He had to admit the day wasn't half bad. She'd been mostly right in that people would talk to him without disdain. Some weren't so nice, to him or to Claire either for that matter. The haircut was a pretty good giveaway as to what he'd been up to since graduation and some were curious about his choice. He didn't tell anyone there about his secondary MOS, it was no one's business. For some reason his drawing had always been very personal and private to him. He wondered if half of them even remembered him. Some of the people he'd grown up with so he was sure they did, but some he hadn't known before high school so they probably didn't.
He found James midway through the afternoon and told him that Claire offered to give him a ride back to his place. He had a spare key to let himself in and out because James had school next week and both of his parents worked. He was sort of floored his parents were okay with him camping out on their couch, but it was in their downstairs rec room so not in the middle of traffic. It beat having to pay for a motel room that was for sure. He was curious if they wondered why he wasn't staying with his parents, perhaps James had told them the situation.
"You want me to get you a hot dog or something?" he asked when it was closing in on dinner time.
"No, I was going to see if you wanted to go somewhere else. I figured you would've had enough by now."
"And miss out on a second helping of the culinary skills of Shermer's finest?"
"Sarcastic much? It was burgers and hot dogs. What were you expecting?"
"Nothing, really. It wasn't bad."
They hadn't run out of food at least. After lunch more stuff had been brought for dinner by some parents or other former students. During the day it was pretty basic picnic fare to go with the hot dogs and burgers. Various types of chips, some different salads like cole slaw and potato salad. In the evening, though, he noticed there were some baked beans and casserole type dishes to go with the burgers and dogs. Evidently, they were expecting more people to show up in the evening than had during the day. It surprised John she'd want to leave if that was the case.
"You didn't eat anyway," she said, seeming to realize that just now.
He shrugged. "Andy invited me to be nice because he ran into me last night. I don't belong here."
"You were still invited, you could have eaten. And you do belong here. You went to Shermer High same as the rest of us."
"James said it was pretty much invitation only, if I hadn't run into Andy wearing my uniform I wouldn't have gotten the invite. I know how it works, but it's all right."
"Once you've graduated it's not invitation only," she said.
"Well, that's good to know. I can sleep better at night knowing I'm not crashing the party."
"I thought you had a decent time."
"I did. It wasn't so bad. I admit, but most of these people I'm never going to see again."
"Maybe, maybe not. Who knows?"
"I know, Claire."
"So does that mean you would want to go somewhere else?"
"Well, it's up to you then, isn't it?"
"That's not helping," she said.
"Whatever you want, Claire. Honestly, I'm surprised you're giving me the time of day."
She shrugged. "I was mad. I overreacted. I probably should've talked to you about what I saw."
"I knew why you reacted the way you did." In more ways than one, really. It wasn't just the idea that he'd been having sex with someone and she'd seemingly caught them. He was the first guy she'd done anything with. To say she probably felt stupid was probably an understatement.
"I still should've," she shrugged.
"Given me the benefit of the doubt? I wouldn't have if I was you. I was talking about today more than anything, though, really. You don't know I'm telling the truth."
"About being the father?"
"What good would it do you to lie? If you were still in town, maybe, but you're going to what? Lie to me about being the baby's father to get me to write letters to you over the next few years? What purpose would that serve?"
"Letters are the only thing you have to look forward to." And phone calls, but he was assuming calling her would be out of the question so he wasn't even going to bring that up.
"So you'd lie to get me to write letters to you?"
"I wouldn't no, but I'll bet someone might come up with that if you tell them the situation. I'm just surprised. James said you would believe me since I came here today without her."
"You talked to him about me?"
"He asked me what the deal was."
He chuckled. "Don't worry, Princess, I didn't tell him anything happened between us. Your spotless reputation is intact. In fact I told him very plainly we didnít have sex."
"He believed you?"
"Why wouldn't he? Why would I walk around saying I didn't have sex with you if I did? Are you nuts?"
"I guess," she said, worrying her lower lip a little with her teeth. And that made him focus on her mouth, which was a very bad thing to focus on just then. Months of nobody to kiss made him crave hers even more. Because despite the fact she'd never even done that before him, she was a very fast and willing learner.
