"I wish Grandma would've come with us," Bill said.
"Me, too," Claire said. "She's not a big football fan."
"Then why does she have the tickets?"
Claire laughed at that. It was such a simple question even if the answer wasn't, but probably a very logical question to him.
Her father had had season tickets to the Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls, and Cubs for as long as she could remember. He gave most of them away to clients or friends as gifts. He'd always let Claire and Scott pick out a game each to the Bears games before doing that when they were younger. There were always plenty of games to go to for the other teams so picking games wasn't a problem. During college she and Dan had come down more than once, letting her parents babysit Bill after he'd been born, and took in a game just to get out by themselves for a few hours.
"Grandpa just liked to have them."
"What will happen to them now?"
"Well, I imagine Uncle Scott and I will need to talk about that. We could maybe keep something. I know I can barely afford to pay for even half of one team's season tickets, but I'd be willing to do it if you think you'd enjoy going to the Bulls or Blackhawks games with me. Maybe Scott will keep the others. I don't know. So someone else would get them if we don't renew them. They were already paid for this year, though. And, they're playing the Vikings, too."
Bill wasn't sure what that meant. He'd spent most of his life in New York so wasn't really that familiar with the Bears or who their rivals were. They'd picked a great day to go to a game. It was nice out, warm without being too hot so Justin wouldn't get uncomfortable.
"Now what would you like?" she asked.
Her mom had surprised her by giving her a – very – generous amount of money to be sure that she and the boys had a good time today. She told her to be sure they each came home with a shirt or something.
"A hot dog please."
"Justin? You want a hot dog?"
"Yes," he said.
"Yes, please," she corrected.
She stood in line. Bill was at her side, but she was holding Justin. She didn't trust him to stand still and not wander off. This was a perfect place for him to get lost in and he had a tendency to drift away from her if she wasn't watching every second. Bill hadn't been like that at all at this age. He'd stuck by his mom for dear life in crowds where they seemed to fascinate Justin. She wasn't sure if that was good or bad.
They got to the counter and she ordered their hot dogs and one drink for them to share.
"Okay, Bill, you hold your hot dog and the drink. I'll get Justin's hot dog."
"Aren't you going to get something, Mommy?"
"Maybe later. I don't have enough hands."
"I could help you," a guy behind her said.
"Thank you, but no, really I'm fine."
"Oh come on. You're not going to have any more hands later."
"But you've been standing in line…"
"Yeah, with my friends," he said, gesturing to the group he was apparently with. "One of them can take my beer to my seat for me."
"If you're sure."
"Not at all."
"She ordered a hot dog and a pop for herself, wishing she could order a beer. She wasn't overly fond of beer, but there was something about tap beer at games that always tasted great. She wasn't sure why because she was sure the kegs it came out of were no different than the kegs at bars and anywhere else."
"No, I'm driving,' she said. "With kids I just don't take the chance."
"Is this your first game, big guy?" he asked Bill who was staring at him.
"It is," Claire answered. "Sorry, he's a little shy."
"Hey, no problem. It probably doesn't hurt to be on the shy side in this crowd. Where are your seats?"
"Over here," she said, heading toward the seats her dad had had for years. They were excellent seats right on the fifty yard line. She'd brought more than one friend here during high school who'd been absolutely jealous.
"Wow," he said. "Maybe I should bail on my friends. It looks like you have an extra seat."
"I bet your friends would miss you."
"I doubt they'd blame me," he said.
"Thanks again, really, that was very nice of you," she said once she'd gotten Justin and Bill settled. She grabbed her hot dog and pop from him.
"Anytime. I'm Paul, by the way."
"I'm Claire," she said.
"It's nice to meet you, Claire," he said.
"You, too. It's nice to know chivalry isn't completely dead."
"Glad I could restore your faith in humanity. Or is it just my gender?"
"A little of both?"
"Well, glad I could help."
They were early so the seats around them were still filling up. She'd wanted to be sure to get here in plenty of time. She couldn't remember the last time she'd been here. It'd been with her dad, she knew that much. She'd come to town for some reason without Dan or the boys. They'd come to the game as a family, Scott leaving Joan and their kids behind. It was, she realized, the last thing they'd done as a family. That family. The Standish's.
She glanced around her, certain she was hearing things. It sounded as if it was coming from behind her, so she turned as best as she could in her seat, more than surprised to see John there. Did John even like football? She never would have thought it, but obviously he must have if he was here.
"What are you doing here?"
"Mom thought the boys might like to take in a game since it was supposed to be a nice day."
