"This is Claire, may I help you?"
Claire never got phone calls at work, but occasionally someone would get transferred to her extension by mistake so she always had to answer the phone professionally. Her current office was one Dad used for visiting clients who needed an office to use for the day or few hours they were here.
"Hi Claire. This is Becky."
"Hi," Claire said.
Becky was the office receptionist. She was good at her job, too. She knew how to field calls so they got directed to the right person even when the caller initially called to speak with someone else sometimes. She was one of those people who would never advance beyond having some responsibilities like filing and stuff added to her job description, but she would be rewarded for performance by her dad.
"There's someone here to see you."
"Yes, he looks like he might be in a hurry."
"Okay, I'll be right up," she said, hanging up.
She grabbed her water bottle. One thing about being three plus months pregnant in July, she was always thirsty. She walked from her office to the front, smiling at Becky as she opened the door leading to the waiting area. Her smile faded a little when she saw John standing there, replaced she was sure with a disbelieving scowl.
He looked different. His hair was still long, but it was cut better than the last time she'd seen him and he was tan. Very, very tan she noticed. She couldn't help but think it looked very good on him, too. Those were very bad thoughts to have, too, because he was showing up at work, which had to mean he didn't really want to talk to her.
"You show up here," she hissed after she'd shut the door and ensured Becky's window was closed. "I can't do this here, John. These people know me. My dad's inside!"
He made no hint to disguise the fact he was checking her out. She was showing a little bit. Clothes that just a few weeks ago had fit were tight around the waist now. She and her mom had gone shopping over the weekend for some clothes to get her through the summer with regard to work. Her mom thought she could get away with regular dresses for now, just ones that weren't so fitted at the waist. They'd bought a couple pair of shorts and stuff, too, but not much. Clothes for school in the fall were going to be a headache.
"Uh, yeah, I know. I figured this was better than showing up at your house."
He nodded a little, gesturing for her to follow him outside. She glanced at the door and Becky, watching from the window that guests talked to her through. She followed him outside, feeling as though she didn't have a whole lot of choice. Standing in the waiting area anyone could see and hear them. Claire was the boss' daughter so people would watch. No matter how much of a jerk she thought he was at the moment, John was a good looking guy and attracted attention wherever he went. He'd mentioned her having chosen Andy over him because of his looks, but Claire didn't think that she would've. Andy was nice looking, for sure, but he was far too Ö pretty for Claire. She'd never realized she didn't like that in a guy until that day of detention.
"What do you want?" she asked once they'd gotten to his car on the parking lot.
"Are you feeling all right?"
"As if you care."
"I wouldn't have asked if I didn't want to know the answer. It was a sincere question, Claire."
"I'm fine," she said.
He didn't use her real name often, so she took that to mean he was being real with his question. She still didn't think he cared, though.
"I'm fine. Great. Everything's cool. Is that what you wanted to know? Maybe you hoped I'd fallen down the stairs or something to end this problem. Then you could go on with your life, forgetting all about me or that this even happened."
He looked truly stricken by her words, which sort of surprised her. As if he cared about her or the baby. She hadn't heard one word from him since the day she'd told him. So he clearly didn't.
"I, well, no, that thought hadn't occurred to me. Really? You think I'd want you to hurt yourself or the baby?"
"I don't know what you want."
"Well, I'm not a complete asshole. But, uh, here," he said, handing her an envelope.
She peered inside, eyes widening a little at its contents.
"I'm sorry. What is this for? You do know I'm not having an abortion. It's a little late for that or your money even if I did have one."
"I know you didn't and aren't. I realized after the fact you wouldn't have told me at all if that was what you were going to do. Well, probably not anyway. I don't claim to know how normal people process things, but no chick I know who's had one has told the guy about it beforehand. I know a couple who told the guy afterward just to be bitches, but that's not you."
"No, I wouldn't do that, but that doesn't explain the money then. John, this is a lot of money."
"I, well, you have to buy things, don't you?"
"I don't know. Whatever it is you need for the baby. I came up with clothes, diapers, bottles, food or formula, and a crib or something to sleep in when I thought over ideas. I'm sure there are other things, but I haven't a clue. Babies aren't really my thing."
She frowned, finding it difficult to keep scowling at him when he'd just given her what appeared to be a few hundred dollars.
"You think this makes up for you not talking to me for a month and a half?"
"I think it's my way of proving I can at least try to help. And that I want to talk to you, Claire."
"Money is your idea of helping me?"
"Well, yeah," he said, sounding confused. "I can't really do much else. I've been working like a dog since school let out. All of the overtime they'll let me have. That's it, there, what I can afford to give you. Figured I needed to give you something in good faith to show you I'd help where I can. Once winter hits I don't know how much I can pitch in, but it's only a few months off and I'll try to make up for it before and after."
"So what? Now you're going to disappear for another month and a half?"
He sighed. "I still don't know what you want from me, Claire. You haven't said. You walked away from me that day. Actually, you walked away from me both days in question. When that happened," he said, gesturing to her abdomen. "And when you told me about it."
"You said a horribly cruel thing to me."
"I know. You just got done telling me my worst fear was coming true. What did you think I was going to do? Jump up and down? Christ, Claire, the last thing I ever expected to hear coming out of your mouth was telling me we made a kid. Never mind that you were seriously considering having it. I'm still not sure why you are."
"Like I was thrilled about it?"
"Well, no, I'm sure you weren't, but you had a couple of weeks to adjust to the news by the time you told me. I didn't get that luxury. I wasn't really suggesting you sleep with the guy it just came out."
"It would've served you right."
"That mean you didn't?"
"That's none of your business."
"I'd say if he's someone who's going to be around my kid it is."
"Our kid. It's not yours, it's ours, and I'm sorry, but you're going to judge the company I keep?"
