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***Part One***
Word Count: 3,343

Claire lurked in the hall, clutching the books for her last class to her chest. She'd passed by his locker a few times in the past eight weeks. He was there a couple of those times. She'd give a barely-there wave, he'd nod slightly, and they'd continue going wherever they were off to. Usually class for her because she had Calculus this way. There was no telling for him.

This was the first time she intentionally waited for him. She didn’t want to, but really had no choice. She'd put it off for over two weeks now. Once school was over, she'd never see him. She needed to tell him before prom and graduation.

Why? Well, she wasn't sure. She just needed to tell him by then.

She saw him walking down the hall toward his locker. It was warmer now so he didn't have the coat on from that day, but he wore a long sleeved shirt. The boots were there, too, looking ridiculous given how nice it was outside. She wondered if he ever wore short sleeves. In gym class he'd have to, she supposed. She doubted Mr. Emry would cut John slack, which would just fuel John's bitterness.

She took a deep breath, gathering up the courage to do this, and walked toward him just as he stopped in front of his locker. He started spinning the dial on the lock that kept whatever he valued in there safe. She knew it wasn't his text books. If she didn't act fast, he'd be gone in record time.

His back was to her as she rested hers against the neighboring locker, waiting for him to notice her. She wasn't dressed exactly how she wanted to be to talk to him again, but she looked nice enough she supposed.

It didn't take him long to notice her. He stopped what he was doing, just having finished opening the lock. He left it sitting there without taking it off, eyeing her. She could tell pretty easily what he was thinking, and it didn't involve the calculus book she held in her arms.

"You lost, Princess?"

"No," she said softly, avoiding his gaze.

"You sure? Seems to me your locker's on the other side of the school."

He knew where her locker was?

"I know where my locker is," she said.

"That's good. So, taking a walk on the wild side today or what? I'm sure there's a closet around here we could find if you want."

"I need to talk to you."

He moved then, side stepping enough so that he stood in front of her. He smelled like soap and cigarettes. He set his hands on either side of her head, boxing her in. She closed her eyes, remembering how he felt and the excitement that had coursed through her when she placed that first kiss against his neck. Why she'd kissed him there she'd never know. Something to let him know she wasn't there just to be a tease she imagined. She wondered what he'd do if she did it again now.

"Isn't that what we're doing?"

"Not really."

"So talk then."

"Not here."

His lip curled up into a half-smile. Oh God, he thought she wanted to have sex with him again.

"Yeah, we wouldn't want the Shermer High student body to see their princess talking to a thug like me."

"That's not it at all. I just can't talk to you here."

"Then where?"

That was the one thing she hadn't totally come up with yet.

"Will you meet me by my car after school?"

He gave her a smug grin, arching an eyebrow. "Princess, you surprise me."

"Not for that."

He clearly didn't believe her. How embarrassing.

"All right, sure, it's not like I have anything else to do," he said, drawing away from her then.

"Thank you," she said, relieved.

"You going to give me a hint?"

"No," she said wryly. "I'll see you at my car."

"I'll be there. I always wanted to take a ride in one of those new Mustangs."

She rolled her eyes and stepped out from in front of him.


He should've made her wait, shown up fashionably late as the saying went. He was somewhat curious what she'd want to talk to him about. To say nothing about their mutually exclusive worlds collided was an understatement. Maybe she was too embarrassed to admit she wanted another go around. He smiled at that as he lit a cigarette and leaned up against her car. How did he know it was her car? Well, it was hard to miss her pulling up onto the school's student parking area. It was a sweet ride, and the chick driving it was equally as desirable.

He'd been shocked she'd joined him in the supply closet that afternoon. Well, not entirely shocked she'd come to him, but that she'd closed the deal. And had she. The closet was pretty small, but they'd made do. Up against a wall wasn't typical he imaged for how chicks like her lost their virginity. She hadn't complained, though.

She'd given him an earring at the end of the day. He wasn't sure how to feel about that. If it were any of the usual girls he slept with he'd be insulted, think they were in some roundabout way trying to pay him. That wasn't her intent, though, even he knew that. He wore the earring, not today as it happened, and whenever he slid it into the small hole in his earlobe he remembered her. The way she kissed him, the sounds she made as she'd let him take her over the edge, and the tenderness she'd exposed him to. No one had ever touched him like she had. No one had ever dared to because he just wasn't a touchy feely guy. Fingertips brushing along his scars as if they weren't even there, just the raw need to touch him sending her on an exploratory mission. He hadn't flinched from her kissing them either, which obviously had been intentional on her part. And unusual for him. He didn't like anyone focusing on the physical evidence of how much his father loved him.

"Get lost?"

"I had to stop in the bathroom," she said softly, unlocking his door.

"You sure you want to be seen leaving with me, Princess? You must be pretty confident you've got that queen nomination wrapped up."

"I'm sure," she said with a huff. "Just get in, John."

He didn't respond to that and she didn't say anything else, even after she'd started the car. She'd thought of where to take him at this time of day where they would be left pretty much alone. She couldn't take him home, her mom would freak. Not to mention she didn't want to have this conversation in front of anyone.

"You're taking me to the library, Princess?"

"No, I mean, yes. We're not getting out of the car, though. I just needed to see you somewhere that wasn't school."

"I didn't realize you wanted to be alone with me that badly. I could have come up with a place or two for us to park certainly more private than the library. You know there's an abandoned warehouse down…"

"Oh my God, I did not come here to park with you."

She threw the car into Park and got out, slamming the door shut behind her. He apparently got the hint, because he joined her a minute or two later.

"So, what's the deal then, sweets?"

"Just give me a minute, okay?"

He held up his hands as if warding her off. "Hey, you're clearly in charge here. I like that in a woman, did I mention that?"

She rolled her eyes, shoving her hands into the pockets of her jacket. "I have a feeling you like anything in a woman as long as she's willing to put out."

He nodded as if agreeing, but wisely said nothing as she turned and walked toward the front of her car.

She couldn't hide the smile when he joined her. They made quite the contrasting couple. She was somewhat tall for a girl and he was probably on the lesser side of average for a guy so there wasn't much difference between them. Height was where the similarities ended, though. Her clothes were stylish and expensive where his were not. Her hair style was on the cutting edge and had cost a fortune, his he likely did on his own with nail clippers or something like it. If he cut it at all.

"I haven't been here since I was a kid," he said when she remained quiet.


"I had to steal the bag lunch I needed for the fieldtrip to come here. Some children's author reading one of his new books or something."

She vaguely remembered a field trip like that. Funny what was just a vague memory for her was a very distinct and vivid one for him. How different their lives had been. Field trips were a given for her, she'd never even considered the fact that some students couldn't go. They had the parking lot pretty much to themselves, as she expected when the idea came to her to bring him here. She looked away, knowing he wouldn't want her pity. He talked about that sort of thing like it was no big deal, but it just ate her up inside to think of anyone being treated as he was. She wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her jacket.

"So, what did you want to talk to me about, Princess? You've gone to an awful lot of trouble to get me alone if you don't have a repeat performance in mind."

"Once was enough!"

He coughed then. "That wasn't what you said that day."

"Why do you do that?"

"You telling me now that you didn't think it was good?"

It was good. She had nothing to compare it to, of course, but cramped space aside she hadn't left that storage closet disappointed.

"I didn't say that!"

"Then what was the once was enough comment for?"

"Oh my God, I can't believe I'm concerned about hurting your feelings here."

"Just out with it then."

"I'm pregnant."

No snappy comeback, none at all actually. She expected him to say something cruel, like ask if it was his, even though he knew better.


"No, the other girl standing here that you had sex with in a storage closet."

For all she knew, there were others. She certainly wouldn't put it past him.

He took hold of her arm and spun her around to face him. His eyes traveled the span of her face intently. She didn't look away or try to pull away.

"You're serious. This isn't a joke?"

"Why would I joke about something like that? And why would I wait this long to do it?"

"I don't know," he said simply, releasing her arm and stepping away. He walked a few feet away from her car, settling his hands on a cement post that helped keep the library from falling into the parking garage below it.

"What are you going to do?" he asked.

"I don't know!"

"When'd you find out?"

"A couple of weeks ago. I thought it was just a fluke at first. You know, stress due to the end of the year, finals and graduation. Maybe I miscounted and I wasn't really late. It's not something I ever had to worry about before."

"That's why you've been showing up near my locker."

"Yeah," she said, not really surprised he'd noticed.

He laughed then, pressing his forehead against the cement.

"I'm sorry. Is there something funny about this to you?"

He continued to laugh for a minute, spun around to face her. "I was joking about impregnating you."

"Well, I didn't think you were serious. How could you have planned my coming to you?"

"Oh, I could have if I'd really tried."

She rolled her eyes. "Get over yourself."

"You came, didn't you?"

"Yeah, I did," she said softly.

"What do you want me to do?"

"I don't know since I haven't decided what I'm going to do."

"Your parents going to freak?"

"Uh, yeah," she said. That was an understatement. Her father would probably just not talk to her for a while. Her mother would rant and rave about how much of an embarrassment she was going to be.

"Will they kick you out?"

"What?" she asked with a frown. That thought had never entered her mind. "Well, no, I mean, they wouldn't do that I don't think. My brother would let me stay with him probably."

"That's assuming you're going to have it."


"That what you want to do?"

"I'm not sure," she said, resting a palm over her stomach. She wasn't showing or anything, but she couldn't help but think there was a life in there. "It could be the next da Vinci."

"Could be the next Mussolini, too."

She shook her head with a laugh. "I think the odds of a child growing up to be a dictator are pretty slim."

"You never know with my sperm making up half of the genetic equation."

"This ever happened to you before?"

"Uh, no," he said quickly.

"Why not?"

"I use…" he paused and turned away.


"Rubbers. I didn't even think of it that day. Not that I had one in my wallet, I don't usually carry them with me to school."

"Well, that's good to know."

He laughed. "Believe it or not, that was a first for me."

"What was?"

He glanced at her over his shoulder. He wasn't looking so smug just then, but there was something in his eyes that told her he wasn't thinking about their current predicament at the moment.

"Doing it on school property."

"Oh, well, glad I could give you something to add to your book of experiences."

"I was beginning to think there wasn't anything left for me to do."

"You're not helping."

"I don’t know what you want me to say. You want me to freak out? Say you did it on purpose? I know you didn't. You would have gone to Andrew or Brian if that was your intent."

"I wouldn't…"

"I'm not saying you would have, but odds would tell you that Brian would produce smart kids and Andrew would have nice looking ones who are athletic. I would not have been a choice."

"I still can't believe this is happening to me."

"Why'd you bring me here?"

She shrugged. "To talk."

"What's to say? You're pregnant. You're either going to have it or you're not."

"I don't know! I certainly didn't want to do it in the hall or parking lot at school."

"Well, until you make a decision there's not a whole lot for me to say. Or were you hoping I'd tell you to get an abortion?"


He shrugged. "Be awfully convenient, take the decision off of you, and make me out to be an even badder guy than you already have me pegged as being."

"No, I just. God, I'm going to school in the fall."

"Yeah. Where?"


"That's not far. You could stay at home. Your mom doesn't work, does she?"


"Well, there you go. Built in babysitter."

"What? I can't expect my mom…"

"Sure you can. Grandmothers thrive on that sort of thing, or so I've heard anyway. You think she'd turn down the chance to help you so that you get your degree and can support the next Princess?"

"What about you?"

"What about me? I'm not going to college, not even an option for someone like me."

"Why can't you babysit?"

He scoffed. "I'm sorry. What?"

"It's your baby. Why can't you babysit?"

"Well, I don't want a baby so no I'm not going to do that," he shrugged. "I have to work. I kept my promise to my mom once I've graduated. I'm eighteen, as soon as I get enough saved I'm gone."


"Yeah. What you thought I was going to stay put?"

She rubbed her temples with her fingertips. This conversation was giving her a headache.

"I tell you I'm pregnant with your baby and you tell me you're leaving town?"

"I never said I was leaving town."

"Then what are you talking about?"

"Getting out of my house, away from my old man and mom, and the fun that is life with the Bender's."

"Oh," she said.

"Listen, make your decision. Until then I don't really know what you want me to say. You could decide to have it and give it up. If that's what you decide and I need to sign something I'd do it."

"You'd just let me give it up?"

"As opposed to what? Trying to force you to keep a baby you don't want. Yeah, that'd be a good move; even I'm not that dumb. I've lived the past eighteen years with parents who didn't really want me."

"I don't know."

"Claire. I really don't know what you want me to say. You want me to ask you to marry me? Not going to happen. Sorry, Princess, I'm not the marrying kind. I'm not the father-type either. If you want money, well, I'll do what I can I guess, but I'm not going to have the income of a doctor. You came to me that day. How do I know you didn't do it on purpose as some fuck you to your parents?"

He paused regarding her.

"Eight weeks, huh?"

"Yes, can't get much more exact on a date of conception since there was no other possible date."

"You should do what all you rich kids do on prom tomorrow, rent a hotel room with your date, have sex, and then tell your king it's his. I'll bet he's going to be a doctor. Or at least something you'll get money out of him. He'll pay up, I'm sure of it. I can't say he looks much like me, but maybe you'll luck out and the baby will resemble you so he won't suspect anything. You'll have to pray the baby takes his or her sweet time being born, because eight weeks is a lot of time in the baby-growing process. At least that's what they taught us in Health class."

She slapped him so hard across the face she was certain he'd have a bruise there. She spun around on her heels and got in her car. Once in and she'd started it, she peeled out of the parking lot so fast he didn't have time to react. Good thing the library was close to pretty much everything for him to walk to wherever he needed to go.

She got home and went straight to her room, telling her mom she was tired. Not a lie, she was exhausted all of the time. She did her homework after a nap. Her mother brought her a grilled cheese and some tomato soup, which Claire ate as if she hadn't eaten in a week.

God she hated him! She shouldn't have told him, let him guess who's baby it was the next time she ever saw him and she had a baby. As if their paths would ever cross. Initially that was what she was going to do, raise the baby by herself without involving him.

She'd felt guilty about doing that, though. She wasn't sure why. They weren't involved, didn't even really like each other. Except she saw something when he looked at her, not just the day of detention but when they saw one another in the halls at school.

She went to her closet after bringing her dishes downstairs, eyeing her prom dress. It was beautiful, one-of-a-kind. Her mom had made sure of it. She was going to have a good time with Adam tomorrow night if it killed her. She'd just have to push thoughts of John and the baby out of her mind for a little while.

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***Part Two***
Word Count: 3,313

Longest night of his life. Not even the blunt he'd rolled and smoked helped him sleep.

His own fault, he imagined. He could still see the look in her eye when he'd said it. He was fairly sure he'd never realized before his cheek could feel, or not feel as was the case for quite a few minutes after she left him at the library.

What did she expect?

She dropped a bomb on him, something he wasn't expecting because he was always so careful. It was just what everyone expected out of someone like him, knock someone up before graduation and be stuck in a miserable life just like his parents'. He was having none of that. He'd suffered too much, made it this far, and finally he saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

A way out.

She was the last person he ever expected to come to him with claims of being pregnant. A few other girls he might have expected it from, sure, because he was a better option for them then where they were currently. Ironic because certainly doing the right thing and marrying her or at least stepping up and being involved would certainly improve his lifestyle.

He knew, though, if she told him it wasn't a lie or a maybe. She wouldn't do that he didn't think, not that he claimed to know her well but she didn't seem the type. What would she have to gain by claiming he was the one who'd done it? Lower her social standing quite a few pegs. Yeah, like she'd do that for him. Then his father had somehow landed his mother so things worked in mysterious ways.

His old man. He hated him. Some might say hate was too strong of a word, but John didn't think it was strong enough. John couldn't ever remember a time he didn't live in some sort of fear. In the beginning it wasn't cigars or a belt, but just a hand. Sometimes when he was real little it was just a few words. Words and hands hurt just as much, he knew this very well.

His mom? He wanted to hate her. In some ways he supposed he did but different than how he felt about his father. His mom stood by for the past eighteen years while his father delivered the beatings, physical, mental, and verbal, on her son. He may not hate her, but he'd never forgive her.


