"So did your dad have bad seats to any of these games?" he asked once they'd found their seats and were settled.
He found out that getting settled with two kids wasn't nearly as easy as it was for two adults. There were coats and mittens and hats, all of which had to be accounted for so they were still there at the end of the night. It was December in Chicago, hats and mittens were a must for kids, even John knew that. It had gotten above fifty today, but it wouldn't be that warm when they left the United Center after ten o'clock.
"Well, he had season tickets for years and was able to move to better seats as they became available. These seats have been pretty much the same because he had them before Michael Jordan came into the picture. The Bears, though, once Walter Payton retired and they seemed not to be able to win consistently better seats started becoming available so he was able to trade in for better ones."
"Are you complaining?"
"Well, no, of course not. Your kids, though, are going to think this is normal."
She shrugged. "Is that a bad thing? I grew up thinking it was normal."
"Yeah. I think you just kind of made my point for me, sweetheart."
She rolled her eyes at him.
"At least you're not sending Bill to school in Armani or something. You're not, are you?"
She laughed softly.
"No. I dress him normally."
"Normal for you is not normal for most people."
"I dress him like the other kids he goes to school with."
"Really? I find that hard to believe."
"I'm not going to say his things aren't better than some of the other kids he goes to school with, but only their parents would know that."
"Ah ha. Old habits die hard then."
"You're faulting me for dressing my kids well?"
"No, not at all." He glanced at both of them then, sitting in between them. "They are pretty cute."
"I told you a while ago you make cute babies."
"Well, it wasn't just me."
"See, and I like to think it's all you. So we'll leave it at that."
The game was fun, ending with the Bulls winning. They hadn't been doing that too consistently without Michael Jordan playing so there was no telling each day what would happen. A win against the Celtics was never easy, though, even if they were having an off season this year.
"See, Bill, you're not bad luck at all." John said once the game was over.
"I guess not. I can't wait to tell Tommy and Jackson at school on Monday we went."
"Yeah? Are they Bulls fans?"
"Tommy is. Jackson likes," Bill paused. "Someone else."
"It happens. Not everyone likes the same team."
"They wouldn't believe me I went to the Bears game with Mommy."
"I didn't send him to school with the program," Claire said.
"Ah. Mommy will do that this time, though right?" John asked.
"Yes," she said. "Mommy learned her lesson."
John chuckled as she finished getting Justin into all of his gear for going outside. Bill could do most of it by himself, though he needed a little help with his zipper. John helped him out with that since Claire had her hands full with Justin.
"Take Mommy's hand, Bill," she said once she'd settled Justin against her hip.
"I'm not going to get lost."
"I know you're not going to wander off. You're very good about staying by me, but I still worry that someone might take you."
He frowned slightly at that, but he took his mother's hand.
"You know I can help," John offered.
"With what?" she asked.
"Well, why do you need to have both of them?"
She stared at him for a minute. Had he said something wrong? He was just trying to be nice and not look like an asshole for sticking her with two kids when he could do something. Never mind he'd never see any of these people again in his life. It still didn't sit well with him that anyone would think he was that kind of guy.
"Uh, I don't know. I could walk with Bill. If that's okay with Bill anyway."
"Go ahead, Bill, it's fine if you want to go with Mr. Bender," she said.
He let go of her hand and took John's offered one.
"You're sure?" she asked.
"I'm walking with him to your car. I think I can handle that, yes. If we happen to get separated from you I do remember where we parked and at least this way I know you're not going to leave without me."
"I have no plans on leaving without you tonight, John."
"Yeah, I suppose you don't," he said.
He liked the sound of that immensely. He'd managed to see her Wednesday for a little while, but it wasn't for nearly as long as the two nights over the weekend had been. Not that he ever put a huge amount of thought into it, but he'd never been in a position before to think of an hour of sex with someone as being only an hour. For them after last weekend that wasn't a lot of time at all. It was all they'd had time for really since both of them had to work the next day and John had a drive back to his house and a drive in the morning to his work site.
Both boys fell asleep on the way home, not unexpectedly as it was well after eleven o'clock by the time they pulled up in front of Claire's mom's house.
"If you want to wake Bill up I'll get Justin," she said.
"Wake him up?" he asked.
"Well, yeah, he's kind of big for me to carry right now."
"Oh," he said, glancing into the backseat at Bill. "Well, that's ridiculous. I can take him."
"Are you sure?"
He rolled his eyes. "I'm perfectly capable of carrying him, yes, and it certainly beats waking up a soundly sleeping kid to get him from here to his bedroom."
