***Chapter Five***
Word Count: 2,007

September 1994

"What's wrong?"

"Huh?" he asked.

"You haven't eaten anything and you haven't said much since I got here."

"Nothing. I'm fine. Sorry. Just tired I guess."

"You're sure?"

"Yes. It has just been a long, exhausting weekend."

"You certainly can't blame me for exhausting you."

"What?" he asked with a frown.

She laughed. "Never mind. You must be tired."

"No, I'm fine."

"You said that already."

"I guess I did."

He took a sip of his wine. God he hated wine with a passion. She kept insisting she'd find one that he liked. She hadn't succeeded so far and he wasn't counting on it happening. Just like some people didn't care for the taste of beer, John was pretty convinced he just didn't care for the taste of wine. It seemed to make her happy that he was willing to keep trying so he kept trying and hating the stuff.

"It was just a long weekend. Maybe I did too much, trying to get as much done with the extra day off I had today."

"I understand. I was surprised you called me, honestly."

"Why?" he asked.

"When I left Friday night I didn't think I'd see you again until next weekend."

"I said I'd call if I had time."

She smiled a little. "I know. I assumed you wouldn't."

"Oh," he said.

"Is everything all right with your friend?"

"Claire," he said, a little more abruptly than he meant to.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean anything by it. I don't know her and you haven't said anything about her since you got back, but okay Claire. Is she okay?"

"Yeah," he said with a shrug. "She's fine I guess."

"You haven't seen her?"

"No," he said. "Not since she dropped me off here. I would've told you if I had."

"I'm not sure you mentioned she brought you here. Did she like the house?"

She'd loved it. He knew she would, which was one of the reasons he insisted she come in and see it. Sure he'd wanted to show off a bit. Who wouldn't if they'd been in his shoes? He knew for whatever reason that the turret would be her undoing. He could, in fact, picture her sitting there on a comfortable chair, a blanket around her in the winter, and a book in her hands. Maybe it was a children's book of some kind because he doubted between being a mom and a teacher she had much time for reading books that interested her.

"Yeah, she didn't say much."

She hadn't had to say much. He knew she'd loved it, and she'd loved it for the same reasons he loved it. It was old and cool with so much potential. It was like a blank canvas. He could do whatever he wanted to with it. Sure, being on the lake helped, but it was a big old house obviously with some history. What wasn't to love? He watched her as he showed her around and he could almost see her mind processing the potential each room had just the same as he did when he walked into one each and every time since buying the place.

"Okay. Has she found a job?"

"I don't know. I just said I haven't talked to her."

"You said you haven't seen her. I guess I assumed you'd talk to her."

'Why?" he asked.

"Well, she's your friend. She just lost her husband and her father. I just presumed you'd check on her."

"She's living with her mom and has her brother around. She's fine. I'm sure. Why would I need to check on her?"

He'd picked up the phone more than a few of times over the past couple of weeks. The first time it was to apologize. He actually never picked up the phone that time. The second time it was to explain things to her, to tell her why as flattered as he was that she wanted to kiss him he couldn't kiss her back. Only he had. For a second or two there he'd been a very willing participant. He'd hung up without dialing even one number. There was no way that explanation was going to fly. She'd hate him and he didn't want that. He wanted to know if she needed something again she'd call even if it was ten years from now.

"Okay, so it's not your friend."

"No, it's not her. It's not anything. I'm fine. I'm just tired."

"And I'm making you eat chicken and drink wine when you'd probably rather have a burger and beer."

Yes. He couldn't say that, though.

"No, it's fine. You cooked. It's great. I appreciate it. That's not why I invited you over here, though."

She smiled a little, settling her hand over his.

"Oh? I kind of like the sound of that."

Jesus. He hadn't invited her over for that either. Not that he wasn't attracted to her. He was. God, she was gorgeous. He still couldn't quite believe she'd accepted his initial invitation of a drink. He knew she'd been interested in him, but being interested and going out with him were not always the same thing. He hadn't quite gotten to the point of being able to close the deal with her yet. Not for lack of interest on either of their parts.

He just couldn't help but think in the back of his head that if things went wrong, as things in his life always seemed to do, that he could be screwing himself out of a lot of work by, well, screwing her. So, he'd kept things pretty casual for now. He figured that was the way to go, let something build into whatever it was going to become. A far cry from when he used to carry a packet of protection in his wallet and keep a couple of spare in his car just in case that one wasn't enough. He was pretty sure the past nine months was the longest he'd ever gone without having to use one in about twelve or thirteen years.