She was quiet for a few minutes, scanning the people there. He still wasn't too sure why she wanted to leave with him. Giving him a ride back to James' place was one thing, but to leave with him before the party was even close to being over. He imagined people would be coming throughout the evening during and after the dance let out.
"Do you like pizza?"
"Yes," he said. That was a pretty ridiculous question. "I haven't had pizza sinceÖ"
"Oh God," she said, offering her hand to him. "Please don't tell me since before you went to boot camp."
"Uh, yeah, that would be the last time I had pizza," he said, taking her hand. She'd done stuff like this on and off during the day, touched him or stood closer to him than she needed to. She hadn't actually invited him to touch her back until now, though.
"I've had it, but they just don't make it there like they do here."
"You can't beat Chicago and its pizza."
"No, you can't. I never knew how true that was until the past couple of months. How was your food?"
He shrugged. "Food. Not bad. Not great. I mean, it was nothing I'd write home about."
"You wouldn't write home anyway."
"You got me, Princess," he said with a chuckle. "It was all right. I didn't starve or anything."
"Good," she said.
He let her lead them to her car; at least he imagined that's where they were going. She stopped at her car, walking to the passenger side and unlocking the door. He let go of her hand then, sliding his arms around her. They were completely alone for the first time all day. Always there were people nearby even if they weren't talking to them. No one was here but them, though, at the moment.
"You never answered my question earlier, you know."
"What question was that?"
"Do I fall under ex-boyfriend territory?"
She laughed softly. "Really? That's what you're concerned about right now?"
"Well, yes and no."
"Well, the answer could prove very telling in how you respond when I kiss you."
"You haven't kissed me," she said.
He didn't hesitate any longer to do it then. Months in a barracks with a bunch of other guys made him a little needy. And hungry. He was sure the way he claimed her mouth told her that pretty clearly. That day of detention they'd done some pretty intense making out. After that day, they had, too, but not all of the time. He actually liked hanging out with her, listening to her and sharing things with her like his drawing. He'd sort of forgotten how much he'd enjoyed kissing her that day of detention and the reaction it had caused in him.
It did again today, too. Only worse. Weeks of no privacy, not even in the shower, evidently made his body react as if he was the one until a few months ago who had never even kissed someone.
Lips parted, his first but hers were right behind his so it didn't really matter who'd broken down first. They'd both wanted more. He slid a hand behind her, cupping her very fine ass as he tugged her to him.
Very bad move.
She broke the kiss, stepping away a little. She didn't slap him, though.
"I'm not having sex with you."
"I'm sorry," he asked. Had he said something he didn't realize he'd said? He didn't think so.
"I said I'm not having sex with you."
"Why would you think that's even remotely on my mind, Claire?"
She blushed deeply and he realized why she thought that.
"Oh," he murmured. "I can't really control it. Sorry."
"You don't have to be sorry."
"Well, it makes you think I'm expecting sex from you, so yeah, I guess I do."
"If you didn't I'd probably get mad."
"Expect sex from you?"
She laughed softly. "No. React to kissing me."
"Twelve weeks of boot camp is probably pretty lonely."
He chuckled a little. "I'm not sure anyone would refer to it as lonely exactly, but I get what you're saying. Yeah?"
"Well, that means the first thing you did after you got out wasn't find someone."
"I hate to tell you this, Claire," he whispered, stepping closer to her again. He found her ear with his mouth. "I think I'd react to you like this no matter what."
"Why?" she whispered.
"Because it's you," he replied, finding her neck then. He grazed the skin there with his lips. She made the most exciting sound when his tongue slid along the same spot his lips just had.
"I'm still not having sex with you."
"Christ. Have I given you any indication that I'm expecting anything from you? You're the one who offered me a ride back to James' place."
"I can kiss you without trying to get into your pants. I did it before."
"I know. I remember."
