***Chapter Twenty-Two***
Word Count: 3,486

“I appreciate you being able to babysit on such short notice, Shelly,” Claire said when Shelly got there. She'd called her last night from John's cell phone to ask her if she'd be available tonight.

“It's no problem, Mrs. Abbott, I have fun babysitting Bill and Justin.”

“I'm so glad. They're excited to see you again, too.”

That had surprised Claire a bit because the boys had only seen her a couple of times. She'd used Shelly less than a handful of times after New Year's Eve when her mom wasn't home and she'd had an errand to run or an appointment. She hadn't babysat for as long as she had the night of New Year's Eve, though.

“Frank just had a bottle so he should be fine for about four hours. He's real close to crawling, so keep an eye on him if you have him on the floor or something.”

“I will,” she said.

“It's Friday, so you can send the boys to bed anytime really. If they're good and you want to let them stay up, that's fine. They both have things to do in the morning, though, so not too late.”

“Okay,” she said.

“Mom should be home around midnight I think she said. She's going to a show downtown. She'll go up to bed right away most likely anyway.”

“That's fine. I have no problem with her being here.”

“I don't think I'll be much later than that anyway since I have to wake up with Bill and Justin tomorrow, too. John said he'd drop you at your house on his way home. There are some pizzas in the freezer and stuff in the cupboard if you wanted something else instead. Help yourself to whatever you want.”

“Okay. I'll probably make them some macaroni and cheese or soup and grilled cheese or something.”

“That'd be great.”

John came into the hallway then. He'd gone down to the basement to say hi to Bill and Justin while waiting for Shelly to get there. He hadn't taken off his coat because he knew she would be there at any minute. Traffic on Friday's was always bad and he'd worked a little later today than he'd expected to.

“Hi Shelly,” John said.

“Hi,” she said.

He'd taken her breath away a bit in the suit he was wearing. She'd only ever see him dressed up on New Year's Eve. Other than that the times they'd gone out had been pretty casual. Tonight, though, since it was an actual, official date he'd insisted they do it right. She couldn't help but think he had the right idea because she wouldn't mind staring at him for the next few hours looking like this. He even had a nice coat to wear over it. It wasn't real cold out, but cool enough it wasn't overkill wearing it with his suit.

“Everyone all right?” she asked.


“Good,” she said, sliding into the coat he held for her. “Okay, Shelly, John has his cell phone with him. You do, right?”

He rolled his eyes. “Yes, ma'am, I remembered it. You only reminded me like fifty times.”

“It may have been two, but thank you,” she said. “So, if you need me for anything just call.”

“We'll be fine. Have fun,” Shelly said, closing and locking the door behind them. It was one of the things about Shelly Claire liked. She was conscientious like that, locking the door behind her when she left and stuff. She hadn't been too sure on New Year's Eve, being the first time she'd left her boys with someone she didn't know well. Justin hadn't said too much about her, but Bill had enough the next day so that Claire knew she was a good babysitter.

“Bill asked me if I was going to his game tomorrow,” John asked once they were settled in his SUV.

“Are you?”

“I told him that was up to his mom,” he said, pulling out of her driveway.

“It's not up to me.”

“Would you like me to go to his game with you?”

“Sure, you're welcome anytime.”

“Yeah, you say that, but are you sure you're ready for that?”

“What? You've gone before.”

She knew what he was asking her. Honestly, she wasn't completely sure she was ready for it but there was no sense putting it off. If she tried to he'd know and think she wasn't serious last night.

“If I go with you tomorrow, sweetheart, I'm not going as your friend.”

“I know.”

That both excited and scared the shit out of her. People at Bill and Justin's games had seen John with her before, but not in the way he was talking about. The only people who'd actually ever seen John and Claire kiss were her boys. One time. Other than that one time they hadn't ever in front of anyone. Even when they'd gone out for dinner just the two of them or something they didn't in front of people.

“That means people are going to see us together.” He paused, taking her hand. “Maybe see me put my arm around you, kissing you.”

“I'm aware of what it means.”

“And you're okay with that?”