There would never be Sunday dinners with his folks. He'd rather eat Banquet pot pies alone for the rest of his life than walk across the threshold of their miserable home ever again. Whatever happened he would be damned sure that she never, ever allowed either of his parents to see his kid.

He rang the bell, wondering if he would be home. Anyone who was anyone was across town at the hotel where prom was. John was not anyone, obviously. Claire was certainly. At some point she and her date, Adam Lavene, would get their crowns. He wondered if there was, in fact, a hotel room in store for the royal couple tonight. He wouldn't blame her exactly, and he tried to ignore the feeling that was eating him at the visuals of sex with Claire in a bed like it was meant to be done that popped to mind. She hadn't complained about their time together, but he knew he could certainly show her a much better time in a bed.

"Uh, hi," he said. "Mrs. Johnson. Is Brian home?"

"Sure," she said. "Are you a friend of his?"

She was asking because John was pretty sure no friend of Brian's looked remotely anything like John did. So he tried not to be insulted.

"Um, sort of," he shrugged for lack of a better answer. Not really wouldn't get him in the door. "We go to Shermer High together. My name's John Bender."

"It's nice to meet you, John, come in. He's watching a movie or something in the basement. You can go on down. Do you know the way?"


"I can show you," she said.

"Thank you," he said, trying to be polite. He knew how. You couldn't grow up in the town he grew up in and not at least know what manners were. He just chose not to abide by the expectations most people put on him. His parents didn't teach it to him so why should he care if he was supposed to say please or thank you to someone.

"No date for prom tonight either?" she asked as he fell into step behind her.

He chuckled softly. "No, ma'am, no date for prom."

"I tried telling Brian this, but it's not the end of the world."

"He asked someone I suppose?"

"He did," she said with a frown. He'd love to see Brian's mother have a talk with the girl who rejected her son's invitation. That would be a sight to see, and something his mother would never do. In fact, he was pretty sure his mom was too wasted to even know it was prom weekend.

"I'm sorry," he said for lack of anything else to say.

"Well, here it is," she said, opening a door. "Brian," she called down the stairs. "You have company. Go on down, John."

"Thank you, Mrs. Johnson."

He made his way downstairs, following the direction of the sound of a TV.

"So what are we watching, Brian?"

To say Brian looked frightened was an understatement.

"What are you doing here?"

John shrugged, sitting on the opposite end of the couch. "Came to see what you were doing on prom night. Figured maybe you'd like to grab a pizza."

"With you?"

"Yup," he said, glancing at the TV. He had no idea what Brian was watching.


"Because you're the smartest person I know and I need that brain of yours for a couple of hours."


"You know it'd be a lot easier if you just came with me and let me explain why over pizza. Come on, staying holed up down here in the dark because some chick told you no isn't the way to spend the night."

"How did you know?"

He chuckled. "People like me know everything. Besides, your mom told me."

"Mom," Brian murmured with a roll of his eyes as he used a remote control to turn the movie and then the TV off. He regarded John for a minute. "You're not going to hurt me are you? Finals are done so you're not here to ask me to cheat for you."

"All I care about is passing, that's taken care of. Bender will be one of the last names called during the ceremony."

"You just want to talk to me?"

"Yes, you think I'd show up here, introduce myself to your mother if my intent was to hurt you?"

He seemed to think on that and stood then. "You have a car?"

"I do."

"Mom," Brian said once they got upstairs. "John and I are going out for pizza."

"Are you sure, dear? I was going to bring you something in a little bit since you had company."

"No, thanks, Mom. I'll be back later."

"Okay. Have fun. Don't be too late now."

John glanced at Mrs. Johnson standing in the doorway, watching as he drove her son off the driveway. She waved, Brian reluctantly did the same. John chuckled.


"Nothing," he said, deciding being a smart ass was probably not the way to get Brian to listen to him.

The pizza place was pretty dead. Only a smattering of people like he and Brian who were dateless on the big night were in there. There were a few couples, people either too young for prom or who couldn't afford the ticket price.

"So, what's this about, John? No offense, but you haven't said more than two words to me at school since that day and now you show up at my house. How did you know where I live anyway?"

John shrugged. "I just do."

"Okay then, I'll try to pretend that's not creepy. You bought the pizza, so I'll hear you out."

"You're a geek, right?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Is that offensive? You're a smart person. You read, you research, you pay attention to studies and stuff. Is that better?"


"Say someone grew up you know, bad."


"Yeah, you know, no loving waves at the door, no mom's to bring food down to the basement because company showed up. Probably company showing up never happened because it was so bad."


"Maybe instead of those things there was lots of hands on, but not in the good kind of way."

Brian's eyes widened, knowing full well who John was talking about, but he said nothing and merely nodded.

"So, what are the odds that sort of upbringing rubs off on them for them to repeat it? I mean, I've always heard the abused becomes the abuser. Is it actually true? Or is that just one of those things people say to warn normal people away from damaged ones?"

"I," Brian said with a pause. "Well, it's hard to say. I mean, I haven't done research on the subject. Psychology isn't my field of study."

"Guess then, Brian."

"You want me to guess?"

"Yes, hypothetically, could a person like that ever be a good father? Mother? Anything?"

Brian ran his fingers through his hair, taking a sip of his pop.

"Well, hypothetically, I think if the person acknowledged his – or her – past might affect them they'd possibly be more careful to not repeat the behavior, therefore ending the cycle."

"The cycle," John muttered.

"I mean, there's help. People to talk to, you know, to help learn to control anger."

"Not an option."

"I don't know what you want me to say. Are you looking for a particular answer?"

"No," he said.

"This is you we're talking about, right?"


"I've watched you since that day. I'd seen you around before that day, too, of course. My general opinion is that you're really not a bad guy."

He scoffed.

"You want people to think you are. I'm not saying you don't succeed at being scary. You don't want friends. If you have friends they'll expect you to invite them back to your house for cookies and milk. I suspect years of embarrassment about your home life have led you to where you are today. Alone."

"You think I want to be alone?" he asked as the pizza was brought to them.

"I think it was a defense mechanism. If you let someone get close enough to see the real you, your real life I mean, then you'd never know if they were really your friend or if they felt sorry for you and stayed friends with you out of pity. So you surround yourself with the burnouts and thugs because you can hang out, get high, and seem like you have friends when you really don't. It's all surface stuff."

"You're getting away from my question."

"I'm not. My point is I don't think you're the big bad violent criminal you've worked so hard to hone the image of for years. I think you know what's right and what's wrong and you'd live your life accordingly. I think you toe the line away from being respectable because that's what people like Mr. Vernon expect to see. So you give it to them because it's easier than letting them know they might be wrong about you."

"And if you're wrong?"

He stared at him for a minute. "Are you going to be a dad? Did you get somebody pregnant?"

"Just answer the question."

"I don't know. Again, there's help."

"Would you trust me alone with your kid?"

"A kid? Maybe. A baby? Probably not," he said quickly. "I mean, but it would be mine. We're not talking about mine here. This is yours we're talking about. Right? Not everyone has to repeat their past. Not everyone has to be miserable. I think if you convince yourself, set yourself up to repeat the abuse then it'll happen. I think we're able to program ourselves after years of self-doubt or self-loathing into becoming what we fear most."

"I don't want to become him."

"Then don't."

"I don't want a baby to have this life."

"Then don't do it."

"I should walk away?"

"I don't know. Only you know the answer to that, but you could do something to ensure you can give the baby a better life."

"Like what? I don't have the brains you do and I don't have the athletic ability Andrew had for a scholarship. That leaves money. I don't have that either."

"Student loans."


"I'm just pointing out the possibilities. If you don't think you should walk away. There are some good community colleges around here that could help you build your transcript up to a respectable level to get into a four year college. You could still work and everything. I can help you fill out the paperwork if you need help."

"She'd be better off."

"Without you? Is that what you think? She who? The baby? Is it a girl? Do you already have a baby and you're just now getting around to asking these questions?"

"No, I don't know that yet, she just told me. The mother. I meant the mother."

"Isn't that for her to decide?"

"No, because she'll have us living in a little bungalow with a little white picket fence and eighteen years later I'll be on the opposite end of things than I am today."

"You don't know that. Yes, of course, the abused can turn into the abuser, but a non-abused kid can grow up and become an abuser, too. Truth is you just don't know. You haven't even gotten out of your house yet to know how you'll function in the world without their influence."

"I suppose."

"Has she said she wants to marry you?"

"No," he said. She hadn't even really hinted at that being what she wanted.

"Maybe she just wants you to be a dad, John. Maybe she just wants to be in this with someone instead of going it alone. It happens, sure, but not at our school very often. Not everyone is bad or out to trap you. This was an accident?"

"Yes! I didn't impregnate her on purpose. I wouldn't do that."

Brian held his hands up. "Hey, just asking. You never know, some people do weird things this close to graduation when the idea that there's nothing for them on the other side of that diploma starts to become more than just a passing idea."

"I didn't do it intentionally. Neither did she, I assure you."

"So, maybe she just wants you involved."

John shrugged. This conversation was not helping at all.

"Do you want to be involved?"

John stared at him, eating his pizza. "I don't know."

"Well, how is that any better for your kid than what you've had?"

"I'm sorry?"

"How is not knowing his or her father at all going to benefit your kid? I mean, that's what you're talking about, right? Just walking away?"

"Yeah. They'd be better off."

"You really believe that?"

"I think it's a risk having me around."

"So you spend time with the baby when she's around. I mean, you made a baby together you must like her."

"You don't need to like someone to have sex with them, Brian. If you get rid of that idiotic idea you might just have some fun when you go to college."

"So you don't like her?"

"I don’t know what I feel for her. I hardly know her. We had sex it wasn't a relationship."

"Have you ever had a relationship?"

"Have you?"

"I'm not the one who's going to be a dad pretty soon."

"What does that have to do with this situation?"

Brian shrugged. "Nothing I guess, but if she has a girl I have to wonder how you'd feel if someone does to her in eighteen years what you're thinking about doing right now."

"I'd kill him."

"You'd have to be involved to know that, though. Right? I mean, you say that but why would you care if you have nothing to do with her? You walk away now she's not going to come back in a year or five years from now and say here, meet your kid."

"Probably not. She doesn't need anything from me."

"Well, not everyone needs things from people. Some people want things, though, like for someone to do the right thing when the situation calls for it."

"I'm still not so sure the right thing is me sticking around."

"And I still say the fact you're aware of the possibilities decreases the chance you'll allow yourself to get to the point you're worrying about. And, well, I guess if you can't do it then you could walk away, but at least you'd know you tried. Is that all you're worried about? That you'll be like your dad?"

"I'm not ready to be a dad."

"She's probably not ready to be a mom either, and no offense but she gets the all day, all night job. You just have to give her some money and spend a few hours with it. So I don't feel so sorry for you. You make fun of me and my inexperience yet my life isn't currently in upheaval because I couldn't keep it in my pants."

"Nice," John said.

"Why'd you come to me anyway?"

"I already told you, you're the smartest person I know."

"There are other smart kids at school."

"None who would talk to me, and none who wouldn't walk around school on Monday saying I lived up to my no-good reputation and knocked someone up."

Brian shrugged. "I don't know what to tell you. I don't envy you, either of you. I can try to help you get into a community college and stuff, but once you get there you have to do the work."

"I'm aware of that fact."

"Well, you need to make your decision, John."

"I kind of reacted badly when she told me."


"Yes, me. I'm not sure she'd talk to me anyway."

"When is she due?"

"I don’t know!"


"Um," he said. He thought it over in his head. Nine months from that day. He couldn't tell Brian that, though, or he'd know the person they were talking about was Claire. "December? January? Maybe, I'm not sure. It's not like I asked her when exactly it happened."

"Well, you have time to get her to listen if you decide that's what you want."

"So these community colleges. My grades wouldn't matter?"

"It won't be easy, but you've got to have a couple of teachers who would give you a letter of recommendation."

"Yeah, real stellar teachers from auto shop and wood working."

"It's better than nothing. You work with your hands, there's nothing wrong with that. There's always construction going on in Chicago. You don't even need a degree to work construction. Welders make good money I've heard."

"You're not a bad guy, Brian," he said, laying money on the table to cover the tab.

He shrugged. "Did I help?"

"I don't know," John said. He didn't. Brian made it sound so simple when it wasn't. There was no saying Claire would even talk to John after what he'd said. He was still stuck in the same predicament he was in yesterday. He had nothing to offer her. He already had a job lined up for the summer working construction. It was the only thing he could find, but because of school he couldn't start until next week.

"Well, that's better than no I guess."

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***Part Three***
Word Count: 2,757

"I'm sorry, I'm what?"

"Grounded," her mother said.

"Mom, you can't ground me. I'm eighteen."

"It doesn't matter; you're still living under our roof. We're paying for your school in the fall, some of which you may end up missing now."

"I shouldn't miss any. The doctor said my due date is right after Christmas."

"You can't go to classes nine months pregnant."

"Why not? I'm pregnant not incapable. Women go to work nine months pregnant, certainly I can sit in class and listen to a professor's lecture."

"Claire, you're missing the point."

"What point? I made a mistake and you're going to punish me for it during the summer?"

"A mistake? Running over a sprinkler is a mistake. Failing a test is a mistake. Getting pregnant is not a mistake."

"It was!"

"Until you tell us who's responsible for your situation you're grounded. That's final. He should've been here with you to tell us. Any boy worth anything wouldn't have let you tell us without him."

Claire scowled at her mother. Grounding her! School was out! What was she going to tell her friends? Her dad sat silently in his chair, reading the newspaper. Claire knew he wasn't really reading the paper, but was instead staying out of the conversation. She'd plead her case to him later, the more understanding of her parents.

"If it's Adam, honey. I'm sure his parents will make him see reason. We can go talk to them."

"It's not Adam!"

Of course they wanted to go talk to his parents about the situation. She guessed that would be something her parents would want to do, which was why she was refusing to tell them who the father was. John might be a horse's ass of the worst kind, but she was not going to be responsible for him getting physically hurt by his father. She didn't imagine he'd react too well to such news.

She had no idea if John had moved out of his house or not, so she wasn't willing to take the risk. One day maybe she'd tell her parents, but only when she knew he was safe. She'd only seen them the once, but she'd never forget the scars. Some she barely felt as she touched him. Some were so deep and wide she'd wondered how he'd gotten away without getting the wounds looked at.

"Fine," she said. "I'm going to my room then."

"I'm not done talking to you."

"There's nothing more to say. I'm not telling you. He's not in the picture, so it doesn't really matter who he is. If you want me to drop out of Northwestern for the fall I will, but then you'd be stuck taking care of me and the baby a lot longer than a few years."

"You could give it up."

"No, I'm not going to give it up, Mom. I can do this. I know I need your help right now, but I know I can. I called Northwestern and they said for something like this you could get your room and board deposit back."

"You called them?"

"Yes, because I had to know before I told you."


"I'm going to my room. When you decide to unground me, let me know. Otherwise, I'll just be there."

She had everything she needed up there with the exception of food and since it was summer and the weekend she didn't have to go to work with her dad tomorrow. She could just wait until her parents were asleep before coming down to reheat leftovers from dinner for herself.

She got up to her room and had no idea what to do. She was supposed to go out tonight, but obviously that wasn't going to happen. God, how humiliating! As if the situation wasn't bad enough her mother had to go and ground her. If she didn't need her mom's help in the winter she'd look at finding her own place. There was no way she could go to school and afford daycare, though. Somehow she doubted her parents would pay for that, not that she could blame them.

Despite her initial misgivings when John mentioned it, Claire knew her mom would indeed babysit when she was in school. Her mother would never let her forget it. Ever. For the rest of her life it would hang over her head that for the first four years of his or her life Grandma played a large role in his upbringing.

She thought she'd lucked out immensely when her doctor had given her the Christmastime due date. She'd be able to finish her first semester and hopefully have the baby while on Christmas break. She knew it could come early or late, but hopefully it would be close to on time so she wouldn't get behind. Hopefully if it chose during semesters it would be early instead of late. Early would mean toward the end of the semester and surely her professors would let her make up a day or two of work because she gave birth. Late would mean early in the semester and the possibility of professors who wouldn't know she'd attended class every day to let her make up any work.

