get going or you're going to be late. We'll be fine. Trust me."
"Yeah, I know, you've done all this before."
It bothered her to think of him raising Liz by himself for the most part all along, even when he was in high school doing all the things he did for her every day. He noticed her trying to take the bulk of the responsibility off his shoulders with Tony and Jenny. She said it was because he had the tougher, more physical job, which was true. She was successful enough now that she was able to design around their schedules. The weeks he worked late afternoons or evenings she started earlier and vice versa. There were times she was able to work from home if need be, which she probably did more than she had to until the kids were in school.
They were taking all three of the kids to New York for a week after Liz graduated. She'd be going to school out there in the fall at Columbia so they were going to get in all the tourist-like things they could along with taking a tour of the campus. Liz had gotten a tour with John in the spring when he took her to look at the campus, but Claire and the kids had stayed home that trip since they only went for two days. Liz was even going to babysit a couple of nights so he and Claire could take in a Broadway show, something they'd never done in all of their trips there yet. Her choice had been Phantom of the Opera, since he had no preference whatsoever he'd bought the tickets to the show she wanted to see. She'd promised him a night of Letterman, too, so a Broadway show he had absolutely no desire to see seemed like a fair trade off.
"Go," he said, kissing her. "I know it means a lot to Liz you're going with her."
"What?" he asked.
"I'm just trying to think of whether we've thought of everything for her party tomorrow."
"Claire. We've thought of everything. We have food. We have music. We have a huge cake that could feed an army. We have guests. And since we have a brand new addition on the house, we have plenty of space on the first floor for everyone. You know they're not going to all come at the same time, right? They'll go from party to party as they see fit, stay for a while and move on to the next party."
They'd lived with Claire's parents for about six months of the year last year while the second floor on the house was put on and the first floor was updated and renovated with new appliances, pipes, wiring, and flooring. He realized later it probably would've been cheaper for them just to have the house torn down and start from scratch. This had worked, though. They were able to move back in faster this way. Claire's parents were nice about it and all, but six months of them was about all the two of them could take. The kids? They loved being at Grandma and Grandpa's house for whatever reason, even Liz. A far cry from their first Thanksgiving there when she didn't even want to go.
"Then relax, and if you think of something we've missed I can run out and get it later."
"We can't serve the kids wine," he said with a chuckle.
"Not for them."
"I know what you meant. You won't need the wine. I promise. If I can get through tomorrow entirely sober seeing Jeff with her all day, so can you. You will have fun."
"I know. I don't know how my parents did this and we have to do it again."
"Not for years! Don't stress over something thirteen years before it's going to happen. Okay, guys, give Mommy a kiss, she's got to go see Elizabeth."
She knelt down and hugged and kissed both of them. Tony would be in Kindergarten next fall with Jen a few years behind him since she was only two. For whatever reason neither of them got their mom's hair. John had been hoping since Jen was a girl she'd at least have it.
"Hey," he said when she started toward the door.
"What? You're the one telling me how late I'm going to be."
Liz was going to the school with Abby and her mom. Mary's family had moved away during tenth grade so she wasn't here anymore. While Liz and Abby had both made other friends over the years they'd managed somehow to remain best friends. The boy, Tom, who'd snuck into their house had been gone from Abby's life pretty quickly. That wasn't the case with the guy sticking around her these days, the same went for Liz, too. It had taken her a while to bring anyone home to meet John officially as a boyfriend. She'd introduced the couple before Jeff as simply friends and it hadn't seemed to him like their relationship got much further than that anyway. He had to admit she'd managed to let him meet someone who seemed decent enough. He didn't entirely trust him, but that was the guy in John knowing what eighteen year old guys thought not based on any actions or behavior by Jeff himself. He was going to school out east at Yale, so for now they were talking about continuing to see one another when they could. Liz wouldn't have a car, there was no need for one in New York City. Jeff would, though.
He chuckled. "Do I get one of those, too?"
"Oh yeah," she said, leaning in and kissing him.
She gave him a much better kiss than Tony and Jenny had gotten. She always did. Still to this day she kissed him as if he was the only guy in the world for her. He had no idea how many she'd kissed between that day of detention and the day Wayne had interviewed her, but he knew she hadn't kissed anyone since then.
"We are not having a third one yet," she said when she drew away.
"What? I wasn't even thinking…"
"You were, too. Liz is going to be out of the house. I can see that look in your eye now that Jenny's out of diapers."
"Yeah, there is that aspect to think about. I think I could go a year or so without having to change another one."
"Another year at least."
"I think I can wait another year."
"You are the one that said I was going to get fat from having too many kids, remember?"
"That was assuming they were going to be someone else's kids. They're my kids so you're going to be just fine."
"I am, huh? Why exactly?"
"Yes, because you know I'm going to chase you in the hope of having another one."
"That only works if I don't want to get caught, John."
"There is that," he said with a chuckle. "You look more than fine."
"Thank you," she said.
"All right, guys, let's get ourselves some breakfast while Mommy and Liz get to eat."
It was weird looking at Tony, thinking he was the age Liz was when he'd gotten custody of her. He had no idea how he did it looking back now. Hard work and perseverance he supposed, an unwillingness not to fail. For her sake, not for his. He hadn't really cared what happened to him. He'd only cared about keeping her safe. They'd managed somehow and he had to admit she'd turned out pretty okay despite it all. She hadn't mentioned their parents in years. She'd introduced him to the few people at Columbia as her dad, which was fine with him. He had to admit if he could handpick a daughter, she'd be his first choice.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com