She absolutely hated making this call, but she really had no one else she felt comfortable asking. Most of her friends here in New York were really Dan's friends and they seemed to be avoiding her. She understood why. She'd probably avoid herself, too, if she was one of them and knew the things about Dan they knew.
'Hello,' he said, sounding as if she'd woken him up.
"Oh my God, I'm so sorry. I completely forgot about the time difference," she said. It was eight o'clock here and she thought nothing of calling her brother at this time because he was always awake, even on a Saturday like today. Scott had kids, though, who didn't sleep in much past sunrise. Claire's boys, on the other hand, slept in as late as they could get away with. Some days she let them, some days she didn't. She figured their days of waking up early were going to come soon enough.
'Um, okay. Who's this?'
"It's Claire Abbott. I mean Standish."
'Abbott. I guess I didn't know that either. Daniel Abbott? That was his name?'
'All right. Well, what can I do for you, Claire Abbott?'
"I have a huge favor to ask of you and if you can't do it please just say so. I understand it's incredibly bizarre for me to ask and it's short notice, too. I could ask my brother, but well I don't think Joan would be too happy with my asking. And honestly I don't really want to involve my family in this."
'Claire, settle down, breathe, and tell me what you need. I can't tell you whether I can or can't do something until you tell me what it is you need. And can you try and maybe not talk so fast, I promise I'll hear you out.'
"Sorry, I just really hate asking. I was wondering if you could help me move?"
'I'm sorry? You are still in New York, right?'
"Yes, but I'm moving back home. I have a moving truck with a moving company for the big stuff, you know? Furniture and stuff. I have some things that I need to take in a smaller truck. If my furniture gets lost on the way I'm not in trouble because Mom has furniture. If my clothes and other belongings get lost then I'm screwed if I want to find a job before schools start."
'Okay,' he said.
"With two kids," she said. "One who isn't thrilled at the idea of leaving his friends behind and starting at a new school even if it is the school I went to growing up. The other, well, it'll take me a week to drive there by myself because he's at that 'Daddy's never home, I want my mommy every second of the day because I don't understand what's going on' phase."
'Ah, say no more. So you're coming back here? Did I hear that part right?'
"Yes. We're going to move in with Mom for a while anyway. She's taken Dad's death a lot harder than Scott and I anticipated. He can't really move in there, and I don't have anything holding me here anymore."
'So you need me to what?'
"I'll pay for your ticket to fly out here and just drive with us. I figure it'll take a couple of days at least so I'll pay for meals and hotels."
'I can pay for my own stuff, Claire.'
'Remember when I said that's what friends were for? I'm happy to help. When are you looking at coming?'
"Well, the moving van is coming next Wednesday. The kids and I can stay in a hotel until you're able to make it here. So, whenever you can."
'Where are you going to put all of your things?'
"Well, there's room in the house and we have the guest house in the back I can store stuff in as well as the garage and basement. I've sold some things, too. Our dining room table was very nice, though, so I didn't want to get rid of it. I just can't stop until everything is packed because if I do I know I'll break down and never get it done."
'Are you okay?'
"Yeah, I'm fine, just ready to be out of here."
'I'm sorry. It has to be tough. You must miss him a lot.'
"Some days," she admitted, realizing the answer probably revealed a little more than she intended to.
'I'll be there Wednesday. If you're not ready to go until Thursday so be it.'
'It'll only be a couple of days off work, I have some vacation time coming. It'll be fine.'
"That's very nice of you."
'You wouldn't be asking if you weren't in a bind.'
"Thank you," she said, incredibly relieved. Her next recourse was to call Andy, but she didn't really want to given the problems he and Allison were having. While they never liked one another beyond friends she just felt uncomfortable asking another woman's husband for this kind of help.
'You're welcome. I'm glad you called. Which airport should I fly into and how do I get to your place?'
She relayed all of the pertinent information to him.
'I'll call you with my flight information then as long as you're sure you don't mind picking me up and that I can stay there.'