She went into the bathroom and ran herself a bath, careful not to have the water as hot as she usually had it. She'd read in her book that it wasn't good for the baby, she could sweat but he or she could not. Her back was bothering her a little bit because she spent the afternoon cleaning out her car. She didn't like to make a mess in it, but the last week of school had been hectic.

She put a washcloth over her eyes once she stepped into the tub. Her doctor had assured her bubble bath was okay, so she had some in there, too. She had no idea what she was going to do. Her mom couldn't keep her grounded indefinitely. She and her mother would kill one another if they were in the house together that much.

It was a good thing she at least worked with her dad on weekdays so she and her mom wouldn't drive one another completely nuts. She liked going to work with her dad. He didn't have her doing anything beyond general office work, but she liked to see how the business ran. Her brother had no interest in taking over one day, but Claire did. Her dad's marketing firm wasn't the largest around, but it had been around forever beginning with her grandfather and had some very important clients.

"God. Grounded," she murmured as she ran her hand along her abdomen. She wasn't showing yet that she could tell. Maybe her stomach was a little rounder than it had been, but she wasn't sure if it really was or just her imagination.

She could call him; ask him to come meet her parents so that she could at least get out of being grounded. She had no idea how to get ahold of him, though. She guessed his number might be in the phone book, but she didn't want to break down first.

She'd told him. She'd been nice about it. She could have accused him of doing it intentionally, though the fault was partially hers, too. What were the odds she'd get pregnant her first and only time having sex? Evidently pretty good.

She hadn't told him in the middle of school or anything. She thought she'd handled it well. She'd been factual about it without blaming him or getting angry. She had been very angry at first, too. Her whole life plan changed because she'd decided to visit him that day. She'd known all along she was going to have it.

Well, not all along. The first couple of days after taking the home test she'd gone over her options. She'd leaned toward an abortion at first. He'd never know, her parents would never know. She'd even looked in the phone book to find out where to go. There was a place not too far from them.

It took about three days for her to push that idea out of her head. She told herself she'd talk to him about it and let him have a say in the decision. As six weeks became eight weeks, though, she knew she wasn't going to abort it.

He'd been okay about it, too, hadn't said anything that she hadn't expected. She knew he didn't want to be a dad. Then he'd made that comment about having sex with Adam. Did he really think she'd do that? Not just the randomly have sex with someone part, but to lie to him.

Prom had been one of the longest nights of her life. So many pictures to pose for. Adam's parents. Her parents. School people for next year's yearbook. Friends. Adam sensed somehow that nothing was going to happen between them, which was good. They'd had a good time, though. They danced and after the dance went to a friend's house for pizza and movies. They'd gone to the Wisconsin Dells with a group of their friends for post-prom the next day. She'd had much more fun there then she had at the actual dance. For a few hours she was able to let loose and forget about her situation. They went on a Duck ride, played miniature golf, did some shopping, and just hung out.

Then there'd been the last day of school, which was for seniors just a formality. Yearbook signings and exchanging of college information occurred in most of the classes. Then graduation. She'd purposely avoided looking even remotely in his direction when she left the stage.

And now she was stuck in her house all summer. She had no idea how she was going to explain it to her friends. Other than the day of detention that led to her being pregnant she'd never been in trouble a day in her life. She was a pretty good girl. She drank the occasional beer, smoked a joint once in a while, and skipped a class or two. Who didn't?

She sighed softly, getting out of the tub and letting the water drain. She should call her brother. He might not be home, but she had to tell him before their mom spilled the beans. She supposed she could ask him to stay with him if her mom didn't ease up on the grounding soon. She didn't want to do that, though, because his place wasn't as nice as theirs.

She toweled off, picking some clean pajamas out of her dresser drawer. She put some lotion on before sliding them on. Her mom must have just washed them because they smelled like they just came out of the dryer. She loved the scent of the fabric softener or whatever it was Mom did to make her clothes smell nice. The sachet of potpourri in her dresser didn't hurt either, but it'd been in there so long now that the scent was pretty minimal.

"Okay, Christopher, time to tell you you're going to be an uncle," she said as she slid under the covers. One thing about being grounded, it gave her an excuse to go to bed early and as much as Claire wanted to deny it she was so tired all of the time these days. So, sleeping instead of going to a party was probably not a bad idea.


"Yeah," she said sleepily. She glanced at her clock. It wasn't even nine o'clock. She'd dozed off after talking with Christopher.

"Can I come in?" her mother asked through the door.

"It's your house," she said.

Her mom opened the door and came inside. She had a tray with her, Claire noticed. She set it on the table in the corner of Claire's room. She closed the door then.

"I thought you might be hungry."

"I am a little."

"Are you feeling all right?"

"Yeah, why?"

"Well, it occurred to me as your father and I were eating dinner that I didn't ask that."

"Oh," Claire said. "Yeah, I'm okay. Just tired."

"That's normal."

"So I've read."

"Have you been getting sick?"

"Not really. A few mornings, but not every day or anything."

"You're lucky."

She shrugged. "I guess."

"Claire, I really wish you'd reconsider telling us. He should be made to be responsible."

"I'm not going to force someone to be involved, Mom. He knows and everything. I'm hoping maybe he'll decide to be responsible on his own."

"You have told him?"

"Yes! Of course. He was the first person I told."

"Do I know him?"

"No," she said quickly.

"He didn't," her mom paused, clearly searching for something to say. "It wasn't force, was it?"

"No," she said, surprised at the question. "Not at all, Mom. I just made a mistake. Honestly. He just, he comes from kind of a bad home and I don't want to get him in trouble."

"Get him in trouble? Claire, you're going to have a baby."

"I know, but you aren't going to beat me for telling you I'm pregnant."

Her mom's lips thinned at that statement. Her mom was one of those people that didn't like to hear about the bad things in life.

"I see. Does he know for certain you're having it?"

"For certain? No, I guess not, but I think he would have had to realize if I told him I was pregnant that meant I was having it."

"I suppose you're right."

"Mom, I'm sorry. Really, I am. If I could go back and undo it."

"Yes, I'm sure you could. I'm sorry, too. Perhaps grounding you is too harsh."

"Well, I think it is. I mean, grounding me isn't going to change the fact that I'm already pregnant."

"Don't get mouthy with me. I'm still your mother."

"I'm not being mouthy. I just didn't see the point in grounding me."

"I do think you should limit yourself, though, Claire. You were sound asleep when I knocked on your door the first time. That means you're tired. You don't have to do something every night of the week."

"I know."

"And you must not drink."

"I don't really, so that's not an issue."

"You are going to stay in school, right?"

"Yes, Mom, I am. As long as you're willing to help me by babysitting, yes."

"It's been so long since there's been a baby in the house."

"Since me, I guess."

"Yes, since you. You were a beautiful baby, too. Had your father wrapped around your little finger the first time you opened your eyes."

Claire smiled at that. She was a daddy's girl for certain.

Her mother kissed the top of her head. "Eat and get some rest. If you want to go out tomorrow you can."

"Thanks, Mom," she said, sitting up in bed before going to the table.

She'd come around much faster than Claire thought she would. She figured this weekend she'd be stuck inside with her parents the entire time. That could have been bad.

Now if only John would come to his senses she'd feel better about all of this. She didn't understand what his problem was exactly. She didn't expect him to marry her or anything. She didn't even expect him to date her. She just wanted some acknowledgement he wanted to be around. Maybe he didn't. She was kind of surprised this was the first time he'd gotten someone pregnant, but then she knew people who had sex all of the time and didn't get pregnant. She was just one of the lucky ones that couldn't even once without repercussions. She wondered if he'd gotten to move out of his parents' house yet. She knew that had to be important to him, but it'd only been a couple of weeks since school let out. She wasn't sure what job he'd gotten, if he even had one.

She finished eating, brought the tray downstairs and put the dishes in the sink. She checked the front door and stuff to be sure it was locked up before heading back to her room. She slid back into bed. She found the remote on her nightstand and turned the TV on.

"God, I can't believe I'm going to watch Johnny Carson on a Friday night during summer," she murmured, flipping through the channels to get to Channel 5. She hoped he had someone good on because there was nothing else on so late.

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***Part Four***
Word Count: 2,668

"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 … 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."

"Yeah? Thanks."

"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."


"So suspicious."

"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?"

"December 28."

"Have you told anyone besides your parents?"

"No," she said. "Have you?"

"One person."

"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 don’t want to either."

"Can you do me one favor?"

"That's ballsy."

"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.

"You're welcome."

"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.

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***Part Five***
Word Count: 5,198

He'd had no plans on coming here. None at all. There was absolutely no one from high school he ever cared to see again. Well, there was one person, and she was the reason he was here tonight. The only reason. The question had popped out, something small to see what she'd say. How she'd react to his asking. He'd expected her to say she was going but not with him or something similarly dismissive. She'd said yes, and that had surprised him. Then again, he had just gotten done kissing her so maybe that was what led to the yes.

He'd laugh at himself if he got there only to find out she blew him off. It'd serve him right, he supposed, except she did seem to understand his reaction that day was a knee-jerk one. She had no idea how hard he'd worked to get the money together to find a small place and a new (to him) car. It had taken him that long to get more together to give to her.

He couldn't show up offering her fifty or seventy-five dollars, he had to show her that he could earn enough to actually help provide. The offer of her using the money on herself hadn't occurred to him until he'd said it, but he'd meant it. For bizarre reasons he couldn't quite figure out the thought process behind, it was immensely important to him she know he could provide for her, too.

He wasn't going to rush out and ask her to marry him. Marriage was the last thing on his mind. He was not going to follow in his parents' footsteps. He could lay the groundwork, though, for something more than what they had. Prove to her that it wasn't just a fluke she'd come to him that day. She'd said she wasn't dating anyone, because of the baby no doubt. Well, he already knew about the baby, was responsible for her carrying it so why couldn't he take her out once in a while?

He spotted her once he got through the masses entering through the main entrance of the park. There was no missing her because she stood out, at least to him she did. From her perfectly styled hair to her neatly pressed clothes she looked perfect. Too perfect for him, but was there anyone who would blame him for at least trying? He doubted it.

He had no idea if it would work, if she'd give him a chance. He just knew that he'd had a miserable feeling in the pit of his stomach the night of prom and the next few days afterward when her crowd did all sorts of things in between prom and graduation thinking of Claire with anyone else. She'd asked him the day of detention if he believed in just one guy and one girl. He hadn't at the time. He realized now the reason was quite simply because he hadn't yet met anyone he wanted to try that with. Then he may not have been completely truthful with her as to how many of those pictures in his wallet belonged to girlfriends versus girl friends. He had plenty of the latter not as many of the former as people gave him credit for.

"Hi," he said when he approached her. She was talking to someone John vaguely recognized from school.

"Hi, John," she said, sounding surprisingly sincere in her greeting. She slid her hand through his arm. "You made it."

"Yeah," he said puzzled. It wasn't like they'd set a time or anything. The fireworks started once it got dark and it wasn't even close yet. Her touching him in front of people she knew was a bit mystifying as well. "I wasn't sure what time you were going to make it and I had to work for a while today."

"Oh," she said. "I could really use that lemonade about now," she said, pressing on his arm to get him to walk. "Bye, Pat."

"See ya, Claire."

"What was that about?" he asked, though she hadn't taken her hand back.

"Just no one I liked much in high school and I certainly had no desire to stand there and talk to him tonight. He seems to think because Adam and I aren't dating…"

"He now has a chance?"

"Something like that."

John turned around to regard the guy she'd been talking to. He honestly had no idea who the guy was. Their school was pretty large, so there was no saying he was even a part of their senior class.

"Should I beat him up for you?"

She scoffed. "No, he'll get the hint this way with far less pain involved. Did you really have to work today?"

"Yeah," he said, getting in line at one of the food stands.

"I'm sorry."

'For what?"

"That you're here now."

He shrugged. "I asked. If I didn't want to be here I wouldn't have."

"Yeah, but you must be tired."

"It's all right, Claire. It's a carnival not a night of getting drunk."

"My parents are here for the fireworks."

"Ah," he said. "No problem. I asked you for lemonade nothing else."

"Well, you could watch them with us."

"I'm sorry?"

"You know meet my parents in a more casual environment than Sunday dinner telling them you're the father."

"They won't suspect?"

"Maybe, but it's still got to be a better way to meet them for the first time."

"I don't know, Princess. I don't do well with parents. I barely survived mine."

"Mine aren't that bad. Well, my mom seemed to be in a good mood tonight anyway, so she shouldn't be too bad."

"How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine."

"Yeah? Really?" he asked.

He tucked some hair behind her ear as he regarded her. She wasn't wearing makeup tonight, he noticed, but he thought she looked great the way she was. He'd heard about pregnant women glowing and he thought after seeing her tonight he might actually understand what people meant saying that.

"I haven't had the chance to ask you questions about that. Not that I have any idea what kind of questions to ask beyond asking if you're feeling well."

"I just get very tired and very thirsty. Getting thirsty means I drink a ton of water, which makes me have to go to the bathroom all of the time. I've heard that will get worse in another couple of months. And that's probably more than you wanted to know."

"No, I want to know. If you want to tell me anyway. I realize it might be kind of weird to say those things to me, but I want to hear it."

"Why are you being nice to me?"

"Because you're letting me," he said, buying her a cup of lemonade and a Coke for himself. It was real hand squeezed lemonade, too. He paid and they got out of line, walking around the area.

"So have you ever been here before?" she asked.

"Once or twice when I was a kid. A neighbor had kids and brought me I think."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. It is what it is, you know."

She leaned up and kissed his cheek, a little lower to his neck. He was very grateful he'd stopped at home and taken a shower before coming here now.

"What is that for?" he asked.

"Hey, John," said a familiar voice. John glanced in the direction and chuckled softly.

"Hey Brian," he said, stressing the other guy's name for Claire's benefit. She likely didn't want anyone she actually knew to see her kissing him.

"Have you gotten any word back on those applications I helped you fill out?"


"Yeah," he said.

She turned then, but didn't pull away from him.

"Hi Brian," she said.

"Hi Claire," he said, clearly surprised. Why, though, John wasn't sure. Even not seeing her face it was clear she wasn't dressed like one of the usual girls he was seen hanging around with. "You guys are here together?"

"For now," John said. "Just getting something to drink."

"I see," Brian said, regarding both of them.

"What are you doing this summer, Brian?" Claire asked.

"Oh, you know, just getting ready for school. I have some tests I need to study for."


"Yeah, to be sure I get into the honors math and English classes. My mom will have a fit if I don't," he said with a roll of his eyes. "How about you?"

"Oh, you know, working at my dad's company. Then Northwestern."

"Oh yeah? I'm going there, too."

"Really?" Claire asked. "I didn't know that."

"Do you know your dorm assignment yet?"

"Uh, no, I'm going to live at home I think."

"Really? That's a bit of a commute, isn't it? But then I guess you have your own car so it's not a concern for you."

"Well, yeah, I was going to but then my plans kind of changed," she shrugged, sipping on her lemonade.

How she could make sipping through a straw suggestive John wasn't sure but she managed to accomplish it somehow. Maybe he was just fascinated with her lips, especially since he really liked feeling them against his skin.

John could practically see Brian's brain processing, filling in the blanks from the night they'd talked with Claire as the girl they were talking about. It fit; he hadn't lied when he'd described anything about her or their relationship. He just hadn't been forthcoming about her actual identity. Brian had tried to pry it out of him the day they'd worked on community college applications together after graduation. He'd gotten the letters of recommendation Brian suggested, not knowing if they'd really help as much as Brian thought they would.

It helped, too, that while she wasn't obviously pregnant anyone familiar enough with Claire would know she had filled out a little. John had to refrain from touching her slightly rounded stomach. He was fairly certain his hand would be slapped away if he tried to, but God he was curious what she felt like there.

"So, out in public together. Is this where I say congratulations?" Brian asked.

"You said you hadn't told anyone," Claire said softly.

"I said I told one person."

