***Chapter Twelve***
Word Count: 7,951

New Year's Eve 1994

She took a deep breath, opening the door. God she was nervous. Why? She wasn't sure. She'd gone to this type of thing many times before, both with Dan and when she was younger with her parents. This was nothing new to her, but in those cases she knew the people she was dealing with. At the very least she knew what kind of people she was dealing with. When she was younger she hadn't been allowed to be nervous. She'd been taught how to behave at things like this from before she could walk probably, not that she remembered that far back. Her mom wasn't here tonight, though, to lecture her about her posture or how to behave one last time before she left.

This day had not gone well at all. It was probably the worst day she'd had overall since her dad died. Thanksgiving and Christmas had been hard, but she'd expected those days to be difficult. No surprise there really, her first holidays without her husband and her father. Her first holidays having to watch her boys struggle with understanding why their dad couldn't be there to eat with them.

Her mom was mad at her. Not mad exactly, disappointed was a much better word for it. She believed Claire was behaving inappropriately. The things she'd done with John to this point could be dismissed as being friendly, hanging out. Her mother vaguely remembered him from high school, so it was a plausible excuse for him coming around now. A formal New Year's Eve party not even seven months after her husband died was not just friendly. It bordered on being a date. Claire knew that as well as her mother did.

Claire insisted that it was just friendly. John was just being nice and making sure she didn't sit at home being depressed. She'd done that enough on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Wasn't that the point of New Year's Eve?

Out with the old and in with the new?

She was ready for a new year. Claire's mom hadn't thought it was a good idea, though. She was afraid people would see her. Do what? Go to a New Year's Eve party? She wasn't going to have sex with him in public. She wasn't even sure she'd get a kiss at midnight out of the night since they were going to be around people. They'd never done anything remotely physical or intimate in front of anyone. The closest they'd come to anything that suggested intimacy was John walking with Bill when they were out the four of them.

She'd gotten a babysitter for tonight because some of the women from the club convinced her mom to go with them to the annual party held there for a little while. There were a couple of girls in the neighborhood who were old enough to babysit. Two were old enough to have their own New Year's Eve plans so they had been unavailable. Both said they'd be happy to some other time as neither had jobs. One, though, was evidently not old enough to have any plans for tonight and had agreed to babysit. Claire had never had to pay for babysitting before and about had a heart attack when her friend Jaclyn told her what the going rate for two kids was.

This party John was bringing her to better be a hell of a good time for the amount of money she was spending to go to it. Between a new dress and a babysitter she was lucky to have much of her paycheck left so soon after Christmas. The dress was completely unnecessary since she'd never have reason to wear it again, possibly a second time if something else formal came up in the next couple of months. She couldn't possibly wear the red one a third time in front of him and he'd said it was a formal party.

He gave a low whistle, knowing her mom was already gone because she'd told him when he called to say he was leaving that she was just waiting for the sitter.

"It's just a coat."

It was an old coat really. She was pregnant during the winter with her first two kids, too. Her mom had given it to her as a shower gift when she was pregnant with Bill. She was pretty sure it had cost her mom a small fortune because it was a long cashmere coat but it looked almost as nice today as when she'd first taken it out of the big Lord & Taylor box it had been wrapped in eight years ago. It had certainly come in handy living in New York because she didn't use her car just to run to the corner grocery store or to walk Bill to school when she was pregnant with Justin.

"It's a very nice coat, even I can tell that. I've never seen you wear it before."

"No, I haven't really had a reason to wear it around you until tonight. It was kind of nice out the two nights I wore dresses and went out with you."

"You didn't go out with me the first night at all."

She blushed deeply at that because he was right and he chuckled softly at her reaction. "That may be, but there was still no need for a coat then."

"How do you make all these things look so stylish?"

"I don't feel remotely stylish at all anymore these days, so I'll just say thank you and leave it at that."

"All right then. Fair enough. Are you ready?"

She grabbed the small purse she was taking with tonight before sliding her gloves on.

"Yes. The boys are downstairs with Shelly watching a movie. I've already said good night to them."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. They're having a good time. I don't want to go down there again and risk getting them all excited or freaked out."

"Okay," he said. He opened the door, letting her pass through first before closing it behind him. He checked to be sure it shut completely behind him she realized. "I just wanted to be sure. We're not in that big of a hurry that if you wanted to say good bye it'd be bad."