He chuckled softly. "I just thought you'd want to hang out for a while. We haven't since last weekend."

"Because you were busy."

Working on his house. She hadn't once in the two hours she'd been here asked him what he'd done or asked to see what he'd done. That irritated him somewhat. She was the one who'd thought of him when she'd seen the house was going to be listed.

He slid his fingers through hers, sliding his thumb along hers a bit. Her nails were, as always, flawless. It was part of who she was. He wasn't sure he'd ever seen her look anything but perfect. Not a hair out of place or a nail chipped. Her clothes were always immaculate, impeccable even down to her shoes. No scuffs, always polished. Even coming over here today on a holiday she was. Sure, the clothes were casual, but the hair, makeup, and nails were still the same as any other day.

"Let's get out of here," he said.

"What?"

"Go see a movie or go to a bar. There's got to be one around here that has a band playing."

"You want to go out?"

"Yeah," he said. "Or get in my car and just drive, see where we end up."

"I have to work in the morning."

"So do I."

"Yes, butů"

"Yeah, I know. It takes you longer to get ready in the morning."

"We don't have to go out. We could stay here and watch a movie or something. Isn't there a football game on tonight?"

"You'd rather watch football then go see a movie?"

"You like watching football."

"I like going to movies, too."

"John, now you're just being difficult. I have to be on the Southside tomorrow morning. I told you that."

"I'm not being difficult. Why is it all right for you to drive all the way out here when you have to work in the morning, but not go anywhere?"

"I'm not dressed to go anywhere."

"You're dressed just fine."

"Sure, for being at your house."

He sighed softly. "Football is fine. It's the 49ers and the Raiders, it should be a good game."

"See," she said. "You knew which teams were playing, so obviously you wanted to watch it."

"Well, sure, before you called and we decided to have dinner I assumed I'd have nothing else to do with my night."

"Is there something wrong with my being willing to watch football with you?"

"No, it's great," he said.

He stood from the table, taking her plate and his to the sink. He set them in there, rinsing them off before returning for their glasses. Hers was empty. His was still half full. She wouldn't drink from his glass he knew, which he didn't understand. She kissed him so why couldn't she do that? Baffling things, but then women were baffling.

"I'll be right back," he said.

"Okay. I'll be in the other room."

"Sure," he said.

He went to his room and closed the door. He went to his nightstand and picked up the phone, dialing the number. Ten years and he still knew it because hers was the only number he'd ever called in his life with any frequency. He got to the last number this time before hanging up. He had no idea if she even had the same phone number. It had been her own line in high school, chances were her parents' had disconnected it once she was gone.

He absolutely had no business calling her to ask her the ridiculous question he was about to ask her. He was a complete and utter moron is what he was. He slid his hand along the receiver for a second before letting go of it completely and heading to his bathroom.

He returned to the living room where Amanda was on the couch waiting for him. She had the game on already, a beer out for him, and everything. She eyed him a little curiously as he sat next to her. He grabbed the beer, popping it open before taking a sip. So much better than wine. He rested the can against his knee, sliding an arm around her to draw her toward him.

"Sorry," he said. "And thank you," he said, lifting the beer slightly.

"You're welcome. What are you sorry about?"

"I'm just not in a real great mood today."

"I could tell. Is everything all right?"

He chuckled. "It seems to me that question is what led to me just now apologizing. I'm all right. Let's just leave it at that for now."

"Okay."

She leaned in a bit and kissed him. He kissed her back. They kissed one another real well. Even more, he liked kissing her. He was pretty sure she felt the same way. If he pushed, initiated, or suggested he was pretty sure, too, that she'd join him in his room. His reasons for not pushing, initiating, or suggesting were sound ones. Things always seemed to get fucked up when he least expected it. He had a good job that allowed him to be able to afford to live in this house. His was a somewhat specialized field. He wasn't going to leave it and go find another one down the street. It wasn't that simple. Not to mention he'd been with the same company for ten years and had gotten pretty high up on the seniority chain by now to want to leave and start over from the bottom rung again. He couldn't jeopardize that for sex until he was sure there was something between them worth jeopardizing it for. And he just didn't know yet if there was. Physical attraction was great no denying that. He had it for her in spades and thought she felt the same. He just had these moments, like tonight, where he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to be here with her.

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