"You told Brian?"

"Well, I don't have a lot of friends to talk to about stuff like this and he's smart. I didn't tell him it was you."

"Oh God," Claire said.

"Hey, I won't say anything," Brian said. "I just remembered our conversation and you're here together so I sort of put two and two together. Well, that and why else would you choose to live at home. You have to, right, because of the baby."

"Yeah," Claire said. "What applications?"

"He hasn't told you?" Brian asked.

"I was kind of waiting."

"Man, you two really need to work on communication, but it's none of my business. Obviously I've said too much. I've got to go, though. I promised my sister a ride on the Ferris wheel," he said, referring to the obviously impatient younger sister standing next to him.

"Bye Brian," they both said.

"What applications?" Claire asked.

"Brian has a big mouth."

She smiled a little.

"I applied to some community colleges for the fall. Brian's idea."

"Oh, I think that's a great idea, John."

"You do?"

"Well, sure, why wouldn't it be?"

"I don't know. I make pretty good money working construction right now."

"Yeah, but like you said that's not all year round."

"I'd collect unemployment while laid off and it's only a few months."

"John, if you like it, if you've found something you enjoy doing and think you can do well at it then do it. I don't know anything about it beyond I know it's long hours and hard work. It's been engrained in me since I could walk that I was going to go to college. My brother has no desire to take over Dad's company and I do, but that means college."

"Well, I put in for the financial aid at one school, once I hear back I'll decide on classes and see what the fall brings me. It's hard for me to walk away from such good pay."


"Well, I have to pay rent now and stuff. Moving back in with my parents is not an option."

"Oh right. Some of the community colleges offer night classes. You could do that."

"Then I'd never see you, the baby I mean."

Her eyes widened a little, but he refused to take the words back.

"Well, we'd be home when you could see us. No one, not even me or my parents if that's who you're worried about, could blame you for working and going to school."

"So you wouldn't hold it against me if a few days went by and no word from me?"

"No. I could always bring the baby to meet you for lunch or something around my classes, too."

"You'd do that?"

She shrugged. "If you can try, John, so can I."

She took a seat at a newly vacated table and he joined her.

"You all right?" he asked.

"Yes, just glad to find a spot to sit down for a minute."

"Sorry. Listen if you want to go find your parents…"

"Are you going to watch with us?"

"It's been years since I've seen fireworks."

"Is that a yes?"

"Do you want me to watch them with you?"

"Sure," she said.

"Do I get to kiss you?"

"In front of my parents? No."

"That's too bad. We don't have to sit with them, do we?"

"Well, no, but I rode with them."

"I could give you a ride home."

"You sure it won't get too late for you?"

"I think I can suffer through being tired tomorrow."

"You just don't want to meet my parents."

"Not tonight. Can you blame me?"

"I'm not agreeing to kissing you," she said.

"I'll just have to do my best to get you to agree then."

"Don't hold your breath," she said, standing from the bench. "I'll be right back then."

"I'll be here," he said, taking a sip of his Coke.

If anyone had told him he'd be sitting here watching fireworks with Claire Standish four months ago he probably would have punched them for making a joke at his expense. The likelihood of this happening was minimal. And that was putting it nicely.

"You cold?" he asked when he felt her shiver a little against the shoulder she was leaning against.

"A little," she murmured.

It wasn't that cool, but it was breezy so he could see where she might be chilly. He slid his flannel shirt off. "This isn't really going to help much, but here," he said, pulling away from her for a minute to drape it over her shoulders. The problem was she was wearing shorts, too. He didn't have two shirts to offer her.

"Thank you," she said, glancing at him. She kissed him on the cheek, settling against him again.

Yeah, she knew how big of a deal it was for him to leave his arms uncovered. He was getting better about it while working. There were days it was so unbelievably hot he had no choice but to shed layers. No one said anything, questioned him, or stopped what they were doing to stare at him. His father wasn't dumb, he knew how to keep the authorities out of their lives by leaving marks where they wouldn't be readily visible. There'd been a time or two after a bad one John had been tempted to show someone. Anyone. He'd been too scared to, though, because he had no idea what would happen to him if he did that. Where would he go? Would the place he was sent to be even worse than home? Would he get returned to his father eventually? And if so would he live through the next beating? It wasn't a risk he was willing to take.

"Yeah," he said simply.

"Your friend is glaring at me," he said a little later. The sun had finally set, the last minute stragglers were settling in, trying to find spots, so things were about to get going.

"My friend?"

"Yeah, the guy you were talking to when I got here."

"Oh, Pat? Why?"

"I imagine because you're sitting here with me instead of him."

"I hardly know him! He was friends with someone I hung around with sometimes so thought I was his friend, too, or something. I don't know and I don't care."

"So not a potential boyfriend?"

"God no," she said and he was oddly relieved to hear that.

"I have an idea on how to get rid of him, probably for good. Other than beating him up since you already told me I couldn't do that."

"I doubt that. I've tried being rude to him and he still doesn't get the hint."

He shrugged a little, dislodging her head from where it was resting comfortably against him. She glanced at him curiously which was part of his plan. A plan that involved leaning in and kissing her so that Pat would get the hint that she wasn't to be messed with. He wasn't counting on her kissing him back so enthusiastically. God the thoughts those lips of hers gave him. Her lips parted and her tongue darted out to meet his, surprising him because while she'd taken the first step that day in the closet she'd been somewhat passive for most of the rest of it. Not that she didn't participate, but she didn't initiate much after that initial kiss she'd placed against his neck.

He groaned softly at the taste of her on his lips. He slid a hand along her arm, thumb grazing the swell of her breast as he slid it to her stomach. He remembered vividly what she'd felt like before and knew the difference in her body today. What was more; she didn't make a move to slap his hand away as he'd predicted she might do if he gave into his curious side.

"We could go," she whispered, finding his ear with her mouth.

"Where?" he asked. His place wasn't exactly company-worthy so he wasn't going to suggest bringing her back there.

"My house."

"Your parents?"

"They're still here."

"Not for too much longer, Princess" he whispered. "They'd see my car in the driveway and know you weren't alone. Unfamiliar car you can't tell me they wouldn't come investigate."

"Park on the street," she whispered.

He drew away a little. "Are you saying what I think you're saying, Princess?"

"I really wish you wouldn't call me that in public, but yes I'm asking you to take me home," she said, standing then. She offered him her hand, which he took not that he needed the help getting up. She didn't let go of it once he'd stood as he walked them in the direction of his car.

"What about the fireworks?" he asked. They hadn't even started.

"There will be fireworks next year," she said, sliding his shirt off her shoulders.

"Keep it," he said.

"But it's yours. And obviously new," she said, running her fingers along the buttonholes. There wasn't a frayed, torn, or faded patch on it.

"Yeah, I actually went shopping for a few things. But keep it just the same. Looks better on you anyway."

"Hmm," she said. "It's kind of big."

"Not in a couple of months it won't be."

"You don't need to remind me," she murmured.

"By that time it'll be fall, you could wear it to bed or something. I'd like going to sleep with that image in my head after a long day."

He stopped at his car, opening her door for her. She arched a brow at the gesture, but didn't say anything. He got in the car then and fired the engine up. He really needed a rain day sometime soon so that he could do some more work on it. He'd done what he could to get him to and from where he needed to go, but it still needed some TLC.

She showed him where to park on her street and they walked the rest of the way to her house where she let them in.

"Your room is downstairs?" he asked.


"Okay," he said, confused.

"Well, like you said, my parents will be home soon. So, I figured down here was better. Mom will come down to check on me, see us watching a movie, and leave us alone."

"You have it all planned out then. I didn't think girls like you thought about sneaking guys into your houses and lying to your parents about what you were up to."

"I'm not usually," she said, kissing him. A great way to get him to shut up for certain. She led him to a pretty nice couch and he was very glad he hadn't mentioned going back to his place. As if her dad's BMW wasn't proof enough of their differences.

She turned the TV on, turning the volume down.

"So I hear them come home," she said with a shrug, setting the remote down next to him. And then she seated herself on his lap, arms going around him as his slid to cup her ass, supporting her as she adjusted on him.

She was almost immediately busy unfastening his belt. He chuckled lightly at the tone of frustration that escaped her mouth.

"Want some help?"

"Yes! It's a belt, how hard can it be?"

"I'll get right on getting a new one that's easier for you to undo, Princess."

"Ha ha," she said. "Just undo it."

He didn't need to be asked twice. She joined him in unfastening his jeans, finding his neck with her mouth as she pushed his T-shirt up. He reached for it and she stopped him.

"Has to stay on for now," she said.

She made up for that, though, touching and kissing his chest and abdomen everywhere she could reach even with the shirt there. He thought for a few minutes she'd forgotten about his jeans being undone, waiting for her but evidently she was just taking her time getting to that point.

She hadn't touched him much the day they'd had sex. Not like this anyway, hand reaching for his hard-on and stroking him gently. She slid her tongue along the edge of his belly button before sliding completely off of his lap and taking him into her mouth.

His head fell back against the couch and he let his eyes fall closed as she worked him in and out of her mouth. He'd assumed she was looking for a quick roll in her bed, but the way she was currently going down on him suggested she wasn't in a particular hurry.

She pulled her mouth off of his shaft completely and he murmured his complaint at that. She chuckled softly, but said nothing. Instead she set upon licking him up and down from base to tip and tip to base all the way around his length. She pulled on his jeans some and he got the hint, lifting his hips enough for her to move them out of the way further.

And, "Christ," he muttered as she kissed each of his balls before cupping them with her palm. Her other hand slid along his shaft as she continued kissing and licking him. God, he loved the sound of her hand stroking his shaft, wet from not just her mouth but the pre-cum she was bringing out of him. She didn't seem to mind either, which sort of surprised him, but he wasn't going to complain. There was something sexier than hell about a chick accepting everything about the various acts of sex.

She focused on his head then, circling it with her tongue, taking it just inches into her mouth and then letting it go again. She did that so many times he thought he might just finish on her face from the excitement of it.

"Tease," he murmured.

That was when he started focusing a little less on how good what she was doing felt. Her parents coming home to very physical evidence she'd just given him a blow job probably wouldn't go over so well. So, he had to hold off until she was ready to let him finish. He hoped that was soon because it'd been a while and he was more than ready.

She giggled softly, kissing him on his pelvic area. Sliding up a little more to his lower abdomen she really went to town licking and sucking on his skin there. Her hands were still working his shaft and stroking his sac.

She let go of his balls.

"Don't do that," he whispered.

"I need a hand for a second," she murmured, returning her mouth's focus to his side. She was leaving hickeys, ones that would show at work no doubt but she didn't know that. And he didn't make any move to stop her. He heard the soft sound of a zipper and realized what she'd wanted her hand for.

"You can get naked but I can't?"

"For now, yes," she whispered. "It's just my shorts."

"It's enough," he said as she slid back onto his lap. She used her own hand, pushing aside the crotch of her panties with his head before pressing it against her core.

"Princess, you're killing me," he said, sliding a hand to her hip. The other was busy pushing her blouse up so he could pay attention to her breasts. A bra in the way was better than top and bra. She was being awful slow about completing the deal here.

He used his cheek to push her bra aside as best as he could, licking and sucking on her skin there. His hand pushed the cup of her bra down completely so he could take her peak in between his teeth, licking and sucking it. God, he loved the sounds she made, the way her skin got flushed from being aroused.

His head was inside of her, parting her lips which were evidently more than adequately wet just from her going down on him. He reached from her hip for her nub, grazing it with his thumb timing the stroke perfectly for when she decided to sink herself onto him completely.

They both cried out, neither seeming to notice or be embarrassed. Her mouth found his as she rode him slowly. His fingertips were stroking her spot; wanting to be sure she got off before he did. He knew he wasn't going to last long. They'd been horribly pressed for time that day in the closet so he hadn't even stopped to give thought to the fact he was in her without protection. Today, though, he took every second available to him to memorize exactly what she felt like sheathed over him. He watched, forcing his eyes to stay open as she wiggled her hips sexily on a downward thrust, taking him all the way inside of her once again. She evidently liked him there because she did it again and again until he thought he would combust from the heat between them.

"Now," she whispered, biting his ear.

"Now?" he asked.

"John, oh God, now. Right now. Finish," she cried out, latching onto his neck to stop from making any more sounds.

It was an easy request to give into because he'd been ready to explode from the first lick she'd given his hard on. Her body shuddered around his about the same time he let loose with the orgasm that had been building for a good thirty minutes.

She was still and quiet for a few minutes, but soon her hands were stroking his abdomen and chest. She seemed to like touching him and he hoped one benefit of working construction would be that she'd like the way he felt under her fingers.

He brought a hand to her chin, tilting her face up to look him in the eye.

"Best Fourth of July ever," he said.

"Yeah? You sure you wouldn't have rather stayed for the fireworks?"

"I think ours were much, much better."

"On that note," she said.

"Yeah, I know, time for me to head out before the parents come home."

"No," she said.


He wasn't sure exactly what this was to her, but he'd sort of figured once they'd achieved their climaxes she'd feel guilty or have second thoughts or something. He didn't think she'd throw him out with his jeans around his ankles or anything, but he expected a heave-ho to come pretty soon.

"I should clean up, put my shorts back on, you should adjust yourself, but you can stay."


"You think I'm done with you yet?"

He swallowed a little at that question. He hadn't expected her to want more.

"Wow, who knew the prom queen had a horny side?"

"I didn't!"

"I did," he said.

"I think you thought about my sex life more than I did."

"It's your lips."

"What about my lips," she said, using them to pout prettily.

"They're sexy and give a guy ideas."

"Did I fulfill any of those ideas?"

"A few."

"Just a few?"

"Well, yeah, watching those lips complete the deed would be a turn on."

"I was going to. I just, God, I don't know why I just wanted you inside of me."

"You think I'm complaining?" He laughed at the very idea that she might think that. "Not at all. Not one bad thing coming out of my mouth about tonight. You asked if you'd fulfilled them. I was being honest."

"I'll work on it next time," she said.

He hated when she slid off his lap. She leaned down to pick her shorts up off the floor but instead of picking them up she maneuvered herself between his legs again and licked him. He sensed she wasn't doing it right now to get him hard again, merely doing it because he was exposed and she could.

"I'll be right back," she said after a few minutes.

"Uh yeah, I'll be here."

"Fix yourself," she said as she walked toward a closed door he presumed was a bathroom.

"Would've been a lot easier five minutes ago to accomplish that."

"Yeah, well, think about something to make it go away."

"Princess with you nearby it ain't going away."

She returned a few minutes later and grabbed the TV remote.

"They've got to be getting home pretty soon."

"I'd say. You sure I'm all right here."

"Yeah. They'll go to sleep and then you can stay as long as you want."

"Impossible because I have to be at work in the morning."

"Okay, as long as you can."

"You have an alarm clock down here, Princess?"


"Set it for before your parents wake up so we're sure I'm gone before they find us down here together."

"It's summertime, and I don't work tomorrow I'm not sure they'd really do anything."

"I'd rather not take the chance just yet."

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***Part Six***
Word Count: 3,744

"It's not bad," she said.

She'd come over to see his apartment. Being it was a studio apartment the tour consisted of walking in the door and her looking around the room. Other than a small closet and a bathroom he only had the one room. He had a very small sink area with an ancient refrigerator that had a freezer inside of it big enough to keep two TV dinners in. And only if he made sure to defrost it so ice didn't collect around it. The stove was newer than the refrigerator, but it wasn't in much better shape. The grand tour resulted in them ending up on his bed naked and very sweaty after about two hours. Not that he was complaining, but his apartment did not come with air conditioning or a fan. He would invest in one if she was going to keep coming around, but until today he'd never had anyone here and he was so seldom home during the day when it was hot that it didn't matter to him.

He scoffed.

"I think marathon sex clouds your ability to see things, Princess."

"What? Considering you were in high school like a month ago with no money to your name. What do you think I was expecting you to have a house already?"

"No, but come on."

"Come on, nothing, John. You should be proud of yourself, not ashamed," she said, running a hand along his ribs and his hip. "You got out. That's huge."

"I didn't want to bring you here."