"Thank you," he said, glad she remembered he hadn't pushed. As tempting as it had been to do so he hadn't. She'd been in complete control over what they did the entire time they hung out. Some days they didn't even kiss, they just watched TV or something. He was fine with that. He'd never had someone who just wanted to hang out with him before.
He drew away then, kissing her jaw. "You still want pizza?"
"Yes," she said.
"Let's get out of here then."
They sat there until close to ten o'clock. Why it wasn't too busy he had no idea, but neither seemed to mind not feeling rushed to eat and leave right away. He found out more about Purdue and the classes she was taking. She found out more about what he'd been up to when he got pointed in the direction of jail or something else.
"Do you know his name?"
"Yeah," he said.
"You should tell him."
"He knows. My recruiter knew him, that's why he was willing to work with me around the timing of the drug test so he'd know I'd be clean. I got the feeling I wasn't the first guy he'd given such an ultimatum to."
"It was still nice of him."
"He probably saved my life. Maybe not literally. I mean, I'd be alive if I was in prison. Figuratively, though, he did."
"Right," she said. They both got quiet after that, not the most upbeat of topics to touch on. She probably didn't get the way he'd grown up either as hard as she might try.
"So, is this the first Homecoming event you've gone to solo?"
She smiled a little, taking a sip of her pop. "Yes, actually, it is."
He shook his head slightly at that confession. "A closet full of dresses I suppose, too?"
"Yes, between Homecoming, Turnabout, and two Proms."
"What are you going to do with them?"
"I don't know! My mom will do something with them eventually I'm sure. I don't need them. Maybe there will be some formals at Purdue or something I'll need one or two of them for."
"Sorority stuff, I suppose?"
"Yes," she said with a blush.
"Hey, there's nothing wrong with it. Not my thing, but then neither is college. Clearly if they weren't popular they wouldn't be around."
"Assuming they still fit."
"Why? Are you planning on gaining weight or something?"
"No, but it happens."
"I doubt to you. You can come to school with me if you want."
She laughed at that. "No, thanks. I think I'd survive that worse than you'd survive college."
"You're probably right."
"I suppose I should get you back before it's too late."
"I have a key, but yeah, I doubt his parents would appreciate me coming in real late. They didn't lay down any rules or anything, but it's their house and James has younger brothers and sisters."
"I didn't know, but then I hardly know him."
"Why would you? He's a year behind us, but he's a good guy and while not fully in with my crowd certainly wasn't your crowd. He's the oldest of five."
"I know, right? I don't get it either, but they have a nice family. They're nice to one another and everything. His mom, like, cooks them breakfast before school every morning."
She grimaced a little at that. "Yours didn't?"
He scoffed. "No. I was lucky if she got out of bed long enough to make sure I made it out the door most days."
"It is what it is, Princess. I'm out of there now."
"I know. Just that you look at what James has and think that's abnormal. I mean, I guess my mom didn't cook me breakfast every morning, but she made sure I ate something every day at least."
"It's all right," he said, pulling out his wallet.
"I can pay, it was my idea."
He stared at her. "I know you can pay, Claire, that doesn't mean I'm going to let you."
"But you said you didn't get paid a lot."
"I said I couldn't take a vacation or anything. I'm staying at James' place so I don't have a hotel room to pay for, which I would have had I gone somewhere else for my leave instead of coming here. I didn't buy a huge selection of clothes because I won't need more than what I got. I have no one to support but myself, so I think I can buy you pizza."
"Thank you. I just wasn't expecting you to pay."
"Yeah, well, I couldn't let you pay so there it is."
"What are you going to do after?"
"I have no idea. I guess it depends on where they station me. If it's somewhere I like maybe I'll stay there when I'm done. That's years from now. Why?"
She shrugged. "Just wondering if you had any plans."
"To stay alive and out of trouble. That's my plan."
"Well, that's a good plan."
"You know, I wasn't expecting to see you this weekend," he said as their waitress came to take his money.
"You seemed surprised."
"I didn't know you'd chosen Purdue. It would've been kind of funny if you'd been out at Stanford while I was out there."
