***Chapter Twenty-One***
Word Count: 4,586

He sighed a bit when he pulled through the gate that led to his house and saw her car on his driveway. She knew the code to get through the gate, but didn't have a key to his house. He'd have given her one months ago, but he sensed somehow that offer wouldn't have been received well by her so he hadn't.

He pulled into his garage, walking out to her car where she was sitting. Frank was in the car with her, but Bill and Justin were not.

“Hi,” he said when she opened her door. She looked good, but then she always did to him. Even coming home from having Frank she had.

“Hi,” she said. “I'm sorry to just show up.”

“It's not a problem. You know that.” He hoped she did anyway. He wanted her here as often as she wanted to be here. He knew it wasn't easy for her to get here. Everything for the kids, especially Frank was at her mom's house. He understood that. He did have a playpen here for her to put Frank in so she never had to worry about lugging it around coming to his house.

“Yeah, but you said the reason you never gave Amanda the code…”

“You're not her. If I didn't want you to have it I could have changed it months ago now. Are you coming in?”

“If you're not busy.”

“Nope. I had nothing on my agenda really.”

“Okay,” she said, opening the door to the back seat to get Frank out.

“Bill and Justin are with your mom?”

“Yes. Bill had a game today.”

“Oh, right. And you came here?”


That couldn't bode well at all. She never missed one of their games. When they had games at the same time, which had happened a couple of times already she split her time between the games as evenly as she could. Some moms and dads dropped their kids off at swimming and used the forty-five minutes to do something, but Claire stayed the whole time watching Justin's progress. She was just that kind of mom.

“All right.”

He grabbed the diaper bag from her. He knew she could handle it all on her own, but he liked to help her when he could. The first couple of times he'd taken the diaper bag for her she'd protested, but she seemed to understand now that he wasn't suggesting she couldn't do it all on her own. He knew she could. He just wanted to help.

“Thank you,” she said.

“Not a problem,” he said.

Inside, he had no idea what to say to her. He hadn't been expecting her so he had nothing really to offer her. He'd planned on making himself a sandwich or something for dinner tonight and getting right to work on the bathroom he'd started the night before. It turned out a grouting saw was both good and bad for letting out aggression. Good because it was a power tool and had some kick to it. Bad because ceramic tile was pretty fragile. It was a good thing he had a box of extra tiles so he could replace the one or two that had cracked or gotten chipped from his efforts.

“Want a beer or a Diet Coke?”

He still couldn't believe he kept Diet Coke stocked for her. None of the guys he had over drank the shit. A couple of times Greg and his family had come over for a while and his wife had been happy to drink it, but otherwise he'd never had a reason to serve it to anyone else.

“Sure. Diet Coke.”

He grabbed her one, grabbing himself a beer.

“How are we today?” he asked.

“Fine,” she said. She sat Frank on his counter, sliding his coat and hat off before settling him in the playpen in his living room. “He's so close to crawling it's scaring me. It wouldn't surprise me if this weekend he started he's that close.”

John smiled a little at that. He had no idea what was normal, but she'd mentioned that Bill hadn't started crawling until he was over eight months and Justin hadn't really crawled at all. He'd gone from kind of scooting himself across the floor to pulling himself up to a standing position she'd said.

“Obviously he sees things he wants to get a hold of.”

“I guess.”

“So, what's going on?” he asked.

“What do you mean?”

“No offense, but you've never in the year you've been back in town ever just shown up here. So, I'll ask again, what's going on?”

“I just needed to talk to you.”

“Yeah?” he said. “Is this about your date last night?”

“What?” she asked.

“Because if it is you don't have to say anything I already know, obviously.”

“I didn't have a date last night.”

“I called, you weren't home.”

“So you assumed I had a date?”

“No, Bill said your mom said you had a dinner date.”

“Well, sure, it was a dinner date with Nancy.”

“Come again?”

“I had dinner with Nancy. That's how my mom talks. You know that.”

“She said you were maybe going out for drinks afterward.”

“Yes, because I haven't been out of the house like that since school started. I've gone out with you, I know that, but it's different.” She shrugged. “I can't explain it. A night with my friend. We had dinner and drank some Long Island Iced Teas. We talked. You know, girl stuff.”