"They'll be fine. I gave her your cell phone number. You did bring it, right?"

"Yes, Claire, I have it," he said, walking with her toward his SUV. "I told you I'd bring it. I can remember things, Claire, and I do know how important it was to you."

"Thank you. I didn't mean to imply you'd forget, I was just making sure."

"It'll be fine, Claire. Really. Nothing is going to happen to them. People leave their kids with babysitters all of the time."

He opened her door for her, which surprised her a little.

"I know. Those kids aren't my kids. I can't help but worry. I've never left them with someone they didn't know well before. I also hate fighting with Mom."

"She'll get over it. She's not going to stay mad at you over a New Year's Eve party. Maybe she'll have a good enough time where she's going tonight that she'll understand why you didn't want to be here all night and mope."

"I wouldn't have moped," she said.

He closed her door and going around to his side to get in. He started his SUV and let it idle for a minute before putting it in gear.

"You would have moped. You would have watched Dick Clark or whatever else is on until the ball dropped. You would have wanted more than the half glass of champagne that I bet you would have allowed yourself to drink."

"You're probably right."

"See. This will be much more fun."

"God, I hope you're right, John. It won't be worth the argument with Mom if I don't at least have a good time."

"Come on. If I have to get all dressed up I may as well have a date with me out of the deal."

"You couldn't have found someone not seven months pregnant to take?"

"Well, sure, I could have if I really tried. I didn't want to try, though, because there's no one else I wanted to take."

She realized this was the first time he'd driven them in a while since the kids weren't along. She wasn't used to being a passenger anymore because at home she'd always driven. Dan usually took the subway when he worked nights so only having one vehicle never posed a problem for them. He'd hated her car because she'd had it since her freshman year of college. It was still reliable even if it looked pretty awful by the time she'd sold it to her friend.

"No, you don't," he said when she reached for the handle to open her door.


"Nuh uh, you stay right there."

"John," she said.

"Sit tight, all right? Geez."

He grabbed his wallet and cell phone from the glove compartment before getting out. He walked to her side of the SUV and opened the door for her. She took his offered hand after a second's pause.

"Why didn't you just say that's what you were going to do?"

"Because a guy likes to surprise a woman once in a while, you know? Do nice things for his date? You deserve having a car door opened for you. I did at your house."

"Thank you," she said, sliding out of his SUV. She wasn't sure she'd be able to ride in it in another month without his help getting in or out so she supposed she shouldn't complain he wanted to tonight.

"You're welcome. Thank you for looking nice."

"I'll pretend I'm not at all insulted you think I'd look anything but nice when you said formal. I do know what formal means. You do realize that, right? So, I'll just ask you what this party is for."

"For? Well, it's for New Year's Eve. It's being thrown by one of the companies I do a good amount of work for because they own a lot of buildings. It's kind of a grand opening of the building the party is at tonight, too. You know, the two birds one stone thing."

"Oh," she said.

"Anything else you want to know?"

"I don't know. Is there anything else I should know so I don't sound clueless if people say things to me?"

"You couldn't sound clueless if you tried, sweetheart. It'll be fine. No one's going to interrogate you. This isn't a job interview or anything. You're not going to get drunk and dance topless or anything else that some might see as embarrassing."

"You wouldn't?"

"Well, if you want to get drunk and dance topless at my house one night after you've had the baby I wouldn't say no."


She wasn't sure after the baby came what she'd do where he was concerned. She knew what she wanted to do with him, but she knew that was mostly her hormones and grief influencing her right now. No matter how well she tried to hide it there were days she still missed Dan. John could say he wasn't good to her all he wanted, and realistically Claire knew she deserved better. It didn't mean she didn't love and miss him, though.

"Relax, though. It's all for fun. I'd say drink the champagne, but I guess you can't do that."

"I could have one glass."

"Yeah, I remember you said that you could do that."

"Just one."

"I might have more than one."

"Should I take your keys now?"

He chuckled softly.


"Nothing, the day of the football game I saw you at Amanda and I had that argument."

"What argument?"

"Me driving us home after I'd had one too many beers at the game."

"Oh. And?"

"I wasn't too keen on giving them up when she asked for them." He held out his keys, jingling them. "You have room in that tiny purse for these?"

"I do. Thank you, John, very much."

"Yeah, well, I'm not going to feel doubly guilty for the rest of my life if something happened to you and the baby because I was a proud ass."