"I got that, but I still think you should be proud not ashamed. It's an apartment, the next one will be better and the next one after that will be better. That's how it works, right? God, I don't think I could make it on my own. I mean, I'm relying on my mom for the next four years to help me raise a child."

"Well, at least you can rely on yours. I wouldn't be able to say the same."

"I know," she said. Her hand a few minutes ago was gentle in its touch and not overly suggestive. That was changing, though, as they talked. She clearly had a very one track mind this afternoon.

"I think I unhinged something in you, Princess," he said with a chuckle as he shifted a little so her hand had better access. His body wasn't acting as if he minded her neediness at all.

"Are you complaining?"

"Not in the least. A guy at work tells me I'm in for a wild six months."


He chuckled. "Well, your handiwork was on display on Thursday."

"My what?" she asked.

He begrudgingly slid her hand up a little from stroking him to his lower abdomen and the first of the hickeys she'd left there. There were a couple on his neck and shoulder, too.

"They saw those?"

"Well, yeah, it gets hot."

"I didn't think you took off your shirt!"

"Well, of course I do, I don't feel like getting heat exhaustion or something ridiculous so I can't work."

"Why would you do that?"

"It's just a bunch of guys who haven't said one word about the other marks on my body."

"Who saw them!"

"You think I care? I guess I'd rather them pay attention to some hickeys than the rest of what's there."

"It's still embarrassing. I didn't know. You didn't tell me!"

She looked a little uncertain for a moment.

"I don't care. Leave me as many as you want. I know where I can and can't leave them on you."

"Oh God. My mom would absolutely freak out."

"Right? Funny, she would freak out probably more over a hickey than the fact I got you pregnant."

"I don’t see what's so offensive about them. I mean I wasn't really trying to leave the first one, but you seemed to like what I was doing."

"I did. I do. I think people just don't like seeing evidence that other people might be having good sex."

"Are we?"

"Uh yeah," he said with a scoff. "I'm sorry, is there a doubt?"

"Well, I don't know," she shrugged. "I certainly have no one to compare you to."

He slid on top of her, pinning her arms up above her head. He nipped her neck, lowering his mouth to her collarbone and the dip there. "You think that's what I do? Compare you to someone else?" He glanced at her then.

"No," she said, but she averted her gaze just enough for him to know she was lying.

"Trust me, Princess. Since May I've thought of no one else. I wasn't thinking about you in this way until the other night before you get mad thinking I was expecting this to happen, but I certainly wasn't thinking about others. I wasn't comparing you to anyone else; it came up in the joking about how I spent my Fourth that you are pregnant. There's this guy, Brad, a little older than us. I think he's working his way through college doing this during the summer. He asked me who you were."


"Well, Princess, we're out in the sun, looking tan and fit, the single guys don't want physical evidence they'd been busy getting it on with someone the night before because that might deter the next woman from hitting on him. To say some take advantage of being objectified is an understatement."

"Oh my God. You are such a pig. I can't believe I had sex with you again! You…" She struggled under him a bit, but while she was not a tiny thing he was bulkier so she wasn't successful. As if he'd look at someone else.

"Relax, Claire. Come on. Do you really think I'd bring this up if I was having sex every night? Does my apartment look like I'm bringing girls here? I handed you a lot of cash last week. If I was entertaining girls I would want that money for myself. You can search every drawer and the shelves in my closet; I don't even have a box of rubbers. I didn't say me. I said some, there are a few exceptions. Brad and I are two. I've kept it in my pants since the day you told me."

"Get off of me, John. Now I know you're lying. You have not!"

"I have, too. I'm not even sure I could have gotten it up for a while after that. Scared the crap out of me that I might do it again."

"Oh," she said.

"He's got a wife, though."

"A wife? And he's in college?" She wasn't struggling under him anymore.

He shrugged. "Sounds like us actually, kind of. They were boyfriend and girlfriend, though. Pregnant right out of high school."

"Oh," she said and he saw her look away again.

"Anyway, he made mention that his wife's sex drive was out of control right up until she gave birth."

"I'm not like that!"

"Princess," he said. "We just spent the last two hours getting very friendly and already you're rubbing your thigh against my dick as if you can't wait to get more of me. Now, maybe this is normal for you. I guess we'll have to wait until after the baby comes to find out, but for now I'll just sit back and enjoy the ride. Just be gentle with me sometimes okay?"

She scoffed. "I still can't believe you're talking about our sex life."

"Then stop leaving evidence on my body for them to give me shit about. You think I wanted to tell them that you're some random chick I knocked up without even buying her dinner first? Christ, talk about fucking embarrassing. I hadn't said anything about you or the baby so when I showed up on Thursday looking like that it led to some teasing."

"Fine, I won't leave them anymore."

He shook his head, kissing her. She didn't kiss him back so he pulled away. Was she really mad?

"Claire, Princess, I told you that you can leave me as many as you want. I don't care. I don't, really. I can take their ribbing. Believe me after today I can say it's more than worth any amount of comments I might have to endure."

"But they might stop the hot chicks from picking you up."

"I think I have all that I can handle right here with you. They can try and I won't deny it's happened, but they haven't and won't succeed."


"Why she asks."

"Well, yeah, why? Because I'm pregnant? You can have sex with me all you want because the damage is already done."

"No! Why would you say that? It got us here, but I'm not going to what do you call it, look a gift horse in the mouth."

She smirked a little at that.

"Yeah, I may have not paid so much attention when they were talking about myths."

"You really haven't been with anyone since I told you?"

"Well, I wasn't having sex every day of the week to begin with, but no I haven't. I wasn't sure if your parents were going to show up at my house with a judge to marry us off right away or what."

"Hmm. So that'd stop you?"

"Well, yeah, I wouldn't have been happy about it, but I would've owned up to our situation somehow."

"Being married doesn't mean you won't have sex."

"With anyone else?" he frowned. "I suppose not."

"I mean a marriage like you're talking about."

"And again, I repeat, I was too scared I'd do it again. I wasn't willing to take the chance."


"And I don't compare you to anyone else besides it'd be useless to do that anyway."


"Yeah," he said unable to resist the need – the real base urge – to slide inside of her again. She took him, arching her hips a little to let him slide in deeper. "The best is pretty hard to top so when you find it you stop looking."

"Now I know you're lying," she said.

"Lying about what?"

"The best. I barely know what I'm doing!"

"You do just fine, trust me. Even thinking you don't, though, you're here with me afterward, talking to me. Actually talking. You don't expect a blunt from me out of the deal or anything else."

She ran a fingertip along his chin and his lower lip.

"I got high with you that day."

"Yeah, you did, but you didn't have sex with me or imply you would in exchange for the product."

"Oh," she said, letting the word hang a little bit.

"So, yeah, I'll take you and your sincerity any day of the week."

"Speaking of being hard to top."


"It's my turn!"

He chuckled softly. "No hardship letting you ride me, Princess," he said, rolling onto his back so she could get on top of him.

She took a bit of a detour, though, sliding her mouth over his length.

"God, I love when you do that," he murmured.

She gave a muffled laugh.

"Not that. I mean, obviously I love that, but doing it after I've been in you."

She didn't answer him; he wasn't really expecting an answer. She'd done it the other night, too, and he'd been kind of surprised at how quickly he reacted to her. Apparently it was one of those things that turned him on. She nipped at his inner thigh before sliding herself up his body. She kissed his chest, circling a nipple with her tongue before taking it into her mouth and he groaned softly.

"Why?" she asked.

"Why what?"

"Do you like that?"

He shrugged as she took him inside of her again. Hands at his sides she moved along his length a few times before settling herself completely over him.

"Because it turns me on. I don't know why, it just does. That you're not afraid to do that, taste yourself."

She shrugged. "I guess I hadn't thought of it."

"And that's why I love it! It's sexy because you don't even think about what you're doing, you just do it. You don't seem to have any reservations or hang ups, and that's good."

"Oh," she said. He slid his hands to her breasts, touching and stroking her there as she worked him in and out of her slowly.

A hand fell to her stomach, running his thumb along her skin there. He still found it kind of hard to believe he was going to be a father. With her. He slid his hand lower after a couple of minutes of touching her there. His fingertips found her sensitive nub and touched her there. She gasped softly when he did that, taking him deeper again on a downward thrust.

He dropped his other hand to her hip, his fingertips caressing an ass cheek as he watched her move herself over his length. He was kind of surprised she asked to do it this way, but he wasn't going to complain. He got to touch her a lot easier this way, and being able to watch was a turn on by itself.

He stopped touching her for a second, placed his hands over hers and shifted hers behind her against his thighs. He ran a hand along her then, stretched out like this he really enjoyed the view. He started with her breasts, focusing on them for a few minutes, lower along her stomach and between her legs again. She slid off of him almost all the way and he even slid his fingertips along his shaft. He brought his fingertips to his mouth then and she watched him rather intently as he licked each of his fingers.

"You like the view, Princess?" he asked.

"Do you?"

"Yes," he said.

"Me, too."

"Figure if you can taste yourself I can do the same."

He slid his hand between her legs again, sneaking his fingers near her thigh while he brought his palm against her nub. Her thrusts over him became more urgent, deeper and faster as he moved over her spot with his palm faster. Her nails dug into his thighs almost a little too hard, but he wasn't about to complain because she was clearly enjoying herself this way and that meant he was enjoying himself.

One thing he loved about her, she wasn't shy about letting him know what he was doing felt good or that she was about to finish. Sometimes, like right now, it was just a hitch in her breathing, a soft gasp, but it was change enough he knew and he slid his fingers to her nub to bring her to that point.

The drawback to sex with her was that because she was pregnant he couldn't smoke afterward. Well, he could but only if he wanted to get out of bed and leave his apartment, which he wasn't at all in the mood to do.

His hands were presently sliding along her ass since she was currently settled against his chest still straddling him.

"I thought of something for when you're not pregnant anymore."

"I think we have a while for that."

"Well, yeah, but you're going on the pill."

She laughed softly against his chest, kissing him there. "Why?"

"Because six months of doing it this way I'm not going to want to go back to using those things. And besides, if this is how you are pregnant or not, they are not every day, three or four times a day reliable."

"I think you're overestimating my energy level if you think I'll be able to go to college, take care of a baby, and have sex with you three or four times a day."

"Well, just saying. You know. Safer. I'll pay for it."

She laughed again.

"What's so funny?"

"Nothing. I think I can handle doing that on my own."

"Well, I'm asking it seems only fair I offer."

"I heard you offer."

"Okay," he said, kissing the top of her head.

"Thank you," she whispered.

"For what?"

"Offering. Thinking of it at all, I admit I'm not sure I would have."

"Oh, I won't deny it's pretty selfish reasons behind me suggesting it."

"Only one for you then?"

"I wasn't planning on even having one!"

She leaned up then, glancing at him. "Why?"

He shrugged, sliding a hand to her face to touch her. "You grow up the way I did I think it's a pretty knee jerk reaction to not want to risk it."

"You're not like your father."

"You don't know my father."

"I don't have to know your father. Even that day I told you. You could have done any number of violent or abusive things. You've never once suggested I did this intentionally, and it had to have occurred to you."

"Nope. I don't think I'd be here with you like this if that thought ever once entered my mind."


"Not you, no. Some chicks, sure, but not you. No way."

She slid off of him then, but she didn't stray far. She kept a hand on his chest.

"Are you worried?"

"I don't think I'd be human if I didn't admit I was. That's why I went to talk to Brian."


"I needed someone smart to talk to. I've always heard those abused grow up to be abusers."

"He said no?"

"He wasn't really sure, but he seemed to think the fact I know it's the wrong way to raise a child might influence me."

"I think he's right."

He slid a finger under her chin, tipping her head so their eyes met.

"You promise me you'll get a restraining order, move to Alaska, or whatever you need to do to keep you and the baby safe if you ever think I'm like that."

"I will, but I don't think I'll ever need to."

"I'm serious, Claire."

"I know you are, John, and I have seen the evidence of your childhood enough now to at least have an idea what you went through."

"You don't."

"I said at least have an idea. I'll never understand or grasp it, I know. I agree with Brian, though. I think you might go to the other extreme and be too nice for fear of turning into him."

"Well, I never had any version of nice so I might be guilty of that yeah."

She kissed his shoulder, there were a few scars there and she rubbed her cheek against them.

"Is that why you didn't talk to me?"

"I was scared! Christ, Claire, I never wanted them. There's a reason I avoided relationships. They lead to complicating things."

"And I'm a complication?"

He huffed with a shake of his head.

"You're not what I was expecting. I'm taking some time off tomorrow to register for classes."


"Yes. Turns out they have a lot of the classes I need to take available at night."

"I told you!"

"So, English, Algebra, Biology, and I have to pick something else."

"Any ideas?"

"Well, I was thinking Intro. to Business."

"What's stopping you?"

"What kind of business am I ever going to run?"

"What kind of business do you want to run?"

"I don't know."

"Maybe you could be more involved with the construction company, or another one entirely, after a few years."

"You'd be all right with that?"


He shrugged. "Me keeping this job?"

"Why wouldn't I be?"

"It's as manual labor as you can get, Princess. I mean, sure there are heavy equipment operators and stuff, but it's still blue-collar, come home from your day dirty, sweaty, hungry and thirsty work."

"If you like it you should do it. What I think shouldn't matter."

"Well, I have to think about things like examples and stuff. So do you."

"You're working, working hard, that's all the example you should be worrying about setting. Take the Business class, John. Maybe you won't like it, but at least you'll know. And it can't hurt. I mean, what if you got hurt and couldn't do construction anymore?"

"I thought of that, too. There's also temporary agencies I could work at during the winter when I'm off so I'm not broke. I don't want your parents to think I'm a bum four months out of the year."

"You're worrying too much."

"I can't help it. He's not even here yet and I wonder what kind of example I can possibly set. And what if he sees me without a shirt on one day. What do I tell him?"

"We don't know it's a him, but when he's old enough you could tell him the truth. He or she is going to wonder why they only see one set of grandparents. Until then give answers that settle his curiosity without making him scared or sad."

"Aren't you?"



"I'm terrified."

"You don't show it."

"I can't! I'm afraid if I do I'll break down or something."

"Not good for him, huh?"

"It'll serve you right if it's a girl for presuming."

"It's better than saying it. It'd probably be better if it's a girl anyway."


He shrugged. "Then she can be pretty like her mother and you can teach her all those etiquette things your mother taught you from the time you learned to walk."

"Boys learn those things, too."

"Not real boys," he said.

"My brother would argue with you."

"Yeah, well, no boys I knew."

"That may be, but they still do."

"Maybe so. What time do you need to get home?"

"No hurry. I work in the morning, but that's all."

"Want to go out for pizza?"


"Yeah. Shower and get dressed and go out in public together. You know like a couple."

"I like the shower part."

"Not the couple part?"

"Showering as a couple sounds heavenly."

"Christ. It's been all afternoon. You've got to be hungry, and if you're not," he said, sliding a hand to her belly. "You need to think of him in there, he's got to be famished after all that exertion."

She chuckled. "All right, pizza does sound good."

"Lou Malnati's?"

"Oh, God, Lou's pizza sounds delicious. Want company in the shower?"

"It's not that big, but I think we can make do, sure."

"For another couple of months anyway."

"I'd still be willing to try, Princess, just make the offer."

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***Part Seven***
Word Count: 1,871

"You look fine," she said.

"To you," he spat and she laughed.

"You're being ridiculous. It's just some new clothes."

"Yeah, clothes I'll never have to wear again. Ever."

"Mm, probably not ever."

He narrowed his eyes slightly, regarding her as she worked his shirt collar buttons to keep his tie in place. He'd never realized how many different types of dress shirts there were until they went shopping for his clothes for today. Evidently, if he was ever going to wear a double-breasted suit (both Claire and the guy who'd helped them pick out what he was wearing today suggested that would be the suit type he should wear) he'd have to buy a new one because wearing a button down collar shirt with that type of suit was some sort of faux pas. As if he ever planned on owning a suit, but he stored the information away on the off-chance he'd ever need it.

"You know something I don't, Princess?"

