"Hello," he said, trying to sound more awake than he was. He'd made himself a sandwich after Amanda left and sat down on the couch to watch some TV. He had no interest in watching the Bears game highlights on the news because, well, there weren't any highlights, so he bypassed the news and eventually found a movie he'd seen already but it was better than staring at nothing. He hadn't watched much TV before dozing off anyway. He had finished his sandwich at least, though.
'Hi, it's Claire.'
He debated for a minute about hanging up. She was the last person he needed to be talking to right now. Except she hadn't called him since she moved here, so that might mean she needed something.
"Hi," he replied.
'Can you talk?'
"Yes, I'm perfectly capable of doing that."
She sighed into the phone, clearly not in the mood for his smart assed comments tonight. 'I meant are you alone?'
"Yes," he said after another moment's pause. If he'd said no, maybe she would've hung up and saved whatever this conversation was about for another day.
'Kissing you. I shouldn't have. I had no idea you were involved with someone.'
"You didn't ask."
'Because I had no reason to think you'd have a girlfriend.'
He grumbled at that.
"Nothing, I'll pretend that what you just said isn't remotely insulting in some way. What is it you need, Claire?"
'I wasn't trying to be insulting. You said you didn't believe in that!'
"Yeah, ten years ago. I bet from where you sit today you're probably rethinking things. Yeah? At least I know my limitations as far as commitments go. I didn't marry someone and then cheat on them for years while they took care of my kids and had to come face to face with people I had sex with."
'I'm not trying to argue with you, John. I know you don't mean to say things that hurt me.'
He sighed softly. Well, put like that, no. It just seemed to be a defense mechanism for him where she was concerned. Better to piss her off than have her reject him for something boring and mundane like she just didn't like him in that way.
'I…she is the reason you didn't want to kiss me, right?'
"Uh, yeah," he said. Not wanting to wasn't exactly the right phrase. He'd wanted to, very badly. It'd just been wrong.
'Well, I just wanted to say I'm sorry. I should've asked I guess somewhere on the trip about more than your job.'
"You had your mind on other things. I'm not upset about it or anything."
'She's very pretty.'
"She is," he agreed. She was. He wasn't going to dispute the obvious. She was one of those people that drew attention wherever they went. On top of being gorgeous she had one of those … bubbly personalities. Put her in a room to mix and mingle with people and by the end of the night she'd be able to tell you something about each and every person in the room. John was lucky to talk to maybe a handful of people in situations like that without exceeding his limit for being nice to people.
'What's her name?'
'How did you meet?'
He pinched his nose, staring at the ceiling for a minute. Really? He couldn't believe he was even contemplating going down the road where this conversation was headed with her. This was absolutely, positively the most absurd conversation to be having with her of all people right now. And probably pretty dangerous, too, considering he wasn't completely sober.
"She's a realtor."
'Oh,' she said.
'That's why you didn't want to give me your realtor's name.'
"Well, I hadn't told you about her and I wasn't sure how she'd react if you just called her up."
'Well, she likes to make money I assume.'
"Sure. Is that why you called? You need her number? I mean if you really need it I'll give it to you. She tends to deal in pricier stuff, but I'm sure she'd help you out as a favor to me. It might be best if you don't tell her we kissed." Or that I slept with you.
'No, I don't need her number. I've decided to stay with Mom for a while.'
'Yeah. The boys seem to like it here, and in a few months I'm really going to need the help.'
"She's doing okay with your youngest so far?"
'Yes. She seems to have fun with him when I'm at school. A second one, that one being in diapers may be a challenge.'
"Well, she's what? Fifty-five or so? She's not decrepit. Maybe it'll help her, you know, a connection to your dad that you can both kind of share."
'Yeah, his last grandchild.'
'Scott and Joan are done.'
"Well, anything can happen, sweetheart. Look at you, you said your younger one, I'm sorry I forgot his name."
"That's right. You said he was going to be the last one."
'Dan didn't get a vasectomy.'
"He probably should've," he said with way more emotion than he probably should've displayed on this topic.
'Actually, no, I think I was better off without that being a part of the mix. It may have gotten tempting for him to…'
"Not use protection?"
'Yes," she said and he could tell that was a real hard thing for her to admit to. Even over the phone, even only talking to her about two days' worth of time in ten years he knew it tore her up to admit that to anyone. Maybe most of all him. Yet she'd told him over anyone else.
"I'll say it again. He was a jerk. You don't do that to someone you supposedly love."
'I just wanted to apologize.'
"Nothing to apologize for."
'Did you know her before she sold you the house?'
"Yeah, we met about a year ago on some sites. You know, condos that she was looking to fill and stuff that I was working on. One thing led to another."
'Well, after seeing her I certainly can't blame you for not wanting to kiss me. So, I really am sorry I put you in that position.'
"You think I didn't want to?"