She grabbed onto his forearm, stopping him from walking further.

"What?" he asked before she leaned up to kiss him.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome. Say, did I mention Amanda's probably going to be here tonight?"

Oh God, that put a new slant on the entire night. Claire still couldn't get over how absolutely gorgeous and perfect Amanda was, especially now that no matter what she did she felt as if she was exactly what she was. Very pregnant. She still didn't understand how she could even compete with someone like his ex.


"Yeah. That company I do lots of work for, it's the one she works for. She works for the residential part more than the commercial part, but I'm sure she'll be here just the same."

"And you waited until now to tell me this?"

"Does it matter?"

"Well, no, but I probably would've rethought my dress."

"Why? What's wrong with your dress?" He frowned. "There's nothing wrong with that dress, Claire, I've seen it. It looks very good on you."

"You haven't seen the dress I'm wearing tonight."


"I went out and bought one."

"Oh, I didn't know. Not red though?"

She laughed softly. It surprised her he liked the red as much as he had. "Not red, but I guarantee you'll like it just as well."

"If you say so."

"Had I known your drop-dead gorgeous, amazingly thin ex-girlfriend was going to be here I may have chosen something else."

"Well I'll let you know later if I'm glad or not that I didn't tell you. She won't care. I'm sure she's bringing the guy she's seeing anyway. And you're beautiful, Claire."

"Is that why you invited me?"

"In part, yes. I mean I admit I didn't want to go alone. If you had said no, though, I probably would have gone to a party at one of my friend's houses instead of this one. This one, though, well, it looks good for me to be here. You know? Grease the palms that feed you."

"I understand."

"I bet you do. I'm sure your mom went to her share of these with your dad for just the same reason. You and Scott probably tagged along to a couple, too."

"Yeah, they were together, though."

"Well, sweetheart, for now until you get over your need for me at any rate I'm pretty together with you. So, you were my choice in dates. You didn't see any presents under my tree for anyone else, did you?"

"No, I was kind of surprised you had a tree."

She had been, too. He'd invited her and the boys to his house during the day on Christmas Eve, knowing Scott and his family were going to be at her mom's house for a pretty early dinner. He'd put lights up the weekend of Thanksgiving on the exterior of the house she knew, but he hadn't done anything inside. So, seeing the tree had surprised her.

"It was pretty bare, wasn't it?"

"A little, but it was nice."

"Yeah, Bill told me I needed some decorations."

She closed her eyes, shaking her head a little. "He did what?"

He chuckled. "It's okay. I asked him what he thought. He told me."

"He still shouldn't have said that. That's rude and he knows better."

"Relax, Claire, it's all right. If it had bothered me I would have said something to him or you. He gave an honest answer, and he's right. I've never done the tree thing before, but it seemed appropriate to do it in a house for some reason. Plus I've never had a reason to buy presents before."

"I'm still sorry. He knows better. Where was I that I missed that anyway?"

"I think you were in the bathroom."

"Oh." His tree had been pretty bare. He had some generic glass ball ornaments and some lights, but that was it. He hadn't even had a star or angel to put on top of it. Had she known he'd gotten a tree and needed things she would've gotten him something for it for Christmas. Instead, she'd gone the very safe route of a CD he'd mentioned wanting.

His present to her had been a gift certificate to a local spa that specialized in prenatal massages. It was a way more expensive gift than a CD and she'd felt bad, but God was she looking forward to using it. The boys he got a new Disney video she'd mentioned wanting to add to their collection if they didn't get it.

"Wow," he said when he helped her out of her coat and saw her dress.

It wasn't anything like the red dress was really. You could still tell she was pregnant, but then this far along that was just the way it was with anything she wore. It wasn't form fitting at all though. It was designed to make an attempt at being discreet as to how far along she might be. It was an absolutely beautiful shade of green and velvet. She'd spotted it after Christmas at a maternity store downtown when she was shopping the sales at a toy store.

She went shopping the day or so after Christmas every year in New York because she always found some great deals on things that were priced real cheap even though they weren't suddenly less popular than they had been before Christmas. She found good birthday presents that way.

The dress had been marked down, too. The price reduction was so drastic that Claire hadn't been able to resist trying it on. She had planned on wearing the red dress for a third time in a little over a month as wrong as she knew it was to do so until she'd seen this one.