"It is that."
"Mommy," Bill said.
She turned around again to see what Bill was looking at.
"Is that a player?"
"No, it's one of the coaches, I think," she said. She presumed so anyway since he was wearing a Bears jacket. He could've been an injured player, she supposed.
"Oh," he said, sounding a little disappointed.
She resisted the urge to turn around and say more to John. She was still hurting over what he'd said to her the last time she'd seen him. Talk about kicking her while she was down. Her own fault, she guessed, for thinking trying to kiss him would be a good idea. She could probably blame it on hormones and get away with it because hormones were truly to blame for so much. She certainly had it in her to control her urges. She'd just thought… Well, she wasn't sure what she'd thought. Obviously she'd been wrong. She glanced over her shoulder at him when she saw someone walk toward the seat next to his. It was the only empty seat in his row so they had to be going there.
"Sorry I took so long. The line was already out the door."
"It's all right," John said as the woman sat next to him.
Claire regarded her for a minute before turning her attention back to Justin and Bill. Bill wasn't having any problems eating his hot dog, but Justin was having a bit of a hard time so she took it and broke it into smaller pieces that would be easier for him to grab onto and chew.
She spent part of the game wondering who the woman was. A girlfriend? Did John have girlfriends? She didn't know, he'd never said and she hadn't asked. Whoever she was she was gorgeous. And thin. Claire at almost fifteen weeks was getting to that point she didn't feel thin anymore. She wasn't wearing maternity clothes yet, but she could certainly see the difference in her abdomen when she dressed and undressed every day.
As it turned out she'd told the school's principal when they offered her the job that she was pregnant. She wasn't a liar and withholding that bit of information from them would have been lying no matter how she looked at it. He'd said they'd work with her. If she carried to term, which she had and even been late with both Bill and Justin they were only looking at about two months of a substitute. As John said, teachers had babies, so there were always longer term substitutes available. She remembered in sixth or seventh grade her Social Studies teacher had a stroke and they'd had a substitute for a long time while she recovered.
Claire focused on the game, answering Bill's questions as much as she could. She had her dad's binoculars along which she let Justin use more than Bill since her older son at least had a grasp of what was going on on the field. Justin just wanted to see things.
About midway through the first quarter the seat next to her, which would have been her dad's or Dan's she supposed if he'd been along for a trip like this, was taken. She glanced beside her, ready to tell whoever it was that they had the wrong seat.
"Uh, hi," she said to Paul. He hadn't really bailed on his friends to come sit with them, had he? She supposed some people might do that because the seats were that good, but she hadn't asked him to.
"I was thinking your boys. They are yours, right?"
"Yes, they're mine."
"They're cute, too."
"I was thinking maybe they'd like some peanuts and popcorn. You can't come to a football game and not get them."
"Oh come on. They're kids."
"Well, no I mean, I can buy their…"
"But I already bought them."
"You bought them for them?"
"I did. You said this was their first game. At least I assume if it's the older one's first game it's the younger one's too. Hot dogs are great, but you've got to indulge in all the game-day feasting to truly get the full spectator experience."
She laughed. "I'll pretend I have a clue what you just said. But thank you."
"I can pay you back. I have money," she gestured to her purse.
He waved his hand in the air. "Don't worry about it. I have a nephew about your older one's age who I'd love to take to a game but my sister won't let me. She thinks he's too young and yet here you are by yourself. I have something to tell her when I talk to her next time."
"Oh, don't use me as an example to start an argument with your sister."
She took the peanuts and the popcorn, handing the popcorn to Bill who wouldn't make too big of a mess with it.
"She thinks I'm going to bring him to a game, get drunk, and forget he's even here."
He laughed. "No."
"I still don't think you should use me as an example. I admit this probably wasn't the smartest choice I made."
"You seem to be doing fine. They're having fun. Isn't that the reason for coming?"
"You guys enjoying the game?" he asked.
"Yeah," Bill said. "No touchdowns yet."
"They'll get one soon. Just wait."
"So, what do you do, Claire?"
"I'm a teacher."
"Are you a married teacher?" he glanced at her ring finger. She'd taken her rings off when she'd moved here. Too soon maybe, but she figured a new place to live she didn't want to have to explain or answer a million times where her husband was.
"I'm a widowed school teacher."
"Oh," he said. "I'm sorry. Really. That's rough at your age even without the kids."
She smiled a little. "It's okay. How could you have known?"
"Well, I saw the lines," he said, gesturing to her finger. "It must have been recent. You still have the lines."
