***Chapter Three***
Word Count: 6,102

"You're not as talkative today," he said.

It'd been after noon by the time they got the beds taken apart and put into the smaller moving van they were driving back to Chicago. He'd hauled the remaining things down to the truck while she did a final walk through of the house to be sure everything was clean and gone. Her friend had picked up the keys to the car before they'd left. She'd given John a very strange look, but then he supposed Claire hadn't had a lot of visitors from home over the years. Claire had felt better about the car being gone so hopefully that was one less thing she'd feel the need to worry about. She was worrying about a lot already, a car seemed pretty insignificant as far as John was concerned. If she'd already signed the title and paperwork over to her friend if it got stolen or something all they'd have to do would be call the police.

"Just thinking, I guess."


She shrugged. "I don't know," she said, glancing at him. It was the first time she'd looked at him since they'd pulled away from her house. He hadn't been sure if he'd done something wrong he hadn't realized or what. He'd been nice to her friend, at least he thought he had. He also hadn't known that idea would bother him as much as it did, the thought he'd done something to make her mad or uncomfortable somehow. "Going home again."

"Ah," he said.

Logical thoughts for sure, he couldn't blame her. Going back home when she probably thought she never would had to be a bit of a load on her shoulders. It wasn't just her she had to worry about either, she had kids and despite her relationship with her mom he knew she was worried about her too. She wouldn't be moving herself halfway across the country otherwise.

"Good or bad thoughts?" he asked.

"A little of both, I guess. I'm scared for my mom. I mean, we haven't always gotten along, but she's still my mom. You know? You probably don't, I guess." She looked out the window again. "I worry, and I'm not sure I'm ready to be mom to an adult on top of two kids and taking care of myself so I have a healthy pregnancy."

"You're doing what you can. You're doing more than some kids would do. You're doing more than I'd do that's for sure. And you're right, I don't know what that sense of obligation you're feeling is like because I don't have it. I'm not normal when it comes to that, though. I can acknowledge that."

"I wouldn't be doing it if Dan was still alive."

"No, I guess you wouldn't, but I'm sure you and your brother would have come up with something."

"He won't live with her again so moving her in with him is out of the question."

John laughed at that.

"Well, she could've moved to New York I imagine if need be," he said. "Or come stay with you for a while. You know, change of scenery or something?"

"I guess. I just never imagined Dad would be gone."

"I suppose not."

"He was always the stable and rational one. They had problems, always had them. Scott and I were pretty shocked once I was married they didn't get divorced. Somehow, though, whatever their issues were, they stayed together."

"Who knows? Maybe they talked about it and realized there was something there to work through? Maybe they got along better when they didn't have kids to raise. I can't imagine every mom and dad see eye to eye on disciplinary issues and how to raise a kid. Maybe that put a strain on them that wasn't there once you were gone."

"So it's my fault?"

"That's not what I said. I suspect people when they get married and decide to have kids don't sit down and talk about how they feel about this or that when it comes to raising a child. You know? So, differences show up that weren't there before the kids and suddenly there are problems where there weren't any."

"I guess."

More quiet. Clearly she was thinking over what he'd said. Maybe he shouldn't have said that. He didn't know. He wasn't trying to make her feel worse.

"I'm also thinking about last night."

"Last night?"

"I shouldn't have asked you to do that."

He shrugged. He'd been thinking about last night all morning and most of the time they'd been driving, which was why he'd finally decided to initiate a conversation with her. Nothing had happened between them beyond him offering her the comfort of company she obviously needed. She'd slept close to him the whole night, which he hadn't minded at all. He'd woken up more than once glad she was still near him. He hadn't slept real well. The bed wasn't his and the house wasn't his. Plus he just wasn't used to sleeping with women, especially women he had no business touching when he was sleeping with them. He could have said no to her request and really should have, but he hadn't been able to find it in his heart to do that. He knew asking him to do it hadn't been easy, and it wasn't as if she was expecting sex from him.