“I told you last night…”

She totally understood why he doubted her. She'd changed her mind pretty quickly, surprising even herself. She hadn't decided over night that she loved him. She'd known a long time ago she did, just not wanting to admit it even to herself. She had decided pretty quickly not to accept a date with someone else because they'd had sex. Well, that wasn't really the reason, but she could see why John would think it was. She just knew there was no way she could go out with someone else when she felt about him the way she did. Having sex with him in his kitchen had just sort of driven the point home because she wouldn't have sex with him if she didn't love him. Not now anyway, and even if she didn't like to think about it even in November she wouldn't have if she didn't at least love him a little bit.

“Yeah, you've had all night and all day to think on things. Maybe change your mind. Maybe reconsider whether you wanted to take the other guy up on his offer. Maybe feel guilty.”

“I wouldn't accept another guy's offer for a date with a hickey from you on my neck.”

“I noticed you hadn't covered it up. What did your mom say?”

“She didn't say anything. What could she say?”

“Oh, I'm sure she could've said something. It wouldn't have phased my mom if I'd come home with a hickey on my neck. Your mom, on the other hand, I can see her being a bit unsettled.”

“I think she chose to ignore it and pretend it wasn't there.”

He chuckled softly at that. “I can see her doing that. At least I'm not banned from your house.”

“I don't think she'd ban you from the house over a hickey if she didn't after you spent the night there.”

“Likely she assumes nothing happened between us the first time. The second time nothing could have happened.”

“Well, still,” she said.

“And the Anthropology guy?”

“He didn't really say anything either. I could tell he was surprised.”

John chuckled softly at that.

“I told him I had a boyfriend so couldn't go out with him.”

“He didn't wonder why you hadn't said that right away?”

She shrugged. “He probably assumed I was just trying to be nice.”

“So, wait. He saw the hickey and still brought it up again?”

“He may not have seen it, I don't know.”

“Hmm,” he said.


“Nothing, I just assumed that would deter the guy.”

“Maybe he didn't care?”

“Obviously not.”

“You're not leaving me another, more obvious one.”

“I'm not?”

“No! Never mind him, I have kids to think about.”

He chuckled softly.

“I was teasing, sweetheart. You're fine. Don't worry. I understand what I can and can't do.”

“I didn't say you couldn't leave any…”

“Just not obvious ones?”


“Hmm,” he said.


He shrugged. “Nothing. Just didn't have you pegged as the type to not be bothered by them.”

“I haven't had one in years.”

“Really? Years?”

“Maybe after Bill was born, but definitely I was still in college.”


“What? What's so wrong with that?”

He sighed softly. “Nothing.”

“You never gave me one until last night either. So why does it surprise you?”

“I haven't done it because I knew I wasn't supposed to. I didn't really have the right to and it probably would've made you mad.”

“And last night you weren't worried about my being mad?”

“Last night I wasn't thinking very clearly, no. You'd just told me you wanted to go out on a date with someone else. You'll forgive me for not being happy or able to worry about leaving you a hickey.”

“Have you ever been jealous before?”

“No,” he said.

He glanced at her then and she saw that look in his eye. The one that told her he was about to ask her a question that he realized that he already knew the answer to. Usually those questions were about Dan or her marriage.

“Yes,” she said softly.

“What? I didn't say anything.”

“I know what you're thinking.”

“Are you psychic now, sweetheart?”

“No. You just get certain looks when you're thinking about things.”


“Like you were just going to ask if I'd ever been jealous and you thought about who you were about to ask that question to and why it would be stupid to ask me.”

He brought her hand to his lips and kissed the back of it. “I swear to God if you ever feel that way with me, please tell me.”

“What do you mean?”

“If I'm doing anything, intentionally or not, that makes you jealous or think I'm doing something else with anyone but you please tell me so I can stop.”

“You don't. You haven't.”

“I'm glad, but that's an ongoing thing. Ever. I mean it. The last thing I ever want to do is anything that makes you feel that way again.”

“Thank you.”

He took her to dinner downtown at a place she hadn't been to in years. The last time she'd been there was with her parents when she was probably in junior high. It was as nice as she remembered, though. He admitted he'd never been there before, but had always wanted to go.