Where red was a color she usually avoided, green was typically her friend. A very good friend and this dress was no exception. The skirt was short, not so short as to be indecent, but short enough that she knew if her mother had seen it she would have scolded her for wearing it. She didn't care if it wasn't appropriate she'd loved it and wished it wasn't a maternity dress because it would definitely be something she'd wear again otherwise. She'd already had shoes to go with it and the coat he commented on so she hadn't had to splurge on anything else at least.

"Is that a good wow?" She ran her hands along the velvet skirt a little nervously. She thought it looked nice on her, but her frame of reference these days was a little skewed.

"It's an exceptional wow. Thank you. Again."

"Thank you for saying so. And for inviting me. You're right it was good to get out of the house."

"The night hasn't even started yet."

"No matter what happens so far I've had a better time than I would've otherwise."

"Well, I'm glad."

"You look pretty nice, too. What's with the tuxedo?"

"What do you mean?"

"Is it yours?"

"It is," he said with a sigh.


"Yes, this isn't the first of these type of things I've been invited to. I rented one the first time, it was some big publicity thing with the mayor and everything. I priced the difference the second time around and realized it wasn't that much more really. And I get more than one use out of it."

"True. It looks very nice on you."


"Mm hmm." She was underselling it because he looked more than just nice in it. He wasn't Sean Connery's 007 in a tuxedo, but he looked very, very good just the same. She couldn't remember seeing anyone wear a double-breasted tuxedo jacket before but he wore the look well.

"Good. I'm glad I chose right then."

"You chose exceptionally well."

She reached then, brushing off a small piece of lint from his scarf off of the lapel of his jacket.

"Thank you," he said.

"Sure," she said with a shrug.

"Are you ready then?" he asked, offering her his arm. She took it with a deep breath. Was she ready? She was as ready as she was going to be, she supposed.

It was a little weird for her being here, but she'd been around her dad and Dan at these types of things enough to know how to act. She listened and she knew how to do it very well. Men always preferred to be listened to versus talked to, at least in Claire's experience at these types of things.

John never strayed too far from her side. He only did so when he seemed to know she was comfortable with whoever she was talking to not throwing some weird curveball topic of conversation her way. She knew nothing about construction or real estate. Hell, she'd never owned real estate and at the rate she was going wouldn't for years yet.

He grabbed her hand, surprising her because until that moment he hadn't done anything to suggest to anyone at the party that they were more than friends. He tugged her to him gently, sliding a hand to the small of her back.

"Excuse us, please," he said as he started them in the direction of the dance floor.


"Didn't you say earlier how much you loved this song and hoped they played it tonight?"

She had no idea what in the world he was talking about, because she really had no deep desire to dance. She could dance, she loved to dance, but well things just weren't super comfortable anymore. Not to mention she hadn't been dancing in a long time.

"That was rude," she said. "He was talking to me."

"He'll get over it."

She slid an arm to his shoulder instinctively. She knew how to let herself get lead on a dance floor. She wouldn't say it was second nature exactly, but it was pretty darned close. When she and Scott had been younger they'd had one another as dance partners if there weren't other children around to dance with.

She glanced at him with a frown. Had she done something wrong? Was she talking too much? She didn't think so. Had she done something to embarrass him somehow?

"John. I thought you wanted me to get along with these people. Isn't that why you brought me here? To help make you look good? He had just been to New York recently and we were talking about the city."

"I do, very much so. I'm glad you're getting along with everyone."

"Then what? If you've reconsidered bringing me here then we can go."

"Don't be ridiculous." He drew her to him then, settling his mouth against her ear. "So, yeah, Amanda just walked in and she is not here with a date."

"Oh," she said.

"She's with one of her friends, and well, I just wanted you to know that. I really thought she'd bring the new guy."

"Well, you could've just told me…"

"Yeah, no, I didn't want to tell you that with anyone able to hear what I said to you."

"Is this the first time you've seen her since October?"

"Yeah, pretty much. I've seen her at a couple of sites, you know, but just in passing and we didn't talk or anything."

"Hmm," she said.

She glanced around the part of the room that she could see, looking for Amanda. She couldn't see her, though.

"I'm not sure she's going to recognize you as the woman from the Bears game or not."

"Oh God," she said softly. "I forgot she thought I shouldn't have brought the boys there."


So she was here without a date and if she spoke to John Claire was supposed to be nice to someone who criticized her and her ability to parent. More or less that's what she'd been doing by suggesting Bill and Justin were too young to be at the game.