"I'm positive. The boys can sleep with me and I'll leave Bill's bed together. It's a twin sized so kind of small, sorry. It shouldn't take long to take apart two beds the next morning, though. And the sheets I can throw in the bag with our other laundry. The boys will love going with me to get you. They love going to the airport."
'Okay. I'll call you back later then. You'll be home?'
"Yes, I'm a teacher, remember, it's August. Besides it's Saturday."
He laughed softly. 'I'm not totally awake yet.'
"I guess not. Thanks again, John. You're a life saver."
'I'm not sure I've ever been called that before, but you're welcome.'
"Bye," she said.
'I'll talk to you later, I guess,' he said before hanging up.
He'd called back within a couple of hours. She thought for sure once he woke up and thought on what he'd just committed to he'd have a change of heart. She wouldn't want to drive halfway across the country with someone else's kids. Bill she wasn't so worried about, but Justin well he was only three and had no clue what was going on beyond his normal routine had been messed with.
She packed and cleaned like a madwoman. She was grateful their landlord was letting her out of their (now her) lease earlier than she was supposed to. Funny how her husband and dad dying was useful at times. She knew there was no other way she'd have gotten out of the lease. Going home to take care of her mother when she was newly widowed herself allowed her to get a lot of stuff done she wouldn't ordinarily. Like a good rate on both moving vans.
She waited for John at the airport nervously. Her brother and sister-in-law had at the last minute offered to take the boys off her hands if they were okay with flying by themselves. Bill was ecstatic at the idea, Justin hadn't been too sure but Claire had known Bill would look out for his little brother. So, they'd flown out on Tuesday. She'd called John on Sunday to tell him he didn't have to come any longer, but he'd insisted he'd already bought the plane ticket and took the days off from work so he may as well. She would get there faster with two of them driving the truck, and even if he did the bulk of the driving the time would certainly pass faster not being alone the entire time.
"Wow, I wasn't expecting you to be here waiting for me."
"Where else would I be?" she asked.
"I don't know, I guess I hadn't thought about it. No one's ever picked me up from the airport before."
"Nope, not much reason to fly."
"I really appreciate it."
"Don't mention it. Did your kids arrive safely?"
"Yes, thanks. I was a little nervous, but the flight attendants escorted them to their seats after leaving me and off the plane in Chicago."
"So, have you been to New York before?"
"No," he said.
"Now I feel bad you're only here for the night. If I'd known the boys were going to go ahead of me I could've planned something."
"Claire you have enough on your mind right now I'm sure without having to worry about thinking of ways to entertain me. I'm fine."
"Okay. I have no dishes or anything. I packed everything but a few days' worth of clothes basically. So, we could get something to eat on the way home or pick something up."
"Which would you prefer?"
"I'd prefer to eat somewhere not the house."
"All right then. You're the driver, whatever you want."
"You're sure you don't mind?"
"Okay then. Is there anything you don't like?"
"Um, well, no offense, because I know you at least used to like it but I never could stomach trying that sushi stuff."
She laughed softly. "I haven't had any in a while, and couldn't right now even if I wanted to so you're safe from that."
She drove him to a neighborhood restaurant that served just about everything. She went there with her kids at least once a week just to get out of the house. Before Dan died she'd come here with them for the same reason only it wasn't a distraction, it was just fun to do something with them in public once in a while.
"Hi," the hostess said, recognizing Claire.
"Hi, Haley. How are you tonight?"
"Good," she said. "No kids tonight?"
"No, they're already in Chicago with their aunt and uncle."
"How nice for them. And you. When are you leaving?"
"Tomorrow sometime. This is my friend John from home. He flew out to help me drive the truck back."
"Well, we'll miss you guys."
She seated them, setting menus down in front of them. Claire didn't need one, she got the same thing most of the time. For the few times she got something different, she knew the menu by heart anyway.
"You must live nearby?"
"I do. I've been coming here for years. It's not a place that's going to get written up by any food critics, but everything's good and the people are all very nice."
"All right," he said, glancing at her before picking up the menu.
"Get whatever you want, I'm buying," she said when their waitress came to take their drink order.
"I insist. It's the least I can do."