“You wore comfortable shoes,” he said.

“I did. You said to.”

“I'm glad you knew what I meant.”

“I did,” she said as they left the restaurant and walked. They stopped periodically to look at a store's window display or something, but otherwise they had no particular place they were heading to.

“Thank you for dinner,” she said after a while. She didn't mind the silence between them. They talked about small things. His day. Her day. Stores she remembered seeing down here as a kid that were now gone.

“Thank you for coming with me.”

“You know, I'm kind of glad you were dating Amanda in August.”

“I'm sorry, what?”

She shrugged. “I think if you weren't and something had happened between us I would have felt too guilty to see you again.”

“You think so?”

“I do. I felt guilty enough that it happened in November. Two months after Dan died I think I would have felt awful.”

“I can see that. I guess I'm glad, too, then.”

“I called my doctor today.”


“Well, I just saw her last month.”


“I was kind of hoping she'd just call in a prescription for me without having to see her again.”


“She did. I saw her after I had Frank and then again last month so I'm current with everything.”

“What's that mean?”

“That you'll have to be responsible for condoms for a while yet. Like six weeks. She said I can consider myself protected after a month of taking it. I can't start taking it right away.”

“I can do that. I, uh, bought some today.”

“Hmm. Should I be insulted you assumed our date would end with us having sex?”

“It doesn't have to! I just bought them to have at the house. I don't have one in my wallet or anything.”


He chuckled, pulling his wallet out of his coat pocket. He held it open for her.

“See? Nothing. What happened last night doesn't mean it has to happen again right away, you know? I certainly didn't wake up yesterday morning thinking that I was going to see you let alone have sex with you.”

“I know,” she said.

“Just making sure.”

She was quiet for a while after that. He slid an arm around her, drawing her against her as they headed back toward his SUV.

“What are you thinking?” he asked.

She shrugged.

“Don't do that. What are you thinking? You're not the only one who can tell when I'm thinking something, you know?”

“You don't want to?”

“That's not what I said, Claire. I just don't want you to think I expect it.”

He stopped walking and turned to face her then. He slid a hand to her cheek, touching her with the pad of his thumb. “Wanting to was never the issue, Claire. I don't want you to think we have to. That agreeing to date me means I expect anything from you. If you're not ready.”

“Did I not seem ready last night?”

“That was different. It wasn't planned.”

“I didn't realize it had to be planned.”

He sighed softly.

“It doesn't. You're misunderstanding what I'm saying.” He leaned in and kissed her, sliding his hand from her cheek to her neck, his thumb grazing her ear. “I just want to be what you need. Whatever that is.”

“I know,” she whispered.

“Do you?”

“Yes,” she said.

“You want me to stop at Walgreen's on the way back to your place? I can.”

“I,” she said.

He chuckled. “You're not sure?”

“I just hate doing that with you in my basement.”

“So, I can go to your room again.”

“No,” she said. “I don't know what Mom would do this time.”

“How long are you going to be in school?”

“Two or three years at least.”

He sighed. “We're going to go shopping soon.”

“For what?” she asked confused by the sudden change in topics.

“Beds. Furniture.”


“It's absolutely ridiculous that we can't sleep together if we want to when we went away for a weekend together. We're adults. Bill's not stupid even if he didn't see me come out of the same room you slept in, he knew there was no other bed upstairs that weekend that had been used.”

“He probably thought…”

“What I slept on the couch?”

“I don't know,” she said. She hadn't thought too hard on it, really.

“So, you're going shopping with me. You'll help me pick out some furniture they'd like and that's functional as more than kids' furniture.”


“I'm not saying you should move in with me or spend every night there, but it would sure be nice to have that as an option without worrying about your mom getting mad at us.”

“I know.”

“Frank has the playpen, which you said he can sleep in for a while yet, right?”


“So we're talking a couple of beds and dressers. Maybe a couple of desks so they can do homework if they have to.”

“He doesn't have much homework yet.”


“You don't really need my help.”