"You just don't want him to wake up again."
"And you do?" he asked.
"Of course not," she said, and sounded as though she meant it.
He wasn't exactly sure. He understood her kids were along tonight, but she'd seemed sort of different. Distant. As if she wasn't really sure she wanted to be there with him. Maybe she didn't. She'd asked him, but she'd asked him after spending hours in bed with him. Had she changed her mind as the week wore on? About all of it?
He slid the seat belt out from around Bill and grabbed him like she told him to. Evidently there were even tricks to picking up sleeping kids without waking them. Who knew? It was a little awkward for him never having done this before but he managed to get Bill settled against him well enough to where he didn't feel as though he was going to drop him.
He followed Claire into the house, opening the door she said was Bill's while she took Justin to his room. He set him on the bed, sliding his mittens, hat, and coat off and setting them at the foot of the bed before taking his shoes and socks off as well. Those he set on the floor by his bed. She hadn't mentioned pajamas, so he imagined she'd come in and change him or let him sleep in his regular clothes for the night.
Bill mumbled softly as John drew the covers around him.
"Good night, Bill, glad you had fun," he whispered.
"Night Daddy," he murmured.
John sighed softly as he regarded the boy. He knew he wasn't calling John daddy. He was probably so sleepy that he thought his dad was putting him to bed as he'd probably done hundreds of times over the course of his lifetime until the past six months anyway.
He turned then, frowning slightly at Claire in the doorway. She didn't look mad, so either she hadn't heard what Bill said or she had and knew the same thing John did that he was just talking in his sleep. Wishful thinking.
"Did you need to put him in pajamas?" he asked.
"Nah, I didn't with Justin either. They'll both be fine like that for the night. I'll have to do their laundry and get them their baths tomorrow anyway. Thank you."
"Don't mention it."
"Are you okay?" she asked once she'd shut Bill's door behind them.
"What? That?" John shrugged. "Don't worry, sweetheart, I didn't take it personally or anything. He was just talking in his sleep or dreaming or something."
"Just making sure."
"I'm more worried about you, thinking I'm saying something or doing something he thinks that."
"No, I know. He's said it to Scott a time or two when Scott's here and tucks him in. Even when he's wide awake sometimes he'll say Daddy first and then Uncle Scott."
"It's normal I'd have to think."
He touched her cheek then. "He'll be fine, Claire."
"I hope so."
"You know if you don't want…"
"Okay then, lead the way," he said.
"You know I stopped smoking like two years ago, but I swear sex with you makes me wish I hadn't stopped."
"Why?" she asked.
"Because sex with you deserves cigarettes afterward," he said with a chuckle.
"I'm not sure that's good."
"It's very good, sweetheart." He ran a fingertip along her hip. "And thank you for wearing the red again."
"You're welcome. You really like it?"
"You have no idea."
"You don't think it makes me look…"
"It makes you look incredible, which is what it's designed to do and it succeeds."
"Thank you. You thought I was going to get mad he said that, didn't you?"
"Mad, no. If I hadn't heard him say that to Scott maybe I would've. I just wasn't sure how you'd react."
He shrugged. "If he did it while he was awake and was purposely calling me that I'd probably react very differently, but I know he's just a tired kid tonight. And he probably misses his dad who had to have tucked him in a few times."
"I'm glad he was decent to them anyway."
"He was. He wasn't horrible to me either."
"I'm not going to talk about that with you, because your idea of horrible and mine obviously don't mesh. Okay, no he didn't beat you or anything, but like I said when we were driving here it was no less hurtful and harmful to you."
"Why don't you have a girlfriend?" she asked.
"Well, I did. Remember?"
"Yes, I remember, but you broke up with her like over a month ago. Why aren't you seeing someone else?"
"I kind of am," he shrugged. "Aren't I?"
"I guess you are."
"I certainly wouldn't make love to you and see someone else."
"That wouldn't be fair to either of you. I couldn't see someone else knowing I was having sex with you. I couldn't have sex with you knowing I was seeing someone else."
"Is that the only reason?"
"Oh," she said. "What if you met someone?"
"I'm not looking to meet anyone, but if I did," he shrugged. "Well, I guess I'd tell you I'd met someone. It took me a while to get to that point with Amanda, I'm not in any hurry to get there again."
"Still not good with relationships?"
"Probably the right relationship I would be."
"Can I ask you something without pissing you off?"
"I'm not going to get mad at you."
"You say that, but I've heard those hormones can do all sorts of things."
"Are you into me?"
"I mean, am I just handy or do you actually want something from me?"
