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**Part One**
Word Count: 6,865

February 1991

She stood, gloved hands clutching the collar of her full-length leather coat tighter. It wasn't that cold, but the wind was brutal and she'd left her scarf at her parents' place. She'd left Luke at her parents' house, too.

Valentine's Day was coming up and Claire expected that a proposal would be the night's grand finale. He'd given her a heart-shaped pre-engagement ring with a diamond when she graduated last spring. She'd been thrilled because he really was quite a catch. She had started buying BRIDE magazine so had a head start on the gown she wanted. She'd been dating Luke since her sophomore year at Georgetown. He'd been a senior and was now beginning his career as a lawyer in Boston. She was in the process of moving to Boston, too, scheduled for an interview with a large advertising firm there next week.

Their future was bright and very promising. At least that's what everyone said about Claire Standish and Luke Baxter. They were here so that her parents could meet him. She imagined at some point he would ask her father's permission to marry her. He was just that way.

So, what was she doing standing outside of FENDER BENDER BODY SHOP instead of enjoying quiet time with Luke? She really couldn't answer the question. Not honestly anyway without feeling guilty. Her parents were both at work and she'd left telling Luke she had a few errands to run. Assuming they were shopping related and he'd be bored he'd chosen to stay at the house.

Five years since that day of detention. She wouldn't be so deep as to suggest it changed her life, but it had been a turning point for her. Mr. Vernon's words had haunted her over the years. She'd wondered about him, where he was and what he was doing. She'd never taken the time to check, though, until today. She'd heard from a friend who'd heard from a friend of a friend that he owned this place. He was the one most likely to amount to nothing so the fact he owned a profitable business, even if it was manual labor, was newsworthy.

And so, here she was.

"You got a problem with your car?"

She spun around, surprised at the voice. His eyes weren't on her, though, they were on her mother's Jag.


"I said, do you got a problem with your car?"


"Well, we are a body shop, lady."

She dropped her hands to her sides with a roll of her eyes. "Well, I know that. Rude much?" Who the hell was this guy? Did he talk to all potential customers this way?

"We don't get too many people look like you hereabouts, so I have to wonder if you're lost. And if you're not, this ain't the place for you. You know what I mean?"

Yeah, she knew what he meant. The neighborhood sucked. If it were any closer to dark, she wouldn't have come.

"I'm looking for John."


"John Bender. Isn't he the owner?"

The young guy, couldn't be much older than a senior in high school, assessed her. She was glad she had the bulky leather coat on, because she was sure without it he'd know her more personally than Luke did. His eyes returned to her face.

She knew what he saw. She wasn't a bombshell, but she was attractive. She had thick, pouty lips that she accentuated with dark lipstick. Her hair was a little longer than she had worn it in high school, but not much longer. She'd stayed slim, so the cut was flattering to her.

"You know John?"

"Yes," she said defensively. "Is he here?"

"Yeah, come on back. This I gotta see. Never seen someone like you come here looking for him."

What kind of women normally came looking for him? She was afraid to know, so she followed the guy through the shop part of the building to the back without saying anything more. He knocked on a closed door, opening it after a minute.

"Someone here to see you. Says she knows you," he said, stepping aside and allowing Claire to walk to the doorway.

She noticed he'd changed. But in a good way. He was thinner, not that he'd been fat, but the muscle definition to him was more subtle now than it had been. He had a goatee and his hair was still worn just a touch too long. His eyes flickered with surprise. She thought she saw happiness there, too. And then suspicion. He had to wonder what she was doing here after all this time.


"Hey," he said simply. "What brings you by? Need your Beemer fixed?"

"It ain't a Beemer, boss, it's a Jag."

He snorted. "Of course it is. Thanks Tim."

"Sure thing."

He stood from his desk and walked around it toward her. Her heart stopped for a minute. She hadn't been this close to him in five years, she'd forgotten the effect he had on her. That he still did bothered her. It should have bothered her more.

"Can I take your coat?"

"Sure," she said, allowing him to help her out of the coat. He draped it over a coat rack in the corner. He turned to assess her then. He was much more thorough than she'd been of him. She just wanted to see what he looked like. He seemed to want to memorize every inch of her.


"Not yet," she said, lifting her left hand and the ring there out of habit when people asked the question.

He smirked at that. "You sound pretty confident."

"Yes," she said. "He's here to meet my parents."

He took a step or two closer. "So, your car is fine, which would be the only legitimate reason for you coming here."

"How did you get this shop?"

Closer still until he was right there in front of her. If she reached she could touch him.

"Hard work, perseverance and the desire to be something. I scrimped and saved, started out working in whatever workspace I could find, rent, or steal. Eventually, I got a garage and then a bigger garage, and finally this one."

"It's nice," she said softly. She'd never spent time at garages. Her parents had always been in charge of vehicle maintenance and Luke had taken over that duty for her. But he had cars waiting on the lot and the stalls were full.

And then she did it, the thing she shouldn't have done - shouldn't have needed to do. She touched him, brushing the tips of her well-manicured fingers over the back of his hand. Scarred not just due to years of abuse and lord knows what trouble he'd gotten into, but hard work with tools and machines she would never claim to understand.

"Thanks," he said, his voice sounding far more uncertain than he should have just then.

She took hold of his hand, lifting it until theirs were palm to palm. She laced her fingers through his, eyes falling closed at the feeling of electricity that coursed through her with that simple touch. He'd closed his, too. She didn't have this with Luke. There was no spark, no chemistry. He felt it, too. She'd seen it in his eyes before he closed them.

"Too late," she whispered.

This was why she'd come. She had to know if this was a figment of her imagination. It could have been just a one-time thing. She was hoping it was one of those two things. She so didn't want it to be him that she was meant to spend the rest of her life with.

That was her head's response. Her heart pounded out "why not?" He opened his eyes then, looking at her with question. Apparently, she'd echoed her heart's sentiment and spoken the question out loud.

He slid his free hand to her cheek, their joined hands still fused together. She doubted he could have welded them together and gotten a better fit. His hand was rough, his nails while not filthy weren't clean like her dad's or Luke's. He was a man who worked for a living and it showed in everything about him. Yet still, his touch felt comfortable. Right. And he smelled wonderful. Nothing special, soap and laundry detergent. A little cologne, Polo which she loved no matter how common it might be now.

He was getting closer, pressing her so her back was flush to the wall. She closed her eyes as he grazed her lower lip with the calloused pad of his thumb. She let out an involuntary moan as he dipped it in between her lips for a brief heavenly moment.

"If I do this, Princess, if I kiss you I'm not going to let you go this time. You realize that?"

She swallowed hard. Was that what she wanted? The decision forced away from her. She'd never told anyone about John or the feelings he'd invoked in her. They had been her secret for five years now. She'd come here today expecting to find that she'd moved on, that he meant nothing more to her than the distant memory the rest of high school had faded to.

"Aren't you?"

"Look at me," he whispered, his breath warm against her cheek. She opened her eyes and found he was watching her intently. She noticed he wore no earring in his ear. She wondered if he did anymore or if he'd outgrown the need.

"Aren't I what?"

"Involved? Engaged? Married?"

"No. No. No."

"Why not?"

"Do you have any idea what it's like to start a business with nothing but blood, sweat and tears? I didn't have Mommy and Daddy to back me. I haven't had time to do much of anything, certainly not date."

"And now?"

He shrugged. "Still no time, but you're here and I'm not one to lock it out when opportunity knocks."

"I live in Boston." Okay, that was a lie. She didn't yet. She had just gotten out of her lease of the apartment she shared in D.C. with three girls she knew from college. Sorority sisters. She had interviews set up, but really there was nothing saying she had to go to Boston.

"Oh," he said, though he didn't sound as though he believed her.

His hand slid lower, coarse fingertips grazing lighter than they should have been able to over her. They caught just a little on the soft cashmere of her sweater. She'd chosen her outfit carefully, stylish yet not too flashy. She wanted to look nice, successful without flaunting. The Jag hadn't been her first choice in cars, but it was the one her mother had left for her to use.

Her breath hitched as his hand grazed the swell of her breast before reaching her abdomen. His mouth found hers then as he lifted the sweater up, laying his hand flat against her skin. He was so warm, so everything. His thumb stroked her, causing her to bite his lip. And when he slid his hand up higher so his fingertips grazed the underside of her breast she squeezed the hand she still held even tighter.

If she had any doubt the spark between them was just a one time thing she knew now that wasn't the case. Everywhere he touched sizzled. Her arms went around his neck, parting her lips to deepen the kiss and arching into his hand.

He responded to her kiss, hand sliding higher still to cup the fullness of her breast, graze the already hardened peak with the pad of his thumb. She groaned at the feel of his skin against hers there. She'd forgotten what this felt like. Together with him. There'd only been the once. She'd given him her virginity. And to this point he was her only, though she knew everyone assumed she and Luke had. He'd bought her waiting until marriage excuse. When really it was that he just didn't do this to her, make her want him.

He drew away, nipping her lower lip before breaking the kiss completely.

"I can't do this," he whispered.

"Do what?" Did her voice sound as shrill and needy in reality as it did in her mind?

"Our first time was in a supply closet. I'm not going to have our second time, possibly our last time be here in my office with Tim outside the door probably listening."

She swallowed hard. She'd forgotten about Tim.

"Is this why you came here today?"

"I just had to see you. Luke's going to ask me to marry him."

"What's this ring then," he said, gesturing to the ring she wore.

"A promise ring."

"What's the point of that? Looks like an engagement ring."

"I don't know," she said, growing frustrated. "Why are we talking about Luke?"

"I need to know what this is. A quick fix? He not fulfilling your needs so you come here? Morbid curiosity to see if John Bender's dead in a ditch somewhere? What?"

"You really want to know?"

"Yes," he said simply.

And she knew he wouldn't settle for a lie. He'd know if she did. And if she lied? That'd be the end. She'd go on and marry Luke and life would be grand. Wouldn't it? Luke is whom she was supposed to marry. A lawyer, a college graduate. He'd never come home with grease in his hair or smelling like gasoline, unless the gas pump overflowed when he filled the car.

"You're the only person who's ever made me feel anything. That passion, spark. I needed to know if it was just me, that I can't feel that anymore. Or if it was you. Us."

"You mean you and your man?"

"I don't feel alive when he touches me."

"Then why are you marrying him?"

"He's a good guy. He loves me."

"So, I prove that passion, spark, is still there between us and what? You go on your merry way?"

"I don’t know. I had hoped it wasn't us. That I'd just become frigid or something."