"So you thought you'd hit on the newly single mother?"
"Hey, no. I really just figured your boys would like some peanuts and popcorn. And, well, if I could watch the game for a little while from this vantage point I wouldn't complain. I'm sitting in his seat, aren't I? Geez, I'm sorry. You're probably thinking I'm the biggest asshole around."
"No, these were my dad's tickets."
"So, this isn't Mom's first game?"
"Well, I'll go then."
"You can stay if you want."
She'd surprised him, herself, too. She wasn't picking him up. She wasn't going to give him her number or see him again, but she had to admit it was kind of nice to have someone flirt with her. Even if he was using her boys to do it.
"The seat's empty anyway."
"You sure you don't want just one beer?" he asked, flagging the beer vendor down. "I'll buy."
"I'd love one, but I can't. Thanks."
"So, what do you do, Paul?" she asked.
"Yeah, very exciting and difference making. Right up there with teachers and doctors."
She laughed at that.
"Well, someone's got to sell the things we buy."
"See, that's what I say, but man, some people think I'm going to go into my pitch off the clock."
"What do you sell?"
"Well, I'm in no need of medical supplies so it'd be a waste of your time pitching to me."
"Damn, and I had it all set to go, too. I could ask which district you work for and have an in to have them revamp their nurse's offices."
"I swear the nurse's office in the school I work at hasn't changed since I was in school there fifteen years ago."
"You teach at the school you went to?"
"Yeah. I just moved back here and needed a job. I couldn't be entirely too picky with kids."
"I suppose not. Where from?"
"Oh, New York."
"Did you like it there?"
"You like Chicago better?"
"You know, I have to admit I always have."
"Well, then you made the right choice coming back home."
"I came back because my mom and brother are here more than anything."
"Nobody in New York?"
"I don't know how recent you're talking, but I imagine family is more important than friends."
"It's been a few months, and it is. For them especially."
"He sure likes those binoculars."
"I know. I'm glad I thought to bring them. My brother and I haven't used them in years, but I remember loving to look at everything through them when I was little."
"Everything but the game, you mean?"
"Well, yeah, you can spy on people," she said with a laugh.
"And they have no idea."
"Exactly! See, you get it."
"Hopefully he's not quite that diabolical yet."
She kissed the back of Justin's head. He'd switched back and forth to his seat in between her and Bill and her lap. Currently her lap was the seat of choice.
The game was pretty boring at first. Paul had been right, touchdowns were scored. They just weren't scored by the Bears. Claire couldn't remember seeing such a lopsided game as the 42-14 result they had at the end of the game.
"Well, thanks for letting me mooch your empty seat off of you."
"I bet you wish you hadn't now."
"Nah. Still the best seats I've seen a game from."
"Thanks again for the food and everything. It was very nice of you."
"Sure. Thanks for the conversation."
"Yes, because everyone comes to football games for conversation."
"If they met women like you they probably would."
She blushed. She couldn't help it as she settled Bill in front of her and Justin in her arms so they could make their way out with the crowd. So many had left early once it was clear it was going to end up being a blowout so it wasn't as bad as some games she'd been to.
"I suppose you have the good parking to go with the good seats," he said once they made it to an exit.
"Probably good with the little guy. I'm sure he gets heavy."
"He does, but if I set him down he'd be gone before I could blink."
"One of those, eh?"
"Yes, he knows no fear."
"Well, listen," he said, pulling out his wallet. "I swore I wasn't going to do this and look like I'm desperate on top of being a complete weirdo, but I know you said it'd only been a few months. I'm not quite that skeezy as to ask you out knowing you just lost your husband. So, if you decide maybe sometime you'd like to meet for a drink or dinner you can give me a call."
"Paul," she said.
"Hey, no pressure. I don't know your last name or anything so I can't hunt you down. You're attractive, smart, a good mom, and know football. I'd be stupid to not at least try."
She took his card.
"You really sell medical supplies?"
"You thought I was kidding?"
"I guess I thought you were."
"Wow. I had no idea I came across like that."
"It's probably me."
"Okay. Well. You know, maybe sometime I'll hear from you. I could come to you if you're crunched for time with a sitter and all."
"That's a thanks, but I'm going to throw your card away as soon as you've turned around and left, isn't it?"
"It's a simple thanks. It's been a while since someone's given me their number."
"I imagine it has. He looks to be maybe eight and you can't be thirty yet."
"He'll be eight in April. I shouldn't, though."
"Well, keep it, when you get to a point where you think you should maybe you'll use it."
She slid it into the front pocket of her purse.
