Claire settled into bed after a truly draining day, emotionally more than physically. Justin and Bill were watching a bit of television before it was time for bed. She wasn't sure how they felt about the day as she picked up the phone to dial out.
'Hello,' he said and she smiled genuinely for the first time since getting here. She'd been pensive and admittedly a little moody since John drove them to the airport last night.
"Hi," she said.
'Well, hi yourself. I wasn't expecting you to call this early. Did your plans with your friend fall through?'
"Kind of. We're going to have breakfast tomorrow morning."
'Oh, nice. The boys won't be so tired then.'
"Yeah, for sure. I took the boys for dessert at the restaurant we had dinner the night you came here to get me."
'I remember. It seems like a long time ago, but I do.'
"Justin loves riding the subway."
'I bet he does. Does Bill remember riding it?'
'How are you?' he asked and she could tell he wasn't sure he should ask the question or not. A few hundred miles away didn't seem to alter the fact she was aware of his moods. Tonight he was the pensive one.
'Changing the subject. Okay. He's fine. I might maybe be rethinking this daughter business.'
She laughed softly at that.
'It's hard work!'
"Be glad you don't have bottles to be responsible for."
'There is that,' he said, seeming to agree.
"Are you really reconsidering?"
'Not a chance, Princess. I was kidding. Geez. Give me a little credit.'
"I wouldn't be mad or anything."
'I know, sweetheart, and I'm glad, but no. I was teasing you. Frank and I are fine. We're sitting here watching the Cubs game. I made him some macaroni and cheese earlier. I mopped the floor because he spilled the first bowl I gave him.'
'My fault. I walked away to get him his milk. I know better for next time.'
She laughed softly at that. Frank was at that tip his bowl, cup, spoon, plate, or whatever else was handy over whether it was full of stuff or not stage.
'Laugh at my predicament. I see how it is. You're footloose and fancy free in the Big Apple while I'm here slaving away over a hot stove.'
"I know it's awful."
She sighed softly.
'Are you okay?' he asked.
"They're okay. I don't think they understood what we did."
'They'll appreciate it one day, Claire.'
"I know," she said.
'And so will you.'
"I'm sure. Today I'm not so appreciative."
She'd brought Justin and Bill here to see Dan's grave at the cemetery he was buried at. Had she known at the time of his death that her dad was going to die a month later and she was going to move back home a month after that she may have given into his parents' wishes to have his remains shipped to them. She and John were getting married next weekend and she thought it was important for some reason that they understand that it wasn't indicating she was forgetting about Dan or anything. So they'd flown out here to visit his grave.
They'd gotten in pretty late last night, but had dinner at the Hard Rock Café before dessert at their regular restaurant. The boys had loved it, which she knew would be the case. They'd loved being allowed to stay up way past their bedtime most of all she was pretty sure. She'd bought them each shirts from the gift shop plus one for John and Frank, too.
'I'm going to ask again. Are you okay?'
'You're sure? I mean, it's totally understandable if you're not."
"I just don't feel anything."
'Did you think you would?'
"I think I feel I should. He was my husband."
'He was, not a very good one in the grand scheme of things. I realize you see it differently and it's not my place so I'll shut up now.'
"I love you, you know that?"
'Well, I hope so or the marriage license we're going to be signing next weekend will be kind of silly.'
"No, I love you for letting me come here."
'What was I supposed to do? Tell you that you couldn't?'
"You could've. I know you don't like him."
'He's dead. I'm not threatened by him or your memories of him. I know there are some good ones in there for you, for Bill, too. I plan on making a lot more with the four of you.'
"You already have."
'I want a lifetime's worth.'
"There were flowers on his grave when we got there," she said.
'Oh?' he asked.
This past Tuesday was the anniversary of his death. Claire hadn't been able to get here with the boys because of Bill's school until this weekend. Monday would be the anniversary of his funeral. They'd be back home by then and Claire would be busy that day getting ready for her wedding on Saturday.
"Yes," she said softly. "They were dying so had probably been there since Tuesday."
"Yeah," she said, glad he knew what the flowers being there meant. His parents didn't live here, his kids didn't live here, and he had no other family. There were too many to choose from to try to figure out who had left them, but she could narrow it down to a few anyway.
"No need to be sorry. I guess at least he's not alone."
'Sweetheart, you know…'
"I know he's not really there, but you know what I mean."
'I do. Still. I'm sorry you had to see it.'
"What can you do?"
'What can I do? Nothing, besides tell you that I wish I was there to tuck the boys in and then you and give you a hug.'
"I'd like that."
'And tell you that I want you home so we can start our life together.'
"I needed to do this."
'I'm not complaining and I'm not upset. You've done it. Now come home.'
"I'll be home tomorrow night."
'I can't wait. Frank probably can't either.'
She smiled at that.
"Has Mom called you?"
'Only about ten times.'
She laughed softly at that.
"She's trying to be helpful."
'She's worried I'm going to burn the house down with Frank and me in it.'
"You're probably right."
'I love you.'
"I love you, too."
'I'm very glad to hear that.'
"Coming here wouldn't change that."
"You really thought that?"
'I was a little worried you'd get there and start feeling guilty.'
"I can't remember the last time I felt guilty about being with you."