"Well, no, but chances are you'll see my parents more than once. I mean, they're my parents, they're not going anywhere."

"Once is enough!"

"They're not going to eat you alive."

"Says you. You're their little girl. I am responsible for that," he said, pointing at her abdomen. "I'm not so sure they wouldn't."

"I'd stop them."

He huffed.

"Relax. It's lunch at my house, but you can't show up in jeans or shorts."

"But a tie? Really? God, I can feel my circulation beginning to slow already and I've had the thing on for five minutes."

"It's not cutting off your circulation," she said, sliding a couple of her fingers between his neck and the shirt. "See?"

"Claire, that's not helping."

"What are you worried about?"

"Everything. That I'll leave and they'll tell you that they wished you never told them who I was."

"Won't happen, because I think my mom has it in her head that I was raped or something."

"She what?" He closed his eyes and she could almost see him mentally counting to ten. "And you're just telling me this now? Today? An hour before I'm supposed to meet them?"

"I told her that wasn't what happened, but I'm sure she kind of wonders because I wouldn't say anything."

"Any other suspicions about me I should know about? They don't think I'm John Wayne Gacy's brother or something, do they?"

She chuckled.

"It's not funny! Jesus, Claire, you left out the part about your mom thinking you'd been raped."

"It was just a question she asked me when I told her. Oddly, I think she knows me well enough to think I wouldn't have random sex with some guy I wasn't even dating."

"Hey, at least it's a story we can tell. It certainly tops most peoples 'how did you meet' stories."

"You mean there are people who could top our story?"

He chuckled. "I'm sure there are."

"Are you all right now?"

He sighed. "Yes."

"Okay. You'll be fine. Just do what you did a minute ago if you feel yourself getting frustrated."


"You closed your eyes and I could see you telling yourself not to say anything."

"Well, yeah, because what would've come out would've been…"

"Yeah," she said. "So, do that. Whatever you did. Count to ten, breathe deeply, think of Jody Davis hitting a home run or catching one of Sutcliffe's pitches, or whatever you need to do to not be a smart ass for an afternoon."

"I like Jody Davis."

"I know you do," she said.

"Can't we just stay here?"

"As tempting as that is, no. You need to meet my parents, John."

He sighed. "Fine."

She leaned up and kissed him. "Thank you."

"Yeah, yeah, let's go get this done with."

"And you look very nice, by the way."

"Don't think I'm wearing stuff like this every day."

"I won't, don't worry."

"Quit laughing at me."

"I'm not laughing."

"You were thinking about it."

"At least I didn't make you buy a suit!"

"There is that," he said gruffly. "I'm not sure khakis and an oxford shirt is much better, but I guess I won't have to be completely embarrassed if someone sees my closet."

"And who's going to see your closet?"

"Well, you know, when I have the parties here that I have."

"I see," she said.

"Yeah, a guy's got to do something when his nympho of a girlfriend lets him out of bed."

She blushed deeply at that. "And that's one of those things you should not say in front of my parents."

"Really? You're sure? Because I had this whole thing planned where I described to them just how not pristine-like you can be. Beginning with your mouth…"


He touched her chin with his fingertips. "Why do you get so embarrassed?"

"Why don't you?"

"Because it feels good what we do. What's to be embarrassed about? We're both over eighteen. It's not like we do anything real crazy. We just happen to both enjoy sex in all its variations. That's a good thing, Princess. Because if your appetites are not increased due to pregnancy and this is how you really are then it's a good thing we're compatible that way."

"Like you wouldn't do whatever I wanted?"

"Okay, yeah, you're right. I suppose it's not the guy saying no to trying things, but you aren't shy about saying what you want so I return the favor. I haven't heard you complain about any of my ideas."


"So, no talking about the stellar sex life. Any other rules I should know about?"

She laughed. "Drugs."

"No, really? This shocks me that these things are not polite dinner conversation."

"We're not eating dinner. We're having lunch."

"Yeah, same thing."

"They're going to ask you what you do. How we met."

"Beyond at school? I mean, they know we went to school together?"

"Well, sure, but I never brought you home."

"You did on the Fourth."

"Before then!"

"I'm aware of that and I feel quite gipped, too, I'll have you know."

"You didn't even know about me to feel gipped."

He snorted. "Not know about you? That's not possible, Princess."

"You know what I mean."

"Oh, you mean the absolutely incredible things you can do with your lips and mouth? You're right, I never would have guessed. Ever."

"Stop," she said. "You shouldn't be thinking about things like that right now."

"So I can't even think about the things I'm not supposed to talk about? I'm not sure that won't leave my mind completely blank."

"That might not be such a bad thing today."

"Very nice, Princess. Grab your purse, let's go before I back out of this deal."

"I told you I'd make it up to you later."

"Yeah, we'll see just how steep of a debt that is in a few hours I guess."

"Honestly, John, I think they're just going to be happy to know you want to be involved. And Mom knows your parents can't know."

"Your dad?"

"He's never asked, but I assume Mom's told him what I told her."

"I guess that's why you made me buy a long sleeved shirt despite it being almost one hundred degrees outside."

"No, that had nothing to do with it. You think they're going to judge you because of some scars that you had no control over? They're not that shallow."

"I think they'd see them and wonder who you've gotten yourself involved with."

"People have scars, John. They may not have gotten them the way you did, but my parents aren't going to judge you based on your childhood. Now if you act like an ass I can't help you."

"Would we be done then?"


"If I did that, or something like it, to make the parents disapprove of me?"

"Once? No, but if you made a habit of it, probably."

"At least you're honest."

"John, you're not going to do it so the question isn't important. My parents are helping me. Us. Do you have any idea how expensive daycare is? I called a place after I found out just out of curiosity. It's over one hundred fifty dollars a week for a newborn."


"Yeah, really, you heard me right. I think if I looked into private care it may be a little cheaper, but I wouldn't know how to screen someone. So, you can see why it's kind of important that my mom babysit."

"I thought you said all they do is sleep, take bottles, and mess diapers. How does that warrant over one hundred fifty a week?"

"They have to have more caregivers per number of children for newborns, so it's more expensive because they have to employ more people."

"Oh," he said with a shake of his head. "Don't worry; I'm not going to mess up. I survived eighteen years of my parents; surely I can survive a couple of hours with yours."

"Thank you," she said, reaching up to kiss him one last time.

"You're going to muss up your lipstick."

"Yeah, I can put more on."

"Just don't get any on my collar. I have this girlfriend and she'd freak out if she thought someone else was kissing me."

"She would, huh?"

"Yes, she's very suspicious."

She chuckled softly, brushing her cheek against his chin mindful of his collar. "She sounds delightful."

"I'm not sure about delightful, but she's a handful anyway."

"Hmm, I don't think you'd know what to do with anything less."

"You're probably right."

"You've never called me that before."


"Your girlfriend."

"I have, too."

"I've never heard you say it."

"Maybe I haven't to you, but I say it all the time at work. It sounds better than other options when I talk about you. You've brought me lunch a couple of times, so the guys have seen you. They know we're doing something together that results in you leaving me hickeys. Chances are you'll be showing a bit more before you leave for school next month. Did I just say something wrong, Princess?"

"No, it just surprised me is all."


"You don't believe in it."

"I didn't believe in becoming a father either. What can I say? You've managed to change my mind about some things. Does that mean you don't consider me your boyfriend?"

"I guess I hadn't thought to put a label on it. I didn't want to scare you off."

"Well, I'm not seeing anyone else. I'm certainly not sleeping with anyone else."

"Oh, you mean sex with others is bad?"

"Don't even tease about that. You realize I could not be held accountable for my reaction at seeing someone else touch you, right? Seeing that guy at the carnival flirting with you was bad enough. But now that we're together like this," he shook his head. "I never thought I was the jealous type, but I've come to the conclusion that I don't share."

"No one else is touching me, John, at least for a few more months. Then you'll have to share."

"Yeah, well, that's different. Lucky kid, too. So, we're good? I didn't just put my foot in my mouth?"

"We're fine, I was just surprised."

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***Part Eight***
Word Count: 4,450

"I can't believe your parents let you go away for a weekend with me."

"Well, they didn't exactly," she said as she set her suitcase on the hotel's dresser.

"Come again?"

"Well, I wasn't exactly forthcoming with the fact anyone was coming with me."

"So, they what? Think you're just randomly making a trip to Champaign for the hell of it?"

"Well, obviously, I used the excuse that Northwestern was playing the Illini, and I have friends who go to school here."

"Claire," he said.

"They'd never have allowed it, John."

"Not allow it? You're an adult! If you weren't pregnant you'd be living on-campus and they'd never know!"

"Well, if I wasn't pregnant a lot of things would probably be different," she said.

"Yeah, like me checking into a hotel room with you in Champaign."

"Probably," she said with a shrug. "The fact remains, I'm living in their house and they're going to be babysitting. A lot, John, not just once in a while. We're talking every day for years. I have to abide by their rules. That's why I paid for the room, so if they call here it's under my name."

"Yeah, I'm paying you back."

"It's not important."

"To you!"

"John, we have an entire weekend alone together. Can we just have fun and not argue about my parents' rules?"

She had no idea it hadn't been so easy for him to get the weekend off. The only thing in his favor over some of the other guys who wanted Labor Day holiday weekend off was the fact he was always willing to work. If asked he came to sites early and stayed late, worked on his scheduled days off. He'd worked the Fourth of July. He'd even worked Memorial Day, but at that time he'd been new so he hadn't done much. His boss had taken those things into consideration over other guys who wanted every weekend off or had an excuse for the Fourth of July why they couldn't work.

"Yes, Princess, I can try it. I just think you need to be honest with them. If they find out, they're going to get upset that you're hiding things from them. They know we're seeing each other."

"Yes, but they don't know we're sleeping together."

"I beg to differ with you there, Princess."


"You're pregnant. You can't get much more proof of sex being had than that."

"One time! My mom knows about one time!"

He sat on the edge of the king sized bed, knowing they would enjoy the extra room it provided them over his usual full-sized one later. "They know I have my own place and I know I've told your dad that it's just a studio apartment so it's not like you come there for all of the excess space. We hang at your house to watch movies and TV so they're not morons."

"I know they aren't, but still."

"So, are we actually seeing anyone you know while here?"

She shrugged. "I have no plans to, no."

"Why not?"

She slid onto his lap, it was beginning to not be such an easy thing for her to do anymore he knew.

"Why he asks. I have an entire weekend with you. Just you. No parents. No work. Nothing."

"We're going to a football game."

"Okay, except a football game. My parents will ask about it, so we sort of have to go. And chances are, yes, maybe we'll run into people I know there. Do you realize in a few months we won't be able to do this? Get away for a weekend completely alone?"

He slid his hand under her shirt enough to rest his hand against her abdomen. Every once in a while he'd feel very slight movements. It astounded him, really. She'd been feeling them for a few weeks so she was more used to it than he was. It bothered her a little when he touched her there; he suspected she thought he'd be put off by it. He'd never had a reason to be around a pregnant woman before now but he'd seen pictures and heard enough to know that her stomach would get rounder. He hoped the comment he'd made about her name being a fat girl's name wasn't in the back of her mind.

"How are you, by the way?"

"Fine," she said, sliding a hand over his hand at her stomach.


"Yes," she said. She encouraged his hand up a bit.

"Your feet?"

"They're fine," she insisted. Fridays were a busy class day for her and while it wasn't outrageously hot it was still in the eighties. Then she'd sat in her car for hours between traffic going to get him and the drive down to Champaign.

"You sure?"

"I'm positive. You work on yours all day."

"Well, I'm not carrying my baby so I tend not to worry about my feet."

"They're fine."

"You sure you don't want dinner or something first?"

"We can order a pizza later."


"Sure. My parents used to do that for my brother and me sometimes. It was cheaper than room service and usually better than anything you get from the hotel restaurant."

"True," he said, sliding her shirt off. He tossed it onto the dresser behind her while she worked his up and off. She worked his belt and he chuckled a bit at her seeming desperation. "Princess, I don't know how to tell you this, but I'm pretty much a sure thing here."

"I know," she murmured, kissing him.

"Then what's the hurry?"

"Oh my God, it's been since Sunday. That's days ago and you're wondering what my hurry is?"

He chuckled. "I didn't realize days was a hardship."

"It should be against the law it's such a crime," she whispered, finding his ear and the spot on his neck they were both very fond of her kissing. He tugged on the hem of her skirt as she used a hand to stroke him to further attention. She shifted her hips a little once he had her skirt mostly out of the way.

He murmured softly when he slid a finger inside of her, feeling how wet she already was for him. He loved that about her. She pressed against his finger, encouraging him deeper inside of her. He slid a second one inside of her and she moaned softly against his shoulder.

"Not enough," she whispered.

"Well, you know how to drive, Princess, guide him in."

"I'm getting there," she said, doing just that.

"God, I needed that," she said later when they had managed to make it into the bed and under the covers.

"I guess so. What was so urgent?"

"I don't know!"

He chuckled softly, leaning into her a bit to kiss her.

"Hormones I guess, huh?"

"I guess so."

"I like your hormones raging out of control."

"You say that now."

"I have a feeling I'd say that any day." He let a fingertip slide along her belly. "How are we tonight?"

"We are fine."

"Yeah? I haven't felt anything."

"I think he's sleeping."

He chuckled softly. "I've got you doing it now."

"Doing what?"

"Saying he."

"Well, that was another reason I wanted to come away with you this weekend."

"What was?"

She shrugged. "I wanted to be alone with you when I told you that I found out what it was yesterday."

"You did?" He stopped his finger's gentle touch along her belly then. "It's a he?"

"Are you sure you want to know?"

"You just said he. I heard you. You've never done that before."

"I think I have."

"Not often."

"Maybe not so often."


"Sort of."

"Um, even I know enough about sex education, Princess, to know there is no sort of about it. It's either a he or a she."

"Well, you're sort of forgetting one possibility."

"Um," he said with a shake of his head. "You're stumping me."

"One of each."

She had to be joking.

"One of each?" he replied.

"Yes," she said cautiously.

"And are you happy about that?"

"Happy? I'm terrified, but, yeah, I guess," she said.

"You sure?"

She laughed, resting her head against the pillow. "Well, I don't have a choice, but it's certainly not worth getting upset about it. I didn't have a preference, not really, but I guess this way we don't have to worry about preferences."

"Well, hopefully the boy part of the duo will still look like you."

She reached to touch his hair and face. "Oh, I don't know, I think he'd be pretty lucky to look like you."

"Princess, you're delusional."

"No, I'm not. You said when I first told you that I would've gone to Andrew for good looks, but I don't think I would have." She shrugged. "I find you attractive."

"Why? I mean, thank you, I'm glad. Clearly, I find you attractive, but why?"

"I don't know. I do. I need a reason? I like your hair. I like your arms," she said. He scoffed. "The scars don't matter to me. Not on your arms, not anywhere. I feel safe when you have them around me and I know they'll be safe, too."

"I hope you're right."

"I know I am."

"So, a son and a daughter? That's what you're telling me."


"Did you tell your parents?"


"You going to?"

"I guess that's up to you."


"Do you want people to know?"

"Why would I care?"

She shrugged. "You might have an opinion. I found out kind of by accident."

"By accident?"

"They did the ultrasound. I wasn't sure I wanted to know. It was just to make sure everything is okay and that the due date is still on track. My doctor thought I seemed further along. The twins thing probably explains that the lab technician said."

"Oh, right. I suppose two need a little more space than one. And?"

"Well, he was pretty blatant about showing us he was a boy. She was a little more coy about it, but the tech seemed pretty confident there was no boy part hiding anywhere on her."

"Oh," he said with a chuckle. "Definitely my kid then."

"So, maybe you don't want people to know. I mean, I assume I'll have a shower and it'd be nice for people to know for gifts, but it's not critical. People got baby gifts before they were able to know if it was a boy or a girl."

"It's up to you. I really don't care. If you don't want people to know then don't tell them, it can be our secret. Your parents maybe should know. I know they're buying stuff, and I can certainly buy some stuff, too, like a second crib or whatever."

"Okay," she said, taking his hand that was resting at her belly and sliding it lower between her legs.