"You're not just handy."
"Okay," he said, cautiously.
"I'm not ready for something."
"I understand that. I do. I'm not pushing and I'm not asking for anything. I just wondered. I mean, the kid comes and your hormones are back in check are we back to just friends or what? If we were even that."
"We had this conversation once before, didn't we," she said with a soft laugh.
"This isn't then, Claire. I'm asking you a sincere question."
"I guess that's up to you."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that I'm not ready for something. You even said it yourself, I married the first guy I ever dated. I'm in no hurry to get married again."
"And I come with kids, John."
"I'm very aware of that fact, Claire. I can see and taste that very plainly when you're naked and having sex with me."
"I don't know if we'd go back to just being friends, but I can't say I'd have sex with you every day either."
"I was just curious."
"It's a lot for you, too. I mean, you're asking me but you haven't seen Bill and Justin when they're fighting. You haven't been up all night with a crying baby, or unable to sleep when you have to go to work the next morning because of a baby. I just don't want to jump into something."
"All valid things, I'm not pushing. I swear I'm not. I do have to admit that I'm very glad you came to me for this issue."
"Who else would I have gone to?"
"I don't know. The guy from the Bears game I'm sure would've been a willing participant. You said he gave you his number. I'm sure there are others, teachers at your school. You are very attractive, Claire, pregnant or not."
"Yeah, well, I think most people wouldn't do it."
"I'm not most people."
"Why do you think I'm here with you?"
"And here I thought it was my male parts."
"Those, too, most definitely. I can't really answer your question. If you're asking me if I want to date you, I'm not opposed to the idea when I'm ready."
"No pressure, Claire. I swear. I'm not asking you for anything. I was just curious, I guess. I mean, if you can't even think of me like that potentially I guess I just wanted to know before thinking this meant more than it does to you."
"I think with time I could."
"I can give you time. We have nothing but that."
"You don't think I'm a bad person?"
"For what? Wanting to have sex with me without some formal commitment? No. I'd be worried if you wanted that right away. You're going through a lot." He kissed her shoulder, lingering a bit. "Crying babies wouldn't bother me, by the way."
"You say that, but when they're newborn it's every couple of hours."
"And he's not yours."
"Yeah. Doesn't mean it'd bother me or that I'd treat him or your other ones any less than I would if they were mine."
"I'm just saying," he said. "Don't assume I can't handle it and use that against me as a reason to stay away. I mean, if that's the only thing holding you up – when you get to the point of being ready – whether I'd be cool with things at least give me the chance to prove I am or not."
"That's all I ask."
"What about you?"
"What about me?"
"You could go from having sex with me to not?" she asked.
"I didn't start having sex with you until a week ago. I didn't even know sex with you was a possibility until that night."
"Yeah, you had a girlfriend."
"That's not fair. I didn't have her when I came over here on Halloween. I didn't tell you we broke up until you specifically asked. Clearly my goal wasn't to have sex with you. I was trying to be your friend."
"Because I didn't want you to think I broke up with her for you or that I expected anything from you. What happened with her has nothing to do with you or our being here today."
"You know you can't ever tell Bill about his father."
"What the fuck does that mean? I didn't know the guy."
"No, I know that. The things I've told you. I see the way you look at him sometimes when he talks about Dan. You think he wouldn't think his dad's so great."
"He can't ever know, John."
"I'm not a moron or an asshole, Claire. I'm not going to tell a kid his old man couldn't keep it in his pants despite having you as his wife."
"We go to things like we did tonight, people are going to think they're yours."
"We covered this already the night we went out for pizza on Halloween. I don't care what people think."
"That was once. Tonight was a second time. We date, you'd be seen with them more frequently. Around Shermer because I can't drive all the way out to see you all of the time with three kids I have to put to bed."
"You think I haven't thought of these things? You think I don't know my friends would think I'm all kinds of insane?"
"For going from someone like Amanda to me, you mean? I'm sure they would. I already told you I didn't blame you for not wanting to kiss me when you had her to kiss instead."
He sighed softly.
"No! That's not what I mean. I mean, yes, but not for the way you think I mean it. I've already told you it wasn't not wanting to that stopped me from kissing you more than I did that night in August. You're no slouch in the looks department yourself, you know? I mean, I realize you were pregnant even back at your dad's funeral and just didn't know it yet, but you were more beautiful than I remembered you being. And believe me, I built you up in my head over the years as being pretty beautiful."
He shrugged. "Incentive to stay away, I guess. I don't know. Proof that a good woman wouldn't really be interested in me."