'I know, I can tell with the way you are in front of your mom and my friends. The thought was still there, though. You have a past with him.'
"I do, but not a future."
'That's my department.'
Neither said anything for a while. She didn't like that he thought that, but she understood and was glad he was honest with her.
"Are the Cubs winning?"
'They are actually. They're playing the Expos.'
"Oh, good. Is Frank paying attention?"
'Oh you know, off and on.'
"It was nice of you to let him stay there."
'Well, you live here now where else was he going to go?'
"Mom's," she said. They'd moved into his place at the beginning of the month. Bill had spent the last few school nights at her mom's but Claire, Justin, and Frank had been at John's since last weekend.
'Nope. We're bonding.'
"I'm glad. Just remember he's too young for beer."
'Greg mentioned that, yeah.'
"You saw Greg?"
'Yes. Between him and your mom I swear they're trying to tell me something.'
"You mean he just stopped by?"
'Yes. We had no plans.'
"That was nice of him."
'It was because I'm pretty sure the only way I'd call your mom was if in fact the house was burning down around us.'
She laughed softly at that, picturing that all too easily.
'We dipped Frank's toes in the lake.'
"You did not!"
'Yeah, he didn't like it at all.'
"It's too cold!"
'I said his toes. I was holding him. Greg and I were out there while he had a cigarette and he was curious. I was holding him because I didn't want him running in there, but he kept pointing at it and wiggling so I dipped his toes in. He wasn't wiggling after that.'
"I bet he wasn't."
'Did I do bad?'
"No, you didn't. There's no doing bad."
'Oh, I could think of some bad things…'
"I know you can, and that's why I know you won't do badly."
'Thank you for believing in me, Princess.'
"I believed in you twelve years ago, John."
'I know you did, Princess. I didn't believe in myself yet.'
'So, breakfast with your friend tomorrow?'
"Yes, I think a few of them will be meeting us, that's why we didn't today. A couple couldn't make it."
'Oh, good. None of them are the one who'd be leaving him flowers, are they?'
"No," she said quickly.
'For a moment there I was going to say you are the most amazing woman in the world.'
"Only for a moment?"
'Oh, I think it most every moment I just don't tell you so it doesn't go to your head.'
'Are Bill and Justin awake?'
'Let me say good night to them.'
"I suppose it's time to go."
'Yeah. You had a good day otherwise?'
"Yeah. I took the kids past the house and stuff. You know. Bill saw his old school."
"Thank you again."
'You don't need to thank me for letting you do what you needed to do. You needed to say good bye, to let the boys say good bye. I get that.'
"Some men may not have."
'You're not marrying some men. You're marrying me. I'm awesome like that.'
"You are. I love you."
'Love you, too, sweetheart. Come home to us soon.'
"Before you know it."
'Too late for that.'
She handed the phone to Bill who talked to John about what they'd done last night and today. John hadn't asked her about their flight here, but evidently he asked Bill because he was telling John how cool it was to fly in over the city at night and see all of the lights. It was beautiful, but Claire had to admit as beautiful as she always found New York City, Chicago had always been home and there was nothing more beautiful to her than that final approach to O'Hare at night.
Bill finished and Justin talked to John next. He didn't say nearly as much, but she could tell that John asked him about the flight and stuff, too. Justin didn't say much, handing the phone back to Claire.
'I guess he's done talking.'
She laughed softly. "I guess so."
'All right. I'll pick you guys up tomorrow night then.'
'Have a good time with your friends tomorrow, Claire.'
'Are any of them going to be upset they weren't invited next weekend?'
"No," she said. "I figured maybe sometime we could come out here and you could meet them."
'I'd love to meet anyone you care enough about that you want me to meet them. You know that.'
'Get some rest and if you can't sleep for whatever reason the ringer on the phone by our bed will be on.'
"That's your bed."
'You don't know which bed I'm sleeping in tonight, Princess.'
"Oh," she said. They'd moved her furniture into the master bedroom upstairs, but because his things were all in the bedroom he'd been using they'd been sleeping there this past week.
'Yes, I was a busy boy while you've been gone today.'
"I guess so."
'So, I'll say it again, if you need to call.'
"I will. Thank you."
She hung up, knowing she wouldn't call him. She had no doubt she wouldn't sleep well. It wasn't guilt. She'd stopped feeling guilty months ago. She did kind of wonder what Dan would think. What would he say? Would he be mad that Claire was contemplating letting another man adopt his kids? She didn't think so, because she believed overall he'd want his kids happy and healthy. Whatever that meant. Bill hadn't said anything about what he wanted to happen and neither she nor John were pushing him. He'd let them know when he was ready and she had no doubt Justin would want to do whatever his brother wanted.
She joined the two of them on their bed.
"You guys want to order some room service?"
"Really, Mommy," Justin asked.
"Sure. A snack before we go to bed."
"All right," he and Bill said. They loved room service for some reason. She guessed she remembered being that age and thinking it was pretty cool, too. She slid the menu off the stand between their beds and paged through it.
"What would you like?" she asked.
Yeah, she was probably spoiling them a little bit, but she figured they deserved it. She at least had lots of memories of Dan to choose from. They had so few so saying goodbye to him today was probably more painful for them in some ways than it was for her. They also didn't know the bad things about him she did so they had no reason to be anything but sad. As it should be.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com