***Part Nine***
Word Count: 1,552

God, he hated coming here. Well, scratch that, he didn't because his coming here had led to their first date. So he didn't hate coming here as much as the fact he had been summoned here today. He could only imagine as he sat in the waiting area what the reason for that was.

He waited for the day her dad offered him a check to walk away. John wouldn't blame him for doing that because John wasn't sure he'd want someone like him involved with his daughter if the situation was reversed.

He hadn't done that yet, though, and in fact, Claire's father treated him pretty decent. He wasn't sure what Claire had told her parents about his home life, but it was almost as if her father was trying to reassure him that not all fathers were like his had been.

Of course he knew that, he'd seen it growing up. He just hadn't experienced it beyond the occasional overnight at a friend's house.

He thought he'd gotten along well enough with both her parents. They'd met and while he knew he hadn't wow'd them or anything they hadn't been outraged that he was the father of their future grandkid. Grandkids. Two months since she'd told him they were having twins and he still couldn't get his mind wrapped around it.

Two of them.

He'd gone with her to a recent visit and heard the heartbeats, tangible proof there were two of them in there.

He'd been working as if the devil was fast on his heels since that weekend. He wasn't sure what the winter was going to bring so he wanted to be sure he had enough saved up to pay rent and continue giving her something. She opened a savings account back in July. He didn't question her about what she did with the money he gave her, but she showed him the statement every month so he knew his money was being put in there. He hoped one day she'd stop doing that because he trusted her and if she wanted to take ten dollars after they were born and take herself to Burger King or something who was he to argue about that.

"Mr. Standish can see you now," the receptionist said. John vaguely remembered her from the day he'd come to see Claire here. He couldn't have told anyone her name or anything because he hadn't been thinking about anything but Claire that day.

"Yeah, thanks," he said, following her into the office area and back to his office.

She shut the door once John stepped inside.

"How are you?"

"I'm good," John said, taking a seat in one of the chair on this side of the desk.

"You're done working Claire tells me."

"Uh yeah," John said. "It's only until spring. March, maybe April. I worked as long as I could but once the snow starts flying."

"Right," he said with a nod. John doubted her father knew much about manual labor, but he at least tried to understand. "You're taking classes Claire's mentioned."

"Yes."

"Nights?"

"Yeah, four nights a week."

"Claire says you've been giving her money."

"As much as I can. I'm trying to save up for a better apartment than the one I have now, too."

"And you two are getting along?"

"I'm sorry?" he asked.

"I'd ask Claire, but she'd probably give me the answer I want to hear as her father."

"Oh, well, yeah, I mean, as well as can be expected for two people who weren't thinking they'd be where we are. I mean, I never wanted kids, but I'm sure Claire's told you why."

"You do plan on being involved?"

"Uh, yeah, I may not have reacted great at first, but I'm pretty invested now."

He was quiet then, regarding John. John had no idea what else to say. He'd kind of thought they weren't going to have to do this since it was pretty clear he and Claire were involved. Sure it was her being pregnant that got them spending time together after that day, but he wasn't stupid enough to not want to try. Maybe that attempt to bribe him wasn't so farfetched.

"I have some friends who own some businesses."

"Yeah," John said with a slight frown. This was supposed to be news to him? You own your own business and you tend to rub elbows with others who did, too.

"A few have factories that might be looking for help."

"I'm pretty happy with the work I was doing."

"Oh, I understand that. Claire mentioned you seemed to like it and were doing quite well, but since these people are friends of mine they may be more tempted to hire you knowing it's seasonal. Unemployment is fine, but those babies are going to be born in the next few weeks. One at a time is expensive enough; certainly Claire's mother and I are in a position to help."

"Oh, I see," he said. "Yeah, sure, it's not as if I really want to sit at home all winter, but I didn't feel right taking a job knowing I'd be leaving again in a few months."

"One company in particular that I can think of this is their peak time with the holidays coming up. I'm sure they could use some warehouse help."

"Sure," he said. "I have no aversion to working. I'm doing all right in my classes. I didn't study too much in high school, so I was kind of focusing on that."

He wrote some information down on a piece of paper, ripped the sheet from the pad and handed it to John.

"You never know, you might find yourself some steady work every year you've got down time."

"Yeah, sure," he said, taking the offered paper. He glanced at it.

"I already let him know you might be calling so he knows to expect your call."

"Uh, thanks," he said.

"This new apartment you're aiming for."

"Yes?"

"Is my daughter coming with you?"

"Not right away, no. We both agreed she and the babies are better off where she is for now. I'm hoping another year and I can get us a place they can grow into instead of having to move all of us again once they're walking and stuff. My plan is eventually, yes, they'll be with me."

"That's all I wanted to know, I guess."

John eyed him curiously. "No demand I marry her?"

He shrugged. "Would it do any good?"

"I don't think so, no."

"Then what's the point? I don't want that life for her anyway. I think it's more important even if you don't end up marrying that you get along, for the kids. From what she's told me you didn't know one another very well before this. I've seen some families fall apart after a divorce and the kids always suffer from the parents fighting."

"Kids suffer even when the marriages don't fall apart, and that's what I'm trying to avoid. I don't plan on going anywhere, I'm just trying to do the best I can for everyone, including myself."

"No one can blame you for that, but I have my daughter to look out for. And my grandchildren. I will say, you hurt them any of them, I will see to it you never see them again."

"I understand where you're coming from, and if I was sitting in your chair I'd say the same thing to the guy on this side of your desk. My intent isn't to hurt her or the babies. I'd just rather we both be on surer footing before we make plans for a future. We both have school to finish. I never took high school very seriously so it's new for me. She wants a career; I want her to have that. I also want to be able to support her so she has the option to put a career off for a while once she's done with school."

"Well, her mother and I will help as we can, but once she's done with school that ends. We're only doing it now, truthfully, because there isn't much choice for us. Well, there is, but not a suitable choice. I want a good life for her, even if it's gotten sidetracked."

"Me, too," John said and stood then. "Thanks again," he said, offering him his hand. He took it, shaking it firmly. There was nothing wishy-washy about Claire's dad. He was her favorite parent and John got that, but John also knew he wouldn't want to get on his bad side for that reason.

John left then, sitting in his car for a few minutes. He regarded the phone number her dad had given him and replayed the last bits of the conversation over in his head. He had no doubt that her dad had the means to arrange it so he never saw them again. It bothered him to hear him say it, for sure, but a part of him was very glad to hear it, too. He wasn't entirely sure he trusted Claire to get out if he started becoming his dad. Her dad, on the other hand, wouldn't think twice about pulling her out. And, oddly, that made John feel a little better.

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