"You don't expect me to dance all night, do you?" she asked.

"No, we can sit down whenever you want after this song since I said you liked it."

"At least you picked a song I actually like so I don't look like an idiot for liking Boys II Men or something."

He chuckled. "You mean you don't?"

"Very funny."

"I see you still know how to dance."

"You've learned somewhere along the way." He danced pretty well, better than she'd expected since he probably hadn't had anyone to teach him how.

"I can do this type of dancing just fine."

"You can." She sighed softly, resting her head against his shoulder. "I almost wish I wore the red dress now."

"Why? I mean, I like this one, don't get me wrong. It's very nice, but the red is… You make me appreciate how you got pregnant to begin with."

"Yeah, and well, because it shows how far along I am."


"This one doesn't so much. I mean you can tell I'm pregnant."


He sounded confused, rightfully so most likely.

"I don't want her to think…"

"That it's mine?" He chuckled at that, drawing her a little closer against him. As close against him as he could at any rate. "I wouldn't care."

"I'd care! Because to be showing that'd mean I would have had to get pregnant…"

"Oh," he said, seeming to do the math in his head. "I get it. Don't worry, I'm sure she won't even pay you any attention. She wasn't overly observant about things that didn't affect her specifically."

"You make her sound so charming."

"I told you I think I had this thing where, you know," he shrugged.

"You deserve to be happy, John, and loved and to have someone you can make happy and love back."

"Yeah, I do deserve those things, sweetheart."

He let her find somewhere to sit once the song had finished, taking a seat next to her. The dinner portion was over so no one was sitting where they'd sat during the meal anymore. People were mingling, many of them were drinking and were already several drinks in and it was fairly early yet.

"Can I get you something? Water? They have mixed drinks so they must have some juices like orange juice or cranberry juice."

"I'm fine, but thank you."

"Are you sure. You're not just being polite? You haven't had anything to drink since dinner."

"John. I'm fine."

"Yeah, well, you have this habit of forgetting to eat around me and I worry."

"Not in situations like this I don't and it was just once."

She blushed at the thought of that night at his house. She'd never been that bold before not even with Dan. If he'd rejected her a second time she wasn't sure what she would've done. August wasn't really a rejection, she knew that. He probably wouldn't have gone much further even if Amanda hadn't been a factor because he knew she was being needy and raw.

"You distracted me."

"I didn't do a damned thing but what you wanted me to do."

"I wasn't expecting you to be good at it."

"I'm sorry. What?"

She sighed softly, closing her eyes and counting to ten. Had she actually said that out loud? She hadn't meant to. God, that was the last thing she should've said to him.


"No, no," he said, standing from their spot and taking her hand again. He wasn't overly nice about it this time as he had been before the dance they'd just shared.

She could go with him or pull away from him. Pulling away would draw attention to them, him, at a party he was at for his job. A party he was at to look good to these people. She followed him, cursing her stupidity under her breath. He led her to a stairway, down the stairs to the next floor and a small room. He closed the door behind them and stared at her. He looked … Mad wasn't the right word, but he certainly wasn't particularly happy with her at the moment.

"What are you doing?"

"No, no, you're not going to question your way out of this. What did you just say?"

"I didn't say anything."

"The music wasn't that loud, sweetheart. You weren't expecting me to be good at it. Why not exactly?"

"Oh God, I don't know." How was she supposed to explain it without sounding like a complete and utter bitch? "You had this reputation you know? Guys like that are never as good as they say or think they are."

"And you know this how exactly in your vast experience of two men, including the one present?"

"I have friends. I listen to what they say."

"So your friends tell you that men with experience aren't good and you believe them?"

"It's not just experience. Can we not talk about this?"

"No, we're going to talk about it. So, you what? Came over that night thinking it'd be awful? That I wouldn't know what I was doing? And while I admit you were partially right because I had no clue what to do where you're concerned not having done that before with a woman in your situation. So, you what? You'd get the sex you needed out of your system and that'd be that?"

"Kind of," she said softly. God, it sounded so awful hearing him say it. He didn't understand, though. He never would!



"You were okay with that?"

"I just needed! I told you," she answered. He didn't seem so mad anymore now more confused. She wasn't sure why.