“I don't know the first thing about furnishing anything. Have you actually looked at my bedroom?”

She laughed at that. “Yes,” she said.

He was right. He had no headboard. His dresser was probably as old as he was. The only thing in his house she absolutely could not find fault with was his dining room set and his couch.

“Who picked out the dining room table and chairs? And your couch?”

“Honestly? The woman at the furniture store. I brought her pictures of the rooms after I'd wasted about an hour of her time a week before.”

“I'll bet she didn't think you wasted her time after that? If you bought everything at one time that had to have been a pretty nice commission for her.”

“Yeah, I think she thought I was just wasting her time the first time, but I had no idea. I really didn't. The house is old, so it seemed to me I should go with things more classic, traditional. Hell if I knew what that stuff was, though.”

“You could just get bunk beds and a dresser. They don't need their own rooms or anything.”

“Well, still you can help me out.”

“I can.”

“That doesn't help us for tonight, I guess. I'm fine with the basement, you know. I don't think I ever complained.”

“I know. It just bothers me.”

“You could bring a couple of pillows down there from your room and we could sleep on the floor. What could your mom say about us falling asleep watching TV?”

“I suppose.”

“I promise to have all my clothes on before we fall asleep.”

“See, and I like you without all of your clothes on.”

“I feel the same way, Princess.”

“You're going to sleep in your suit?” she asked, scrunching her nose a bit.

“Well, the shirt and pants, yeah. I suppose I could sleep in the boxers and just put the pants back on before anyone else wakes up.”


“Is that an okay you want me to stop at Walgreen's on the way back home?”

“Would you be mad if I said no?”

“Mad?” he asked with a frown. “Why would I be mad?”

“I don't know. You took me out on this nice date.”

“Believe it or not, not every one of my dates has ended in sex.”

“I find that a little hard to believe.”

“Yeah, well, even if that was true, they aren't you. So, you're just talking sleeping, right?”


“I could go for that. In fact, why don't we stop at my place before heading to yours and I can pick up a change of clothes for tomorrow.”

“Sure,” she said.

“You said midnight, right?”

“I told her Mom would be home around midnight, I didn't really tell her a specific time.”

“Well, we have plenty of time regardless.”

He leaned in and kissed her again. “I would never get mad at you for saying no, Claire. You hear me?”

“I hear you.”


“It's not that I don't want to.”

“You don't need to explain yourself either.”

“Yeah, but you probably think I'm drastically different not pregnant.”

“Uh, no. If we'd been dating for months and you said no at every turn maybe.” He slid a finger under her chin, tilting her face up to look at her. “And regardless of whether you were drastically different or not I wouldn't get mad. And I wouldn't think it was a reason to find it somewhere else.”

Her eyes fell closed then and she shook her head a little, dislodging his hand from her face.

“I know.”

“You know, but you're not sure yet you can believe me. I get that. There's one big difference between him and me, you know?”


“Well, I like to think there are a lot of differences, but the major one is your kids are not my kids so I don't have some complex about how you're whatever he thought. I don't pretend to understand it, and believe me I have tried. So, what you're good for making babies with but not the rest of the time. Some guys are like that I guess. You have the wife who you wouldn't do the stuff you'd do with your girlfriend.”

“And it doesn't bother you I like the stuff you'd do with your girlfriend?”

“Uh, I don't know how adamantly I can say no to that. I'm not that kind of guy. Besides you are my girlfriend. If one day you become more than that I wouldn't want you to change what you do and don't like just because we were married or something.”

She reached up and kissed him, lowering her mouth to his jaw and to his neck just above his shirt collar before finding his ear.

“Thank you.”

“You're welcome.”

“Let's go get you some clothes.”

“Your mom is likely still going to freak out.”

“Probably, but like you said, what can she do about us falling asleep on the floor?”

He chuckled softly.

“As long as she doesn't poison my breakfast tomorrow we're fine.”

“She wouldn't poison your breakfast. Maybe your coffee.”

“Ha ha, funny woman.”

“I'm not sure I'm joking. The kids eat her food.”

“Point taken. I'll avoid coffee.”

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