He smirked at that, sliding his hand to her hip and closing the distance between them again. "You are not frigid."

"For you."

"I'm the type of man that can openly say good to that and not feel ashamed."

"You are, huh?"

"Yes." He kissed her jaw, over to her ear and she thought her eyes were going to slide to the back of her head. "Come home with me."


"I get one chance. That's what you're saying, right? One chance to prove it's us. You want me to do that here? On my desk maybe? The floor would work but it's a little dirty."

She blushed, glad he wasn't watching her face just then to see it.


"Your boyfriend's waiting?"

"He thinks I'm shopping."

"And if you come home empty handed?"

"I'll just tell him I didn't find anything."

"He'll buy that?"

She snorted. "I do it all of the time."

"Then come with me."

"Can you do that?"

"That's the great thing about being your own boss. You can do whatever you want."

"And if I walk away? If I decide after that I want him?"

"I can at least say I tried."

"And if I don't want to walk away? If I decide that I want you?"

"Then I guess you have some decisions to make. Hard ones. Because while I do okay, Jags are out of my league. Unless you're okay with a used one."

"I don't care about Jags."

"You say that, but I see you dressed like this. Nice sweater, nice skirt, nice boots, nice coat. I'm sure the car outside is just as nice."

"It's my mother's car. I'm driving a Camaro now."

"Of course you are."

"Don't say it like that."

He chuckled. "Come home with me. We'll work it out later."

"I need to know…"

"That I want you? That you're not giving up a promise of something from one guy for the promise of nothing from another guy?"

"Something like that."

"What do you want me to do? Promise I'll marry you?"

"No," she whispered.

"Promise we'll see where this goes?"


"But you're in Boston."

"I'm not really. I'm scheduled to move there next month. I was going to spend a week with Luke after our vacation here to interview for jobs."

"Doing what?"


"There are advertising firms in Chicago, aren't there?"


"Then come home with me."

"There has to be more to life than…"

"Passion?" He shrugged, grazing her jaw with the side of his cheek. She felt the rub of whisker stubbles and sighed softly. If he rubbed too hard she'd have a mark. She bruised that easily. "There may be, Princess, but to spend the next sixty years without it would truly suck. Don't you think?"

She wanted to argue, disagree. There was more to life than that. She and Luke had a good relationship. Honesty and trust. Until she'd lied to him today about going shopping. Well, she hadn't exactly told him she was going shopping. He'd assumed and she hadn't corrected him.

Could she spend the next fifty or sixty years without feeling this?

"I shouldn't have come here."

"But you did, Claire."

"I don't even mean here today. I mean Chicago. I should have stayed away. I was okay, didn’t think about you. About this. I come back here, though, and here I am. Throwing everything away I've worked for the past five years."

"To marry some guy you don't really feel anything for?"

"I do have feelings for him!"

"You want kids?"

"Of course I do. What kind of question is that?"

"Wouldn't it be nice to actually enjoy and get pleasure out of the part that makes them?"

She blushed deeply and he chuckled.

"I mean, if you're going to make that kind of commitment, a lifetime of responsibility for another life. Wouldn't it be nice to have fun while making them?"

She wasn't sure what to say to that. She hadn't thought too much on things like kids. Really, her visions got her as far as her wedding and then things were hazy. Not planned so much at all, beyond her career.

"Come with me."

"I should…"

He released her hand, the one she'd taken hold of and used it to open the door. His other hand slid to her lower back before pulling away.

"Where are you going?"

"To get your coat."

"I don't cheat."

He helped her into the coat and tugged her to him again. He fisted the front of her coat in his hands. "The way I look at it, this is inevitable. Us. We can do this now, find out your answers before you commit to this guy more than you have. Or you can turn around and go home to him. And we'll do this the next time I see you when you are married."

"And I'd see you again when?"

"Reunions. Or maybe I'd show up in Boston."

She grimaced, but she had to admit the idea of him coming to look for her had appeal. Then she'd know he wanted her, really wanted her.

He let go of her and walked out of his office. Tim wasn't anywhere to be seen. So either he hadn't been listening or he walked away when he heard the door open.

"Tim, I'm going to lunch. Page me if anything comes up."

"How old is he anyway?"

"Eighteen. Why?"

"He looks so young."

"He's a natural with cars."

"Is he the only guy that works for you?"

"I have two others, one called in sick and the other is on vacation."

"If this is a bad time…"

"No worse than any other day of the week." He walked with her outside, zipping up his coat once they got near the open stall door. "Here's the plan. I get in my car, you get in yours. You follow me the decision is made. You don't follow me, choose to go back to your parents instead, the decision is made. I have to take lunch one way or the other."

"You sound like you've done this before."


"Taken someone home maybe you shouldn't have."

"Not really, just don't want you to feel trapped into a decision." He tugged her to him again, kissing her none so briefly. "This is all you, Princess."

How in the hell did he expect her to respond to that when he just got done kissing her senseless? Of course, that was her answer right there. She walked to her mom's Jag and waited for him to pull off the lot. She gripped her steering wheel, giving one last thought on what she would do and followed him out.

His place wasn't far from the body shop. It was an apartment above one of the local businesses. She had to admit, buildings like these had always made her curious. It was surprisingly spacious, covering the entire area of the building below.

"Wow," she said, taking it in. "This is nice."

"You sound surprised."

"No, that's not it. I've just never been in one of these apartments."

"I'm sure your parents' place is a lot nicer."

She shrugged, no use denying that. He'd know she was lying anyway. He helped her off with her coat and hung it in the closet before doing the same with his.

"You should see the apartment I've been living in for the past year."

"That bad?"

"If you know anything about D.C., you know that it's expensive. There are four of us in a three-bedroom apartment. Really, it's the second floor of a house, sectioned off to an apartment. I was lucky enough to be one of the two that didn't have to share her room, but your coat closet might be bigger than my room.

He smiled at that. "You're kidding right?"

"No, I'm serious. I've been waiting tables and doing some temporary administrative jobs."

"What about the advertising degree?"

"I was waiting. No use starting a job if I was going to leave it in a few months."


"And besides, the four of us wanted to live free for a year before starting our real lives."

He walked toward her, offering her his hand. She took it, welcoming the feel of it in hers. The warmth he offered. "You were close?"

"I pledged with them and the three I've been living with were the ones I got closest to."

"Do you want something to drink?"

"No, I'm fine."

"That you are."

She smiled at that. "Cute."

"I'm not sure I've been described as cute very often."

"Well, you are so you should have been."

"You think I'm cute?"

"Yes," she said simply. "You were then, too."

"I didn't think it was my charming personality that brought you to the supply closet that day."

"And today?"

"Maybe a little of both."

He kissed her again, stopping her from saying anything more. That was probably best. She could talk them both into distraction, and she hadn't come here for that. She still wasn't sure why she'd come. To convince her she needed to be with him. Or did she just want to know it wasn't her that was the problem?

She parted her lips, tongue finding his as his hand found the bottom of her sweater and reached under it. They were right back to where they'd been when he'd stopped in his office. She mirrored him this time, though, reaching for his shirt and lifting it enough so she could touch him. He had a dusting of hair on his chest that she didn't remember being there before. Then again, most of her time with him in the supply closet seemed surreal.

He slid her sweater up, breaking their kiss to lift it over her head and off. She opened her eyes, watching him as he looked at her. She wasn't hugely endowed but he didn't seem to mind. He brushed the top of her breasts with the back of his hand before lowering his mouth to kiss each one. He slid the straps of her bra lower, peeling the lacy fabric away in the process so she was left exposed. He groaned softly and took a nipple into his mouth, sucking it and rolling it between his teeth.

Her head fell back as his hands reached around her and worked the fastening at her back, letting the bra fall loose. She cradled his head with her hands, moaning softly as his tongue and teeth were working her to a horny state. She imagined that was the point.

His hands found her waist, stroking and massaging her. The different sensations he was creating were almost too much for her. Distantly, she knew she should leave. Staying was only asking for trouble. She wasn't going to be able to walk away from this, feeling like this. She just wasn't that strong. And, God, he was right. There should be something there to make a marriage complete. Friendship was good, honesty was important, but sex was important, too.

Funny, her thinking that, since sex wasn't something she had a lot of experience with. She knew it was, though. Sure, when she was seventy she probably wouldn't look at her husband and get all hot and bothered, but until then. That should be there.

She drew his head up, running her fingers through his hair and kissed him. She lifted his shirt up and off as he'd done with her sweater, tossing it aside. She explored his chest with her hands, grazing his flattened nipples with her fingertips as he led her carefully to the other room. His bedroom.

Frantically, she made riddance of his jeans, pushing him to the bed when she realized she'd have to take off his boots in order to get the jeans all the way off. He was a boxers man. That had changed from high school. She liked him in them, though.

"Claire, you don't have to…"

"I want to," she whispered, taking him into her mouth as she slid his boxers off to join his boots and jeans on the floor by the bed.

She hadn't done this that day. She'd never done this, so had no idea if she was any good. Instinct took over, though, and she licked and sucked every inch of him she could manage. Her hand found his sac and she stroked him, cupping and squeezing as she worked his cock in and out of her mouth. He was slick and wet both from her saliva and the precum she tasted.

Hands at her head he lifted her off him, eyes meeting hers. She had put that look there? Arousal, lust. Passion. She'd seen the lust and arousal in Luke's eyes but never the passion. For her.

"I'm not going to last long if you do that for much longer."

"Oh," she said simply. "I didn't…"

"It's all right. It's just been a while and I'm a sucker for a girl going down on me with such vigorous interest."

She blushed again.

"Don't be embarrassed. It felt good."

"Did it?"

"Yes," he said, lifting her into his arms. He slid her onto the bed, working her boots and trousers off. "You're beautiful."

She covered her eyes with an arm, shaking her head. "I'm not beautiful."

"To me you are. I'll never forget that day. What you gave me."

He was between her legs now, kissing her inner thighs before sliding his tongue along her labia up to her clit. She cried out, making fists with the bed covers beneath her as he focused his attention there. Again and again.

He slid a finger inside of her and she arched into him, wanting him deeper inside of her. His tongue was busy, bringing her closer and closer. She could tell by his muffled groans that she wasn't the only one getting excited and that only served to make her more wet. He was getting off on her sounds, her enjoyment.

He slid his tongue inside of her, licking her slick folds before using both his tongue and finger to thrust in and out of her.

"Oh God," she murmured as an orgasm practically tore through her body. It'd been so long since she'd had one, which she supposed made it all the more intense.