“I see. You didn't call me back last night.”

“So you presumed what? That I didn't even come home last night?”

“I really didn't know what to think.”

“You thought I'd sleep with someone?”

“I don't know what you'd do, Claire. You wanted to have sex with me again in June.”

“I'm not going to do it with someone else.”

“I guess I couldn't blame you if you wanted to.”

“I don't want to!”

“Then what did you drive all this way out here for, Claire?”

“There is someone I think I might want to go out with.”

And just like that everything was different. He knew it was bound to happen. His stupid big mouth encouraging her to go back to school where she'd be around smart guys who were going to do more with their lives than he was going to. Lawyers, doctors, or other architects.

“The grad assistant guy?”

“How could you possibly know that?”

“I'm a guy, sweetheart. No guy is going to randomly call your house on a Sunday afternoon for nothing.”

“He legitimately put a study group together.”

“I'm sure he did. It's a great in with a woman who has little time and shows concern for her grades. So, when are you going to go?”

“I don't know. I haven't said yes yet.”

“He's asked though?”


Of course he had. John couldn't blame the guy. He'd probably ask her out, too, if he was in the guy's position.


“I told him I didn't know.”

“Why not?”

“I thought I should talk to you first.”

“Why? You've made it very plain that we're not dating.”

“Yes, but we kiss and we see each other every weekend and during the week.”

“Yeah. I can't say I'm surprised.”

“Surprised about what?”

“Nothing. Go out with him. Do what you need to do, Claire.”


“You don't think I know I'm so out of my league with you. What can I offer you this guy can't? A house maybe? Otherwise, clearly you like the educated type. I'm not going to be that. I barely passed high school.”

“That's not what this is about at all, John. It has nothing to do with what you do or what school you went to.”

“What is it then?”

“I just. I've never dated anyone else in my life. Do you understand that?”


“Do you? Do you really? You ask me if I know what you saying you love me means. But do you understand what this is like for me? I went from being married to spending time with you – someone I liked years ago - before I should've been doing it. Think about it. Think of all the people you've gone out with, and not the ones you've had sex with either. All of them. Every one. I know there are lots.”


“No, save it, you weren't a monk before Amanda. I know that. So, think about that, though. All that time you had how many dates? I had none. I had Dan. I have you. That's it. I feel like I've spent all of my adult life being in a serious relationship.”

“You have. I didn't make you marry the guy.”

“I know that.” She sighed softly. “I don't even really like him. He's too young.”

John scoffed. “You never know, you might like that in a guy.”

“What does that even mean?”

“If your, uh, drive is at all what it was when you were pregnant you might like a younger guy.”

“I'm not having sex with him. That is the last thing on my mind. I just…” she sighed. “Nancy said she could see why I might need that, to see that someone who just met me finds me attractive.”

“You don't think I find you attractive?”

“I believe you do.”

“Hmm,” he said. “But?”

“But we have a history. Remote and brief as it is it's there. You knew me. I wanted to date you. I just want,” she sighed. “I don't know what I want.”

“I just told you to do what you need to do.”

“I know, but I don't want things to be weird between us.”

“You're talking about dating other guys, Claire, things are going to be weird.”

“Are you?”

“Am I what?”

She cleared her throat softly. “Going to date other people?”


“Why not?”

“Because I don't want anyone else. I already know that. I mean, if you want me to…” he smirked then. “That would bother you?”



“Because I suspect your idea of dating and mine don't mesh. I just want a date, you know, to spend a couple of hours at dinner with someone who doesn't know my life story.”

“Jesus, you think I'd screw around with and fuck other people?”

“Why not?”

He wasn't even sure how to respond to that. It was the most ludicrous thing he'd ever heard he was pretty sure. Did she not understand? He closed the distance between them, sliding Frank's coat from her hands.

“John,” she said. “What are you?”

He gripped her arms and drew her toward him then, stopping her from finishing her question by kissing her. If only he could kiss this stupid idea out of her head. He deepened it, parting his lips at the sound of her soft moan. They'd gotten kissing down real well. There were a few times he left being with her so hard and ready just from kissing he wondered what he'd been doing wrong all of these years that kissing alone didn't affect him in the same way it did when he kissed her.