"I probably shouldn't have done it, but it didn't really matter what bed I slept in when it got down to it. You were all right. You needed someone. That's logical after what you've been through. You have nothing to feel bad or be sorry for. I've never had anyone die, but I can sure understand how saying goodbye to the home you shared with your husband and the father to your kids might be a bit tough."

"It wasn't as bad as I thought."

"I saw tears in your eyes."

"Hormones," she said with a laugh.

"Yeah, I've heard those can be pretty brutal add on top of that grieving I bet you're kind of a mixed bag of emotions right now. That's all right, and that's why I did it."

"Well, thank you. I can't explain why it was any better than it would've been if you'd said no or weren't there. I have just felt so completely alone. As tempting as it was a few times to let Justin or Bill sleep with me, I couldn't start down that road. It would've made for very bad habits."

"It probably wouldn't have been the same either."

"No, it wouldn't have. So, thank you."

"Can I ask you something?"

"I guess. What?"

"Why do you seem more upset about your dad's death than your husband's?"

She shrugged, glancing out the window. "I'm not."

"It sure seems that way to the casual observer."

"It's not important," she said.

"All right, just asking. I mean, it's clear you love your kids, even the one you haven't had yet so I assume you loved him, too."

"I did," she said, but he didn't think she sounded as though she meant it.

"Okay," he said.

He wasn't sure what else to say so he stopped talking. It wasn't as if they'd kept in touch over the years or anything. He'd showed up at her dad's funeral out of respect because she'd been a real friend to him, something until her he'd never really had. Not a true friend who was willing to just hang out with him, talk with him, and listen to him. The fact that they'd liked each other more than just a little hadn't interfered with that. He wasn't what she needed that was for sure so he hadn't pushed for more. She was going to college and onto better things that was also for sure. So that attraction had gone untapped after the day of detention. They'd given into their curiosity about each other and moved on.

It was the first time someone had ever kissed him just to kiss him, expecting nothing else from him but that bit of simple affection. Simple to most people, but kissing wasn't something he'd done a whole lot of until the day in that closet. The types of girls he did things with weren't expecting him to kiss them. He'd never understood why exactly until Claire that the reason was because kissing actually took more emotion than the rest of the physical shit that came after it. She hadn't wanted the stuff that came after it, though. He hadn't been quite sure what to do with that. He hadn't been sure what to do with her at all. So he'd taken his cue from her. She'd wanted to be friends and so they'd been friends despite the fact that he'd fallen a little bit in love with her over a simple thing like kissing.

He'd been surprised when she invited him back to her house after the funeral. Why exactly he wasn't sure. It was the polite thing to do. It was bred in her, probably while she was still in diapers, to be polite. He just hadn't expected anything beyond a 'hi, thanks for coming, it's good to see you' out of her. Ten years was a long time, a long time to forget about him. She had no idea what she'd meant to him. He'd been too scared to admit it even to himself until she was long gone.

She hadn't wasted any time getting involved with the guy either. He'd heard by spring break of her freshman year that she was in a relationship. He heard a year or so later that they'd gotten married. He hadn't heard about any kids, though, so evidently once she was married she was no longer newsworthy in the circles she traveled in at Shermer.

"Things just weren't that good."

He snorted softly.

"What's that mean?" she asked.

"You're ten weeks pregnant, sweetheart, something must have been good."

"And you've been in a good relationship with every person you've had sex with?"

"Well, put like that, no, but I wasn't married to them either."

"I don't believe in divorce," she said softly.

"It was bad enough you thought of divorcing him?"

"Yes," she said. "I even talked to my dad once."

"What did your dad say?"

"I didn't really tell him much, which led to him telling me it was my responsibility to stick it out and make it work."

"Jesus. Your own father?"

"Well, sure, of course, he didn't want me to get divorced either."

"Were you okay?"

"Yeah, for the most part."