He kissed a path up her body, stopping to focus on her breasts again before positioning himself on top of her. Her legs parted of their own will to accommodate him and he nestled himself there. She felt him hard, thick against her and wiggled her hips.

"I love hearing you," he whispered.


"Because you're sincere and it lets me know that I'm doing things right."


"Well, yeah, you mean them. You're not just making the noise to try and make me feel good."

"Because you do make me feel good."

"Right back at ya," he said and slid inside of her. She was ready from a physical standpoint, but hadn't been expecting him quite that suddenly. And he slid inside of her in one deep thrust.

His eyes widened. "I thought I'd imagined how tight you were."

"Is that bad?"

"No, God no, did I hurt you?"

She rolled her eyes. "Hurt me? Mm, no."

"He's not going to let you go without a fight."


"You feel like this, I wouldn't let you go."

"That's assuming he knows how I feel."

"He doesn't?"

"No," she said, fighting the urge to look away as she answered.


"No, there's only been one time. This guy I knew in high school…We were kind of stuck together in detention one day…"

His mouth found hers and just like that he was different, he was making love to her. Not that he hadn't been a minute ago, but this was different. Possessive, determined, intent on being as thorough as he could be. Not that he hadn't had her the moment their hands touched in his office. He had to know that. Had to know she wouldn't be able to walk away after this.

He broke the kiss, shifting them both so her legs were propped against his shoulders, cradled in his arms, his hands clutching her hips. She gripped his forearms as he drove into her that way. It was more intense this way. The depth he could reach inside of her, the way her body felt.

He watched her watching him slide in and out of her. It was arousing, then everything about him was it seemed. She liked it anyway especially when he slid almost all of the way out of her. She could see her wetness clinging to his length before he slid inside of her again, deep and hard. That was when she came again. Judging by the look on his face he wasn't too far from doing the same. He reached, lowering his mouth to hers and kissed her hard, thrusting his tongue in and out of her mouth.

The next thing she knew, her legs were tangled with his. The sheets on the bed were somewhere around them, but they'd gotten in the way. And judging by the view out the window, it was dusk.

"John," she whispered, not really wanting to wake him. But she had to. She had to go. His arm went around her, gathering her to him and she was tempted to stay. Tempted to just say screw it and spend the night with him. She couldn't though, Luke deserved better than that. And not only would she not respect herself, John ultimately wouldn't either.

"John, I have to go," she said a little louder.

"Not yet," he murmured.

"It's getting dark."

He groaned softly, opening his eyes slow and easy. He sat up then, kissing her shoulder as he slid his arm around her waist.

"Think Tim figured out we didn't really go for lunch?"

She blushed and he chuckled.

"So did I help you out?"

She cleared her throat. "Excuse me?"

"Your predicament. Have I helped?"


"I didn't?"

"Absolutely not. I don’t want to go home. I don't want to face him, I don't want to move to Boston, I don't want to marry him, and I don't want to have his children."

"Will you have mine?"


He smiled, looking rather proud of himself. "I asked if you'd want to have mine?"

"Be serious."

"I think I am being serious," he stopped talking, seemed to think on it. "Yup, pretty serious."

"One day of good sex…"

"Good sex? Come on, we did more than good sex. The first time might have been good sex, but after that…"

"John, please."

He ran his fingers through his hair and reached for the pack of cigarettes on the nightstand. He lit one, took a deep breath, and exhaled.

"So, you move back to Chicago instead of Boston and we see where this goes."

"You want kids?"

"Sure. Why not?"

Her eyes fell to the scars automatically.

"I'm not my father. I know how it works, the abused grow up to be abusers but I'm not him and I'm not like that."

"I didn't say anything."

"Five years and you've only been with me. That's got to say something."

"I knew I shouldn't have told you that."

He chuckled. "I like it. Don't get me wrong. I like it a lot. It may not be you, it could be him. Maybe he's just not the guy for you."

"I'm supposed to have sex with him in order to find out?"

"You want me to answer that? I'll tell you hell no, but you do what you need to do." He slid a hand along her thigh, dipping a finger inside of her. She groaned softly.

"You're not playing fair."

He chuckled, kissing her shoulder and letting his hand rest at her hip. "You know where to find me now. I'll give you a card with my numbers on it. The rest is up to you."

"Why are you being so casual about all of this? Do you even want me or just want me if I want you?"

"I've wanted you since that day, but never dreamed our paths would cross again. I know my limitations, I know my place in life. And it's not with the Standish's of the world."

She stood from the bed and dressed. She had to. If she didn't now she'd never leave. She looked in his mirror to fix her hair, eyes widening.

"You gave me a hickey!"

"I did not. Where?"

She pointed to it as he stepped up behind her.

"That? You can't even see it."

"But I'll know it's there."

"And that's bad?"

"Right now? Yes!"

"Babe, you're going home with a lot more than just a hickey from me on you. Unless you want to take a quick shower you've got me all over the place."

"That is so crude."

"But it's true! I especially liked when you let me come," he knelt behind her and kissed her butt. "Here."


"So it's okay to do it but not talk about it."

"I just never…"

"No, I suppose you haven't." He stood then, arms going around her from behind. "Call me from D.C., we'll talk enough to make you blush for days."

She smiled, knowing he could probably make that a reality.

"Or you could just stay here. The bed's warm."

"If I stay any longer I won't be able to sit down tomorrow."

"I asked you a couple of times if you wanted to stop."

She turned to face him then, running her fingers along his cheek. She felt the contrast between the part that was stubble and the other that was his goatee. "I didn't want you to stop. If he wasn't here in town possibly asking my father for permission to marry me right now I'd stay."

"I get it."

He returned to the bed then, pulling on his boxers before laying on it again.

"What are you going to do?"

"I don't know."

"You going to marry him?"

"No," she said, sitting on the edge of the bed to put her boots on.

"You going to stay in D.C.?"

"I don’t think so."


"That's kind of out of the equation if I'm not marrying him. I've only been there a few times to visit him, I'm not attached to it."

"Chicago then?"

"It would seem there's reason for me to come here."

"Was it that bad that you didn't want to?"

"No, just no reason to, I guess. I liked living out East."

"Your parents?"

"Are fine without me."

"Listen, if what you want is really out there…"

"I think we've just proven this afternoon that's not the case."

He chuckled. "We did at that."

"Just give me time to sort it all out and do it the right way. Okay? And when I do come back, it's not going to be like this right away."

"Like what?"

"You and me in bed all afternoon."

"It was a nice way to spend the afternoon. Why not?"

"Because I don’t know you and I want to."

"You sure about that, Princess?"


He nodded, lighting a cigarette and watching her through hooded eyes. "All right. I guess it's good we got this out of our system then. I'm not waiting another five years, though."

She laughed and stood from the bed. "I'm not either."


"And in the meantime, if you know, something happens. You meet someone…"

"I can keep my dick in my pants for a little while. I don't know what kind of guy you think I am, but I'm not a horndog."

"You were at one time."

"I was a different guy back then."

"I know." She walked to the mirror once more to double check that she was at least presentable. "I feel so bad."


She twisted the heart-shaped ring around on her finger. "I'm wearing this. His ring. And I'm basically committing to a possible relationship with you. That's just so wrong."

"Well, we're not getting married tomorrow or the day after you break it off with him, so don't worry about it. What you should be worrying about are your parents."

"My parents?"

"They're going to take one look at me and think you need to be locked up in an asylum."

"They'll deal. And maybe they'll see what I see. I'm not sure my mom likes Luke to be honest."


"I don't know. Just a feeling I have. It's like she knows he's not the one."

"Maybe because she has that kind of marriage?"

"Maybe," she said simply. He had a point. Her parents loved one another, but they weren't in love. And maybe her mother saw that in Claire. Claire had the financial means thanks to a trust fund that she didn't need to marry someone. And hopefully she'd land a job that would earn her a nice salary so she wouldn't need a man to feel secure.

"I have to go," she whispered, walking to the bed again. "I'm sorry. I really don't know what I was thinking would happen, but leaving like this wasn't it."

"It's okay. You'll be back."

"Your number."


"You were going to give me your card or something."

"Oh yeah," he said, stubbing out his cigarette. "I'll walk you out."

He walked her out to the living area, stopping at a desk. He took out a business card and wrote on the back of it.

"You can't claim I didn't give you the means to get a hold of me."

"Thanks," she said, eyeing the information on the back. He'd written his home number and address there. On the front were his office and pager numbers.

He helped her into her coat and drew her to him. "I had fun."

"I should hope so," she said.

"No, I mean it. It's been a while since I took an afternoon to myself, so thank you for that."

"You're thanking me?"

"Yeah, funny, huh? I got to get my rocks off multiple times and I'm thanking you for that. Hopefully, I made it at least remotely mutually beneficial for you."

"You did."

"Good." He kissed her, lingering a little before brushing his cheek against her jaw. "Good night, Princess."

"Good night, John."

"Stay safe."


She looked up to his window when she got to the sidewalk and waved when she saw him standing there. He watched her get into her car and was still standing in the window when she drove away.

She gripped the steering wheel, turning the radio off while she drove home. She had no idea what she'd do or how she'd do it. Moving back to Chicago seemed logical. He was right, while she didn't expect to get married tomorrow she had to see it through. What if he was it? What if she walked away a second time and she realized later that he was the one she was supposed to be with?

Return to Top

**Part Two**
Word Count: 2,756

He was an idiot is what he was he realized as he parked his pickup on the driveway that led to a house at one time he wouldn't have dreamt of setting foot in. Except maybe to burglarize it. He shouldn't be here today. She might get pissed as hell and stay in D.C., or worse yet marry the guy after all. That shouldn't bother him so much, but he hadn't ever expected her to walk into his body shop looking for him. And now that she had, well, he was allowing himself to dream. And he wasn't going to just let her walk out of his life again.

Five years ago he'd had to. He knew it and she knew it, which he imagined was why she'd come today. She knew that day had meant more to him than just a fuck. Not that he'd told her that outright, but girls like her deserved more than that. And he wouldn't have had sex with her if he couldn't give her more. It was probably morbid curiosity more than anything that brought her to him this time. Whatever it was, he was going to take it. Maybe nothing would come of it, they'd spend time together and realize they were too different. No loss. Right? He was already alone. She didn't seem entirely hot on this guy so it's not like he was breaking up the next Ozzie and Harriet.