"Oh, I get that part. I do. I've experienced your need for hours now and I tell you with all sincerity I consider myself a very lucky guy to be on the receiving end of you wanting your needs met. What I don't understand is why you'd have sex with someone you didn't think would even do it for you?"

"I didn't say that!"

"You just said you thought it wouldn't be good."

"Yes. No. I don't know. I figured it'd be enough. I don't know. I certainly wasn't expecting you to call me the next day."

He closed his eyes, resting his head against the wall behind him and she could see him doing what she'd done earlier and try to calm himself.

"You weren't even going to see me again?" He was back to being mad. His eyes didn't need to be open for her to know that.

"I didn't say that! I wasn't expecting you to want to see me again. You know? I figured you'd sort of get your curiosity about me settled."

"And you were okay with that?"

"John. I didn't have anyone else!"

"Don't give me that crap. You could find someone else if you want to."

"What kind of person do you think I am? I wouldn't do that!" Of course she had done that really when it got down to it. The fact she'd known him already wasn't really relevant or excusable. She'd chosen him for a reason beyond his convenience. She'd always been kind of curious about John herself. She knew back then he'd liked her but for whatever reason he'd never asked her out.

"I'm still wrapping my head around the fact that you were going to let yourself… Get used by me and you were okay with that? Why would you do that? Why would you do that for what you assumed would be mediocre sex at best?"

"I didn't know! I wasn't planning it. You reacted to me in the dress."

"I'm not blind or dead. Of course I'm going to react when you show up in front of me looking like that."

"No one has ever looked at me like that when I was pregnant."

He stared at her then.

"Shut up," he said.

"John, I'm serious. I've always felt fat and frumpy and huge and not at all sexy. Those things do not go together for me when I'm pregnant. Dan hated having sex with me because like you discovered I could go forever and it wouldn't be enough and he thought there was, like something wrong with me or with Bill or Justin."

He laughed at that. She didn't think it was very funny. Talk about humiliating to have her husband tell her no more times than she could count. He always gave a reasonable excuse, but no was still no.

"Trust me when I tell you I could've been wearing that dress with nothing on underneath it when he came home and he'd have found some excuse not to do anything."

"You did that and he didn't?"

"No," she shook her head. She'd never gotten quite that bold. She'd been too afraid if she'd done something like that he'd tell … someone and she'd be embarrassed on top of humiliated. Knowing there were other women was bad enough, knowing those women might know things about her was the worst feeling in the world to Claire. John talked once about what Dan did being as bad as someone hitting her. She agreed, but to a point she'd almost have preferred the hitting. Not that she'd ever want to get hit, but there wasn't a third person involved in hitting. There was no one else who knew intimate things about you or about Dan out there. In Dan's case quite a few someone else's. That had bothered her immensely. That he shared… details with them. "I'm just saying, that's what it was like. He didn't see me that way."

"Then he was a moron."

"You say that, but…"

"Claire, sweetheart, you're beautiful. You were beautiful in July, you were beautiful in August, September, October, November, and now in December closing in on January. Are you more pregnant than you were? Sure, but you're no less beautiful."

"Can we just forget this conversation and go back in there?"

"No. I still want to cover this bad sex thing. You thought what? I wouldn't know what to do? I wouldn't do it for you? That I'd finish so fast and leave you unsatisfied?"

"Kind of."


"Don't be mad at me." She wasn't sure what she'd do if he got mad at her. It wasn't even the fact it was New Year's Eve. She'd miss him if he got mad at her and stopped calling or coming around.

"You know, the funny thing is I'm not mad at you because you have no basis for comparison. So, I can't blame you for listening to your friends and thinking anyone you're not committed to or in a relationship with is going to fuck you and leave."

"Then what?" she asked.

"It makes me sad, sweetheart, that you think you deserve to settle for that. That you think you're not worthy of hours and hours and hours of mutually beneficial love making. You think I like leaving you the nights I'm at your house? I hate it. I feel like shit because you're not the kind of woman I want to have sex with and get up and leave. You deserve to have me next to you in the morning. You deserved so much better than someone who cheated on you. I don't claim to be an expert or anything, I'm sure there are better guys out there."

"I'm not looking."

"I hope not."

"Why not?"

"Why not she asks."

"Yes," she said. "Why not?" She really had no idea why he'd be happy about that. She'd think by now he'd be getting sort of tired of being the only person she had really. She had some friends still from high school she saw once in a while. She was making some new friends at school even, but none were male. And none made her feel the way John did.