"He didn't hurt you, did he?"

He'd thought about her lots over the course of her freshman year. He'd lucked into the job he had currently and after steady employment and getting away from his parents' house he thought about talking to her, asking her out, and seeing if she'd be interested in a long-distance boyfriend. Then he'd heard about the boyfriend through the grapevine and had shelved that plan. College guy versus manual labor guy. He didn't need a degree to know who would've won that contest. If he'd stood by, left her alone, so the other – better – guy could have her without interference from him and he hurt her somehow he'd feel incredibly guilty. Because for some reason he was pretty sure if he'd asked her out her freshman year she would have said yes.

"Not really," she said.

"Not really? What kind of an answer is that?"

"Not physically."

"Oh. Good," he said, then thought over her answer a little more. His parents' choice of abuse was physical, but they liked to mix things up, too, and add in words that hurt just as bad. The bruises went away, the cuts scabbed over and healed (some of them anyway), but being told he was a loser repeatedly didn't heal as quickly as the other things. He wasn't sure, even today, which part of his parents' treatment of him had been worse. If they'd just physically hurt him without the mean things they'd said would he have been different? He'd never know, but these were things he'd thought of over the years when he had time on his hands to think about shit he had no business dwelling on. "So, other ways?"

"You don't want to hear about my problems."

"I'm asking, aren't I? We have hundreds of miles to go, may as well talk about something."

"My marriage is the only thing you can think to talk about?"

"For now."

She sighed. "He cheated."

"Oh," he said.

"A lot," she said.

"Moron," he said.

"He liked to gamble, too, which wasn't so bad, but when he gambled he drank and spent money we didn't always have and then he'd feel guilty and didn't want to come home."

"And cheated."

"Yeah," she said.

"I'm sorry. That sucks. It sucks that he did it, but it sucks even more that you knew about it."

"I knew about it years ago."


"Yes, I don't think he ever did before we got married."

"Right after you were married?"

"I was pregnant."

"That's not an excuse."

"Evidently, to him it was. He thought he'd hurt the baby or something," she sighed softly.

"And you stayed?"

"What was I supposed to do? Go home to my parents with two kids? Leave everything behind? Admit I'd made a huge mistake?"

"Well, yeah, okay. Or how about not having to admit all of that and just leaving him because you'd had enough?"

"Because he was always so sorry about it."

"I bet he was."

"It's the reason our friends haven't really talked to me much since he died."

"They know?"

"Most of them, I think some know more than others. I know at least one of them slept with him."

"Your friend?"

"She didn't know me at the time."

"No excuse."

"She was in a show with him," she said.

"How did you find out?"

"Well, eventually I met her because I saw the show. She thought she was pregnant for a while. Or she told him she thought she was. She wasn't. I don't think she ever thought she was, she just wanted him to think she was so he'd leave me. I don't think she understood that he wasn't going to leave me."


"Because in some odd way he loved me. I know he did. We had good moments. He was good with the boys. And, I guess that's why I stayed."

"Gambling. Did he lose?"

"He never lost enough to go into debt or anything. He never had to take out loans if that's what you're asking, but there were times I had to ask Dad for money to pay the rent because we didn't have enough to pay it because he'd lost everything he'd been paid."

"How'd you explain that?"

"Oh, there was always something to blame it on. I needed new clothes for the boys. My car needed work done. Something around the house needed done and we couldn't deduct it from the rent until it was actually done."

"Hmm," he said. "And your dad believed that?"

"Most of the time."

"So, ten weeks ago?"

"I honestly don't even remember," she said with a laugh. "I mean, obviously it happened, but I can't place exactly when. He was doing a show, so lots of late nights which meant getting home in the middle of the night. I was still in school, so I don't know."

"I hope you're not going to tell him or her that."

She laughed softly. "No, but then I don't think most people could name exactly when their kids were conceived."

"I suppose not."

"I hope it's a girl" she said her hand rubbing her stomach a little.