"You were not. You were interested in being my friend nothing else, and that's fine. Having you as a friend taught and gave me more than having you as a girlfriend at that time would have."
"I was interested in you, John. You can think we were better off as friends, that's fine, but I was very interested in you."
"I couldn't have given you what you needed."
"You don't know that."
"I know I wouldn't have married you when you were still in school."
"I probably shouldn't have done that anyway."
"You wouldn't have the kids either and you clearly love them. I admit I can't wrap my head around the you I knew then being the same you as today, but I guess being a mom is good for you. I couldn't have given you that."
"Christ, Claire, I have never lied about the fact I don't want kids."
"Then why are mine okay?"
"Because they're yours? I don't know. Don't ask me questions I have no answers to."
"I find it hard to believe at our age you've never dated anyone with kids."
"Nope, never. Honestly, Amanda's the first woman I've really dated."
"Hmm," she said.
"What was the point in dating someone I didn't want to get involved with?"
"John," she said. "You make no sense. Why on earth would you want to get involved with me then? Forget my being a widow, unless you plan on dating me for the next eighteen years without taking things further than that you'd be around kids."
"Yeah, I told you, my friends would say I'm nuts for even contemplating what this means."
"I really wish you hadn't brought this up."
"I couldn't not. I like you. I like you too much to not know what this means. I don't want either of us to get hurt, but especially you. If this means something to you and I don't know that," he shrugged.
"I don't know you see me with someone."
"You going to bring many someones to Shermer, John?"
"You know what I mean. I don't want to fuck up. I can go from having sex with you to not. I can do that because I know ordinarily we wouldn't even be here right now. I'm fine with that."
"You're fine with my having sex with you for the next couple of months and then stopping?"
"Yes. I'm not stupid enough to think it means you love me or anything. I get it. You have a need that I'm more than willing to fulfill it and I don't see you as the pickup a stranger at a bar type of person."
"So, I get it, and I'm cool with that, but I guess I figured when one time turned into four times now some idea of where your mind is was called for."
"We're fine. I don't expect anything from you. If you found someone tomorrow I wouldn't get angry."
"What did you want to do?"
"What?" she asked, turning to face him now with a frown?
"When you went to school. What did you want to do?"
"Oh," she shrugged. "Nothing."
"Come on, sweetheart. What did you want to do? I know it wasn't a teacher."
"No," she said, and he knew that wasn't easy for her to admit.
"Well then. What did you want to do?"
"I wanted to be an architect."
"Really?" he asked. That surprised him for some reason.
"Huh. And now that you're back in Chicago with your mom and brother around to babysit. Any thoughts of going back to school to be able to do that?"
"With a newborn?"
He shrugged. "Why not?"
"John. I have to work."
"You're living with your mom. Is she charging you rent?"
"Your father didn't leave her or you destitute, did he?"
"You already have your Bachelors obviously because you're teaching. So I assume it'd just be going back and taking the courses you would need to take for that major, right?"
"So, you're telling me your mom wouldn't babysit the kids while you went to school for a couple of years? That she'd be mad if you stayed here for a couple of years to do that?"
"Well, no, I guess not, but the kids need clothes. The baby will need diapers and they go through clothes like crazy the first couple of years."
"Come on. Really? That's your excuse? Your mom isn't the Evil Queen from Snow White, sweetheart. I bet she'd help you out if she knew the end result would be you being able to provide well for your kids not just averagely."
"I don't know," she said.
"And you realize, you do know this guy who you're currently sleeping with happens to know people who design buildings for a living in a city and the surrounding area that's always putting up new buildings. Have you looked at towns like Arlington Heights lately?"
"No, I know," she said softly. She ran a fingertip along his shoulder and collarbone so he guessed she wasn't mad at him. "You'd do that?"
"Refer me to people?"
"I wouldn't tell them it's because I'm sleeping with you," he said with a chuckle. "But, sure, I would. I mean, I couldn't get you the job, you'd have to do that yourself but I could certainly get you in touch with the right people to at least get an interview. Some of these places I know claim they aren't hiring, but if the candidate is good enough they're always hiring."
He slid his hand to her stomach, touching her lightly. "You must like the idea."
"Why?" she asked.
"Because he's moving a lot right now. That seems to coincide with you getting excited and since we're not doing anything at the moment to excite you I'm going to guess the conversation, the idea excites you."
"You have to work."
"Yeah, I do, but if you had a night class or something," he shrugged. "I'd do it."
"Didn't you just say I couldn't leave you alone with them?"