He grimaced, but he ordered a beer. She went with a glass of iced tea.
"Still have that brandy at home?"
Claire smiled a little at that. "No, it's packed, too."
"Hmm, you're making me feel bad ordering a beer."
"You're fine. Iced tea sounded good, and I shouldn't be drinking right now anyway."
He set his menu down, regarding her closely. "No sushi. No alcohol." He tilted his head. "Are you pregnant?"
"What?" she asked. How in the hell could he have guessed that?
"Well, I know of no other reason why you wouldn't be able to eat raw fish or drink alcohol."
"How do you know what pregnant women can and can't eat and drink?"
"I'm not a complete dolt."
"Yes," she said softly.
"Wow. You can't be that far along, I would never have known if you hadn't said those things."
"Ten weeks," she said.
"So you had no idea when the accident happened?"
"No! I didn't even find out until after I came back after Dad's funeral."
"Wow. That's really rough, Claire."
"I know. No one else knows. I'll be sure not to mention things I can't eat or drink for a while."
"Well, I need to get a job! No one's going to hire a pregnant woman."
"Teachers go on maternity leave."
"Sure, teachers who've been employed for a while. If Mom wasn't having such a hard time I'd stay here until I'd had the baby, but Scott seems really worried about her."
"You and the boys going to be okay living with her?"
"Yeah, it's nothing like that. She just," she shrugged. "I guess just sits all day and does nothing. Scott went to see her on Sunday I think and he said she looked like she hadn't showered or put clean clothes on for at least a day or two."
"Is she drinking?"
Claire scoffed. "That's a silly question."
"I guess so. I'm sorry."
"It's okay. My landlord was surprisingly agreeable about letting me out of my lease months ahead of time."
"Sympathetic, that's rare in landlords."
"I think if Dan hadn't just died she probably wouldn't have been. We'd been living there for years, though, and Dan did a lot of work on the house himself. If it was real expensive he'd deduct it from our rent payment, with receipts of course. Otherwise, the small stuff like caulking a tub or fixing a toilet that wouldn't stop running he just did it. I mean, we had a lease, but she knew us. So, maybe it wasn't just Dan dying but between him and my dad I think she understood I needed to be near my family."
"Probably so. Unless she knows your mom?"
"No, she's never met Mom. I think she met Dad once. They visited, but Mom usually stayed near their hotel to shop or whatever. Dad liked to come and visit the house, spend time with Bill and Justin in their element so they were more comfortable with him."
"That sounds nice. I hope Bill remembers that."
"I hope so, too. Justin won't. He was, God, maybe two the last time they were here."
"I bet his big brother will be sure to tell him about the stuff they did with their grandpa."
They ordered their meals.
"So, what do you do anyway?"
John chuckled a little, taking a sip of his beer. He didn't use the glass their waitress had brought him, drinking it straight out of the bottle.
"I install and repair elevators."
"How does one get interested in that?"
"I'm not really sure. How does one get interested in anything? I'm good with my hands. I was looking for something after high school that I could do but that wasn't so based on the weather. Even working construction or roofing during the summer you have to deal with your work day being canceled or cut short because of rain."
"I see. You like it?"
"Yeah, I mean, it's kind of cool. I worked this job last month. Actually, I'd just finished it right before your dad's funeral. This big old house, and I mean like turn of the century old, had an old shaft for a dumbwaiter that had been sealed up. They wanted it opened back up and the dumbwaiter functional again."
"Yeah," he said with a shrug. "I don't understand why they'd need it, but what do I know. I just go where the jobs are. It was pretty neat, though, messing around with stuff in that shaft that hadn't seen the light of day in probably thirty years. The thing still had a pulley system it was that old."
"So, it's not just elevators?"
"No, mostly. I mean, there aren't many dumbwaiters being installed, but the general concept isn't that different from an elevator."
"I suppose. I had no idea."
"It's a job," he said.
"Have you been doing it long?"
"Since graduation. There was an apprenticeship and stuff, tests to take. I mean, people's lives kind of depend on me knowing what I'm doing."
"Oh right, for sure. Do you ever ride in elevators you installed and think you did that?"