"I know. I did look at Stanford pretty closely, but I decided I wasn't ready to be so far away yet."
"Maybe one day. I like Chicago. Don't you?"
"I'm not talking about your house or growing up. I mean just in general."
"I guess, I don't know. The only thing I knew growing up was that Chicago offered all kinds of things that someone like me couldn't gain access to. Museums and cultural stuff, which I'm sure you cut your teeth on."
"Yes," she admitted.
"So, while you were enjoying those things I was like a kid in a candy store who couldn't have anything. My parents could never afford to pay for those types of field trips or if they could, Mom and Dad would drink the money away."
"I know. The stuff is still there, though, John. Today."
"Yeah, well, I'm not going to do that stuff by myself."
"Because," he said with a frown. "People will think I'm weird."
"I donít know. People."
"Who don't know you and will never see you again. I bet if you put your uniform on, no one would think twice about you doing that stuff."
"You and James, encouraging me to use my uniform as some sort of advantage."
"I'm not, I'm just saying, anyone seeing you in uniform would assume correctly you're on leave with time on your hands. They wouldnít think you're weird for going to a museum or something I bet."
"I don't know."
"I'm not trying to force you. I'm just saying, just because you couldn't do that stuff as a kid doesn't mean you're still prevented from doing it now."
"Would you go with me?"
"I have to go back to school tomorrow."
"I just meant in general."
"Sure I would. Why not?"
"It's kind of a date thing to do."
"You come to Chicago when I'm on break from school I would be happy to go somewhere like that with you."
"Because I enjoy doing those things! I still say you're making too big of a deal about going by yourself. If you want to go. Go."
"Easy for you. Chicks don't look weird doing that stuff by themselves."
She stared at him for a minute. "You're worried people will think you're gay?"
"Well, yeah," he said.
She laughed softly. "I'm not sure that thought would cross anyone's mind when it came to you, John, whether you were at a museum or not."
"You know me."
"I never once thought that about you before knowing you."
"You never saw me at a museum by myself."
She sighed. "Don't go then. You're here all week, you may as well do something with your time other than sit in James' house by yourself waiting on the four or five friends you have to take you places."
"I have no car."
"There are trains!"
He smirked a little then.
"And you're teasing me," she said, exhaling sharply.
"A little. I'd never considered going by myself that part is true. You're probably right no one would look at me too strange if I was doing stuff like that in my service uniform."
"I don't think they would if you wore those clothes either," she said with a shrug. "I mean you have your military ID, right, lots of places give discounts so it shouldn't be an issue."
"It'd be more fun going with someone."
"I'm sure it would. Find someone to go with."
"I already have, but she's not available."
"That's one way to get me to come back here on leave I guess."
"Is it the only reason you'd come back?"
"Pretty much. Tony and Kevin are doing their own thing this year. I'm not into the same stuff, you know. So, I've changed, too, I guess. It's just different. I don't imagine it's going to get any less different the further into my training I get."
"That's the point, though, right."
"I guess it is."
"Well, when you write to me I'll write you back and let you know when my breaks are."
"You know it doesn't work like that, right? I don't get to pick and choose. Well, I can try, but there's no guarantee I get the exact days off I want."
"I know, but I can still tell you when they are so you know."
"You can do that."
"Now, let's get you back to James' house before they get mad at you and make you stay in a hotel or something."
"That may not be such a bad thing tonight."
"Oh my God. Again, I'm not having sex with you! You're lucky I'm even talking to you. You do know that, right? I didn't have to do that at all. I could have seen you last night and walked away."
"I know, and I told you I was surprised you did. You ever kissed on a bed, though, Princess? Not having to worry about Mommy or Daddy walking in?"
"You know I haven't."
"You don't need to have sex to have fun, Princess."
"You sure about that?"
"Pretty sure, yeah."
"Well, you would know."
"You telling me you didn't have fun with me?"
"I did," she admitted.
"Me, too. And you don't really know as much about me as you think you do. You of all people should know that not everyone is what they seem. You think anyone at school, high school or college, would believe you've only kissed one guy? That guy being me, no less?"