She murmured his name in the most arousing way as he worked the buttons on her blouse open enough to slide his hand inside to touch her. She'd said they would go back to normal after she was done nursing Frank. She'd been done for a few weeks ago now he was pretty sure but he didn't notice a difference in them yet. He didn't say anything, not knowing if he was supposed to or not. He liked them the way they were, though, just fine. More than fine.

He found her neck then, nipping at the pulse point there which betrayed her excitement. He knew his would too currently if she returned the favor. He knew she had the class she knew this guy from on Friday's, tomorrow, and he couldn't stop himself. He sucked harder at the skin there. She wasn't exactly screaming at him to stop. Quite the opposite as his hand cupped a breast, stroking her peak with his thumb. She was obviously still sensitive there as he felt his thumb get a little damp from touching her like this.

He worked more of the buttons on her blouse, letting it fall open completely so he could touch her better. He groaned against her neck at the feel of the swell of her full breast in his hand. Her needs and sensitivity had changed over the course of their months together as she got further along so he had to sort of learn all over again what she liked. He didn't mind at all needing a reason to touch her.

He slid his mouth lower, kissing along her shoulder and collarbone before finding the top of her breast. Her bra had a front clasp and he was grateful for that, so much easier to undo in moments like this. He worked it open with ease before finding one of her peaks.

She gasped when he captured it, taking it between his teeth before he began sucking almost greedily. It'd been too long and he always loved her reaction to him doing this.

“Oh God, John, you should stop,” she whispered.

He had no desire to pull away from what he was doing so he shook his head. He loved the taste of her even if he was a little surprised it happened. He didn't think she was still breastfeeding Frank. He toyed with the idea of stopping for a second or two.

“John,” she whispered, apparently sensing that he was thinking it through.

He stopped sucking, licking the peak clean before he concentrated on just kissing and licking her there. He didn't want to make her uncomfortable or self-conscious. He lowered his mouth to the swell of her breast, sucking on the skin there. His hands slid along her abdomen, thumbs skimming along her skin there until they were stopped by the waistband of her pants. Of course today she wore pants. He worked the button and zipper, loving when she reached for them to push them low along her hips for him.

She cried out when he found her nub, sliding a fingertip around it the way she liked. He didn't think what she liked with that had changed over the course of her pregnancy. He slid his fingers lower, parting her lips causing her to moan in the most delightful way, making him even harder than he already was.

He reached for the front of his jeans as she kicked off her shoes and worked at sliding her pants and panties even lower, using her feet somehow to get them off. He wasn't even going to try and figure out how she'd managed to do that.

He lifted her up and she wrapped her legs around him without him having to even prompt her what he wanted her to do. She was there, pressed against him and wet for him. It didn't take him more than a minute to slide all the way into her as he settled her on the counter nearest where they were standing. She slid her hands to his abdomen, under his shirt so she could lift it up and over his head.

“Too much?” he asked when she gave a soft hiss and clenched around him. He had to remember it'd been over seven months since she'd done this. Him, too, but he knew it was a little different for women to go without than men.

She shook her head.

“You're sure? I don't want to hurt you,” he whispered.

She laughed at that.

“Yeah, okay, I know what you like, sweetheart, but we were doing it fairly regularly there that hurting you didn't occur to me.”

“You're not hurting me.”

He didn't ask again. He loved her hands on him. He'd never been big on sex with lights on or in daylight before because it always led to pitying looks that he'd rather not actually see. She never looked at him like that though. She just looked at him as if she genuinely got aroused seeing him. The feeling was mutual.

“You have to pull out,” she said, apparently able to sense that he was very close to finishing.


“You're not wearing anything.”

He pulled out immediately, dropping a hand to his shaft so he could finish. She helped, sliding her hand along his sac as she knew he liked her to do. He leaned in to kiss her, using his hands at her hips to slide her closer to the edge of the counter so she was as flush against him as he could get her.