He chuckled. "Not often, no, but I have I guess. No one else really cares so it's not exactly an ice breaker or a way to make an impression. What about you? Teaching? What?"
"High school English."
"Why does that not surprise me?"
"Because I'm good at English?"
"That could be why," he said as their food was set on the table. "You're feeling all right?"
"Yeah, why?" she asked.
"I don't know, it seemed a logical question to ask given your condition."
"It's not a condition," she said with a roll of her eyes.
"If you say so."
"I do! I hate when people say that. I'm pregnant not diseased or incapacitated."
"You haven't been lifting stuff by yourself, have you?"
"Not the heavy stuff, no once I suspected I was pregnant."
"Good. Is there anything left at the house?"
"Just the two beds and a couple of suitcases."
"Which I'll carry down to the truck."
"I know," she said. "Now you understand why I called you."
"I do, you should've said that."
"I wasn't ready to admit it yet."
"So are you going to go for high schools?"
"I'll take whatever job is hiring to start with and then go from there. Bill is scared to death I'm going to find something at his school."
John chuckled. "Yeah, that'd suck having Mom around. Then, he's seven, right? How much trouble can he get into?"
"You'd be surprised. He's good for the most part, but there were some kids in his class last year that acted out and got in trouble every day it seemed. I was very grateful he wasn't one of them."
"It may be pretty tough on him, you know?"
"The move, you mean?"
"I'd thought of that, but he loves Scott and my niece and nephew so I hope that will make it a little easier. I try to think of it from the standpoint that it's probably better for him to move now than in another year or two when he's established in any sports or anything."
"I suppose, yeah," John said.
"Did you ever play sports?"
"No, really," she asked. "When you were little? I know your parents weren't always bad."
"I guess maybe I did little league one or two years when I was pretty young. I'm not really an athletic guy. Give me a car to dismantle and I can run circles around most people. Give me a ball and bat and I have no clue what to do with that."
"Not everyone does, I was just curious."
"So, are Dan's parents' okay with you moving back to Chicago?"
"Yeah, they understand. They're in California, which was why we moved there after I graduated from University of Michigan. It didn't work, though."
"No, not at all, they're actually pretty nice. It's just LA is mostly movie actors. New York is where he needed to be for stage acting. I mean, obviously there's stage acting in LA, too."
"I kind of get it. So they'll be a little closer to you then?"
"Yeah, a little. I hadn't seen them before the funeral in a couple of years, though."
"Oh," he said. "How did you two meet anyway?"
She laughed. "We met at the library. I was, believe it or not, checking out a book of Moliere's works."
She shrugged. "I like him, okay?"
"Anyway, we started talking about him and it led to talking about other things and now here I am."
"Don't be. It is what it is. I mean, he always drove too fast. I tried telling him a hundred times he needed to slow down. At least he never drove like a crazy person with the kids along, but when the policeman showed up at my door in the middle of the night," she shrugged. "I knew what had happened."
"Jesus," he said. "I mean, with kids you'd think he would want to be around to see them grow up."
"You'd think," she said.
"Have you had any time to deal with it? I mean a month between him and your dad."
"No, not really. I figure I'll get to Mom's and then maybe it'll all hit me. Until then, well, until the boys got on that plane to go to Scott's I had to be a mom first, you know? It didn't matter what I was feeling or that I wanted to stay in bed all day I couldn't do it. I had to make breakfast, get them dressed, take them to the park or the library or the zoo, and just function as if everything was normal."
"What about friends?"
"We had, have, them of course, but they were mostly Dan's friends. I have a couple, but they have their own stuff, you know? It's New York, not Shermer, people are always doing something."
"I suppose. It still sucks. Your friends should've taken you out, taken your kids, something."
"I know, a couple offered, but I didn't want them gone. I think I'm better off like it is."
"That's not healthy."
"Yeah. Says the guy who held onto a lot of shit over the years and let it build in me until I was a pretty miserable person. Yeah, I speak from experience on it. It took me a while. I got into a lot of fights, started some but always finished them whether I was the one starting it or not."
