***Chapter Twenty-Three***
Word Count: 3,444

November 1995

“I still can't believe they hadn't seen this,” he said.

“Why did you see it?” she asked.

“Because it's Tim Allen?” he said with a shrug. “He's funny. I didn't go see it, but Greg had it in one afternoon for the kids in the basement when I was there for a game or something in the spring. I stood and watched it for a little while. I asked him the other day if I could borrow it for your kids. I figured it's closing in on Christmas time so it would be appropriate.”

The kids had loved The Santa Clause. Claire, on the other hand, seemed downright irritated and he couldn't quite figure out why. He hadn't done anything that he knew of. They'd been getting along. Actually, they'd been getting along very well, so this sudden mood change seemed to come out of nowhere as far as he was concerned. He'd kept to his word and wasn't being pushy. If she asked him to do something more than their usual Wednesday during the week he was fine with that. Work was slow enough this time of year he could see her a couple of nights during the week.

The boys went up to bed almost as soon as the movie finished. Justin had been allowed to stay up a little later to watch it since they'd eaten dinner first. Frank was down here with them for a little while longer. She'd gotten him his bath and stuff after dinner before the movie so he was ready to be put to bed for the night whenever she got to that.

She brought him a beer and herself a glass of water when she came back from saying good night to Bill and Justin. She sat next to him, but not real close to him. She hadn't earlier either. He'd just sort of assumed it was because Justin and Bill were around. She was still being somewhat cautious around them and he certainly understood that.

“Are you going to tell me what's been bugging you the past few days now?”

“What?” she asked.

“You've hardly said a word to me. Wednesday or tonight. You didn't call me Thursday night before you went to bed, which is fine but you usually do. I'm not like all busted up about it or anything, but I do like hearing from you. Your day. You haven't mentioned wanting me to go with you tomorrow.”

“I'm fine. You're welcome to come tomorrow. I didn't realize you were waiting for an invitation from me.”

“Well, it's nice to know I'm wanted there.”

“The boys love it. It's fine, you know that.”

“Claire, come on. If this is too much. If you've changed your mind, just tell me. Don't pull this moody shit on me. I don't know what to do. Leave? Talk to you? Ignore it and pretend everything's all right.”

“I haven't changed my mind. Well.”

“Well what?” he asked.

“You may change your mind.”

“What does that even mean? When have I hinted that I'm going to change my mind?”

“I told you I had to wait until my next period to start taking the pill.”

“Yeah,” he said cautiously, not sure what she was getting at. Did she think he'd get mad that they couldn't or something? “You mentioned it should be soon at your house that, uh, first night in your basement. I remember.”

“Well, it should've happened this week.”


“It hasn't yet.”

“Like when this week?” he asked.

“Well, it's not an exact science. I'm usually pretty normal and regular, but I did just stop breastfeeding like six weeks ago so it's possible that could be messing things up.”

“So, you haven't said anything because you're waiting?”

“Kind of.”

“I pulled out in plenty of time.”

“Did you? It only takes one.”

“Well, I guess you have a point. I suppose it's possible.”

“You said you've never been inside anyone but me without protection.”

“No, I haven't.”

“So it's not like you pull out all the time to know exactly when.”

“Claire. I know how it works.”

“And again, it just takes one.”

“Okay,” he said, conceding her point. He was not an expert on it by any means. He hadn't been expecting to have to pull out of her either. He almost didn't because she'd felt so damned good around him.

“And being two weeks ago it would've been at a real bad time for that to happen.”

He didn't completely understand what was so bad about two weeks ago, but she apparently did so he took her word for it.

“Have you taken a test?”

“No,” she said.

“Why not?”

“Because I'm scared to death to. I don't want to be pregnant again, John.”

“All right. I get that. I didn't mean to do it if you are, but not finding out isn't doing you any good.”

“I will next week if I haven't started by then.”

“Next week? Claire.”

“It's not going to change whether I wait or not.”

“Well, yeah, but if the test comes back negative…”

“And if it doesn't?”

“Well, then we'd deal with that. You think I'd blow you off?”