"Jesus, again? Already?"

"It's been days! You've been derelict in your duties."

"I've had work and class. You've had class! It's not my fault."

"We're going to have to figure something out," she whispered as he used his fingers on her.


"I don't know!"

"You can come over anytime you want."

"You have to sleep."

"Yeah, I do, but you could still come over and tuck me in. I mean, what a way to drift off to sleep." He sat up then, keeping the sheet around him as he reached for his jeans.

"Why do you do that?"

"Do what?" he asked.

"Cover yourself?"

"I don't know. I just do, I guess. Trying to be considerate, I guess. Why?"

"I don't know. I just noticed you do it. I like looking at you."



"You do it, too."

"Because I'm pregnant!"


She shrugged. He reached into his jeans pocket for a minute, turning his attention back to her. "So you can look at me and my permanent imperfections, but I can't look at you and your temporary condition. It's certainly not an imperfection."

"But it's different. You don't really want to see me."

"I don't?" he frowned. "Why would you say that?"

She bit her lower lip as he ran his hand along her belly. "I think you're beautiful this way. I'm not going to rush out and make you this way again, trust me on that and I can't say I've ever found a pregnant woman attractive or sexy before now."

"You better not have."

"Hmm," he said. "She has a jealous streak I guess."

"I guess at least if she was pregnant I wouldn't have to worry about her being skinny compared to me."

"You're pregnant not fat." He lifted his hand from her belly. "This is for you," he said, gesturing to the key resting over her belly.

"What is it?"

"A key to my apartment."

She frowned. "Why?"

"So you can let yourself in and out as you need to."

"But I don't come over if you're not there."

"I know, but if you really have a moment of desperation and it's late," he shrugged.

"Oh my God, you think I'm going to drive all the way there for sex in the middle of the night?"

"Why not? If you're horny enough I wouldn't complain getting woken up to you going down on me."

"You would like that."

"Well, of course I would. I'd certainly make it worth your while, too. You wouldn't?"

"Like you'd ever be able to."

"It's not my fault you're still living with your parents, Princess."

"God, I wish I wasn't."

"Your parents were going to pay your room and board, weren't they?"


"Too bad you can't talk them into an apartment for you and the babies."

"Then I'd have to drive to their house every day anyway to drop them off."

"I won't be working from January until April, maybe March."


"So I could babysit those months while you're in class."

"John," she said, taking the key. "That's a huge responsibility. You'll have school, too."

"You don't think I can handle it?"

"No, I think you can just fine. I'm just not sure you understand how time consuming it is, even with newborns."

"And you're an expert?"

"Well, no, but you mentioned possibly getting something during those months."

"Yeah? Something. Maybe. I don't have to if it would help you."

"I don't think my dad would do it. Not this year. Maybe next year when he sees I can balance school work, you, and being a mom."

"I suppose," he said softly.

"Would you move in with me?"

"What?" he asked, certain he was hearing things.

"You heard me."

"Are you actually asking? Or is this hypothetical?"

She ran a fingertip along a scar on his chest. God he hated that she saw all of his dad's handiwork. She never flinched or shied away from touching him, though. She rarely got a pitying look in her eyes either. Sometimes she did. He supposed that was inevitable and he tried not to get upset at the thought of her pitying him. She wasn't with him out of pity.

He wasn't entirely sure why she was with him, though. The babies – Christ, two of them - coming would change things, good or bad, he wasn't sure.

"I think I'm asking."

"Chicks like you don't have live-in boyfriends, Claire."

"Chicks like me don't get pregnant before high school graduation either," she shrugged. "It happened."

"Your parents would have a fit. I mean, you won't even tell them we're going away for the weekend and you think you're going to be comfortable telling them we're cohabitating? Or weren't you going to tell them?"

"I'd tell them that."

He regarded her. "Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why would you want to live with me?"

She frowned. "I'm sorry. Why wouldn't I? We're going to have children together, two of them. Wouldn't it be better for them to have two parents living together instead of seeing me every day and you when you are able to? They'll see my parents more than you. Is that what you want?"

"We'd make it work somehow. I don't want you living with me because of them, Claire."

"Well, we wouldn't be here right now if it weren't for them, so it's a little late for worrying about either of us doing things because of them. Our whole lives from that day forward have been changed because of them."

"Yeah, well, your parents would never forgive me."

"For what?"

"Once is an accident. And, yeah, you're right, it's easy for them when we go to my place to pretend we're doing whatever it is they have in their heads we're doing. If we were living together there'd be no doubt."


"You deserve better than that."

"Then what? We're having sex now. What difference does it make if it's while living together?"

"Because it's just different. It's permanent or at least the suggestion of permanence. You know, making an attempt at going the distance."

"Ah," she said, looking away then. Not before he saw tears in her eyes, though.

"What ah?"

"I thought it was just marriage you were opposed to. I didn't realize."

He frowned. "Didn't realize what?"

"Never mind. Nothing. Forget it. I'll stay with my parents. It'll be fine."

"Claire," he said.

"No, just forget I asked. It was a dumb idea." She turned onto her side, facing away from him, setting his key on the nightstand on the other side of her. She didn't turn back.


"I'm fine, John," she whispered, but she was lying. Never in their time together since July had she turned away from him and stayed that way. She always ended up facing him after a few seconds as if the idea of being even that far apart bothered her on some level. He'd never admitted how good that made him feel, until now when she wasn't doing it.

"You hungry?"

"No," she said.

"You mentioned pizza."

"You can order one if you want. I'm fine."

"Claire, you're taking what I said wrong."

"I'm not. It's fine. I mean Woody Allen and Mia Farrow have kids together and don't live together, so obviously people do it. It seems to work for them just fine."

"Wow. Really? You come up with Woody Allen at a time like this?"

"A time like what?"

"Talking about our future."

"What future? If you don't even want to live with me there is no future. I guess I thought…"


"Nothing," she slid out of the bed then.

She went to the bathroom and closed the door. He heard the sink run and then a few minutes later the shower.


What was he supposed to do?

He had no idea.

He slid out of bed after a few minutes turned into ten. She wasn't prone to long showers, preferring baths if she wanted a longer time. He didn't have a tub in his apartment, but he knew she took them because she told him.

"God, I can't even take a shower?"

"You're avoiding me."

"Well, yeah," she said, and he realized by where her voice was coming from that she wasn't standing in the shower but sitting in the tub just with the shower on instead of running a bath.

"Why exactly? You won't even hear me out."

"What's to hear? What were you planning exactly? After they're born going back to a different girl every day?"

"Claire, listen to yourself. You know that's not my plan. I told you I wanted you to go on the pill."

"I'm not going on the pill if you're going to be sleeping around!"

"I have absolutely no plans on sleeping with anyone but you. Well, the three of you I guess, I mean, you know our kids there."

"Then what?"

"It's not what you're thinking."

"Well, you'd better tell me what I'm supposed to be thinking because right now I'm thinking you're kind of an asshole and that I'd like to go back home."

"Kind of is better than a full-fledged one, I guess."

"This isn't funny."

"It kind of is, Princess. Because I was going to give us time to adjust to being parents and ensuring once they're here we still get along. I mean, it's possible we won't. I don't want to repeat my parents' mistake, Claire."

"I know," she whispered, loud enough for him to hear, though.

"I mean, are we in any hurry?"

"No, I guess not, I just thought it'd be nice to live together like a family."

"It would. I'm not saying it wouldn't. I just don't want to do it because of them. I was going to wait a while. A year, maybe two at most. I'd like to be able to save up money so we can afford a nice place, somewhere I can afford without your parents' help but with good schools because we have to think about that stuff. I want to provide for you and them. Do you understand that? If your parents want to help, that's great because they're the only grandparents they'll ever know, but I'm not going to live off your parents' handouts. Ever. I've come too far to have people saying shit like that about me. About you. About us. I'm surprised you'd want that."

"People wouldn't…"

"Talk? Come on, Claire, you know damned well they would. They'd think I did it on purpose so I got an in to living like a king. Of all the girls I could've gotten pregnant the one with financial means is the one that it happens to."

"What are you saying?"

"It's not that I don't want to live with you. You don't think it eats me up inside that I won't see them every day? Night classes are great for working around my schedule, but it also means for the three months I'm still working I have to figure out how to do homework and still see you guys. Sure, living with you would be a hell of a lot easier, but I'm not taking the easy way for us."

She'd turned the water off but still hadn't opened the shower curtain.

"I don't know how much more permanent I can be with someone, Claire. I told you you're my girlfriend. I've never said that about anyone."

"I know," she murmured.

"I'm not walking away from you. I'm not going to start sleeping with other people."

"How do you know that?"

"Because I don't want other people!"

"Yeah, but two of them. I'm going to get huge and have stretch marks and…"

"So?" He drew the shower curtain back and looked at her. "For real? You think I, of all people, am going to judge some stretch marks from you having my kids? Kids, Claire. Listen to yourself and look at me. Do you realize you're the only person I've been completely unclothed with?"

"But you said…"

"Oh God, see, I knew that comment was going to come back to haunt me at some point during this pregnancy. You're not fat, Claire. You're not going to be fat. I was trying to get a rise out of you. If I'd had any inkling we'd be here today in this situation I wouldn't have said it."

He drew a towel from the bar on the wall and handed it to her.

"Now come on before you freeze to death on me. I'd have a hard time explaining that one to your parents since they don't know I'm here with you."

"I didn't want them to tell me I couldn't come."

"I know, Princess," he said as she stood. He draped the towel around her. "I'm not mad."


"This hormone stuff makes you somewhat irrational some days."

She laughed softly at that.

"Yeah, it does."

"I'm still here, though. You see that, right? I haven't run away."

"And knowing there's two of them?"

"Your choice in the word terrified probably doesn't come close to what I'm feeling right now, but we'll make it work. I'll just need to work lots and lots of overtime. You couldn't have done two of the same sex so they could wear the same clothes?"

"I didn't have anything to do with it! It's you. Your chromosomes or whatever they're called are the ones who decided the sex."

He drew her to him and kissed her. "I was teasing, Princess. We'll have two, and they'll both be beautiful like their mother so I'm not worried."

"Did you still want pizza?"

"Yes! Sex and arguing with you take a lot out of me."

"Ha ha."

"You need to do me one favor, Princess."


"Stop with the other women talk. It kills me to hear you think that's a possibility. It's new to me this relationship stuff, but I'm doing my best, having my past thrown back at me doesn't help assure me I'm succeeding at doing my best."

"I'm sorry. I just wonder sometimes."

"Nothing to wonder about. I'm here, I'm invested in you, them, and us. It's not going to be perfect, I know that. The year or two I was going to take was to be sure that when we do make that step, living together, we're getting along and everything. People may judge us, but I think they'll judge us a lot better knowing when we do end up together for good it's for the right reasons instead of you being pregnant."

"I know."

"And you don't have to use the key just to come over for sex. If you just want to come over to see me that's fine, too. I just figured it was about time you had a key. You there studying when I come home from class is a nice idea."


"Yes," he admitted. "Not as spacious as your house, I realize, but I'm hoping to be able to get at least a one bedroom place when my lease is up in June."

"I know."

"So, supreme pizza?"

"Sounds delicious."

He grabbed the phone book. "Good. What are you doing?"

"Getting dressed," she replied.


"To eat."

"Hmm, I was kind of hoping that wouldn't happen until we have to leave for breakfast tomorrow morning."

"You want me to eat naked?"

"Princess, I want you to do everything naked for the rest of my life."

"You're crazy."

"Yeah, well, if I am it's your fault. Now get back in bed and quit distracting me from ordering food for you guys."


He chuckled softly, but she slid back into bed and reached for his back while he paged through the yellow pages for a pizza place to deliver to them.

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***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."



"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."


"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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***Part Ten***
Word Count: 1,398

"What are you wearing?"

"An apron," she said, glancing at herself. "Why?"

"I don't know. I've just never seen you look like a housewife before."

"I only have a couple real nice outfits for the holidays, there wasn't any sense buying more than a couple. I figured I'd better make sure I don't spill anything on them or Mom will have a fit."

"Those cranberries can be brutal from my understanding."

"I think she assumes I'll wear them again."

John coughed softly. "I'm sorry? When?"

Claire laughed a little. "I don't know."

"She doesn't think two is enough?"

"I think she'd like a traditional grandchild."

"Ah," he said. "Where is she anyway?"

"In the dining room last I saw."

He walked up to her then and kissed her.

"You weren't going to kiss me if she was nearby?"

"Nope," he said.

"Why not?"

"Because she gives me the evil eye whenever I get within twenty feet of you anymore."

"It's just because she knows I'm miserable."

"It's not my fault!"

She gave a soft laugh, running a finger along his chin. "I didn't say it was. I'm fine, but I think she worries they're going to come early."

"I haven't done anything to encourage them to come early. I tell you to rest as much as you can."

"I know you do, you're fine. They're fine. I'm fine. Twins just have a tendency to come a little earlier than singles."

"Your professors?"

"I've talked to all of them and they're willing to let me make up finals as long as I'm current on my homework assignments."

"The doctor?"

"Well, he wants them to stay put another week at least he says."

"Well then, just stay on it. Don't do anything to encourage them to decide to come sooner."

"I am! Remember two nights ago at your apartment? You accused me of using the headache excuse already?"

"You didn't say why you didn't want to."

"Well, I've heard that that can encourage labor if you're ready I guess. I don't know, I just figured better to be safe."

"Really?" he asked. "So, that's out until after?"

"I'm afraid so. Much after."

"Yeah, I remember, you told me like two months or something. I listen when you say this stuff even if you think I'm not."


"When do you see him again?"


"You just saw him this week, didn't you?"

"Yup, every week now until they're born."

"Huh. And you're fine? There's nothing wrong that's making you see him every week?"

"It's normal. I promise. They're fine. I'm fine with the exception of difficulty breathing from time to time."

"So, why is she mad at me?"

"Um, really? You want an answer to that? I can give you two guesses and the first one wouldn't count."

"I guess I can understand that. Little does she know," he said softly. He slid his hand to her belly. They were real active now, it seemed whenever he touched her like this he felt something. "I wonder what Mom would think if she knew just how you got this way. Most untraditional and most unladylike."

"Oh my God, she's never going to know. No one is ever going to know."

"Brian knows."

"Well, except Brian," Claire said with a roll of her eyes.

"What is this?" he said, pressing a little.

Claire slid her hand over his, feeling what he was feeling. "I think it's a butt."

"Still kicking your ribs?"

"Yes, sometimes it's so bad I can't breathe, but I've figured out how to sort of shift their feet a little."

He chuckled, picturing her doing that in the middle of class.

"But they're head down or whatever, right?"

"Yes, they're the way they're supposed to be."


"It just means they get to use my ribs for football and dance practice all of the time now."

He chuckled softly. "Can I help?"


"In here I meant, I realize I can't help with these guys," he said, patting the spot they'd been touching before lifting his hand away. He kind of hated doing it. God, one day, a few years from now when they were married and in a good spot with these two in school he would love to see her pregnant again just so he could go through the whole process with her. He missed so much not living with her. She wasn't a complainer but he knew there were things she wished he could do for her that her parents did or she did without because she wouldn't ask them. He'd rubbed her back and feet more the past week or two than he could count.

"Well, sure," she said, stepping away from him.

She was surprised he could tell. He wasn't sure why. He hadn't wanted to come here for Thanksgiving, but she'd convinced him. He made her understand last night as they were talking that he'd never had a normal holiday. Ever. Not that he could remember anyway.

"What can I do?"

"Mm, get yourself something to drink to start and me some water."

"That's it?"

"For now. I don't know what Mom has going on. I was just basting the turkey for her while she looked in the dining room for something."

"When does your brother get here?"

"He's here. He and Dad are in the den watching football. You could go in there, too, if you want. No one would blame you. What did you bring in with you anyway?"

"Oh," he shrugged. "Someone at school mentioned I shouldn't come here empty handed."

Claire laughed softly. "You're taking advice from people you take classes with now?"

"Uh, yeah, on this he seemed pretty spot on. I've never done this sort of thing before. Be a guest at someone's Thanksgiving."