"Do you still?"
"Nah," he said. "That shit could kill me if I let it."
"Good. I'm glad."
"It took me a while, I won't deny that. You left for school and there just wasn't anyone else to really talk to about stuff. You know?"
"It's not your fault. You had your life to lead, and I'm glad you did. I'm sorry we're sitting here now under the current circumstances. It's just I had a lot of stuff to figure out and alone it took me a while longer than it might have. I don't trust people easily, still don't so it wasn't like I was going to find someone else to bounce shit off."
"You're not married?"
He scoffed. "No."
"Oh that's right," she said, nodding as their conversation from detention came back to her. "No kids either?"
"Uh, no, believe it or not I wouldn't do that."
"I believe you, just wondered."
"You're going to file for social security, right?"
"Yeah," she sighed softly. "My dad had actually just finished all of that stuff a week before he died. He said he'd handle it because he knew I wasn't in a frame of mind to. He had a life insurance policy, too. It wasn't a lot, but it was more than I was expecting. If I don't find a job right away, especially living with Mom we'd be okay for a while anyway."
"Well, that's something at least. At least he thought of you, you know, I mean, at our age that was good of him to do."
She laughed softly. "My dad sort of made us when Bill came along he said we had to be prepared."
"Well then your dad was obviously a smart man."
"Yeah, he was pretty smart at least when it came to that type of stuff."
John ordered another beer when the waitress came back to see if they needed anything else. They were both finished eating by now, but as her house was empty besides somewhere to sleep tonight she was in no hurry to go back there.
"How did you and Brian keep in touch?" he asked.
"We both went to Michigan. It's a pretty big school and it was sort of nice to know someone from home. We met for coffee once in a while. He helped me a couple of times with Biology."
"Oh, right, I guess I didn't know that. He turned out all right."
"I'd say," she said. Brian had gone on to make himself more than a little bit of money with a startup computer software company. Not many had seen online communities becoming what they were, but Brian's company was one of them.
"I guess we all did for the most part. If Vernon could see us now sitting here talking like adults."
"We are adults."
"I know, I just meant, you know, me holding a conversation with you."
"Oh right. I wonder if he's still there."
"At Shermer High?"
"Yes," she said.
"He'll be there until he croaks. He has nothing else to do with his time and there might be a kid he misses out on the chance to harass, threaten, or bully into thinking they're as rotten to the core as he makes them think they are."
"He did that?"
"Yes," John said.
"He threatened you?"
"Why didn't you say something?"
"Well, I don't know, but he was a teacher. Not even a teacher he was our assistant principal. He shouldn't have been able to do that."
"His word against mine. Who do you think anyone in their right mind would have believed? The tenured guy or the pot smoking, drug dealing, fight starting bum?"
She sighed. "I suppose. I didn't know. I would have believed you. You never told me."
"It didn't seem real important at the time."
She set her hand over his lightly. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry that for whatever reason as much as you trusted me about things you weren't able to or didn't want to trust me with that. I would've believed you."
"Thanks," he said. He slid his hand out from under hers, drumming his fingers on the table top and she wondered what he was thinking. "So you ready to go then?"
"Yes," she said, pulling her credit card out of her wallet so their waitress would know they were ready. "We can talk about something else. I didn't mean to…"
"Nah, it's fine, but if we're going to head out in the morning I probably shouldn't drink any more of these and I have no idea are we going to have to stop every hour for bathroom breaks for you or what?"
She smiled a little.
"What's so funny?"
"You're safe from the frequent bathroom trips for a while."
"All right. I wasn't sure when that started."
"I promise I won't draw this out any longer than it has to be. And believe me it'll go much faster without Bill and Justin along."
"That I can believe."
"Yet you did it anyway."
"Sure, you needed help. How could I say no to that?"
"I don't know," she said.
They made their way back to her house.
"What are you doing with your car anyway?"
"One of my friends bought it off me."
“Yes. She'll be by tomorrow morning to pick it up. I'll leave the keys in the mailbox if she hasn't gotten here before we leave. I've already transferred the title and everything to her, she was just letting me use it until I left."