“I don't know.”

“Jesus, Claire. I wouldn't do that. I told you I'd love to have one with you.”

“Yeah, one day, not next year.”

“Well, true, but you need to find out first before you start worrying about it. You want me to go get you one of those tests?”

“You'd do that?”

“Yeah. I mean, I wouldn't know what in the hell I was looking for as far as one over another, but why not?”

She shrugged.

“You what? Think I am going to think you did this on purpose? That you came over to my house that day with that in mind?”

“You could.”

“It's plausible, I suppose. I mean, it wouldn't take a genius to figure out I'd get a little jealous over the fact you came there telling me you wanted to go out with other people. And that you actually had a specific one in mind you wanted to accept an offer from. I'm not sure you're crafty enough to plot the rest of it out, though.”

“I think you underestimate women who try and trap men.”

“Okay. Look at your experience with that. Did it work for that other woman you mentioned telling Dan she was pregnant?”

“No,” she said.

He set his can of beer on the table behind the couch and reached for her, drawing her onto his lap. She came willingly, he was happy to see that.

“Let's go buy a test. If you don't want to take it here we could go back to my place and do it if you want. I'm sure your mom wouldn't mind babysitting for a couple of hours once Frank is in bed.”

“No, I could take it here. I'd just have to hide it so she wouldn't see it if she emptied the trash in my bathroom or something. She's not that nosey.”

“She'd be pretty mad,” he said, thinking of it from her mom's point of view.

“Mad is an understatement. My dating you is bad enough.”

He chuckled. “I guess my staying in the basement will not seem like a very good idea if that's what it turns out to be.”

“I was kind of hoping if I'd ignore it, stopped worrying it'd just start on its own.”

“Can that happen?”

“Stress? Yes. It can and I know that night in your kitchen timed with around the time I'd be ovulating.”

“That's bad?”

“That's when the egg is released, so yeah, because it can get fertilized then. I mean, it doesn't always, but for whatever reason I seem to be one of those people who it always happens to. We weren't really trying for Bill or Frank. Justin we did try for, but it happened right away with him, too.”

“I see.”

“Didn't you pay attention in health class?”

“About women and that stuff? Uh, no. I just knew it was a week I wouldn't be having sex if I ever got married. Considering at the time I had health class that held zero interest for me I tuned shit like that out.”

She laughed softly.

“What?” he asked. “What else is there for me to know? Really.”

“Well, I guess I don't know. And there's nothing stopping you from having sex.”

“Yeah, no, you saw my reaction to seeing a little bit of blood on that part of me at the cabin in January. It doesn't belong there. You know?”

“You like to in the shower with me.”

“Well, sure. I like to with you anywhere you want to. I suppose a shower could be workable. You'd really want to?”

“Well, no, I haven't.”

“I can't imagine whose idea that was not to.”

“Be nice.”

“I have no reason to be nice.”

“I never brought it up or anything, but I wouldn't have even if I'd wanted to. I would've known his answer. I was just pointing out that it doesn't mean you can't.”

“Yeah, I get it. I'll store it away for reference some time when you're not living with your mother. Because you know I'd never say no to you.”

“I do know that.”

“Let's go do that then. Put Frank to bed, or bring him with us if you want. Tell your mom we're just going out for ice cream or something. It is Friday night.”

“I know. We could.”

“All right. You'll feel better, don't you think?”

“Not if it's positive.”

He slid his hands to her cheeks. “We'll deal with it if it's positive. You do realize that, right?”

“I know.”

“I won't deny I'd be scared shitless, but I'd deal with it with you.”

“I believe you.”

He smirked a little at that. “You believe I'd be scared shitless?”

“Yes, going from not wanting them to wanting them is great in theory.”

“You're right. I can honestly admit if I hadn't spent the past year with you I probably wouldn't have mentioned not getting your tubes tied.”

“You just like sex better with me when I'm pregnant.”

“Uh, no. That's not it at all. It certainly was enjoyable, don't get me wrong. I did sort of feel guilty after a while, though.”