He offered Bill his hand who took it, shaking it properly.
"That's some grip. That's a good handshake there, Sport. Hopefully, the next time you come to a game the Bears will win for you. You had fun, though?"
"Yeah, it was all right."
He let go of Bill's hand and took Justin's. He hadn't quite perfected shaking hands yet and didn't know what to do with it.
"Nice to meet you, too, little guy."
"You drive safe."
"I'll be fine."
"Oh, I know you'll be fine, but don't forget you're one of few who didn't drink here today."
"Oh, right," she said.
He surprised the hell out of her by leaning in and giving her a kiss on her cheek.
"What was that for?"
"Pretty women deserve more than handshakes. It was nice to meet you all."
"Who was he, Mommy?"
"Just someone nice," she said.
"Oh," Bill said.
"Let's go find our car."
"John, I need your keys."
"I can drive."
"I know you can drive. I know you're capable of driving, but I've never seen you drink that much."
"It was only a couple of beers."
"Okay, pretend for a minute you get behind the wheel and drive out of the parking lot. Do you not realize there are cops everywhere, waiting to pull over the guys who think they only had a couple of beers. You get a DWI you can't work."
"I could take a bus."
"You're not fine. I understand if you don't want me to drive your car."
"I'm not riding with you if you're driving."
"You're going to what? Take a cab home?"
"If that's what I need to do. Maybe you want to get into a wreck, but I sure don't."
He reached into the pocket of his jeans and found his keys, drawing them out before tossing them to her.
"Fine. You win. Drive then."
She opened his door, using the automatic lock switch to unlock his door so he could get in. Christ was that probably the worst three hours of his life in a real long time. Forget the Bears getting their asses handed to them on a platter.
"What is your deal anyway?"
"There is no deal. I drank some beer."
"And didn't eat anything."
"I wasn't hungry."
She sighed, starting the car, and pulling out of the space. They'd gotten there early enough that he was able to back into the spot without holding anyone up, making getting out a breeze compared to having to back out now into all of the traffic of everyone leaving from the game. They'd parked in a garage and taken a shuttle to Soldier Field, but hundreds did the same thing so the garage was packed. The only good thing was that there was no Cubs or White Sox games going on today since the season had been cut short due to the strike. He'd been down here before when both football and baseball games were going on and it was complete hell.
Actually, hell probably would have been easier to maneuver through.
What were the odds?
He didn't even know she went to football games. She certainly hadn't seemed the type in high school. Then he supposed when they met in March the season was already done so he wouldn't have reason to find out.
The tickets weren't even his, the seats belonged to the real estate company Amanda worked for. She'd asked him a while ago if he'd be interested in going. The company had six seats, so four other people sat with them that John didn't know. He, of course, ended up with the seat being closest to her and her kids. And whoever she'd been there with.
She'd barely been here a month and she was bringing someone to a football game already? Her oldest boy seemed to really enjoy the game. The guy had come out of nowhere, too. He'd assumed by the vacant seat that it was just the three of them. Then he showed up with snacks for the kids, though Claire had had some popcorn and peanuts, too, he'd noticed. Were the seats hers or his? Where'd she come by them if they were hers? Her dad? Her brother?
He tried to listen to parts of their conversation, but it was just too loud for that to work. They didn't look like they were seriously involved or anything. Then, neither did he and Amanda to the casual observer because he just wasn't much into public displays. He always felt as though the people who couldn't keep their hands off of one another in public felt as though they had to prove, to themselves more than anyone else, that they were having sex.
He'd ordered a couple of beers John had noticed. He saw Claire shake her head both times, so he had to imagine the guy was asking her if she wanted one. So, he evidently didn't know what John knew. Poor guy was going to be in for quite a surprise when he found out there was going to be a third Abbott not long from now.
"Are you hungry?"
"No," he said shortly.
He closed his eyes, letting his head rest against the seatback.
"Do you like kids?" he asked.
"Kids. You know, little people. Do you like them?"
"I guess. As long as they're someone else's."
He snorted at that. That would have been his response a few months ago, too. He hadn't spent any time with her kids, but he'd observed them at the funeral, the gathering afterward, and at the game today. They were good kids. Cute, too. The youngest one was a little squirmy, shifting from the seat he should've been sitting on and his mom's lap. He supposed that was to be expected from someone that young, though. At the funeral they'd been very well behaved. He supposed she'd expect no less from her kids. All those rules and things she'd been taught growing up would be second nature to her even if she wasn't living the hoity-toity life she'd probably expected to have.