'Well, clearly, and like I said after seeing her I can't blame you. She's perfect.'
He exhaled sharply. "I did kiss you back for a minute there. You do realize that, right? Or were you so mad at me the past month that you forgot that part of what happened? And I am such a fucking idiot."
"Because I think it would probably be better for both of us if you're under the impression I don't want to kiss you that it stay that way."
"Because I'm involved with someone and it would seem you are, too."
She laughed softly at that. 'Is that what you think?'
"Well, you seemed to be having a good time with him."
'He was just a guy. He helped me carry my hot dog and pop to our seats because my hands were full. I wasn't going to get anything, but he said he'd help me. He came back with snacks for the boys. He was nice. The seat was empty.'
"Oh. Well, he sure was talking to you."
'He was being nice. He was there with his friends and I'm sure was just feeling sorry for the mom by herself with two boys.'
"He was flirting with you."
'How would you know?'
"I have eyes!"
'John, he was just being nice.'
"Sweetheart, I have never blown off my friends for almost three hours for a woman just to be nice. Ever."
'They didn't have an empty fifty-yard line seat you could sit in.'
"He was still into you."
'You really think I'd take my kids on a date with someone I've known for a month right after my husband died? I mean, never mind that's rude to Dan. I wouldn't do that to my kids.'
"Well, put like that…" That did seem a little crazy. "I suppose you wouldn't do that."
'He was just a nice guy. I won't lie and say he didn't ask me out.'
"I'm sure he did. He's clearly not a stupid guy."
'He sells medical supplies.'
"How nice for him."
'It's a respectable job.'
"So is working at a carnival."
'Why did you sleep with me?'
"I was wondering when you were going to ask me that."
"If I'd known about your husband I wouldn't have. I didn't know, though. You needed that apparently so I don't know maybe I still would've even if I had known what kind of guy he was. I had no problem giving that to you. I knew I wasn't going to have sex with you. Did I tell Amanda? No, and I have no intention of telling her that happened. Her understanding I helped you move is one thing, I'm not entirely sure she'd understand that."
'Does she know we've kissed?'
"In high school you mean? No, I never told her anything beyond our being friends."
"At the time I didn't think it was important and God it was ten years ago. It seemed silly to mention something like that."
'I bet you did now.'
'Maybe she would've told you not to go out there.'
"I would've anyway, sweetheart. Don't you know that by now?"
'I guess that's the reason I called you tonight.'
'I've never really been mad at you before. I mean, I left for school I think you always knew you could call me if you wanted to. I hope you knew that anyway.'
"I thought about it."
'Why didn't you?'
"You were already involved."
'Oh,' she said with a sigh.
"So, you turned away from me before I could actually talk to you today. You used your son as an excuse, too. I'm not stupid, I know you didn't want to talk to me," he said. "Have you found a job?"
'I'm at Shermer Junior High.'
"Well, at least it's close to your mom's house."
'Yeah, and it seems decent so far. I told the principal I was pregnant when he hired me. I waited until then, you know, not at the interviewing process but I couldn't not tell him.'
"I understand. He was okay with it, I assume? He had to be chomping at the bit to have you as a teacher."
'Yeah, I guess. He seemed glad I was interested in teaching there.'
"Good. And the kids. They're settling in?"
"How's Bill adapting to a new school?"
'So far so good. He's the only new student in his class, though.'
"Well, that could be good. You know, people may be interested in the new kid from New York."
"At least you're not there with him that has to make him feel better."
'He hasn't said, but I imagine he likes it this way.'
"Glad to hear everything's falling into place for all of you. Are you feeling all right?"
'Well, other than realizing next to your girlfriend that I'm as big as a house already,' she sighed softly.
"Oh shut up. You look fine. You had a guy hitting on you today, obviously you look fine to more than just me. I bet that guy didn't even have a clue you were pregnant. I'd also bet it wouldn't have stopped him if you'd told him. And you're what, over three months along now?"
"Are you going to go out with him?"
'No,' she said.
'Because I have no desire to really. He seemed nice, but I don't know.'
"It may not be a bad idea."
"Well, I don't know. Maybe, you know, go out with someone a time or two you're not really interested in just to get over that hurdle of a first date."
'I don't want to date. I'm pregnant!'
"Being pregnant doesn't mean you're dead. That's my point! Have dinner with someone just to have dinner with them. That's not a crime. It would be a terrible thing to have the love you're obviously capable of giving other people to be wasted solely on your kids."
'I don't know. If you hadn't been seeing Amanda that night?'
"Jesus, really? I have to answer that?"
'You don't have to,' she said.
"You wouldn't have left mad," he said.
She laughed at that. 'I didn't want to have sex so when I left you may have been mad.'
"I doubt that. What did you want from me?"
'I'm not sure that I know.'
"Do me a favor?"