"You don't know what I've done since April."
"You're right, I don't," he said, and for some reason the idea of her doing something as seemingly basic and meaningless as kissing anyone else really, really bothered him. "You leave a trail of guys between here and Lafayette craving your kisses, Princess?"
"I should say yes."
"Say what you want."
"What about you? You never said whether you left boot camp and met someone for the night before coming here. I doubt very likely you got right on a plane as soon as you graduated. I'm sure there's no shortage of women who do just that for the graduating classes. Never mind the few months between the night I walked in on Sheila in your bedroom and when you left."
"Would it bother you?"
"No more than my kissing someone else would bother you."
"You think that wouldn't bother me?"
"Why should it?"
"Why should what I do bother you?"
"Let's go," she said.
He sighed with a huff, knowing somehow the last few minutes of conversation probably set him back a few pegs in her eyes. Why he was trying so hard he wasn't sure. She said she'd write him, but chances were she'd meet someone while at Purdue who wanted to be a lawyer, doctor, architect, or something respectable and less dangerous than being a Marine. Someone who could take her to the things at her sorority that required formal dresses.
She'd still write him, he had no doubt of that, because for some reason she'd feel as though she should. He hated that idea, that he might be some sort of charity case to her. He'd gotten this far with little to no help from anyone; he didn't need anyone sending him mail for the next four years because she didn't want him to feel lonely or as if there was nothing on the outside for him.
True, he didn't have anything on the outside now but a handful of friends. He had no belongings or possessions to his name, not even a car. He'd bought a portable radio while at the mall, which at the moment consisted of the only personal item he'd be bringing to Infantry school with him. Pathetic, maybe, but he had four years to carve out a life for himself.
They didnít say much else on the way to James'. There wasn't much else to say it seemed. She was leaving tomorrow and he'd have the next week to contemplate whether he should even send her a letter when he got to school or not.
He was beyond shocked when she put her car in Park on the street outside James' place and leaned in to kiss him. It wasn't like the kiss earlier, but it was better than no kiss.
"What was that for?"
"To say good night and that I'm not mad at you."
"You could have fooled me."
"I hate when you do that."
"Try to pretend you have no feelings."
"I'm not used to it, and I'm certainly not accustomed to being able to express them."
"I can't say the Marines is going to make that any better. It's not exactly charm school."
"I haven't kissed anyone."
"I haven't had sex with anyone," he said. "Pretty sure I couldn't have anyway."
"Because I wanted you!"
He scoffed. "Really, Princess? You need me to say that?"
"It's nice to hear."
"So is hearing you haven't kissed anyone else."
"That would really bother you?"
"Stupid, I know, but yes. I had every intention of contacting you when I was done with boot camp and school and at my first duty station."
"Because we weren't done yet, at least I wasn't done yet. I needed to get my life in order."
"It's not now?"
"It's better than it was, but like I said I won't have a lot of free time. I won't get leave until probably after Christmas and I don't know beyond letters how much contact I will be able to have with you."
"You donít get phone calls?"
"Yeah, I think at night and on weekends they give you some time assuming you earned the time."
"I'll give you my phone number tomorrow."
"Yeah, tomorrow. Pick something you want to do downtown and we'll do it. I have to go to church with my parents, but I can pick you up around ten o'clock because we always go to the early service."
He narrowed his eyes a bit, regarding her. "You have to go back to school tomorrow."
"I have no specific time. It's only like one hundred twenty miles. Did you have plans tomorrow?"
He smiled a little. "I should say yes."
She rolled her eyes. "Well, then, you wouldn't get my phone number."
"I guess that's incentive for me to be honest and say I have nothing going on."
"I'll see you tomorrow then."
"You don't want to know what my choice in places is?"
"Think on it and tell me when I get you."
"All right," he said, opening the passenger door.
"Thanks for the pizza."
"Thanks for a surprisingly nice day." He squinted a little, leaning back into the car a little. "We are going alone, right? There's no Shermer High thing tomorrow downtown?"
"It'll just be us."
"Music to my ears, Princess."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com