“Had you waited like two minutes longer to tell me that…”

“Yeah, I know. I wasn't thinking straight,” she whispered. Her head was against his chest as he slid his fingertips along the small of her back.

“You think I'd do that with someone else? You think I want to do that with someone else?”


“No. You really believe I could go from this, you, what you do with and to me to someone I what? Pick up in a bar who doesn't have the first clue about doing it for me?”

“No,” she whispered.

“You must think something.”

“I don't know. I don't know what the rules are. I mean, you're telling me I can date.”

“I'm not telling you that you can or can't do anything. I don't own you, Claire. If you need to do it then I can only let you do what you feel you need to do. I don't like it. I hate it. It truly makes me sick inside to think of you looking at someone else let alone going on a date with them.”

“I'm sorry,” she whispered and he could tell she truly did feel bad. She probably felt worse about it than he gave her credit for.

“Do you want to know where I'm at, Claire?”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you want to know where my head is? I want to marry you. I want that, I want this, I want you every day for the rest of our lives. I don't want anyone else. I don't need anyone else. I've done the wandering thing and I don't need to figure anything out. So I don't need to date someone else. I don't need to find out if you're what I want.”

“But how is that even fair?”

“It's not,” he admitted. “You're right. It's horribly unfair and I'll be miserable every god damned day, but I get it. I get you haven't had the last ten years to live. You've been a wife and a mom and everything to everyone else you were influencing without any time to be Claire.”

“I don't want you miserable.”

“I don't know what the alternative is.”

“I don't know either. Unless you didn't want to see me for a while.”

“No, that'd be worse,” he admitted. “And I'm not going to let you off that easy. I bail then you'll use that as an excuse that I'm not the guy for you. Or you'll forget about me.”

She scoffed at that. “I couldn't forget about you.”

“But you're just talking dates, right?”

“Yes. I just want to experience things.”

“You do realize I can take you on dates, right? I'll take you anywhere you want to go.”

“Yes, but I already know you.”

He sighed.

“John, I love you,” she said softly. He stiffened at that.


“I love you. I do. I didn't want to. I felt guilty about it when I knew I was falling in love with you, but I do. I can't deny that. I haven't admitted it because I didn't want that pressure on me. On us.”


“I'm not looking for a boyfriend. I want to be with you, but I have to be sure. I can't rush from one marriage into another one.”

“I'm not asking you to marry me today, you know? If you need time I'm fine with time. You want a couple of years we can do that? Have I pressured you? Have I suggested to you I expect you to see me every day? Have I suggested I expect you to even talk to me every day?”

“No,” she admitted.

“Can we make a deal?”


“So suspicious.”

“I'm half-naked and you want to make a deal with me. I'm liable to say yes to you.”

He chuckled softly. “I like you any kinds of naked in my kitchen, sweetheart. I'm very glad I invested in that playpen for Frank now.”

“Me, too.”

“So here's my offer.”


“Give me a chance. I mean a full-on dating chance. I know what I said tonight about what I want from you, but you knew that already. I've mentioned kids. I won't lay that heavy stuff on you anymore. There are people who get married right out of high school and make it work, you know? I realize it's not normal, but there's nothing wrong with the fact you haven't dated one hundred guys in your lifetime.”


“Okay you accept my offer? Or you're just saying okay?”


He leaned back a little, regarding her. “Why?”

She shrugged. “I need a reason?”

“I guess not. I'm very relieved, but I guess I'm suspicious.”

“I already know I love you.”


“I'm just not ready for seriousness.”

“I can leave the I love you stuff at the door.”

“No, I don't mind hearing it. It's just the expectations.”

“Those I can leave at the door, however, I need you to let me know when talking about seriousness is acceptable.”

“I think we'll both know.”

“I hope you're right. You can't throw that back in my face, though, six months or a year from now.”

“What do you mean?”

“You can't a year from now tell me that I never tell you I want to be with you or anything anymore. You can presume my feelings are exactly what I've stated they are here tonight.”


“And you need to go to a doctor and get on the pill.”

“John,” she whispered.

“Please don't tell me you don't believe in taking that?”

“I do. I just didn't because you said we shouldn't have sex.”