"Well, you're not really a guest."

"I am, at least until we're legal," he shrugged. "Anyway, it was just a plant. Your mom said something about seeing where she could put it in the dining room."

"That's what's taking her so long then."

"Maybe. I didn't realize there were rules like that. You failed to mention it to me."

"Because I didn't think it was necessary, but I can see where you might have thought so. I'm sorry, it wasn't intentional."

"Anything else I should know about?"

"No, I swear. No. You're my boyfriend, John, not a guest."

"Yeah, well, still, figured better to err on the side of caution or whatever the saying is."

She took a sip of the water he'd brought her. "Go watch football. We're fine."

"You sure?"

"Positive. It's fine. They're not going to eat you alive," she kissed him. "I know you want to watch the Packers and Lions game, hoping the Lions win the same as they do."

"Yeah, hopefully Flynn doesn't get any interceptions run back for touchdowns today."

"So go," she said. He knew she had no idea who he was talking about. He wasn't a huge fan, but he followed it enough and the Bears were having a good season. The Packers were in the hunt, though, and Flynn could be a difference maker in a division game like today's was.

"All right," he said, taking his pop in that direction.

He passed the dining room on the way and saw her mom still fussing over the plant he'd brought. Yeah, he'd done the right thing even if Claire said it wasn't necessary. There were so many rules and things for her type of lifestyle. He was glad he'd become friends enough with Jim to talk about shit like that because he never in his wildest dreams would have thought it necessary to bring something to someone's house. He supposed, though, they went through the effort of cooking you a huge meal; you should bring something for that. He got it, he just wouldn't have thought of it on his own.

And her parents would have had another reason to dislike him.

At least the clothes they'd bought for their first lunch together were getting used. He'd added another tie to his wardrobe at her insistence so it didn't seem as though he was just wearing the same thing over and over again. He had to admit, a different tie did make a difference. Same shirt and pants, but they still somehow looked different with a paisley versus a striped tie.

Who knew?

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***Part Eleven***
Word Count: 1,042

"I thought I'd never get you alone," he said once she'd joined him on her bed.

"It was a busy day."

"I know, it's just they're two weeks old. How much Christmas do they need?"

"It's still their first Christmas. Grandparents and uncles love to spoil, you know. My brother is spending it with his girlfriend's family tomorrow so we did more of a big thing tonight than we usually do on Christmas Eve."

"I guess."

"Not in your house, I suppose?"

"Not so much."

"Well, then my gift will either be great or you'll think it's ridiculously stupid."

"I'm sure it's not stupid."

"Well, I don't know," she said, handing him the box.

He frowned a little when he opened it.

"You don't like it?" she said, watching him closely. "Too domestic?"

"No, I do, I just," he said, taking the stocking out of the box and eyeing it closely. "You know I don't have a fireplace, Princess."

"Sure you do," she said. "Ours for now."

"When did you start working on this?"

"Sometime before Halloween."


"Yes, I knew it would take me a while, but I wanted you to have one. Mom made all of ours, including Dad's."

"Hmm, now there's going to be two Dad's on the fireplace."

"Yeah, well, I'm sure Santa will know which is which for this year."

"Thank you," he said, sounding completely sincere which surprised her.

"You're welcome."

He'd given her his gift earlier when he'd gotten there. It was a gold necklace with girl and boy silhouette charms. Names and birthdate were on each charm. It was gorgeous and she'd almost accused him of spending too much on it because she knew it couldn't have been cheap. The chain was very nice and very thick. She refrained, though, instead asking him to put it on her.

She ran her fingertips along the charms now, in fact.

"Yours is nicer," she said.

"Don't be silly. They're both something for our first Christmas. There's no better or worse in that. Besides, you don't have a job."

"Yeah, well," she said with a shrug.

"Claire, you made me something. I've never had something made for me in my life that I didn't make with my own hands. Any jerk can go out and buy jewelry."

"Yeah, but you picked out the charms and everything."

"Sure, but still. I didn't expect anything from you anyway."

"Why not?"

"I don't know. You've got enough going on. It's just another day where I come from."

"Not anymore it's not."

"So how long do we have until one of them wakes up?"

"Two hours, maybe three," she said, both glancing at the baby monitor that would tell her when either one of them moved.

"And your parents are okay with my staying here tonight?"


"Only because they know we can't actually do anything."

She laughed a little. "You're probably right."

"Has a guy ever slept in the Princess' bed before?"

"No! Well, I suppose my brother maybe when we were little, but not in the way you're talking."

"I suppose Michael will one day, too."

"Not this bed! I hope I have my own bed by then."

"Were you surprised they look so much alike?"

She shrugged. "I wasn't sure what to expect."

"I'm glad we didn't go the matching name route."

"Me, too. I liked Michael, but Michelle not so much, and well, less chance of getting confused I suppose if I don't have to call out similar names."

"And I refuse to have him have my name."

"Yet, I still got it in there."

"Yeah, well, no one's going to call out Joanne and think she's named after me, so I was okay with that."

"I'm not sure why you had such a problem with it. People give kids their dad's name all the time, even if it's as a middle name."

"Because they gave me that name, Claire. Why on earth would I want my children to have any part of that?"

"I get it, I do," she said with a shrug. She settled against him once he put the stocking on the nightstand next to her bed. "You know if you don't hang it up you don't get anything in it."

"I have what I need right here."

"Me, too," she said, sounding as tired as she felt.

She was pretty pliant as he shifted her, drawing the covers out from under her and then over her. God, she was tired all of the time. She'd been incredibly lucky that Joanne had been able to be prompted to turn once Michael had been born because she had been looking at a C-section otherwise. She wasn't sure if that bothered her parents or John more, but no one had been particularly happy about that idea. Joanne had been stubborn, though, taking a couple of hours longer than her brother to arrive. An hour longer and they would have born on different days. She knew it happened, had been told there were cases of twins being born weeks apart.

John hadn't spent any time at his apartment the last couple of weeks other than to go there to sleep. Otherwise he'd been with her all of the time. She wasn't sure why her parents were letting him stay tonight. The idea, she supposed that even if they were newborns it was their first Christmas and if he went home he'd miss seeing them wake up for the first time on what had always been a special holiday in their house.

"Get some rest. I'll see if I can't get the first one up for you."

She chuckled softly at that. "If your friends could see you now; changing diapers and giving bottles, tucking me in."

"I never had any real friends anyway so they could say whatever they want. Not the way you're talking, but you know that."

"I do." She snuggled against him. She hadn't slept with him like this since their weekend away in September. "Could get used to this," she whispered.


"Falling asleep with you here."

"Well, hopefully when it's an everyday thing it'll be at our place not your parents' place."

"Sounds nice."

"Good night, Princess, and Merry Christmas."

"You, too."

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***Part Twelve***
Word Count: 2,302

The next day had been fairly quiet. Her brother and his girlfriend came over later in the evening for a little while, but otherwise it had just been the four – well six if he counted the two newborns that slept the day away – of them.

There'd been no arguments, nothing thrown, he hadn't been hurt, and there'd been a real meal made with trimmings and everything. An entirely foreign day to him in his eighteen years to this point.

He wasn't quite sure what to make of it, and for the millionth time he wondered what type of life he could really offer her. It scared the crap out of him that he'd fail somehow, but he was bound and determined not to be that guy. The guy who had kids he never saw and looked back at the one girl who was everything, knowing he'd let her get away.

The job her dad had recommended to him had turned out to be a pretty good job. The hours weren't bad, his boss was pretty decent, and he made enough money to make it worthwhile. Worthwhile not to go back to construction?


His boss had mentioned at the end of the season training John on some of the heavier equipment. He liked John for whatever reason and because of that he wasn't going to walk away from it. Warehouse jobs would be there years from now when he couldn't do the type of work he'd oddly found he enjoyed. Days when it was wickedly hot sucked. He imagined the days when it was still cold would suck just as badly. He'd find out in a few months, but there was something about using his hands to repair or make something that he enjoyed. Still, though, his supervisor seemed to know John would be leaving come March, but let it be known they should be the first place he stopped at when things died down for the winter next year. Claire's dad didn't do the hard work to get that, John had so he didn't feel as though he was taking handouts.

He wasn’t sure how Claire's mom was going to manage both of the twins while Claire was at school once break was over. He offered to help by cutting back on his hours or something, but she'd insisted she'd be all right. He couldn’t switch shifts because of his classes, so it was either cut back on hours or quit altogether. Quitting wasn't an option, babies and Claire or not, he liked having money in his pocket. Honest money. It was an odd feeling, contributing to something and getting told at the end of some days he'd done a good job. Having people offer to teach him things so he could do other things, make more money.


There wasn't enough of it. Once school started back up Claire was trying to balance everything and stay afloat. It wasn't going to get any easier either as they got older. Sure, they'd get more independent, but there were going to be two of them walking and getting into mischief.

They saw one another as they could. Sometimes it was him going over to her house after work and before classes. Her mom always had something to eat for him ready on those days. It was strange. He'd gotten the impression from Claire her mom wasn't the greatest, and maybe John hadn't seen that side of her yet but she seemed pretty okay to him.

Then his base of comparison was pretty skewed compared to most.

Once on a Saturday in March when he and Claire were at the mall with the babies in their dual stroller he caught a glimpse of his mom. He hadn't seen her since the day he'd picked up whatever stuff from his childhood she had. He'd retreated into the nearest store as soon as he spotted her, leaving Claire to wonder what he was doing because it was a women's clothing store. As far as he knew, his mom hadn't seen him. If she had? Well, as much as he hated to, he would've lied about whether the kids were his. Claire probably would've gotten mad at him, but he didn't want his kids anywhere near her. Ever.

His lease came up at the end of May and he was able to get a one-bedroom place that was in a decent neighborhood while still being in his price range. Decent enough for Claire to come visit him. Decent enough for kids to play in was another story, but he wasn't planning on being here for longer than a year. He just wanted something with more space so Claire and the babies could spend a Friday or Saturday night with him once in a while.

It was a learning curve for both of them. Claire knew a couple friends of her brother who had kids, but they were married and they only had one. So, things were a little different. There were two mouths to feed and two babies to get baths. He wasn't sure how Claire did it, because as much as he wanted to say he was involved she got the brunt of the work. Her mom helped, but Claire tried not to rely on her too much outside of babysitting while Claire was in class.

He came to realize pretty quickly why that weekend away in September had been so important to her. He never dreamt that babies could be so time consuming. They very rarely had time just the two of them. Her parents would babysit once in a while so they could go to Hackney's and grab a burger or something, but neither wanted to take advantage so those outings were few and far between. If he had an evening free she fell asleep long before he was ready to leave most of the time, which he knew she felt guilty about. He carried her to her room those nights, ensuring the monitor was on before he left.

Once he started working construction again that brought a whole new challenge. She was in school for a few weeks of the time, but she kept true to her word and visited him when she could in between classes. She never once complained about not seeing enough of him, though he knew she had to think it on occasion.

They did the usual things and he missed out on a lot of them. He didn't see either of them roll over or sit up on their own for the first time. He wasn't the only dad, or even mother, to miss out on those things but it still bothered him in ways. And he understood why a few years from now she might want another one when they were in a position to actually enjoy them as babies instead of working so hard to put themselves in a position to support them.

Eventually, they got into a routine where they spent the weekends at his apartment. He had to work Saturdays a lot, but at least she and the babies were there to come home to. He wasn't sure how her parents felt about her staying overnights with him, but as far as he knew they never voiced any real objection. He supposed they were happy to see he truly wanted to be involved. She stayed at her house during the week when they both had classes.

He got a place big enough for the four of them before their senior years. He probably could have done it a year before, but they agreed waiting another year for a place in a good school district was more important. Claire's mom agreed to come to their apartment the mornings Claire had classes before nine so the kids didn't have to be woken up.

She graduated before him, but he expected that. Once he finished his two-year associate degree he transferred to a local yet affordable four-year college night classes that suited his major requirements were more difficult to come by. He was going to be indebt up to his eyeballs when all was said and done, but he had to admit he felt better about not just himself but being able to support a family in a different job if he got injured or something.

He was able to take them to their first day of kindergarten with her. They were going to be some of the oldest kids in their class because their birthdays fell in December so they had to wait until after they'd turned five to start. It was an odd thing, leaving the two small people who were responsible for changing their lives so drastically somewhere that wasn't the Standish's house for longer than a couple of hours.

He took her out for breakfast after dropping them off. Starting tomorrow, she'd probably let them take the bus but she'd wanted to walk them through the doors of school herself today. He supposed he couldn't blame her, but he couldn't recall his parents ever caring what his classroom or teacher looked like.

"So, I was thinking," he said once they were back at their place. He had taken the entire day off, which had surprised her.

"Yeah," she said.

He draped an arm around her on the couch, drawing her against him. He kissed the top of her head. He grabbed her hand with his free hand, grazing her fingers with his thumb.

"Is everything okay?" she asked.

"Yeah, just thinking what is the right way to say this. I've gone over it a hundred times in my head."

Her hand shook a little at that statement.

"Relax, Princess, it's nothing bad. I'm trying to figure out how to say I'd like to make an honest woman out of you."

She scoffed at that.

"What was that for?" he asked.

"You make it sound as if there's something dishonest about me now."

"Well, no, but no one else we know with kids just lives together."

"Is that why you're asking?"

"No, it's not. I was thinking now that they're in school and I'm done with school and you only have a year left on your Master's."


"Well, maybe we could try for another one."

She glanced at him then, clearly surprised.

"What?" he shrugged. "I kind of like this dad thing."

She smirked a little at that.

"And hey," he said, reaching into his pocket. "I went out and got this for you and everything," he said, opening his palm to reveal a ring.

"How did you keep that from me? The apartment isn't that big and I do your laundry."

He chuckled.

"Believe it or not, your dad kept it in the safe in his office for me until I was ready for it."

"My dad?"

"Yes. I didn't know where else to keep it and knowing my luck I'd lose it or something if I tried to hide it from you."

"Or Mike or Joanne would find it."

"That occurred to me, too. So, I asked him to keep it. I told you before they were born I wanted to marry you, I just wanted it to be the right way and time. When we were steady, solid not just together but our lives. You know, things going right and everything."

"It's too much," she said as he slid the ring onto her finger.

"Yeah, well, while you were living at your parents' house and I was working all of that overtime I saved for it."

"It's gorgeous."

"Gorgeous ring for my gorgeous woman."

She slid onto his lap and kissed him, which quickly escalated to them ending up in their bed. He couldn't remember the last time they were alone during the day to have sex. Even at night when the kids were sleeping it could be tricky. Not that he had anything to complain about in that area. She was always willing even when they only had a short amount of time.

"So is that a yes," he asked.

"To which part?" she asked, sliding her foot along his calf.

"Well, the most important part would be marrying me."


"And the other?"

"Yes," she said. "Did you have a day in mind?"

"I was thinking March sometime since I wouldn't be back to work yet. Maybe get married on a Friday and we can talk your parents into babysitting for a weekend. Not much of a honeymoon, I realize, but it's better than nothing and maybe at Thanksgiving or Christmas we could take the kids to Disney or something."

"I didn't figure we'd get one anyway," she said quietly. "I figured in twenty years you'll owe me."

"Owe you," he said, sliding on top of her.

"Yes," she said laughing. "No spring break trips to Daytona or Mexico, no honeymoon, no drunken frat party stories to tell the kids."

"The horror," he said.

"I know. It's terrible the things you deprived me of."

"Should I apologize?"

She gave a soft giggle. "I think this," she said, holding her left hand out in front of her, "makes up for most of that."

He grabbed her hand, kissing the palm. "I'm glad you like it."

"And I like the sound of March. It's not going to be that big of a ceremony anyway."

"Why not?"

"Because we have kids and live together already!"


She shrugged. "It's just not done."

"I'm still learning all of your rules, Princess."

"I know. You do fine."

"I do, huh?"

"You love us."

"Yeah. That's easy to do."

"That's more than some dad's and husband's do I know."

"Yours does."

"And that's why I wouldn't have said yes if you didn't. I've seen the difference."

"Me, too, Princess, me, too."

~The End~

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