“Guilty about what?”

“Always being behind you.”

“I like it.”

“I know this, but you know, it's ingrained in us men that women don't like that. They want the kissing and the contact that comes with us being on top of them.”

“Oh, I like that, too.”

“And yet even not pregnant we've never done it with me on top of you.”

“Whose fault is that?”

“Yours! I try to give you what you want.”

She laughed softly at that, leaning into kiss him. “I want you, John, it doesn't matter any way I have you.”

“Go get Frank ready to go before you distract me. I do think you owe me something though for not telling me what was going on and for thinking that I'd somehow react badly.”

“I was reacting badly. I will be so mad at myself. I knew, but you distracted me and I couldn't think clearly and it'd be my fault.”

He frowned. “I initiated. I should've asked I guess. I just sort of assumed you went on something.”

“What reason would I have?”

“I don't know! I guess I didn't think too hard on it. I just assumed it'd be a logical thing after having a kid and not wanting another one.”

“Yeah, but you have to have sex to get into a position to have another one.”

He chuckled. “True enough.”

“I'll meet you upstairs then?”


“Are you going to come back here with me?”

“That's up to you, I guess. Do you want me to wait with you? How long does it take anyway?”

“Like ten minutes.”

“I'll come back here with you then. I can sit in Frank's room or down here while you do whatever you need to do.”

“You can wait in my room.”

“Your mother might not like that.”

“We can leave the door open. Why don't you just stay here with Frank? I'll go. I'll pick up ice cream, too.”

“All right. That works, too.”

She leaned in and kissed him. “I'll be back then. It's just silly to get him into his coat and everything for a trip to Jewel.”

“You might want to drive to a Jewel not right here.”

“Oh, I'd planned to, believe me. The last thing I need is someone seeing me buy a pregnancy test and telling my mother. I'll be back then.”

She took forever. Sitting there with Frank was pretty torturous. Not that the baby was bad or anything. It just gave him time to think. He was a fucking idiot. If she was pregnant he deserved it and then some for not asking her. There was absolutely nothing good on TV to distract him either. Eventually, Frank crashed on the floor to where John finally took him up to his room and put him in his crib there. He saw her bedroom light on, frowning a little at that. He knocked and she opened the door almost immediately.

“I was just coming downstairs.”

“Oh? How long have you been back?”

“About fifteen minutes.”

“Ah. And?” He could guess what she'd spent the fifteen minutes doing.

“It says no.”

“Okay. That's good, right?” He thought it was pretty good. If for no other reason she'd probably end up pretty damned pissed at him at some point during the next nine months if it had turned out positive.

“It is. I mean, the timing.”

“I get it. Don't worry, I'm not taking offense to that, sweetheart. I understand completely.”

“Good,” she said, leading him into the hall.

“Where are we going?” he asked.

“Out for a drink,” she said, knocking lightly on her mom's door.

“Mom?” she said. “John and I are going out for a drink. The boys are all in bed. I'll be back in plenty of time in case Frank wakes up.”

“Thanks for letting me know,” she said through the door. She didn't sound like she was right by the door, though, so John imagined she was still in bed somewhere in the room. He'd never seen Mrs. Standish's bedroom, not having any reason to. The door was always closed the times he'd come upstairs. He imagined it was closed to keep her three grandsons out of there.

John got his coat on and followed her outside.

“How are you?” she asked once they got into the bar and were sitting down. It was Friday night so it was busy as he expected it to be. They weren't eating in the restaurant, though, so they were able to find a couple seats in the bar easily enough.

“I'm fine. I'm not the one who's spent the past five or six days worrying about this, though.”

“I know, but you've spent the last little while wondering.”

“I told you. We would have worked it out and we would've. My instinct would've been to ask you to marry me, but I know that wouldn't have been what you wanted.”

“Not because I was pregnant, no.”

“Well, I certainly would've wanted to see it more than weekends or something.”

“Yes, I get that.”

He leaned over and kissed her, grateful now that she'd sat next to him at the table instead of across from him. “I will take just you and your boys on weekends for now. You know that, right? The games and whatever else goes with it.”