"Why?" he asked. "Tired of boys?"

"No, I love my boys."

"Hopefully you can teach them something about being men their dad lacked."

"I hope so, too. I'd just like a girl."

"I know nothing about girls."

"Trust me, you adapt. You think I know anything about baseball?"

"You don't?"

"I do now, but I sure didn't until last year. Never mind hockey."

"Hockey and baseball? Busy kids."

"Justin only does swimming right now. I don't know what they'll offer by Mom's house."

"You'll find something, I'm sure."

She sighed, resting her head against the back of the seat. She was tired, he knew that. He saw it in her eyes last night when she'd picked him up at the airport. He doubted she'd slept well for weeks.

"I just want it to be seven months from now already so I can be done with it."

"I'm not sure that's a good attitude to have," he said.

"I don't know either."

"You know that pisses me off."

"What? I was just kidding!"

"No, not that. Not you. I know you're going to take care of yourself and the baby just fine." He shook his head a little, playing over what she'd just said in his head. "If someone, your friend which no offense she's not, thought she was pregnant that meant he wasn't even being careful when he was out there sleeping with other women."

"Yeah, I know. He swore he had with her, that he did. And like I said, she turned out not to be pregnant."

"Unless she got rid of it."


"She was an actress. You said she thought he was going to leave you. Maybe when she realized he wasn't going to do that she decided to get an abortion. She couldn't act pregnant, could she?"

"Well, no. I mean, of course she could still act, but no one would cast her, no."

"Obviously I don't know, but if she was that scheming I don't know I'd put something like that past her. And he was an asshole."

"John," she said.

"No, you know I'm not married for a reason. I'm not sure what kind of husband or father I'd make. I can admit that. I didn't have a very good role model. I can admit that, too. But I sure as hell if I decided to marry someone wouldn't cheat on them."

"You don't know that."

"I do know that. And someone like you. Was he dumb?"

"No. I was, obviously, because I stayed."

"You weren't dumb. It's no different than any other type of power situation. You had kids and it sounds like you needed his income at least a little bit."

"Yes. I mean I never sat down and crunched numbers even when I talked to my dad."

"So, you couldn't leave him, he knew that so he could do whatever he wanted because he knew you'd stay put."

"I don't think it's as simple as that."

"Probably not, but if you ask me it's no different than someone who stays with a guy who hits her."

"It is not the same."

"Sure it is. You even said it. He was always so sorry about it. All guys who are assholes to their women are so sorry about it until they really fuck up and she ends up dead or in your case probably getting some disease because he couldn't even have the courtesy to protect you from that sort of shit never mind himself."

"I've never had anything."

"You've gotten tested?"

"Yes," she sighed.

"See, and you've just proven my point. The fact as a married woman you had to do that is just nuts."

"I'd appreciate it if you don't tell anyone what I just told you."

"Who would I tell?"

"I don't know, but I'd appreciate it just the same. He's dead, I don't need people thinking I'm trashing his reputation or something."

"It doesn't sound like he was hiding what he was doing, Claire."

"No, he wasn't. I think Brian knew."

"Brian did? And he said nothing? That doesn't seem like the Brian I know."

"Dan didn't like Brian at all."


"I don't know. He thought our friendship was weird. That we could be friends without any interest in each other."

"See and, yeah, that should've been a clue. He was basically telling you he couldn't have women as friends."

She sighed again. "He did say something once, sort of. I think he thought it was none of his business. We were married and Bill was already born. Brian and I were graduating. Dan and I were packing up to move out to LA. Brian called to see if I wanted to get coffee one last time. Kind of a final good bye to everything about my past. Brian asked me if I was sure I wanted to be so far from everyone and everything. I thought of that conversation after we were here. He'd been good in LA, I guess maybe because his parents' were there. Maybe we never should have left."

"You can't stay some place hoping the guy won't cheat on you."