"When you know the answer to that let me know."
'John,' she said.
He sighed softly. "I'm not going to cheat on her, don't worry. I'm not particularly happy either, though."
"I don't know."
"Okay, just say, it's a holiday weekend. We have an extra day to do something. Anything. You drive out here from the city, knowing you have to drive back downtown later that night and be up at the ass crack of dawn because it takes you ten years to get ready in the morning."
"It's not funny."
'Sorry. Go on.'
"Okay. So this is us I'm talking about right now. Hypothetically, right? We have this extra day. I ask you to go see a movie, go find a bar with some live music, or even just go for a drive. What would you choose?"
'I, uh, well, I have kids so I'd probably choose the drive.'
"Pretend the kids are accounted for somehow. Mom, brother, a babysitter, tied up with duct tape."
'You know that's illegal, right?' She'd laughed, though, so she wasn't mad or taking him seriously.
"No, really? Damn."
'Okay, so presuming they were accounted for? Well, I guess it would depend on my mood. I had to be up early the next day? So the live band may be kind of out, but there's nothing saying we'd have to sit and listen to them all night.'
"Yes, see, there."
'I take it she didn't choose the live band?'
"She chose to stay here and watch football."
'And you're complaining about this?'
"I know, I know. Men would beat me over the head if they heard me saying that was a bad thing. It wasn't a game I gave a shit about. I asked her to do something and she'd rather sit around here because she wasn't dressed to go anywhere."
'Maybe she likes your house.'
"That's the other thing."
'Your house? She doesn't like it? Is she nuts?'
"No, she does. I mean, I assume she does. She never asks to see anything I've worked on and hardly ever asks what I did. I mean I'm living here because she thought I'd like it. Why exactly, I'm not sure. It's a great house, but why she saw it and thought 'John would like this' I have no idea. It's certainly a hell of a lot bigger than I had in mind when I thought of being a homeowner."
'Oh,' she said.
"I mean, I ask her about her day."
He sighed softly. "I have no business talking to you about this."
"Because a month ago I really wanted not to be seeing her that night at my house."
'Well, I'm glad to hear that, that makes me feel good at a time I don't feel so good most days.'
"You don't wear nail polish anymore."
'I do sometimes,' she said.
"You weren't today."
'No, I'll actually put some color on before I go to bed so they can dry without smudging. I don't do them more than once a week, once they start chipping or something I remove it and just redo it again Sunday. Well, I can try to get them to dry without smudging. My luck Justin will need something two minutes after I finish.'
He chuckled softly. "Why only once a week? You always liked doing your nails funky colors."
'Well, the fumes from the chemicals may not be the greatest to inhale when pregnant.'
"Oh, yeah, I guess I hadn't thought of that."
'Are you all right?'
"I'm okay. I just think I'm a little crazy."
"You know I haven't more than kissed her."
"I'm not sure. I mean, when we started actually dating beyond just meeting once in a while for a drink when we were both free I was busy moving in here. She's busy with her job, I am, too. Our paths cross you know. I worry I guess if something goes wrong or things end badly and there's sex involved she could make my job difficult."
'Oh. How old is she?'
'Does she want to have sex with you?'
"I don't know. She seems to, and she probably thinks I'm weird or gay for brushing her off all of the time."
'But you're not sure?'
"I don't know. She's beautiful, like you say, but she won't go anywhere or do anything without looking that way. I'm pretty sure she doesn't even go down to get her paper in the morning without her hair and makeup done."
'Oh,' she said.
"So, I can't help but think… I don't know. Is she going to what? Get up and go to the bathroom right away because I smudged her eyeliner and lipstick."
"Laugh at my predicament."
'No, it's just funny to hear you talk like that. There was a time you wouldn't worry about what she did afterward.'
"Well, yeah, I mean if she wasn't someone I was ever going to see again I wouldn't care what happened afterward."
'I don't know what to tell you.'
"I know," he said with a sigh. "She didn't like you had your boys with you."
"I probably shouldn't have said that, huh?"
'How did my kids get brought into it?'
"I don't know. I was watching them and you with them. I assumed the guy was with you, but if it was a date I didn't think he'd be hands on anyway so I didn't pay attention to him beyond he bought them some things."
"And you say he wasn't interested in you."
'I asked him that.'
'If he was using my kids to get to me.'
He chuckled. "It's not the stupidest thing to do."
'So, my kids got brought into your conversation how?'
"I was crabby."
"Watching some guy flirt with you for three hours pissed the hell out of me. I drank too much."
'Do you realize how stupid you sound right now? You have a girlfriend while I was at the game with my kids.'
"If I had a crystal ball, sweetheart, and knew seven months ago you'd be here…"
'Yeah, all right.'
"I asked her if she wanted them. I don't know. It bothered me that you'd do that, let some guy be involved with them so quickly. I mean I don't know shit about them beyond what I've seen around so don't get me wrong I'm not judging."