He had to see who he was. What he was like. He wished he understood what it was about him that she liked. Women like her had always been out of his league. Not so much now, but there was still the stigma of his being a mechanic. Professional women just didn't want that type of life. There'd been a few who found him good enough for a fling or an affair. He didn't make a habit of getting involved with married women, but a few had slipped through the cracks. And here he was doing exactly what he hated seeing other guys doing. Pursuing her when she was on the verge of getting engaged.

So, why'd she come see him? And what the fuck could he offer her? Tim hadn't questioned his leaving for the second day in a row, even though it was something John rarely ever did.

He rang the bell, working on his lie for when asked how he knew she was in town. It didn't sound like she had been doing much socializing so he doubted he would have heard it from anyone they knew through school.

"Hello?" It must be her mother. He saw the resemblance, though her mother's hair wasn't red like hers. She was an older version of Claire for sure, though.

"Is Claire home?"

"She is. She didn't tell me she was expecting company."

"I heard she was in town and thought I'd come by."

"She mentioned running into some friends while out yesterday." She stepped aside. "Come in. They're downstairs watching television. Do you know the way?"

"No, ma'am I don't."

She led him through a hallway that passed several rooms that made him realize just how different their upbringings had been. Not that he knew anything about art, but he wouldn't be surprised if some of the paintings he saw on the walls were originals.

"Here you are."

"Thanks, Mrs. Standish."

"I don’t know your name."


"It's nice to meet you, John."

He watched her, meeting her gaze more intently than he normally would have. He looked for any sign that she was just being nice, considerate. He didn't see it there, though. She seemed sincere and maybe she was. Maybe she wasn't so bad. He'd had her parents pegged as snooty, country club types that wouldn't give him the time of day.


He made his way downstairs, pausing to wonder what in the hell he was doing. He really had no business coming here.

"Mom?" He heard the sounds of a TV.

"No," he said simply. "Your mom said I could come down. I hope I'm not interrupting."

"John," she said in much the same tone as she'd used to called his name yesterday in his bed as she came.

"I ran into someone who saw you yesterday, thought I'd come by and say hi."

"Hi," she said softly. He had to stop himself from chuckling when he noticed she was blushing. "How are you?"

"I'm all right. You're looking well."

"Thanks." Her eyes slid to the guy sitting on the couch. She, judging by where she was standing, hadn't been sitting with him. "This is Luke. We're just here for a few days."

Luke stood then, offering John his hand. He took it.

"John Bender."

"You knew Claire in high school?"

"Yeah, we ran in different circles you might say, but our paths crossed a few times. If I'm interrupting…I didn't realize you had company. I'll see you later."

"No," she said quickly. "You can stay. We were just about to watch a movie, maybe order pizza later. I haven't had Chicago pizza in years."

So she liked pizza. Judging by her figure, he didn't think she ate too much junk. He slid out of his coat and she came up to him to take it, her hand brushing his. She left it there just a little longer than she should have.

She draped the coat over a table and John looked at the possible seating arrangements available to him. If he took the chair, that would leave Claire sitting next to Luke on the couch. If he sat on the couch, well that would look strange. He settled in the chair, assessing Luke while taking in the basement at the same time.

He was the type of guy he pictured her ending up with truthfully. Tall, clean cut, nice looking he supposed not that he knew a lot about that sort of thing. His handshake had been firm but not too much. He dressed nice, even bumming in her basement he had dressier pants on as compared to his blue jeans that were naturally faded. He was fit but more like a swimmer than the bulkier physique he had that resembled a football player or wrestler.

"How are you liking Chicago?"

"It's nice. We haven't really seen too much of it. We're only here for a few days and Claire's parents have been keeping us busy."

"And yet you still managed to get to the mall," he said, eyes resting on Claire.

"Nordstrom's was having a sale," she shrugged casually. "I had to go look."

"Of course you did," he said with a smirk.

"They didn't have anything good, though," she said, sounding pretty convincing.

"Must have been pretty well picked over then?"


Luke draped an arm around her and John had to look away then. He spotted the video sleeves and stood to look at them.

"You watch Predator?" he asked, his gaze falling on her.


"I'm impressed."

She didn't look comfortable, and he didn't think it was because he was here. Hard to imagine with as responsive as she was to him yesterday she didn't want to be touched by Luke. Maybe there was something to what she said. It was them. He'd believed her, sure, but thought it was an exaggeration on her part. He'd had good sex before, but never really cared if he saw the woman again.

He set the Predator sleeve down and cleared his throat. "Thanks for the pizza invite, but I should go. I just stopped to say hi since I heard you were in town."

"Are you sure?" she asked.

"Yeah, I've got an early day tomorrow so I should head home."

"But it's not even dinner time."

"I know, thanks anyway. Next time you're in town I'll take you out for pizza, that's better than delivery."

"Okay, I'll walk you out."

"I'm fine."

"No, my mother would have a fit if I didn't."

He chuckled. "All right then, don't want to be the cause of your mother getting upset."

"I'll be right back," she said to Luke, looking entirely too relieved to get away from him.

John grabbed his coat and followed her up the stairs, enjoying the view of being behind her as he went.

She walked him a different way then he'd come in.

"What are you doing here?"

"Just curious I guess."

"I haven't talked to him yet."


"I just didn't think this was the place to do it. He has a layover in D.C. between our flight and his back to Boston. I'll tell him then."

"Claire, if you're not sure…"

"I am sure. I just don't want to do it here. We're stuck here together for two more days, I'd rather it just be me miserable than him, too."

"All right."

She stood on her tiptoes then and kissed him. "I was surprised to see you."

"In a good way?"

"Yeah, it was good."

"Wasn't sure you'd be mad or not."

"If you'd come in telling him what happened then yeah I'd be mad."

"I don't kiss and tell, Princess."

"I know, otherwise my reputation would have been ruined at school."

"Can you get out later?"


"Come see me."

She closed her mouth, lips tight, but she was thinking about it. "John…"

He handed her a key fob, pressing it into the palm of her hand. "This will get you in both the downstairs door and my door. If you come, great. If not, keep it for when you move back here."

"You're giving me a key?"

"You'll use it then or now."

She slid it into her pocket, glancing the way they'd come. "I have to get back down there."

"I know." He stroked her cheek with his hand and kissed her again, lingering a little. "I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"That you're in this situation."


"Try and come."

"I can't promise."

"I know."

"I'll see what I can do."


"Good night."

"Was your friend leaving so soon, Claire?" he heard her mom ask as he left through the garage door. Had she seen them? Heard them?

"Yeah, Mom, he just came to say hi."

That was all he heard of their conversation. He walked back to his pickup, taking in her house once more. He wondered if she'd come tonight. The house was so big, there had to be ways for her to get out and not get caught. He'd wager anything she'd snuck out a time or two in high school.


He'd cleaned his kitchen and bathroom, picked up his bedroom, and even started a load of laundry. All things to keep him from thinking about her and whether she'd show up. He'd debated about washing his sheets, but perversely wanted to keep them on the bed. They smelled like her. He had no idea what perfume she wore, but it clung to his pillows. He liked it.

He heard the squeak from the hinges on the door downstairs, indicating someone opened it. He could have fixed the squeak, but he liked it. It let him know if someone was coming in. Since you needed a key to get in, it was helpful to know someone might be coming up who wasn't supposed to be there.

The sound of the squeak was followed shortly by a knock at his door.

He opened it. "You didn't need to knock. That's what keys are for."

"It just felt strange."

She came in and he hung her coat up after she'd taken it off.

"I can't stay long."

"I know." He glanced at the clock. It was almost midnight. He didn't have to be in the office until nine most mornings, but he tried to be in there by seven. People liked to be able to pick up their car before work. He chuckled when he noticed what she was wearing. "You look like you're ready for bed."

"Well, I am. I stopped at Walgreen's on the way here. I figured if I get caught coming back in I can say I just had to run out for something."

"Always thinking."

"That's me."

"Not just a pretty face. I always knew that."

"You think I'm pretty?"

"Yes, but you knew that already."

"I was never quite sure what you really thought."

"You still aren't?"

"I'm confused right now, but not so much about you. I mean, I am. What am I doing? I'm contemplating moving back to Chicago for a guy."

"You're family is here, there are job opportunities here. It's not like you're moving to a cornfield in Iowa."

"I know. It's just so against everything I wanted to do."

"You were moving to Boston to be with him!"

She sighed softly, resting her head against his chest. "I don't want to argue about this right now, John. I'm just confused and trying to figure out a way to break it off with him after four years and not sound flighty."

"I just don't want you to make me out to be the bad guy. You came to me yesterday."

"I know that."

"I didn't force you to come back here with me. And I think you knew if we went to bed together you wouldn't stay with him."

"Yes." He felt a warm dampness against his shirt and realized she was crying. "Hey," he said, smoothing down her hair.

"I didn't come here for this, but would you just hold me?"

"Sure," he said and picked her up easily, taking her into his arms and carrying her to his room. He set her on the bed, drawing back the covers before he joined her.

"I can't sleep here."

"What time does your old man wake up?"

"Six I think."

"I'll set the alarm for five just to be safe. Stop and buy some donuts and coffee on the way home. You can say you woke up and wanted to do something nice for everybody."

He took the time to do just that before joining her, sliding an arm under her to draw her close.

"I'm such an idiot."

"You're not," he said adamantly. "You're confused and probably feel a little guilty for what happened. I wish I could say I'm sorry, but I don't."

"Why'd you come today?" she asked, eyes meeting his.

"Wanted to see who he was I guess."


"I didn't like him touching you," he said simply.

She laughed, swatting his chest. "Besides that."

"He seems decent, along the lines of who I'd always pictured someone like you ending up with."

"Unlike you?"

"Very unlike me."

"Things change."

"Yeah, yeah, they do, Princess."

"And I wasn't happy with him. I wonder if that's why I never came back here unless I had to."

"Avoiding me?"

"Sort of. Or just the temptation before I was ready to face it. Three years ago I was too smitten with Luke to think about doing what I did yesterday."

"Why did you? You could have just broken it off."

"I told you, I needed to make sure it wasn't me. I don’t know. I had one person to compare how I reacted to him."

"You mean, you've never done anything?"

"Well, I've done things, sure. I mean, we've been together four years, I just wasn't into it."

"You were certainly into it yesterday, so I'd say it's him more than you."

"So, I could find that with someone else?"

He chuckled, drawing her to him so he could kiss her. "If I have anything to say about it, you're not going to have the opportunity to find out."


"You look like your mother."

"I get that a lot. I don't see it, but people tell me that all the time."

She was getting tired. He could tell by the way she was talking, her words were getting a little slurred. He drew the covers around them and brought her comfortably against him.