“So what's the problem?”

“Are you going to go back to not wanting to have sex?”

“No,” he said with a short laugh. “I was trying to do the right thing, for both of us.”

“Why did you change your mind tonight?”

“Because it drives me absolutely crazy that you think what we just did. What we do together. It drives me batshit crazy that you think I believe I could find that anywhere else.”

“You could!”

“I cannot. I cannot get this anywhere else. What we do because I don't love them. Do you get that?”

“No,” she whispered.

He sighed. “Yeah, and I'm going to be paying for his crimes for God only knows how long.”

“You're not, I just don't understand it.”

“The fact you don't makes me very sad, sweetheart.”

“Me, too.”

“At least we can agree on that. Are you sure you're okay? I didn't hurt you?”

“I'm fine. I should probably clean up, though.”

He chuckled softly. “Sorry. You didn't give me much notice to do anything but finish like that.”

“I know.”

“You can use my shower.”

“Frank may wake up.”

“I can get him. I assume you've got a bottle in his bag for him.”


“Get it ready for me and I'll get him while you clean up.”

“Thank you.”

He sighed. “You're welcome. You need to stop thanking me for doing what people who date do for one another.”

“People who date don't help with their babies.”

“Well, this guy does and those people should rethink what they're doing.”

She smiled at that as he helped her down from the counter.

“I'll still say thank you.”

“I know, it's how you were raised.”


“Truthfully, I wouldn't have you any other way, sweetheart, so we're good.”

“Thank you.”

He leaned down and kissed her.

“How confident are you he's going to wake up?”

“He's been sleeping for a while now. He hasn't eaten for quite a while.”

“Speaking of that, how long does that take,” he said, sliding a fingertip along a breast.


“To stop. You know.”

“Oh, it shouldn't be too much longer, a month or two.”

“And you don't want me to do that for a couple of months?”

“It does feel good,” she whispered.

“What does?”

“Well, I weaned him, started feeding him that way less and less so less would produce instead of just stopping cold.”

“Right,” he said, understanding the concept of supply and demand.

“You don't just stop producing it, though. So, they hurt sometimes.”

“What do you do?”

“Take a hot shower so enough leaks out for it to stop hurting.”

“Well, if I hurt you or you're uncomfortable you need to let me know. I don't know what you're feeling.”

“I know. I will, don't worry. It'd be okay if you did it a little if you don't mind that happening. Just not much or my body will start thinking it needs to make more again.”

“All right, I can work with a little.”

“Because it does feel good.”



He chuckled. “As good as when you were pregnant?”

“It's different. Then it just felt really good, now it's a … base need to have it come out.”

“And Dan wouldn't help you through that?”

She laughed at that. “He didn't touch me there for months after I stopped with Bill and Justin.”

John rolled his eyes with a shake of his head. “You get to where you're hurting and I'm around, let me know. I'll help unless your mom's right there or something.”


“I get a free pass to see, touch, and use my mouth on parts of your body I'm very fond of and you want to know why?”

“I guess put like that, no.”

“Go take your shower.”

“Thank you.”

“And then we'll go find the other kids and get something to eat.”

“John, you don't have to drive all the way to my house tonight.”

“I know I don't. This woman I'm in love with has finally agreed to date me forgive me for wanting to spend a little more time with her. Unless you had somewhere else to be.”


“No dates with grad assistants?”


“That's very good to hear.”

“What can I say, you can be pretty convincing.”

“Why the sex convinced you and I couldn't just by loving you I'm not sure I want to know.”

“It wasn't the sex.”

“It didn't hurt.”

“No,” she admitted. She got the bottle ready for John before heading to his room.

“John,” he heard her call from the bathroom. She obviously had left his door open, probably to be sure she heard if Frank woke up even though he said he'd get him up.


“You gave me a hickey.”

“Huh,” he said. “Imagine that.”

“I have to go home with that.”


“I have to go to class… Oh.”


“You're such an ass.”

“I didn't hear you telling me to stop.”

“Because it felt good.”

He chuckled at that. “Deal with it, sweetheart. It'll go away. Clean up so we can go out somewhere.”

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