"I know that, logically. I just think that was Brian's roundabout way of telling me something was wrong. Brian and Dan didn't know one another, really. Dan knew who Brian was and that he was from Shermer. Brian's a smart guy. I'm sure he saw things, heard things, or whatever."


"Anyway. It's done now."

"What does that mean for you?"

"I'm not sure. I have enough money from his life insurance policy that if I find a job right away I could buy a house. It wouldn't be a great house, but it'd be a house of our own."

"At least he did something for you. A house wouldn't be bad for you or your kids."

"No, I know. I'll probably just stay with Mom for a while, let the boys get used to a new place, and make sure I find the right job. I like teaching, I do, but I don't want to end up stuck in a job at a school I loathe with no way out because I have a mortgage. And, well, some help with the baby wouldn't be unwelcome either. I was pretty sure we were done after Justin."


"I missed talking to you."

"Yeah? Me, too," he said. He had, too. He'd never admitted that to anyone or anything, and he wouldn't have said so to her if she hadn't mentioned it first.

"I'm sorry."

"About what?"

"I left and sort of never talked to you again. That wasn't very nice."

"I knew the deal. I didn't expect you to look back at Shermer or anyone in it once you were gone."

"You didn't?" she asked, regarding him then.

"Nope. I wouldn't have blamed you if you never came back."

"I don't have quite the bad feelings toward it you do."

"No, I suppose you don't."

"You don't live in Shermer then?"

"No. I haven't since I moved out the spring after graduation."

"Where do you live?"

"Lake Bluff."

"Really?" She sounded surprised, and he couldn't blame her. It was a nice town. If she ever saw his house she'd probably think he killed someone or at the very least did something very illegal to get it.


"I'll bet it's nice."

"It is."

"Close to the lake?"

"Not far," he said.

"Sounds nice."

"It is. Lots of work, though."


"It's pretty old, lots of work to do on it."

"You're doing it yourself?"

"Most of it. Some I can't do, but lucky for me I know a whole bunch of electricians and stuff who'll do me a solid when I need help with things like that when they're off the clock."

"How old?"

"The twenties."

"Really? I bet it's gorgeous."

"I like it."

"Good. I'm glad you have something you like and is permanent."

"Me, too," he admitted.

Ten years ago he would never have seen that happening in a million years. She probably wouldn't have either, liking him or not. That John Bender and this John Bender were about as different as two people could be. He looked back at times to high school and couldn't even believe he was that person. He certainly had a hard time believing someone like Claire had been remotely interested in him.

"You like having a house to yourself?"

"Yeah, it beats an apartment and paying someone else rent."

"I think I'd hate having a house by myself."

"Why? I'd think with kids it'd be worse honestly. At least I only have to pick up and clean up after myself."

"I don't know," she shrugged. "God, I wish I could undo the past two months."

"Really? After everything you just told me? And only the last two months? You'd still want to be pregnant?"

"I didn't want him to die!"

"Okay, point taken, but he is and it sounds at least as though he left you in a decent position to where you're not hard up or going to starve even without living with your mom."

"No, we wouldn't."

"He made that much acting?"

"I told you he was really quite good. The night he died he'd been out celebrating because he got the lead in a play that everyone is assuming will run for months if not longer. It was a big deal, obviously, and his agent worked very hard to get him cast over others."


"Yes. He called me after he'd gotten the call to let me know. He'd been called back three or four times, I can't remember. It's all so fuzzy and he went on so many auditions."

"Did you like it?"



She shrugged. "I don't think I'm going to be rushing out to see any plays again soon. I enjoyed it, don't get me wrong. It's just I saw a side to it that not many people get to see I guess."

"Yeah, that's true for anywhere, though. I could tell you some stories about construction workers that'd probably really piss you off."

"Oh I bet you could, probably a few about yourself in there, too."

"Not for years."

"So you're the poster child for a good guy now?"

He chuckled. "I didn't say that, no, but I'm just a lot more careful about it than I was once upon a time."