"Get some rest, Claire. I'll get you up when the alarm goes off."

"Should go home."

"You should stay here," he whispered. Sex with her was good. This was more than good. Her snuggling up to him, settling in to sleep. Whether she knew it or not, she was giving him something too. He didn't get this often, partly his own fault maybe. But just to have someone need him, want him for no reason other than to be by him. He kissed the top of her head. It was nice.


Return to Top

**Part Three**
Word Count: 4,748

May 1989

It was strange to be living at her parents' house again. It was temporary, at least in her mind. They seemed happy to have her back and told her she could stay as long as she needed to. After being on her own for so long with very limited visits home, a night seemed too long. They weren't enforcing a curfew, but her mother did stress a courtesy call to say she wouldn't be home would be nice so they wouldn't worry. She wasn't sure where her mother thought she might stay, but then her mother had stressed that only female friends were allowed to spend the night with her and Claire guessed where her mother thought she might stay.

Her mother had seemed sincere in relaying to Claire she was sorry things didn't work out with Luke. In light of her conversation with John, though, she detected that maybe her mother wasn't as sorry as she said. She really didn't know many details about how her parents came to get married. For whatever reasons, nostalgic stories of the night they met or first kissed or when Dad proposed just weren't commonplace.

Her mother had seen her kiss John that night by the garage, but hadn't said anything. Claire had seen it in her mother's eyes, though. She'd seen something else there, too, understanding. That had made Claire feel a little better. The next morning, her mother inquired as to why Claire had not come home with even a Victoria's Secret bag. Claire didn't know what to say and so she'd stuck with the lie she'd told Luke. Her mother knew her too well, though. There was always something to buy! She never asked who John was or anything else about it. Evidently, she trusted Claire to take care of her problem without her unsolicited advice.

So, here she stood three months later in front of John's body shop with Cubs tickets in her purse. Her parents had season tickets and her mother, saying she sensed there was someone Claire would like to take, had given her tickets to both games for the weekend. She could have left the tickets at home, but she wanted to show them to him for some reason. She could have just called him, but she wanted to see him.

It was warmer than the last time she was here. There was no need for her leather coat, not the winter one anyway. They'd talked a few of times since February, but living with three other women didn't leave a lot of privacy for phone calls. So, their conversations had been brief and rather impersonal. She hoped he had been as disappointed as she was by that. She also wasn't sure if he expected her to come see him the second she'd come back. She had to get settled and find a job.

"Hi," she said, noticing Tim.

"Hey, you're back," Tim said. "New car?"

"No, this one's actually mine," she said about the Camaro.

"Nice," he said. "It suits you better than the Jag did."

"Thanks. I like it, too. Is John here?"

"Back in his office. Remember the way?" He must have realized she did, because he turned his attention back to the car he'd been working on almost immediately.

Claire felt eyes on her as she made her way to John's office, probably the other two guys who worked for him. The door was open. She hesitated a moment, taking the opportunity to check him out. He was bent over his desk, writing. His bangs were just a little too long, hanging in his face making it difficult for her to see his expression.

"Hi," she said softly.

He looked up, pen stilling as he did. "Hi yourself. When did you get into town?"

"Last week," she said, quickly adding, "I spent the week unpacking and interviewing."

He nodded simply, seeming to accept – and understand - that. Good. He stood then and she came into the office the rest of the way, closing the door behind her.

"Was the trip safe? Did you find a job?"

"Yes, no problems with the car, but remind me never to do that trip again anytime soon. And, yeah, I start a week from Tuesday. I did a phone interview with them a few weeks ago."

"Right, I remember you telling me about that. I figured that was a pretty good indication you were in if they were willing to interview you that way."

"I still had to go in for a face-to-face, which was why I didn't say anything about it. I didn't want to sound too confident or jinx it, but it was pretty much a formality. I did have a couple of other interviews already set up that I went to. One is slightly better pay, so I may have to weigh my options if I get an offer from them. They seemed to buy my reason for wanting to start the week after next being that I wanted to settle back in, unpack, and stuff."

"I can understand that, sounds like a good reason."

"It's downtown."

"I knew you wouldn't have a problem finding something, Claire, and downtown isn't bad."

"I'm not sure I'm looking forward to the commute."

"You could always take the train."

"I might, there is a stop only a few blocks from the building. I could read and stuff on my way to and from work."

"If you like that sort of thing anyway."

"You read I saw books in your apartment."

He raised a finger to his lips. "Don't tell anyone."

"I'll keep your secret."

He crooked his finger at her and she walked to him, setting her purse on a nearby chair.

"So, am I interrupting?" she asked, when he took her into his arms.

"No, was just working on an estimate."

"Isn't that what the computer is for?"

"Yes. I need to write it out first, though, to be sure I've thought of everything. I find if I just type it on the computer I leave things sometimes. This way, writing it down, I have to mentally go through every inch of the car."

"I see," she said, fiddling with one of the buttons on his shirt.

"I'm sure I'll get used to the computer eventually, but last month I had a pissed off customer because I left off a charge for two hundred dollars."

"What did you do?"

"Gave it to him," he shrugged. "I didn't have much of a choice; I hadn't included it in the estimate. Granted, that's why we call it an estimate, but I can't have people leaving here saying they got ripped off or I don't stand by my quotes. I pride myself on being honest. He knows he got the work done for free, though, so he'll be back the next time something goes wrong."

"Sounds like you have it figured out."

"I try."

"Do you have to work this weekend?"

"Not necessarily. There's always something to do if I want to."

She reached for her purse and opened it, pulling the tickets out. "I've got tickets to the Cubs games."

"Both of them?"

"Yes. Want to go?"

"With you?"

"Uh, yes, that was the general idea."

"Just the games?"

"What else did you have in mind," she asked.

"Dinner maybe? More if you were agreeable."

"I just moved back home."

"You're an adult."

"I can't just stay out all night when I've only been here a week, John."

"Tell them you'll be out for the night. You're a big girl, Claire. You've been on your own for a year, dating the same guy for four. You were going to move to Boston before being married to what's-his-name. Surely, they realize you're not a nun."

She just stared at him for a minute.

"Okay, I guess they'd have no reason to not trust you until a few months ago. But they don't know what happened."


"Well, then, why should they think anything odd about you wanting to stay out for the night?"

"They're my parents. I'm sure they've told all of their friends I moved back home and if someone knew I stayed out all night…"

He sighed softly.

"Having parents like yours can really be a pain in the ass."

"My mom did say that I needed to call if I wasn't going to make it home at night so they wouldn't worry."

"I see," he said, seeming to catch on. She wasn't going to plan on staying out all night in advance, but going to a Cubs game could lead to a bar or two afterward, which could lead to drinking more than one or two beers.

She smiled. "Does that mean you won't go with me?"

"Have someone else in mind to take?"

"I could come up with a friend, yes."

"I get dinner?"

"Dinner and anything else after the games, I'm just not sure about all night. I was so nervous coming home that morning after I stayed with you."

"You said you didn't run into anyone."

"That's not the point! I'd never done anything like that under my parents' roof."

"You need to live a little, Princess."

"You're not really going to call me that, are you?"

"Not in front of other people, but it suits you."

"I'm not that girl anymore."

"I didn't say you were."

"Just making sure."

"Am I picking you up?"

"Do you want to?"

"It's a date, isn't it? I mean, that's what we're doing, right? Trying one another on for size in the real world? Out of my bedroom."

"I guess so," she said, stuffing the tickets back in her purse as a distraction.

"We don't have to do this, Claire. If you changed your mind or something."

"No, it still feels weird, that's all. Until February, my life was pretty mapped out for me. Now it's like everything's upside down. I'm back living with my parents. I never thought I'd do that again. Ever." She shrugged. "I'll get used to it. My mom saw us kiss that night."


"She didn't say anything. She wouldn't, that's not her style, but she knows I wasn't shopping that day. I don't know if she told my father or not."

"What difference would that make?"

"My dad liked Luke."

"Ah," he said, seeming to understand. "So, he most definitely won't like me."

"If my mom told him."

"Do you think she would have?"

"I don't know, I should have asked her but I guess I preferred not talking about it."

"Wouldn't your dad rather you go out with me than not?"


"Well, if I'm the reason you and Luke broke things off…"

"Oh, well, I don't know my dad would see it that way."

"Because of my job?"

"Well, there is that…"

"And you're okay with that?"

"I already told you I am."

"All right, then I pick you up. It's better than him thinking we're sneaking around."

"I guess."

"The games start at one o'clock I assume, so I'll pick you up around ten then. We can grab something to eat beforehand or just walk around down there since you haven't been there in a while."

"Sounds good."

"Do I get to kiss you now that the weekend is settled?"

She swallowed. "Do you want to?"

"Now that's the most ridiculous question I've heard in a long time," he said, tugging her closer.

"Is it?"

"Yes, because you shouldn't have to ask."

She tilted her head up at the same time he lowered his, so their lips met halfway. She breathed in sharply still not used to feeling like this from a kiss before deepening it. Would it always be like this? She knew a few months had gone be so they were feeling kind of needy.

Without thought, she worked the buttons on his shirt, peeling it open so she could touch his chest and stomach. He was so solid, so real. While she'd been working the buttons of his shirt, he'd been working the button and zipper of her jeans.

"You dressed down today," he murmured, kissing her jaw as he used his hand to push the front of her jeans open wider.

"A little."

"I don't think I've ever seen you wear a T-shirt."

"I wear them sometimes."

He lifted the shirt in question up along her torso, over her head and off, tossing it into his chair. "Like when you plan on getting them dirty?"


He chuckled and she shivered, feeling his breath against her neck. He was going to give her another hickey, one that would show. She just didn't care if anyone saw it. There was no Luke waiting at home for her this time. Let her father throw a fit. She was an adult after all.

He worked the front clasp of her bra, freeing her breasts so he could kiss them.

"All those times we got to talk for five or ten minutes I kept hoping for more," he whispered.

"I know. Me, too," she whispered, working his shirt over his shoulders and off.

"There were so many things I wanted to say to you."


He chuckled, nipping at the underside of her breast. "Things that would make you blush."

"Oh," she said, and blushed just at the thought of what he'd had in mind.

"One day when you're not living at your parents' house maybe I'll get my chance to say those things."

"I still have my own line."

"Yeah?" he asked.


"No other extension in the house?"

"No, there is one in the basement, but they took the phone out when I left."