“I know. But a part of you…”

“Must be disappointed?”


“Nah. I'd really like us to be on firm ground, at the very least you guys living with me.”

“You'd live with me without being married?”

“I thought we weren't going to talk about this stuff.”

“Well, I'm asking you're not bringing it up, and we're talking about it because I thought I might be pregnant.”

“Well, as long as I don't get in trouble I'll answer you.”

“You won't get in trouble.”

“I'd take you in my house for good any way I can get you. If living with me for a while feels better for you then that's fine. It's not like I was stuck on getting married until recently anyway.”


“Does that mean you're thinking about that?”

“I don't know. Mom babysitting the kids while I'm in school.”

“Well, maybe your mom would come to our house and babysit them. She'd love it there during the summer.”

“She would,” Claire agreed.

“So, if that's what's tripping you up, babysitting. There are ways around that. I completely understand her babysitting is saving you a ton of money.”

“It is. During the school year, though.”

“Yeah? Bill wouldn't be going to the Shermer school system anymore.”

“I suppose not.”

He chuckled softly. “I can't say that doesn't bother me.”


“I've thought about what I'd do if I saw anyone again. Obviously if I'm involved with you, I'm involved with your boys. Bill's in Little League for now, but I bet that'll change into school stuff as he gets older.”

“Right. I'd actually like to see Mr. Vernon's face.”


“I just would. He was a jerk to you.”

“He'd probably have something smart to say about me compensating or whatever by raising your kids instead of my own kids.”

“Mr. Vernon doesn't know what he's talking about because in my opinion it takes an almost better person to want to take on someone else's kids. Especially Bill, knowing he remembers his dad and you know the things about his dad you know.”

“Yeah, that bugs me, I won't deny it.”

“He loves you, too, though, don't think he doesn't and don't think because you're not Dan or his dad that's not equally as important and meaningful.”

“You'll, uh, let me know when you start, right?”

“Start what?”

“Your monthly thing.”

“Oh, yes. Hopefully soon.”

“Don't forget, please, I've heard those tests aren't always one hundred percent.”

“No, they're not, you're right. I bought a package that came with two tests I thought I'd take another on in a few days if I still haven't gotten it.”

“All right. You must be pretty confident, though,” he said, gesturing to the Long Island Iced Tea she was drinking.

“I am.”

“That is very good, sweetheart. I still say you owe me.”

“What do you think I owe you?”

“Oh, I don't know, I'll have to think on it.”

“You let me know when you come up with something.”

“I suppose I owe you in return for thinking with the part of me that has no brain.”

She smiled at that.

“How about us at your house tomorrow night?”

“Us? As in all of you?”


“If that's your version of paying off a debt I'll gladly owe you lots more.”

“I figure after Bill's hockey game we could go back there.”



“I like that idea a lot. Does that mean I have to go home tonight?”

“No, you're welcome to my basement floor with me anytime you want.”

“You should ask your mom for permission to have me in your room with the door open or something.”

“I'm not sure…”

“What could it hurt asking her?”

“Nothing I suppose.”

“I don't like you sleeping on floors.”

“What about you?”

“I didn't just have a baby.”

“He's almost seven months old.”

“That still can't be good for your back and stuff. I remember how badly your back bothered you toward the end there.”

“You're probably right.”

“The worst she could do is say no.”

“Or tell me you can't come around anymore.”

“She wouldn't do that.”

“Why not?”

“I think I'm kind of growing on her.”

“Why do you say that?”

“She liked the flowers I brought for her.”

“She did. That was very nice of you.”

“Yeah, well, I figured it wasn't fair for just you to get some. So, see, I think she sees I'm not out to violate you or embarrass her.”

“Maybe. I'll ask, but I'd still rather be at your house tomorrow.”

“No complaints from me. I like you guys there. It actually feels like a home instead of big empty old house when you're all there.”

“You like a home?”

“I love that home.”

She smiled a little at that, but didn't say anything else for a while. He was okay with that, she didn't need to really. He knew she liked it too.

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