"You want kids?"
"No," he said simply.
"No," he said.
"You just said as long as they were someone else's, I assume you don't either."
"Well, not now. I mean some day. I'm only twenty-five."
He turned his head a little, regarding her. He couldn't even imagine her with kids. He just couldn't. Honestly, he couldn't imagine her having sex either. It was part of the reason he supposed he'd still been hesitant to take things very far. He just couldn't picture her allowing herself to get that…messy. Sex, if done right anyway he always thought, should end with both parties looking disheveled. Kids had that same effect on people.
"Were you watching the woman in front of us?" she asked.
"The woman in front of us with the kids? They were too young to be there, I thought."
"Why?" he asked.
"The one couldn't sit still."
"He didn't do anything wrong," he said defensively.
"He was too young."
"He moved from his seat to his mom's lap. He probably wanted to see better. Who could blame him?"
"I didn't realize there was an age limit on games."
"There should be, though, huh?"
He turned his head again, looking out the window. Her kids had had fun, even he with his complete lack of knowledge on the subject could tell that. They'd eaten hot dogs, drank pop, and gotten to have some popcorn and peanuts. She'd bought each of them programs and shirts at half-time he'd noticed. Or the guy had. He had no way of knowing who'd done what.
"So, what you have kids and you're not going to take them anywhere?"
"Well, not to a football game where other people will be bothered."
"Who was bothered? I didn't hear one person tell the kid to sit still or anything. You could barely see him anyway."
"What is your problem?"
"I'm kind of wondering what yours is. I don't want kids, but I don't dislike them. You say you want them, but you sure don't seem to understand them."
"And you do?"
"Kids wiggle around. They're not going to sit still for three hours. He wasn't loud or obnoxious. He didn't cry, complain, or fuss. He wasn't hitting people. He wasn't throwing things. He did knock over one guy's beer. Oh, wait, that was the grown man in our row who did that. He didn't turn around in his seat and stare at other people. I didn't see him or the other one kick the seat in front of them or anything."
"I just don't think it's appropriate."
"Yeah, well, trust me I had a dad who wasn't afraid to show me when I got out of line. There was nothing that kid did today that would've gotten under his skin."
"There's alcohol and swearing and it's just not appropriate."
"There's not alcohol or swearing anywhere else? You can't keep them in a bubble."
"I think you've had too much to drink and just want to argue about something ridiculous."
"Just wake me up when we get to my place," he said finally.
She hadn't really been dressed for a date. She didn't look like a slob or anything, but she wore jeans and a sweatshirt. Her hair and makeup were nice as they always were. No nail polish, though, he'd noticed when she was helping her youngest open a peanut. He'd seemed so amazed that he could eat what came out of the shell. She'd even let him lick the shell inside and out. John hadn't been able to resist chuckling at that because while he hadn't done it in a while he could remember how good that used to taste to him. It was probably terrible, germs and whatever else, but then most things were probably bad for you anymore.
He got out when she woke him up at his place, entering the code on his gate so she could drive through the gate.
"Are you going to be all right?" she asked.
"You want me to come in and make you something to eat?"
"Good night, Amanda. Thanks for the game."
"Sure. Maybe tomorrow when you've sobered up you can explain to me where this mood came from."
"Maybe I'm just a moody guy."
He'd thought of that a few times over the course of the past month when he'd been short with her. Maybe he had more of his dad in him than he'd wanted. It was the only explanation he wanted to consider because no way in hell was he throwing away a pretty good thing on the mere idea of something that he had no idea would even work. It wasn't even something. That was the completely baffling thing about it. She'd asked him for a favor. She'd kissed him. She hadn't called him since or anything and she was at a football game with someone else today so clearly she wasn't at her mom's house pining away for what could have been between them ten years ago if she'd told cheating-Dan to fuck off instead of agreeing to marry him.
Evidently she didn't know what to say to that so she walked to her car. Like everything about her it was pristine. She washed it at least twice a week. She said everything got factored into whether she was going to close a deal or not. He couldn't quite fathom someone walking away from a deal because her car was dirty, but she was pretty good at her job so she obviously knew what worked for her.
He opened her door for her, closing it once she got in, and then walked to the gate so he could let her out. He wondered why she'd never asked him why he didn't give her the code. He could let her in and out from inside the house, but this wasn't the first time they'd ridden in his car together and she'd had to leave afterward so he had to walk to the gate to let her out. Maybe she didn't care. Maybe she didn't want it.
Lots of maybes and John wasn't really sure what exactly the questions were.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com