'I swear he was just a nice guy who wanted to watch the game from that seat. When he thought it was Dan's he offered to leave immediately.'
"Points for that, I guess."
'I won't deny it was nice, but that was all.'
"I believe you. But they were good. They had fun, enjoyed the game, they clapped and cheered when other people were, but they weren't crazy. I've seen kids who can't sit still. I thought it was neat you did that and that your mom suggested it. You deserve to do some fun things, too."
'Justin was a little wiggly.'
"Yeah, but not in a bad way. He moved from his seat to your lap. He wasn't in other people's faces or in the way. He was being a three-year-old."
"It just made me think about kids and whether she'd want them."
'You want to have kids with her? You'd kind of need to decide to have sex with her in order for that to happen.'
"Very funny. Thank you for that. It's been longer for me than for you, but not that long."
She laughed at that.
"What's so funny?"
'And the world hasn't stopped spinning.'
'That I've had sex more recently than you have.'
"Oh, yeah, well, I kind of like to think that maybe it was osmosis or something."
"Because it really irritates me you'd let him…Touch you."
'He was my husband.'
'So you want kids? Does she?'
"She said eventually, but she thought yours were too young to be there which made no sense to me. They were having fun. I've seen people bring babies to games. It wasn't like it was below freezing. It was a nice day, a perfect day, to bring kids to a football game."
'That's what Mom thought.'
"I liked her," he admitted.
"Your mom. I never really saw her or talked to her in high school, but that day at your house she was very nice to me. If she hasn't told you, she's glad to have you living there."
'How do you know that?'
"She told me! She told me she was glad you came back home."
'Oh. Well, I'm glad. She's been fine. We haven't argued or anything.'
She got quiet then.
'I should go, I guess,' she said a few minutes later. 'I have work tomorrow, and so do you I imagine.'
'And while it doesn't take me ten days to get ready, I do have two kids to ensure have breakfast and stuff so my day does start early.'
He chuckled. "It was years not days, but okay then. Thank you."
'Did it help?'
"Because anyone in their right mind would tell me that I'm nuts for not being ecstatic to be in a relationship with her."
'You can't help how you feel, John. She's beautiful, but if that's all you have that's not really a reason to base stuff on. You're talking kids.'
"No, I'm not talking kids."
'You say that, but you asked her.'
"What time do you get home?"
'Around four o'clock. Bill takes the bus home.'
"Oh right, good old Shermer District Bus Line."
"You busy tomorrow night?"
"Want to come watch football?"
'John, I have the boys.'
"Bring them. We'll order pizza or something."
'I don't know if that's a good idea.'
'After this conversation.'
"It's the first time you've talked to me in a month, I wasn't even sure how to get a hold of you. So sue me for thinking it'd be nice to hang out with you."
'Let me think about it, okay. I really, really don't want to be that woman.'
"She was surprised I hadn't talked to you since you've moved here."
'You talked about my kids and me?'
"We talk about things. She asked about you, you know. She's not an emotionless person, your situation would be upsetting to most anyone with a heart."
'I don't know, but I can give you my phone number.'
"Okay," he said.
'Do you have email?'
"Yes," he said.
'I'll give you that, too, sometimes it's easier for me to check that than talk on the phone. I can read it and answer when all is quiet. Trust me I don't always know when that will happen.'
Something told him that wasn't going to be improving anytime soon. "Okay," he said. "One second, let me grab a pen." He sat up from the couch and walked to the kitchen, grabbing the pen and scratch paper he kept next to his fridge. "Go ahead," he said, jotting down her information.
'I'll let you know tomorrow when I get home, but I'm going to say the answer is probably going to be no.'
'Thank you, but if I change my mind.'
"I'll be here."
'Are you going to be all right?'
"Sure. I just either need to tell her why I've been a dick around her the past month or so or bite the bullet and move things forward."
'Well, I wish I could give you an answer.'
"This is something I need to answer on my own. Have a good night. I'm glad you called. I hated you didn't want to talk to me today. I really, honestly, your being pregnant didn't enter into the equation that night."
"No. Many things bother me about you being pregnant, but finding you attractive and wanting to kiss you back were not among those things."
'But you said…'
"Yeah, I know what I said. I was pretty sure it was a lose-lose situation whatever answer I gave so I went with the one that you'd probably eventually get over thinking I'm an asshole for saying."
'You're probably right.'
"Sleep well. Okay? I hope the little guys get good sleep, too. They had a long day in the fresh air, I bet they're close to being zonked."
'Oh yeah, and we ate dinner outside with Mom.'
"Good idea. You know, if you wanted me to come out there tomorrow I could do that, if coming here seems too …"
'Maybe, let me think about it. I do like that idea better.'
"Okay. Good night then."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com