"Why does she want it?"
She laughed. "Are you saying it's a bad car?"
"Bad? No, not exactly, but it's certainly seen better days."
"I know. She has a step-son who's learning how to drive next year. She and her husband thought this would be a good car for him to learn on. It's a manual transmission and while it's not pretty to look at anymore it's reliable."
"How much did you get for it?"
"Not a lot. More than I would have selling it to a used car place or something."
"What are you going to do for transportation in Chicago?"
"My dad's car for a while."
"Wow, definitely a step up."
"Yeah, it was Scott's idea when I mentioned to him Tiffany offering to buy my car so I'd have one less thing to worry about moving. Once I know I have a steady job and everything I will probably buy something new."
"Let me know when you get to that point, I have a friend who owns a dealership he won't rip you off."
"Sure," he said, following her inside.
"Power and everything are on through the end of the month so we won't be in the dark or anything. I have a radio we could listen to, but the TV is packed away."
"It's fine, Claire, really. I could sleep."
"Okay," she said.
"Wow, this is pretty nice. You said house, but renting I was expecting…"
"A rat-infested, broken down house?"
"Well, it is New York."
"Yeah, we kind of got lucky. It's worked very well for us and Bill's school was only a few blocks away so I could walk him to school unless the weather was real bad."
"There are towels in the bathroom," she said, flipping the light switch on to the bathroom. "Your room is here. Again I'm sorry about the twin-sized bed."
He chuckled. "I think I can forgive the bed size, but Barney sheets?"
She shrugged. "He likes Barney. Justin's are Sesame Street if you would have preferred those…"
"These will do. It's just weird to see this is what your life is."
She leaned against the doorframe, regarding Bill's room as John set his duffle bag on the floor beside the bed. "Yeah, it's weird for me, too. I never envisioned it, really. Dan asked me to get married, I said yes. I never really thought about the rest. Kids, a house, bills, responsibility. I mean, I'm completely responsible for them now," she said, settling a hand against her stomach. "And this one, too. I have to teach them everything and I don't know everything."
"Hey," he said, taking her into his arms and hugging her. "You'll do fine."
"I don't know. I mean, I'm twenty-eight years old. What the hell do I know?"
"Claire," he said. "It's too bad you can't drink because it'd certainly calm you down. You'll be fine. Your kids will be fine. It will be fine. You're going to be closer to your mom and your brother. You'll have support. It'll work out."
"Good night then," she said, leaning up to kiss him on the cheek. "For coming here like this, for talking to me, for hugging me."
"Anytime. Well, you know, within reason. I only have so much vacation time in a year."
"Right. Don't worry, no more cross country moves for me for a while."
"Good because one more I could handle, but a third I don't know I'd have to put my foot down or something."
She smiled then, drawing away. She went to her room, getting ready for bed. She put the things from today in her bag so that was done. She'd packed four days' worth of clothes for the drive just to be safe. She didn't think it would take them that long, but just to be sure.
She sat on her bed, sliding her watch off and setting it on top of her alarm clock on the floor. Her last night here. A week ago she was glad to be leaving, couldn't wait to get out. She still couldn't, and realistically she knew that getting out of here was the best thing for her and her kids. Still, though, she was going to miss this place in some ways. Even though they'd rented it had basically been their house. Their landlord let her paint Bill's walls whatever funky colors or designs he was into.
She stood then, opening her door and going to Bill's bedroom door, knocking lightly.
"Everything okay?" John asked once he answered the door.
"I, uh, yeah," she said. "I was thinking, you know, I could do better than Barney sheets."
He quirked an eyebrow a bit at that. "Yeah?"
"I mean, my bed is bigger and not a Barney or Baby Bop anywhere to be found."
"I'm not hitting on you. I swear. I just, it's my last night here in my house. My life as I've known it for the past eight years is done. It's scary and I never thought I'd admit how truly frightened I am about what I'm going to find when I get home with my mom. But if you have a girlfriend or don't want to or something I totally understand. It's way more than I asked you to do."
He flipped out the light in Bill's room. "Lead the way," he said.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com