"I bet."

"And yet you called me over Andy or your brother."

"I didn't want to ask another woman's husband to drive with me hundreds of miles. I'm not sure Joan would've been thrilled. I think she already thinks Scott's done enough since Dad died."

"Done enough? What does that even mean? She's your mother and while I know I'm nobody to judge such things she seemed all and all decent enough."

"I don't know. She's just weird that way. You know? She's not bad or anything, but her priority is certainly her side of the family over ours."

"And Scott just lets that happen?"

"What can he say?"

"Uh, how about 'our dad just died cut me some slack while I'm helping my mom and sister through a difficult time for all of us?'"

"You'd have to ask him."

"No, I don't. That's not right. There's no excuse for that."

"You get married and things change, John. Your priority is no longer the people who raised you and you grew up with but the person you're going to spend the rest of your life with."

"Until that person your sister married dies suddenly before the age of thirty. That sort of changes things, I'd think anyway."

"He took the boys early this week so I wouldn't have to worry about moving with them."

"I guess that's something," he said.

"He's not bad, John. Really, he's not."

"If you say so."

They were quiet for a while after that. John realized he probably shouldn't have said the things he'd said. They kept the conversation fairly neutral after that until they stopped for the night. Eight hundred miles wasn't bad and he probably could've pushed it and done it in a day, but since he was barely able to keep the moving van above fifty-five he figured they could stop for the night as she seemed to want to. He couldn't blame her, he supposed. Maybe she wasn't looking as forward to getting back to her kids as she said she was. He didn't think that was the case, but he couldn't imagine the past two months had been easy for her so maybe a couple of nights break was welcome.

He'd given her shit about the bag she'd packed for the trip. She'd packed it before knowing her boys weren't going to be along for the road trip, so she'd taken into account it could take longer than normal to make the drive. He still thought days' worth of clothes was excessive, but even moving vans broke down.

She didn't invite him to share a room with her when they checked in. He had absolutely no business offering to share one with her, but it was just ridiculous to pay for two rooms.

"Just get a room with two beds," he said.

"Are you sure?"

"I'm positive," he said. "As long as you don't mind. It's stupid for you to have to pay for two rooms and since you won't let me pay for anything you may as well save money somewhere."

"Okay," she said. "Thank you."

The front desk clerk probably thought they were a little weird, but John could care less.

He turned the TV on as they settled in for the night. He took his cell phone out of his bag and turned it on when she went to the bathroom. The roaming charges would probably cause him to take a second mortgage out on his house, but he would make the call anyway.

"I'll be right back," he said before leaving the room. She'd said something about taking a shower so he doubted she'd even know he was gone.


"Hey," he said.

'Hi. I was wondering if you got there all right.'

"Yeah, sorry I didn't call. It was kind of late by the time I got in. We ate afterward and I wasn't sure what time she wanted to leave this morning so I crashed right away."

'You don't have to apologize. I'm glad you called, though. Where are you?"

"Um," he said, thinking on that. "Toledo. We thought of stopping in Akron or Cleveland, but I told her I could make it a little further."

'That's not bad.'

"No. How's everything going?"

'Fine. You? How's your friend?'

"I'm fine. She's fine. You know as well as can be expected given the circumstances."

'I can't even imagine. Her husband and her dad in a month of one another?'

"I know. She seems okay, though. I don't know. I'm glad you don't mind my doing this."

'Why should I mind?'

"I don't know. I've known women in my life who would not be too thrilled with it."

'Well, if I'd said no would you have called her back and told her you couldn't do it?'

"No," he admitted. "She's probably the only real friend I had in high school. I couldn't say no to her asking for this kind of help."

Granted that was a severe overstatement of their relationship or the length of their relationship. Did three months, six including the time before she left for college, count as being a friendship? Considering he'd never had any real friends before her it counted to him.