"Because I like knowing something about you nobody else knows. I loved sitting at that Bulls game with you. Men around us probably thought I was a big dumb sap who didn't know how to use protection to knock you up three times. I loved them thinking that because I knew they had no idea what you're like and if they did they wouldn't be thinking I was a big dumb sap but instead one of the smartest guys in the world."

"One of the teachers asked me if I had a TV at home."


She laughed softly. He sounded so genuinely confused at why she'd bring that up right now and why the guy would ask it in the first place.

"He's forty something and never been married, no kids. He asked me if my husband and I didn't believe in TV."

"And you let him get away with that?"

"No, I told him that I liked having kids and that we had plenty of TVs."

"You only have one that I've seen. That's yours I mean."


"That's not plenty, sweetheart."

"It was plenty for us. Besides I'm sure he's not the only one who thinks along those lines. He was just the only one willing to actually say it."

"Point taken."


"So you really thought I wouldn't call?"

"I wasn't sure."

"I wouldn't have done that to you ten years ago, Claire. I certainly wouldn't have done it to you today."

"Why not?"

"Why not?"

"Yes," she asked. She was curious. She wasn't trying to fish a compliment out of him. She truly wasn't sure what his feelings for her had been back then. She thought he'd liked her, but after that day of detention he'd never pushed for anything to happen between them. He certainly could've and she was willing.

"Because," he said. "I need a reason beyond I wouldn't?"

"You'd just told me you'd broken up with Amanda and I knew you felt sorry for me."

"Turn around," he whispered.


"Turn around."




"I need to show you something."

"What?" she asked, completely confused. She turned around though. And then he was right behind her, hands at her hips. He groaned softly.

"Wow. Feels very nice and soft."

"I know," she whispered. "It's why I figured you'd like it."

He gave another groan as his hand slid to her thighs, lifting the skirt of her dress up a bit.

"You're wearing stockings?"

"Uh huh."

"Real ones?"

She frowned. "What's the alternative?"

"Never mind," he said with a soft chuckle. "I should've known better than to think you'd wear those things with the elastic tops."

"Oh no," she said softly. She'd seen those in stores, but never tried them.

He reached to the front of her panties, touching her enough to cause her to gasp. She heard the soft sound of a zipper and instantly grew wet at the thought of him wanting to have sex with her here.

"What are you showing me?"

She gasped as he slid inside of her. Little warning and he hadn't done a whole lot to ensure she was ready, but he knew by now that her being ready wasn't an issue.

"We're arguing and I still want you. Do you feel how hard I am for you?"

"Yes," she whispered.

He slid one hand from her hip up along the bodice of her dress to a breast.

"No, don't," she whispered.


"It'll show I think."

"Ah, yeah," he whispered. Apparently he'd forgotten the fact that even when he didn't use his mouth on her breasts if he was stimulating them anymore she leaked when she came. That was new for her, it hadn't happened with Bill or Justin. She wasn't sure if it was because he actually used his mouth there, almost encouraging the fluid to come out when he was bringing her over. He slid his hand back to her hip then, groaning softly as he thrust deeply into her.

"You want to know why I wouldn't do that to you then or now?"


"Because I fell in love with you that day, sweetheart. From the moment you told me to stop antagonizing Vernon I was gone."

She gasped as a fast and deep thrust up and into her accompanied his words, accentuating them a bit. He expected her to be able to respond to that coherently?

"God am I glad you know what you're doing."

"I told you once it's you, sweetheart. You make me do the right things because I promise you I can't remember it being as good before."

"You're just saying that."

"No, I'm not. I want to make you feel so good that you never want to think about going to someone else for this."

"John." He was saying too much right now. She couldn't handle it. Not tonight. Not now. Not with him inside of her making her feel so good. Making her wonder why she couldn't date him. Why she couldn't have her mom babysit and spend the night with him.

"You know I've never been inside anyone without a condom before."

"Really?" she whispered. That surprised her immensely. She just assumed he'd been with women who were on the pill or something.


"Why did you with me?"

"You're already pregnant," he said with a soft chuckle as if that should've been obvious. No need for condoms when that was already in play.

"Yes, but."

"You've only been with Dan and you said you've been tested."

"I have." She'd made them test her for everything under the sun when she was pregnant with both Justin and this one. She didn't want anything harming either of them and she knew there were some things that could spread to the baby via the birth canal.