He drew away briefly, gathering her left hand to his mouth. "Glad to see this hand is free of any jewelry," he said, kissing the fingertip in question. She'd given the ring back to Luke. He hadn't wanted it, but she'd insisted. She had a few things he'd given her over the years, but they weren't as special as the ring had been.

John let go of her hand and kissed lower, working her jeans along her hips until he could slide his hand between her legs easily. She cried out softly as he entered her with a finger, brushing her clit with the base of his palm. He pushed her panties down then, circling her clit with his tongue.

"John, please," she whispered.

"Sorry, Princess, this will have to do for today because I don't have any rubbers on me."

"I'm on the pill."

"You are?" he said, drawing away from her.

"Yes," she said. "I figured it was probably the smartest thing to do."

He smiled, kissing her stomach. "I can't say as I mind, I hate those things."

"I think most guys do."

"You sure you want to do this here?"


She watched as he glanced around his office. Their options were rather limited, she realized. Obviously, he knew that better than she did.

"Unless someone's going to come in."

"No, they'll leave me alone. If the door's shut and you're in here with me."


He cleared his throat. "Don't get mad, but they know I left with you and never came back."

Her hands went to her face, covering up and turned away from him. How embarrassing.

"Oh, don't do that. It's fine. They don't care. I don't run a gossip column, Claire, it's just the way of things when you get a group of guys together. They talk, Tim mentioned it to them. Maybe they won't know it's you, but I'm sure Tim will have told them by now you're the woman from that day," he said, stepping behind her. She started to turn to face him, but he stopped her. He slid the bra off, setting it on the desk before cupping her breasts in each hand. She groaned softly as he stroked her nipples.

"Put your hands on the desk," he whispered, kissing her ear. He stooped behind her, working her jeans lower.


"We did it with me behind you that day at my apartment," he said, lowering his jeans.

"I know, but…"

"It's no different, just without the bed. And with our clothes on. Most of them anyway."

He stepped up behind her then and she leaned over the desk while he ran his hands over her ass, spreading her cheeks enough so he could enter her. She gave a soft moan as he thrust inside of her deep and hard.

Doing this here wasn't usually his thing. He had a time or two over the years, but never with anyone else here. Too fast wasn't something he wanted her to associate with him and sex. Ever. They didn't have a lot of time, though. So he used his fingers to help get her off a couple of times before he did. He loved when she came. She wasn't loud, but she didn't need to be. Her body flushed practically beet red in excitement was proof enough for him.

"Are you busy tonight?" he asked once they were both dressed again and she'd used his bathroom to straighten up a bit. A perk of being the boss was that he had his own. There was even a postage stamp sized shower in there. He didn't use it often, but on occasion he'd appreciated it being there.

"Dinner with a couple of friends."

"I see," he said.

"Were you asking me out?"

"It's not important. I just figured you're already down here. We had sex. The least I could do is buy you dinner or something."

"You could come with."

"I think I'll pass."

"You don't even know who I'm having dinner with."

"I don't know that it matters."

She maneuvered herself onto his lap, which was no easy feat as his desk chair really hadn't been designed with double occupancy in mind. Her arms went around his neck and she kissed him.

"No, I meant that you really don't know who I'm having dinner with. It's dinner with some friends. Come with."

He snorted. "Princess, you don't really want me along or you would have asked me earlier."

"I didn't ask because I'd just asked you to spend hours with me the entire weekend. It's Friday night, I assumed you'd have plans."

"I could have."

"John, I'm not saying you couldn't have. You asked if I was busy."

"I was thinking something quieter than having dinner with you and friends who probably don't like me."

"They don't know you."

"How do you mean?"

"Not everyone I know from here is from high school, you know? I have friends from Georgetown who live here, too."


"But high school or college, I'm not ashamed of you."

"You say that here and now."

"I say that anywhere. You've met my mother! She knows we kissed, and she's responsible for us going to the games this weekend."

"I don't know."

"If you don't want to go, that's fine. I'm not going to make you or beg, but you asked me if I had plans so you wanted to do something with me."

"Well, yeah," he shrugged.

"So, come with. When dinner's over we can go somewhere and have drinks or dance or something."

He snorted.

"Not a dancer?"

"Not really, Princess."

"Well, then, maybe another night for that."

She leaned in and kissed him, pressing against him in all the right places with all the right parts to convince him.

"Yeah, yeah, all right. How about this? I have to go home and shower and change anyway. Where are you meeting?"

She told him the name of the restaurant. He knew of it, hadn't been there, but heard good things about it over the years. It was a neighborhood place downtown near Wrigley, and he wondered briefly how she knew of it. Then maybe it was someone she was meeting who knew of it.

"I'll meet you there when I'm done. I'm not going to eat with you, but I'll meet your friends and join you wherever you go afterward."


"I'm not so sure it is, Princess. They were your friends in college."


"They know the other guy, don't they?"

She shrugged. "Yes. And again I say so?"

"They won't find it odd I'm showing up to meet you this soon after you broke up with him?"

"No. One of them knows about you. I mean, not every gory detail, but she knows about you."

"Mm, Amanda?"

"How did you know?"

"She was the only one of your roommates who ever gave me the time of day when I called you and one of them answered. She was nice, actually talked to me a couple of times when you were out, seeming to reassure me that you weren't out with a guy or hadn't hopped the first train to Boston on a whim."

"She's nice and she asked about you, so I told her."

"Neither of the other roommates asked about me?"

"No," she said.

"So you break up with your long-term, long-haul steady guy and some random guy calls and they don't ask about that?"

"No," she said with a shrug.

"Nice friends."

"And the guys who work for you."

"That's different, they're my employees not my friends. Not that I don't go out for beers with them once in a while and they roped me into putting a bowling league together this fall."


"Yes," he murmured, but she could tell he wasn't as grumpy about it as he wanted her to think she was. "I wasn't sure what to tell them and they don't answer the phone in my office to have anything to explain to them."

"Beyond you leaving with me that day and never coming back?"

"Well, yeah, but I think Tim sort of figured it out."

"What do you want to tell them?"

"For now, that you're someone I'm interested in."

"Why?" she asked.

"Because you said yourself we can't jump into something serious, Claire. You didn't even want to have sex again with me right away."

"That didn't last long."

"Yeah, well, it's not exclusively my fault."

"Did I blame you?"

"No, but just in case."

"Wow. Really? You think I'd blame you for my wanting to have sex with you?"

"It could happen."

"It's not going to. I'm a grown woman and I didn't have to let it go beyond kissing today."

"True. Why did you? You were pretty adamant in February that we not do this again right away."

"I missed you," she shrugged. "I got sort of used to hearing your voice before I went to sleep or when I woke up in the mornings."

"So, I guess talking to you on the phone was a good idea."

"It was, yeah," she admitted.

They hadn't talked for hours every night or anything. It was too expensive for both of them to do that, but they'd talked every couple of days. If they had a particularly lengthy conversation, which happened a time or two, they went a couple extra days in between calls.

They hadn't talked about anything real personal or naughty. Living with roommates didn't allow her much privacy, her own bedroom or not. They'd talked, though. Most of it was daily stuff; work, weather, things going on in Chicago, things they'd done, or whatever. They talked about the past five years some, but not a lot. Enough to know where one another had been. It was nice, though, to talk to him that much without anything physical between them.

Her excuse today? She really didn't have one, other than she obviously was incapable of keeping her hands off of him when they were together.

"Do you think I'll ever stop?" she asked.

"Stop what? I'm missing something."

"Wanting you?"

"Princess, I sure hope not. A woman like you stops wanting a bum like me and I've got nothing else to offer you."

"You do, too. You own a business."

He snorted. "Right. Such an impressive undertaking, too."

"Why do you do that?"

"Do what?"

"Why do you sell yourself short? Make light of what you've accomplished?"

"Princess. I'm just a mechanic."

"No, you're not just a mechanic, John. You've made something out of your life despite the odds. I remembered your scars before seeing them again in February. I remember what you said that day at school about what life was like at your house. I heard the rumors about you after that. God, the fact you're not dead is amazing."

"Wow, there's a vote of confidence."

"You never thought he'd kill you?"

"No, not really. I mean, sometimes sure I guess I wondered if I'd make it out of the house alive."

"And you did," she said, kissing his jaw. "Don't sell yourself short. You own a business. A smaller garage or not, it's yours. Like you said when I saw you in February it took your blood, sweat, and tears to get you here. It's amazing."

"I haven't done anything that great."

"Well, I think you have."

"And the prom queen is always right?"

"Exactly? My opinion counts for everything, don't you know that? What I think or do everyone falls into step behind me."

"I'm not a sheep."

She chuckled, nuzzling against his jaw. "You're a black sheep maybe."

"Why, Ms. Standish, I didn't know you were into the interracial thing."

She giggled softly, nipping her ear. "I'll see you in a few hours."


"Okay. Bring your appetite just in case."

"You'll have already eaten by the time I get there."

"It's Friday night, so maybe not. The place is always packed, and I'd sit with you while you ate."



"All right then. I'll walk you out."

"You don't have to."

"No have to's about it. That's what guys do for their girls, don't they?"

"I suppose they do."

"Don't pretend with me, Claire."

"Pretend what?"

"The type of guy you're used to. Manners and etiquette and all that stuff. If I'm missing a queue don't hesitate to stop beating around the bush."

"I won't, John. I don't expect you to be perfect. And I don't expect you to be any guy but the guy you are. Don't change for me."

"I'm not changing or trying for perfection, Princess," he said, helping her off his lap. She grabbed her purse and took his hand when he offered it to her. "Just trying to keep you happy."

"Meeting my friends is a good way to start."

"Does that mean you'll go bowling with us sometime then?" He opened his office door, letting her pass through it first.

"Sure. I'm not very good at bowling, but I'd go."

"All right."

"I thought you said they weren't your friends?"

"They are, I guess," he said as they walked through the work area. "It's just different when you're the one who signs their paychecks and has the power to fire them. There's always that weird kind of thing when we're out somewhere. I can leave work at the door. It's not like we do anything here that has to be discussed after hours so when we leave I can check being their boss at the door. I don't think it's as easy for them, though."

"I get that."

He opened her car door for her, shaking his head a little.


"Nothing. Nice wheels."


"Graduation present?"

"How did you?"

"It's new, figured it had to be something like that."


"Take care of it."

"Hey, I have an in now on being sure I do."

"Only if I can drive it once in a while."

"How about tonight?"


"Take the train down and then you can drive it to your place after we're done."

"You going to go home from my place then?"

"Probably, but I have no curfew."

"So, Daddy won't take the Camaro away if you get home at sunrise?"