"Yeah, we were talking about something else then. Like me being a daddy figure. We're not talking about that right now. We're talking about you doing what you wanted to do. Why'd you stop anyway?"
"Well, a teacher seemed more logical when we were married and I had kids."
"Architects have kids."
"Yes, but Dan didn't have a nine-to-five job, acting doesn't work that way."
"I suppose I can see that. Well, it's just you now, you know. You need to think about what's best for the four of you."
"I know. I hadn't thought about it."
"You have money from your dad?"
"I'm not asking how much, sweetheart. I don't care. I'm wondering if you have enough to pay for school without taking out loans."
"Oh, yeah, there's enough there."
"Well, maybe he was telling you something."
"He didn't know he was going to die this summer, John."
"No, of course not, but he was a practical guy so I bet the thought occurred to him especially if you mentioned getting a divorce to him that you might be needing school again."
"I wish you didn't have to leave," she said.
She shrugged. "It'd be nice to go to sleep like this."
"It would," he agreed. It would be very nice, probably too nice and very dangerous.
"You know getting a couple more beds and putting them in my house wouldn't be a big deal."
"You could bring them with you."
"I can't sleep with you when they're there."
"Would they have to know you slept with me?"
"Well, surely we'd go to sleep after they did and you could wake up before they did. I'm sure we could come up with some logical explanation as to why you're in my room if Bill woke up earlier. I don't think we have to worry about Justin thinking too hard on your sleeping arrangements yet."
"John, I can't."
"Well, you change your mind let me know. It's not like I don't have the room."
"I know, that's not the reason for you to furnish your house, though."
"Well, it's better than the rooms being empty. I swear the place looks like I just moved in yesterday."
"You're working on things."
"Just throwing the option out there. I admit it would be nice. I feel like kind of an asshole for leaving you like I do."
"You give me this amazingly mind-blowing sex and I leave you afterward and you wonder why that bothers me?"
"That's not why I don't want you to leave."
"No, it'd just be nice. I miss it."
He sighed softly at that. "I can imagine," he said softly. "I'm sorry, sweetheart, really. I wish there was something I could do to make it better for you. If doing this with me makes you feel worse."
"No, it doesn't, not really. I'm sorry if I seem overly needy."
He snorted at that. "You're not needy, not in a way any guy in his right mind would complain about."
"Want me to take you up to your room again?"
"I can walk."
"Want me to help you get dressed."
"You can if you want to."
"I may never get home, but we can try. You need your rest."
He found her dress, helping her put it back on.
"You have the most awesome curves I think I've ever seen."
"It's all the baby."
"It is not. I saw what you looked like in July. You looked very fine then, too."
"I should be mad at you for looking at me while you had a girlfriend."
"I'm not dead, sweetheart. First time in years I saw you, I'm going to notice things about you like your curves."
"You still shouldn't have been looking at me like that."
"I'm sorry. Does that make it better?"
She laughed softly as she worked the dress into place while he got dressed himself. "Sure."
"So, are you going to be able to go a whole week?"
"I will try."
"We both have to work during the week."
"Well, you want me to come over on Wednesday let me know and I'll cooperate."
"You will huh?"
"To the best of my abilities, yes. Or if you think your mom would babysit you could come see me again. It wouldn't be such a late night then for either of us that way."
"I'll ask her."
He offered her his hand once he was done getting dressed, which she took. She led him up the stairs to the door where she leaned in and kissed him.
"Wow, I even get a kiss good night this time."
"That must mean I did an exceptionally good job at giving you what you needed."
"You did well, yes."
He kissed her again, lingering a bit. "Thank you for the game. It was fun. And so was the rest of it."
"Yeah, it was."
"Three more months huh?"
"Give or take. Why? Counting down the days until you're done already?"
He scoffed. "No, just realizing it's a good thing it's winter and work isn't quite as busy as usual or the during the week thing would never fly."
"Oh," she said. "I suppose."
"Good night, I'll see you Wednesday. Here or at my place let me know, unless you change your mind."
"I won't, John. Quit saying that. I'd see you even if not for that."
"Good to know."
She frowned and he chuckled.
"Relax, I'm teasing. I mean, I'm glad you know, that you'd still want to see me. That's good. So we're good. Now, go get some sleep."
She shut the door behind him, turning off the light near his car once she'd heard him turn his SUV on. He probably shouldn't have asked her the things he asked her tonight, but he kind of wanted to know where she was. He still wasn't sure he had any answers, but at least she hadn't said once the baby came she'd tell him to get the fuck out of her life. That idea had bothered him more than just a little.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com