"That's why. I've never had any desire to before either."


"And now I have no desire to ever wear one again."

"John." There he went saying things that she had no business liking, loving right now. They were just words, but he had no idea the effect they had on her. Dan never said these kinds of things to her.

"You say it feels like you can feel it when I finish. I want you to feel that every time. Does that sound so bad?"


"Does it sound good?"

"Yes," she whispered.

She absolutely shouldn't have admitted that. Not tonight. Not tomorrow. Not anytime soon. He wasn't playing fair, though, because he was thrusting so deep inside of her right now that she'd probably tell him anything he wanted to hear to get him to let her finish. She needed his help though like this and he knew that, sliding one of his hand inch by inch closer to the front of her panties.

"Real good?"

"Yes," she whispered.

"Push back against me a little," he prompted. She did as best as she could, settling her hands against the door and sliding her feet a little further apart. "Yeah, like that. God you are amazing like this. Every way, really but I'll never forget you brushing your ass against my hard on that first night, inviting me to take you this way."

"You liked that?" She'd been scared to death that her doing that, inviting him to take her that way would step over a line somehow. It was the easiest position, though, really. She just knew it was an odd one for their first time.

"More than you will ever possibly know or imagine."

"I'm glad."

"Not as glad as I am, sweetheart." He slid a fingertip along her nub, groaning softly as he thrust a little deeper into her. "Now finish for me," he whispered as he stroked her.

She about broke a nail on the door her hands were propped up against because she pressed them into it so hard from the feeling of what he was doing to and inside of her. He finished at the same time she did, letting her calm down a bit before drawing away. After sex with him always scared her the most because she didn't want it to end. He made it so good for her. Dan had always gotten up to go to the bathroom right away. Always. For whatever reason in all of the times they had sex he couldn't go to sleep not cleaned off.

"Happy New Year, sweetheart," he said.

"It's not midnight yet."

"Consider that a down payment on lots more of that in the coming year."


"We could bail from here, you know. Go back to your place, send the sitter home, and do more of that."

"It's your party."

"It is." He glanced at his watch. "God, it's not even ten o'clock. We have two more hours and I suppose kissing you at midnight here is out of the question."

"Kind of." That bothered her immensely, but she couldn't say that. It was too soon, though, and he seemed at least to understand that.

"An hour and we'll head back to your place."



"Yeah," she said. She had no real desire to stay here any longer than he did. She was here for him, obviously. She had been having fun earlier and thought she was helping his cause with the people he worked with not harming it or anything.

"At least leaving at eleven you won't make me watch Dick Clark when we get there."

"I think I have all of the dick I can handle for the night right here."

"You made a dirty joke."

"I did, didn't I?"

"And the world hasn't stopped spinning."

"I know, right?"

He chuckled softly.

"You look fantastic still. I, however, look like I need my clothes pressed again. How do you do that?"

"Just lucky I guess," she said.

She helped him with his shirt, tucking it back into his tuxedo pants and fastening the cummerbund and jacket. He didn't look that bad really. No worse than some guys there would look after hours of wearing a tuxedo. Shirts got wrinkled from dancing and all sorts of things that weren't sex.

"There. No one will know," she said.

"You say that. I think they'll suspect."

"Do you care?"

"I'm more worried about you caring. I know you feel guilty."

"It's not guilt, John. Because I'm still not entirely comfortable with the fact I'm not married anymore or the fact my husband wasn't even gone for six months before I had sex with you. There are lots of people like my mother out there, you know."

"I sure don't think like her or feel guilty. There's nothing wrong with what we're doing, only if you think there is. We're adults. You're not dead, Claire. I'd tell them all if you let me."

"Not tonight."

"Do I get another dance now?"

"You think because we had sex I'm going to dance with you?"

"I think because you informed me that you came to my house to use me and cast me aside I deserve another dance."

"I wasn't going to cast you aside." She wasn't. She just never expected him to want more from her. She sort of expected him to take one look at her that far along and tell her to get lost.

"You just thought I would."

"I just thought you'd get your curiosity about me fulfilled."

"And move on?"

"Something like that."

"I'm more than just curious about you, Claire. I meant what I said earlier. You didn't comment on it, and I don't expect you to. I'm just telling you I didn't say anything tonight to get you to let me into your panties. I'm not going anywhere unless you tell me to."

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