"I guess there's only one way of finding out."

"All right, Princess. I'll catch a train then."

"Okay," she said, smiling widely. She glanced back at the garage for a second before going ahead and kissing him. "I'll see you later."

"Count on it," he said, shutting the door for her once she sat down and started her car. She waved into her rearview mirror as she pulled out of the gravel parking lot. She knew somehow he wouldn't go back inside until after she was out of sight.

Return to Top

**Part Four**
Word Count: 3,218

She'd forgotten how fun summers in Chicago could be. It helped, she supposed, that her relationship with John was still new so they were both willing to do pretty much anything the other suggested. There were carnivals and festivals going all summer long. Memorial Day and Fourth of July parades and parties. Fireworks. Baseball games, which her mom was always willing to let Claire have tickets to when she asked. The Taste of Chicago. Concerts. Not to mention the everyday things like museums, forest preserves, the beaches, and stuff like that.

She thought he was going to draw the line at Ravinia Festival, the summer home to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She loved going there, but had never been there on a date and always thought it would be a romantic date. They were able to find a non-classical concert to go, too, though. Neither seemed to care about sitting in the Pavilion, preferring instead to bring a picnic with them and eating on the lawn there. True, they were unable to see the performance, but they could hear just fine. And there was always the option of walking up to the railing that separated the pavilion from the lawn seats and watching for a few minutes. She'd been right about it being romantic. They'd brought two blankets with their picnic, one to sit on and the other to put over them in case the air got cool once the sun went down. They'd eaten their food and drank the bottle of wine that they'd brought with them and just sat and cuddled with one another for the night. It was fantastic.

Their town's Fourth of July festival was probably the most trying thing to do. John didn't want to go. The thought of running into anyone from Shermer High held absolutely no appeal to him. She insisted only because he had to know that she didn't mind being seen with him in front of anyone. Everyone who was anyone showed up at the festival at least once if they were in town.

As he feared and she expected, they ran into a ton of people she knew. Very few recognized him let alone recalled him when she mentioned he'd gone to school with them.

Her dad? Well, he didn't hate John, so there was at least that.

He oddly didn't mind the things with her work they had to do. There was a company-wide picnic. The company bought up a chunk of tickets for a Cubs' game so the employees could go. She'd used her dad's tickets, but they'd gone to the same game as the rest of her co-workers and went out with everyone afterward to a nearby bar. Occasionally, there were after-work drinks with a couple of the women she had become friendly with. John, and their boyfriends or husbands, usually joined them for dinner after their happy hour.

He didn't have things like that for her to go with him to. He didn't have clients to wine and dine. The closest thing was the Auto Show, but that was months away. She already assured him she'd go, though. She wasn't a gearhead or anything, but he'd been more than nice with her work stuff so she figured turnabout was fair.

What was more, he cleaned up nicely. He didn't like to put on a suit, but when he did he managed to take her breath away every time. Usually, it was for dinner with her parents at the club. He knew a couple of guys who worked there, so he always felt weird going there with her family.

By the Christmas party she was celebrating not just the holidays but a promotion just after Thanksgiving from Junior Copyrighter to Copyrighter. Her parents were so proud. Claire hadn't expected to be advancing so quickly. She knew she had the talent, but so did everyone she worked with so it was very competitive. She was ready, though, and obviously her boss thought so.

John was, too, ready to help her anyway. He put a designer's table in his living room for her to use whenever she was there. She had duplicates of all of her supplies there so she had absolutely no excuse to spend time there. She didn't always bring work home with her, but there were times an idea struck her or whatever and she'd had to leave his place to go home or to the office to work on it. She loved that he'd done that for her, especially considering his living room wasn't that big and the designer's table took up space that he could've used for something else.

Tonight, they were going to a formal party at one of her friends' houses. A friend from college who knew and really liked Luke. Patricia's fiancé was one of Luke's fraternity brothers. John was not at all thrilled with the plans, but she promised him they'd leave early. She had to show because she had done absolutely nothing wrong. Okay, she had, but no one knew about that. Until those couple of days in February she'd never done anything wrong to Luke.

"Are you going to be home tonight do you think, Claire?" her mom asked.

"I doubt it."

"Just be careful."

"I will."

"I worry about you."

"You don't have to. It's not like we didn't have winter where I was at for college, Mom."

"I know, but it's Christmastime. People drink too much especially when it's New Year's Eve."

"I'll be careful, Mom, and I won't have more than a glass of champagne."

"And John?"

"He may have more than one glass, but he hired a limo for the night anyway, Mom."

"That was a good idea. He's uncomfortable at these things you drag him to."

"Sometimes. Not all of them. Tonight though is people I knew from Georgetown and they know Luke."

"And he won't be well-received, I assume?"

"No," she replied. "Maybe I'm wrong, but I doubt it."

"How did you become friends with him? I don't think you ever told me."

"That day I served detention."

"A day I don't like to think about."

"That's when I met him, Mom."

"Oh," she said with a frown.

"He wasn't a bad guy. He liked to pretend he was I think so people wouldn't try too hard to be his friend. Then he'd have to explain things. Like why he wore long sleeved shirts even when it was eighty degrees outside."

"Not a good home life?"


"Well, he seems to have turned out okay."


"And you're sure?"

"Yes," Claire replied.

"You're sure that you love him?"

"Mom, yes. I was sure five years ago I just didn’t want to admit it."

"Then I should tell you that your father told me last night John met him for lunch."

"What?" Claire asked. In high school she could do very little wrong in her dad's eyes. That had changed the past few months. There wouldn't be many reasons John visited her dad.

"I think you should talk to him, too."


"He wants to understand."

"There's nothing to understand, Mom. I didn't love Luke. Not enough to marry him. Not everyone marries the guy they dated in college."

"Not everyone marries the guy they met in Saturday detention their senior year of high school either."

"I'm not marrying him."


"Yet," Claire replied. If John asked, which Claire sort of expected he might sometime soon especially if he'd already spoken to her father, she would say yes without batting an eyelash.

"Is that why you're bringing him to these things?"

"Why?" Claire asked.

"So no one's surprised when the announcement makes the Tribune?"

"They'll still be surprised, but yeah, I guess. I want them to see I'm happy."

"And that he's changed."

"He hasn't really, Mom. I have. I changed a little that day, really. I just went off to college and tried to forget about him."

Her mother smiled a little. "I'm glad you weren't able to forget about him, Claire."

She paused putting one of her diamond earrings in, turning to look at her mom instead of through the mirror. "I'm sorry."

"Not everyone is as strong as you are. To turn your back on your friends."

"They weren't really my friends."

"You know what I mean."

"I do. Did you?"

"It's water under the bridge, but let's just say there was someone before you father."

"Oh," Claire said. "Does Daddy know?"

"Of course not. No one did. I don't regret marrying your father, and I'm sure you wouldn't have either had you continued on with Luke."

"I would have."

"You're sure?"

"Yes. I just didn't love him like this."

"Well then, perhaps I can explain it to your father so you don't have to. I know things have been uncomfortable for you both since you moved back home. You two have fun tonight, dear."

"Thanks, Mom."

"And I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yeah, sure."

"You look beautiful."

"Thank you," Claire said. She'd bought the gown specifically for tonight. It cost an arm and a leg, but it was worth every penny because her mother was right. It looked beautiful on her. The color, the cut, and the fabric; everything about it was exquisite. She couldn't wait for John to see her in it.

And admittedly for him to take it off of her later. It shocked her how easily sex became a part of her life, which she supposed was proof that Luke wasn't the right guy. She'd never thought of herself as being prudish or frigid, but she hadn't believed she'd get quite so much enjoyment or fulfillment out of it either. John saw to it that she enjoyed and was fulfilled and then some.

The party wasn't bad. Claire and John mingled a bit, but both stayed mostly to themselves without appearing to try to do so. John seemed to understand she was here for appearances not because she really wanted to be. She didn't mind Patricia, but she really had no desire to see any of Luke's friends.

Or Luke.

"Oh God," she said, almost dropping the flute of champagne she held.

"What?" John asked.


"What made you think of him?"


"Hey, if I'm doing something that reminds you of him I want to fix that."

"No," she said with a forced laugh. "He's here."

"What?" John said, turning his attention on where Claire was looking then. "I wasn't expecting that."

"Me neither. I guess I should have."

"Why would you?"

"I told you Luke is friends with Patricia's fiancé, Bill."

"I'm not sure you did."

"They pledged together."

"Even better."

"I'm sure it'll be fine. I haven't heard from him since I moved home."

"Really?" John said, sounding surprised.

"Yes, really. I would have told you, John."

"I wasn't doubting you, just surprised I guess that he gave up that easily."

"Evidently he didn't."

"This surprises you, Princess?"

"Oh come on, it's been months."

"Claire, you are what most guys would think of as being quite a catch."

"Not by him."

He leaned in close then, grazing her ear with his lips. "He wouldn't know what to do with you when he caught you."

She blushed, she couldn't help it. He hadn't said anything suggestive or wrong, but she knew exactly what he was talking about.

"I didn't think you'd actually come," Luke said when he made it to where they'd been standing.

"Patricia's my friend."

"Yeah, but you had to know Bill would be here."

"I have nothing to hide, Luke."

"No, who's this?"

"My date, John."

Luke sized him up, Claire saw recognition in his eyes. "I met him when we were here last winter."

"Yes, he came by the house."

"How convenient that he just happened to know you were in town and is now your date here tonight."

"Not really. He wasn't the only person I saw when I was home then, Luke."

"He's the one you're here with tonight, though. Patricia told Bill you've been seeing him since you came back."

"Yeah, so?" Claire replied.

"There something you should tell me?"

"Like what?"

"Like you were just dating me to pass the time until you could move back to Chicago and him?"

"That isn't how it was at all. I had no desire to move back to Chicago until we broke up and then I realized I had no reason to move to Boston. Home was the logical place to go."

"It sure seems that way."

"Listen, Luke," John said. "We're just here to have a good time at Claire's friend's New Year's Eve party. Nothing more."

She knew when he spotted the hickey John had given her on the ride over here. Her dress was low cut enough that he'd had his choice of spots. He'd chosen the base of her throat, on purpose no doubt. She hadn't stopped him. If she'd known Luke was going to be here she might have.

"It seems you started having a good time early."

"Luke," Claire said.

"Don't justify yourself to him, Claire. We've done nothing wrong. Last I checked she broke up with you so what she does before, during, or after parties isn't your concern anymore."

"I didn't think you'd have the audacity to bring him here. And with a hickey no less. I guess I was wrong about you."