'Well, then, see, there was no point in getting mad about it. Besides, it's one of the things I like about you.'

"Yeah?" he said, surprised when the door to their room opened. He'd assumed she was going to be in there for a while.

'Yes, you're willing to help people. It's nice what you're doing.'

"Yeah, well, when she called me back and told me her kids weren't going to be riding along…"

'And again my saying no or arguing wouldn't have done any good. Besides I don't think she planned all of this in an attempt to seduce you ten years after high school.'

"Well, probably not, no," he said. "Anyway, I'm going to go. If we talk much longer I'll have to sell a body part to pay for the call. I just wanted you to know that I'm all right and stuff."

'Thank you.'


'I'll see you tomorrow?'

"If not the next day, yeah."

'Okay. Drive safe.'

"I will," he said, disconnecting.

He turned the phone off before making his way back to their room. She hadn't come out, so maybe she'd just been looking to see where he'd gone.

"Hi," he said when he went back in. He slid his phone into his bag, noticing she hadn't changed and that her hair wasn't even wet. "Change your mind about the shower?"

"Yeah. It can wait until the morning, I'll wake up better. I was going to see if you wanted to get something to eat. There's a restaurant so we wouldn't have to drive anymore."

"Yeah, sure. You don't have to eat with me, you know."

"Well, no, I don't have to but I'm asking you to. Would you rather eat alone?"

"No, I just don't want you to think you're somehow responsible for entertaining me. Maybe you'd rather eat alone."

"I suspect I'll have my share of that coming up."

"You have kids."

"You know what I mean. It's not the same as eating with an adult. Justin can't hold a conversation with me. Bill only wants to talk about The Mighty Ducks, Angels in the Outfield, or The Lion King. It gets old after a while."

"I can imagine."

He grabbed his key and slid it into his pocket before following her out into the hall.

"What about your mom?"

"I don't know. I hope we'll talk. I hope we'll get along. I hope we'll fall into this relationship that I've always dreamt of having with her because we have something horrible in common now. I'm not sure what to expect or even if she'll want to sit down and eat with us. And as much as I hope we'll get that relationship finally I'm not confident we will."

"I suppose."

He was surprised when she ordered a glass of wine.

"Should you be doing that?"

"I'm not going to drink the whole thing. It's just after sitting all day…"

"Yeah, I get it."

"Thank you."

"Hey, you've had two others and what I know about pregnant women you could fit in a thimble."

"You thought I forgot?"

"It occurred to me that you might be tired enough to do something out of habit without thinking of your situation."

She smiled at that.

"Thank you for not saying condition."

"Yeah, I learned my lesson last night."

He followed her gaze in the direction of another couple seated nearby. That couple was obviously together unlike him and Claire. He saw tears form in her eyes before she wiped them away with her fingers.

"It's okay, you know," he said.


"It's okay to be sad and cry and miss him."

"I know the first two are okay, but there are times I miss him and I hate myself for it."

"You loved him. You can't control those feelings or what you're feeling now. If you didn't love him, I doubt you would have stayed."

"Probably not."

He slid a hand over hers, squeezing it lightly. "You have the right to feel what you're feeling, Claire. Seeing things like that would bother anyone in your situation, happily married or not."

"I was just trying to remember the last time I looked at him like that."

"Like what?" he asked.

"You don't see it?" she asked, glancing from him to the couple again.

"See what?"

"They're looking at each other as if they're the only people in the room right now."

"Huh," he said.

"It must be a woman thing."

"Must be," he said.

He wasn't so sure about that, though, and he kind of wished that he had his own room to go back to tonight. The only person he could ever think of that had looked at him close to like that was her. It wasn't the same certainly, but he remembered the fascinated way she watched him the day of their detention. And afterward when they hung out she'd always made him feel as if he was the only thing that mattered to her. To hell with homework, her phone ringing, or anything else.

Tomorrow wouldn't get here soon enough. He obviously needed to get back home and back to his routine.

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