"I think I have some right to voice opinions about some people, yeah."
"Well, I doubt Adam will be around it so you don't have to object to him."
"Listen, I have to get back. I wasn't really sure how long it'd take me to get here, but I figured this was better than showing up at your house."
"My parents know."
"Figured you'd told them by now. How'd they take it?"
"Dad hasn't said much. Mom freaked at first, but she calmed down after a little while. She seems oddly excited now. She took me clothes shopping this weekend and we'll go again before school starts."
"That's good," he said. "You look good, so obviously the clothes work."
"Mine do not know, and I certainly don't plan on telling them. Ever. I suppose I have you to thank for the fact they don't know."
"You must have said something to your parents to stop them from having the heart-to-heart with the bum's parents who knocked you up."
"I haven't told them who you are."
That surprised him, she could tell.
"I didn't want to be responsible for something happening to you."
"Well, thanks, I guess," he said.
"Sure," she said. She handed the envelope back to him. "John, thanks, but I don't need your money. Mom and Dad will take care of anything the baby needs since we'll be at their house for the first few years anyway."
"I don't care what your parents will or won't take care of. The money's for the baby. Or you I guess if there's something you need immediately. Open a savings account for it if you don't need it right now."
"John, you can't afford this."
"Yeah, well, I don't walk away from my responsibilities. I haven't had many to speak of. I'm trying to do the right thing here, Princess. Can you work with me? Buy it a stuffed animal or something from me. Babies like those things, right?"
She took the envelope back, sighing softly. "Yeah, I guess they do."
"My phone number and address is also in there."
He shrugged. "Well, I figured you of all people should know how to get a hold of me."
"Well, yeah. Why do I need to know?''
"Well, I don't know, so you know you can call me, keep me posted on what's going on."
She narrowed her eyes at him a little. "You expect me to call you?"
"I figure you might once in a while to tell me how things are going. When are you due anyway?"
"Have you told anyone besides your parents?"
"No," she said. "Have you?"
"Oh," she said, surprised.
"Don't worry, I didn't tell them who you are."
She shrugged, not sure it mattered anymore anyway.
"Well, they're bound to figure it out anyway. Giving me money means you want to see it, right?"
"If you'll let me."
"This money. Today. It doesn't prove you deserve to."
"Deserve to! It's mine. I have the right to if I want to."
He was right, of course.
"Call anytime. I have a machine, got it for you because really no one else would call me anyway. Figured it was the responsible thing to do, giving you a way to reach me. So leave a message. I'm not home much other than to sleep, but I'll call you back within a day."
"What are you doing anyway?"
"Oh, good," she said.
"Are we okay for now?"
"There is no we, John."
"We're on speaking terms, at least? I don't want to fight with you, Claire."
"I donít want to either."
"Can you do me one favor?"
"That's me," he stepped toward her then. He slid a hand to her cheek and she couldn't help but react. Her eyes fell closed for just a second, long enough to betray the fact she liked his touch. "Cut me some slack for that comment, okay. Don't hold it against me; make decisions or assumptions about me and the baby based on one stupid thing I said weeks ago. I came here today, surely that has to tell you something about where my head is now that I've had some time to adjust. I needed to get my life straightened out, too, you know? Get a job, get out of my house. So, maybe you think I took too long, but that wasn't my intent. I couldn't come see you empty-handed. There have to be other people in this situation who've reacted worse than I did."
"I'm sure there are," she said. "But they're not us."
"Yeah, well, I could make some comment about this situation being a result of your choice, but I'll leave this conversation on a good note. And, hey, when you buy something with it," he said, gesturing to the envelope. "Take a picture or something."
"You want proof I'm spending the money on the baby?"
"No, that's not what I said. Hell, if you needed the money to buy yourself some clothes I wouldn't care. You're not going to spend it on drugs or booze so I don't have any hesitation at just handing you cash. I'd just like to see what I bought because I don't know how I'd know otherwise."
"Oh," she said. "Yeah, I can do that."
"Are you on your lunch break?"
"Yeah, I told the foreman I would be a little longer. I've been early and stayed late every day, work through lunch most of the time so he'll let it slide."
"Good. I'm glad it's working."
"Me, too," he said, eyeing her curiously. He leaned down and kissed her then. Not her cheek or anything, but a full-blown kiss. She couldn't help but respond much the same as she'd responded to him that day. It'd been since then that she'd been kissed like this either. She slid her arms around his neck as he deepened it. The fact that they were standing in the parking lot of her dad's company didn't much matter to her just then.
He drew away, giving her one last kiss before pulling away completely.
"And John," she said once she had her wits about her again.
"Yeah," he said, looking very smug and proud of himself just then.
"Thank you," she said.
"I hope the rest of your day goes well."
"You, too." He walked to the driver's side of his car. It was a junker, but he was good with cars she knew so she imagined he'd fixed it up enough to be reliable to get him where he needed to go. "Hey, Claire," he said, opening the door.
"You going to the carnival thing Wednesday night for the fireworks?"
That surprised her. He wasn't the type to go to carnivals so she was surprised it even dawned on him the annual Shermer Days was going on. "I was thinking about going. I can't go on many of the rides," she said, gesturing to her abdomen. "But I probably will."
"With a date?"
"No," she said. "I think my dating days are done for a while."
"Maybe I'll see you there and buy you a lemonade or something."
She smiled a little at that. "I think I'd like that."
"See you then."
"Sure," she said.
She watched him drive off the parking lot before heading back inside. She slid the envelope he'd given her into her purse before she got sidetracked.
Had she just accepted an offer of a date with him? She really had no idea because John was the most confusing and confounding person she'd ever met. He was also the only guy that ever got her blood pumping and made her feel alive just being near him. His kiss today reminded her of that, not that she really needed it.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com