"I'm sorry? It's a hickey. It's not like I showed up naked."

"No, but it's a pretty good indication you were stringing me along for years. Christ, I was an idiot wasn't I? People told me no one, absolutely no one held out for marriage anymore. They said you were lying to be sure you got what you wanted out of me in the long run. I believed you, though."

"A hickey means I'm having sex? On what planet do the two automatically go together?"

"You're telling me it's not true? You're not sleeping with him? Did she feed you the line of waiting for marriage, too? Or did her knees come unlocked as soon as she moved back here? Then again, maybe she didn't have to pretend to be a frigid bitch to land you."

John struck so fast she wouldn't have had time to stop him from throwing the punch even if she'd known he was going to do it. It connected right at Luke's jaw. Luke hadn't been expecting it. Luke just didn't know people like John, guys who weren't afraid to throw a punch and get their hands dirty.

Bill didn't seem to know what to do much the same as Luke, which Claire found almost comical. It was a good thing, she supposed, Luke never had to defend her honor.

Luke tried, but John was bigger and was a much more physically active and stronger guy than Luke would ever be. He always had been. Patricia did her part to keep Bill out of the fray because he had nothing to do with the argument. Luke wouldn't know that John got into fights in high school weekly, if not more frequently. John rarely lost the ones he got into at school. The ones at home were a different story, but she suspected now that it wasn't because he couldn't have won those fights against his father. He chose not to for whatever reason.

He did get one good swing in, connecting with John's cheek. Otherwise, though, John walked away pretty unscathed.

Patricia offered her some ice wrapped in a towel, which Claire took and put over his eye once they were back in the limo.

"You shouldn't have done that."

"I was supposed to let him talk about you that way? Never mind what he was saying exactly, he supposedly loved you and he said those things in front of your friends. You don't know me very well, Princess, if you thought I'd let him get away with it."

"No, I know," she sighed. "I really didn't think he'd be here. I knew Bill would be, of course, but didn't count on him flying here for this."

"I guess we won't be invited back to her house anytime soon."

"We can probably cross our names off their wedding guest list, too," she said with a soft laugh.

"You're kidding, right? I didn't say those things, he did."

"I'm kidding. We'll talk in a couple of weeks and everything will be fine."

"Luke's his best man?"


"Maybe we shouldn't care about being crossed off that guest list then."

She turned the dome light on, sliding the ice from his cheek so he could look at it.


"Just making sure you don't need stitches."

"Nah, he didn't connect that good."

"He probably needs them," she said, giving him control of the towel again.

"Yeah, well, I would've hit him harder."

"You know he didn't really say anything that wasn't true."

"Claire," he said, eyeing her through mostly one eye. "He had no way of knowing you weren't a virgin. Even if you had been waiting until marriage and changed your mind after seeing me that doesn't mean you lied or deserve to have those things said about you. Even if he knew you weren't a virgin, maybe you decided you weren't going to again until marriage. Not everyone walks away from their first experience thinking it's all that."

"John. He's just a jealous asshole."

"You were going to marry him!"

"Obviously I had my doubts or we wouldn't be here right now."

He set the ice on the floor at their feet, tugging her onto his lap.

"Besides I like your knees. He insulted them. I couldn't let that stand."

"You couldn't, huh?" she said, sliding her arms around his neck.

"Yes! I've certainly never had a problem getting them apart."

She laughed, snuggling against his neck. "While that's very true it's probably a good thing you waited to say that until now."

"Probably so."

"Do me a favor?"

"I can try," he said.

"Don't do that again. I hate the idea of you being scarred or marked up in any way because of me."

"He didn't come close."

"Just don't do it again."

"I'll do my best." He kissed her then, lingering a bit. "So, does this mean our night is done?"

"What did you have in mind?" she asked.

"Well, we have the limo all night."


"Let's have the driver go downtown to Lake Shore Drive and over along Sheridan Road. The Christmas lights along LSD should still be up. I bet it'll be crowded, but I'm in no hurry."

"That doesn't stop until Kenosha."

"Good thing I thought ahead," he said.

"Thought ahead to what?"

"A night alone with you in this car. I wasn't planning on it starting this early, but had hoped before midnight to be in here with you." He tilted his head behind her and she glanced over her shoulder, spotting the two bottles of champagne chilling. "I think it's even the good stuff."

"John," she whispered.

"I figure we only get one first New Year's Eve, probably worth splurging."

"Your cheek and eye?"

"Doesn't hurt that bad, Claire."

"You sure?"

"Trust me, I've had worse."

She cringed, sadly knowing he spoke the truth.

"Better tell the driver where you want him to go then."

Return to Top

***Part Five***
Word Count: 1,308

"Why are we here?" he asked when she stopped the car.

"Because I want your opinion."


A car pulled up behind hers. Claire adjusted her rearview mirror, smiling in recognition. She got out of the car, John did the same.

"Hi Claire."

"Hi Misty. This is John."

"Hi John. So, you really do like this place then?"

"I do. A lot. I just wanted John to see it before I make an offer."

"An offer?" he asked.

"On the house."

"I'm sorry," he said, tugging on her arm a little. "You're what?"

"I want to buy this house."


"Why what? I told you I was going to move out of my parents' house."

"Well, yeah, I assumed you meant you were going to get an apartment."

"No, I have enough to put a down payment down. Why would I rent?"

"And I'm here because?"

"If you don't like it I'm not going to buy it."

"Why not?"

"Because, silly, I am asking you to live with me."

"You're what now?"

"John. I know you're hearing what I'm saying."

"You want me to live with you?"


"Without being married?"

"For now. I mean, one day I hope we will."

"Me, too," he said, lacing his fingers through hers.

"This house is available now and I fell in love with it the second I saw it."


"So, is that a yes?"

"You really like the place?"

"Yes. It's perfect."

"It's rather large."

"Yes," she said.

"How many bedrooms?"

"Four upstairs plus a guest room on the first floor, but I figured it could be our office."

"Our office?"

"Well, sure. It's big enough we could both have desks in there. We could get a computer here for you, modems here and at your office so you could work from here if you needed to."

"I don't have a lot of bring home work, Claire."

"I know that, I do, I was just saying. It's possible."

"What about the other bedrooms?"

"What about them? I mean, I'll do something with them until there are other people to occupy them."


"Well, eventually, right?"

They walked through the house, looking and talking about things. Real hardwood floors or ceramic tile on just about all of the floors with nice, plush carpet on the others. A kitchen that was to die for.

"You really love it?" he asked back in her car.


"You want to buy it?"


"And you're not buying it assuming I'll be there?"

"Well, no, not right away. I mean, whenever you'd want to live there, sure, but you must have a lease and stuff. I wouldn't buy a house that you didn't like or potentially want to live in with me, though."

They talked about things in the house they liked and didn't or that needed work on the way back to his apartment. There were very few things they didn’t like. Some things needed work, but it was to be expected. He was a pretty handy guy, there wasn't much they'd discussed he couldn't do himself.

"What if I wanted to buy it with you?" he asked once they'd settled in his place.

"Really? You'd want to."

"Yes, really. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't feel right mooching off you."

"You wouldn’t be. I mean, I assumed you'd help pay for the mortgage and bills."

"Joint ownership."

"And if something happens?"

"You having doubts about us, Princess?"

"No, but it's a logical question."

"I'd sign away my half to you."

"You would?"

"I don't need a house without you, Claire."

"Okay. Let's think about it overnight. We can talk about it over breakfast."

"What about your parents?"

"They won't be thrilled, but they'll deal. They already know I spend nights here with you, so the damage is already done."

"You're sure? Staying here a night or two, having a toothbrush on my sink is not the same as cohabitating for good."

"Yes, John. I'm a big girl. They'd deal with my decision."

"And you're sure you're okay with living in sin with me?"

"You make it sound so scandalous. We love each other. I have no doubt the rest will come when we're ready for it. I just have to get out of my parents' house and get on with my life, which will lead to our life."

"You put an offer in and it takes how long to close?"

"Could be as fast as thirty days, could take up to ninety days. It could take longer, but I doubt it would in this case. My credit's good and yours has to be, too, with your business."


"So, a month or two? Maybe three? I don't know for sure, I've never done this before."

"So, time for us to have a small wedding?"


Well, we both know I don't have anyone to invite. You have your brother and parents. Grandparents are still in the picture, I assume."



"You just asked me to marry you. At least I think you did, and you're talking about my potential guest list."


"Don't you think you should let me answer first?"

"Well, first you need this," he said, sliding a box out of his pocket.

"You didn't have that on you this whole time?"

"No, it was in my nightstand. I got it when I went to the bathroom."


"So, then, Claire Standish, will you marry me?"

"You don't really expect us to get married in the next sixty days, do you?"

"Answer the question, Claire."

"Yes," she said.

"And, we can do it whenever you want to. I already talked to your parents. I'm not sure how thrilled your dad is about the idea of having me as his son-in-law, but he didn't threaten to shoot me or string me up by the nuts so I guess that's about as good as I'm going to get as far as any sort of blessing from him. I just feel better knowing we're committed to not just the house but each other before we put an offer in."

"So, when were you going to ask?"

"I'm not sure. I bought it back in December. Was thinking Christmas, but that seemed so contrived and Valentine's Day seemed worse. So, I was biding my time for the right moment."

"I guess you found it."

"So about those extra bedrooms," he said, tugging her onto his lap.


"When do we get to start working on filling them with little Bender's?"

"All three of them?"

"Too many?"

"No, I think I can handle three, and maybe in another year. A house and a wedding, I think we'll be busy enough in the meantime."

"I suppose you're right."

"Are you in a hurry for some reason?" she asked as he rubbed her hips and ass once she settled on his lap.

"I figure we have five years to make up for."

"Oh, well, maybe we could pretend," she suggested.


"Yes. You know, to make sure we know exactly what we're doing when we decide we want to try."

"Hmm, that sounds like a great idea," he said, sliding her shirt over her head and off.

"It does, doesn't it?"

"Mm hmm," he murmured, capturing her mouth with his.

"I think we should invite Luke," he said, breaking the kiss.

"Why on earth should we do that?"

"Because if you'd found him even remotely sexually appealing we wouldn't be here today."

"He never stood a chance."


"Nope. I knew that day, knew there'd be no one else," she said, sliding his shirt off to join hers on the floor. "It was why I stayed away from Chicago after my freshman year."

"Wanna know a secret, Princess?"

"Sure," she whispered, touching him as she always liked to do.

"I knew it then, too."

~The End~

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