Word Count: 5,219
John glanced in the rearview mirror at Randy who was looking out his window. It was hot, so John had the air conditioning on. That meant the inside of his backseat windows were going to need cleaning tonight to get rid of the dog nose prints on them.
The plan seemed like a solid one when he'd volunteered to do this stupid door-to-door assignment that his captain had sought volunteers for. Now, though, he was questioning his sanity. Was his life really that bad not seeing the kid? Of course, he realized, as he opened his door and got out before letting Randy out. There was no saying the kid was even home. He was betting he was, though. And his parents wouldn't be. Would his younger brother and sister be home? That was a wildcard. He could see the big brother stuck babysitting for the younger kids all summer, but he could also see the parents keeping the routine as usual and them staying in whatever after-school daycare arrangements they had during school. The middle child was iffy. He was nine or ten John remembered from his research so too old for daycare really, but too young to be trusted at home by himself with his little sister if the older Standish child wanted to do things during the day.
He'd parked on the street because this errand would take him to all of the homes on this block. He'd chosen to save this house for last, getting in his car to leave without stopping here at all. He had it in his mind already, the conversation he'd have with his captain telling him no one had been home at this house plus the other couple that he'd received no answer at. He really had no business doing this when all was said and done. So he had a kid. His life was no different than it had been before she'd dropped that bomb on him. He'd assumed her coming to his house that night was a sign she wanted to see him, that it had been more than just sex for her.
Curiosity got the better of him he supposed because here he was walking up the driveway. Randy didn't mind because he much preferred walking outside than riding in the car.
He took a breath as he rang the bell at the front door, pulling out his badge to have it at the ready.
A young girl, probably around the same age as Brian's little girl answered the door. That answered the question as to whether the younger kids would be in daycare or home with their older brother for the summer.
"Hi. I'm Officer Bender," he said, showing her his badge. "Is your mom or dad home?"
She shook her head. She was pretty cute with a headful of curls, not quite like Shirley Temple but pretty damned close.
"Well, is there a babysitter or something I can talk to?"
"Kyle," she called out, which of course was the response John had been hoping for. "Door," she said.
She ran off, leaving the door open. John grazed the top of Randy's head with his fingertips. It was hot out, which probably meant Randy was even more uncomfortable than John was. John was just glad he didn't have to wear an actual uniform like the street cops did.
"Can I help you?"
The little girl had come back with him, opening the door to step outside and stare at Randy.
"Dee," her brother said.
"It's all right," John said.
John tried not to stare. Or at least not to be obvious about the fact that was what he was doing. It was hard, though, and took him a second to glance behind Kyle so it didn't seem to be what he was doing. Claire had said he looked like him, but he hadn't thought she was being honest. Or at the very least seeing things she thought were there. Nope. He didn't look exactly like him, but he could sure see the combination of his dad and him in Kyle.
"He won't hurt her or anything," he said, running his fingers along Randy's cheek.
"Be careful, Dee," he said.
"I'm doing some door-to-door's in your neighborhood about some break-ins that have been reported recently."
"Really?" he asked, sounding surprised.
There hadn't been a string of them occurring every night or anything, but every week this summer a house in the area had been targeted. The neighborhood was a pretty well-to-do one so the captain wanted the upper class tax payers to know action was being taken. John ordinarily wouldn't have volunteered for this job, but he'd sort of felt the need to do it when he'd seen what neighborhoods were involved.
The last time he'd spoken with Claire he'd wanted to ask her what her son looked like. Their son. Kyle. Looking like John didn't tell him much really because John didn't think he looked much different than most other dark-haired, dark-eyed guys when it got down to it. He was hoping to maybe get her to show him a picture or something. He hadn't counted on her getting so pissed off at him.
"Yeah," he said, holding up his badge and a card. "You live here?"
"Yes," he said. "Well, I'll be leaving for school in a couple of weeks, but yes."
John had sort of assumed that was going to happen soon. It was why he'd gone ahead and said yes to this stupid task, knowing he wouldn't have a chance like it fall into his lap again. Chances were the kid wouldn't be home again until Thanksgiving. So he'd kind of seen it as a now or never thing.
"Oh. Where do you go to school?" he asked, hoping it wasn't an odd question. He knew the answer already, of course.
"University of Minnesota."
"It gets pretty cold up there I bet."
Kyle smiled a little at that. "It does, but it's all right."
"Well, good. What year are you?"
"I'll be starting my second," he said.
"Well, when your mom and dad get home just let them know someone stopped by. If they see or hear anything suspicious call us. We've stepped up late-night patrols in the area so assure them we're aware there is a situation."
"All right," he said, eyeing the card. John would've loved to ask him more questions, but he thought it'd be fairly strange if he did that. So, he'd stopped while he was ahead.
"Dee, come on, leave the dog alone."
"It's all right. He likes kids."
"You haven't always had him, have you?"
"Huh?" John asked.
"The dog. You used to have one a little smaller than him?"
"Oh yeah," John said.
"I remember him from when you came to my junior high school."
"He died a few years ago now."
"Is it an okay job?"
"What?" John asked.
Kyle shrugged. "Doing what you do."
"Oh, well, sure. I'm still doing it. I do more than just the school talks, those are probably the thing I like best, though. There was that missing girl a few months ago. I suppose you were still at school when that happened, but Randy and I searched for her for days."
"Did you find her?" Kyle asked.
"Yeah, in the forest preserve," John said.
"Yeah, probably a little younger than your sister here."
"I hadn't heard anything about it."
"It's hard to keep up when you're in a different state."
"That's why Mom and Dad didn't want me to let her out of my sight this summer."
"Probably so, yeah."
They'd caught the guy just a couple of weeks ago actually. It had been the girl's uncle. He could understand why some parents would be shaken up over something bad happening so close to their neck of the woods. Shermer was, overall, a pretty safe suburb. To this point they'd avoided the gang infiltration so many suburbs had succumbed to. He liked to think he played a role in that. Even if it was a small role, he didn't care.
"Anyway," he said. "Just let your parents know if they have any questions they can give us a call. We're happy to answer any questions. They can ask for me. My name's on the card there, or they can speak with anyone at the precinct if they have information or concerns."
"We have an alarm system."
That wasn't surprising.
"Keep it armed," John suggested.
"All right, Dee, is it?"
"DeeAnna," she said with a pout.
"That's a pretty name."
"Thanks," she said.
"You should go back inside with your brother, though."
"Can we go swimming now, Kyle?"
"Yeah, sure," he said.
"Sorry if I interrupted you going somewhere."
"You didn't, it's just in our backyard. I was waiting for my girlfriend to come over, but she's running late."
"Oh," he said. He had a girlfriend. Did Claire know that? She must. Did she know the girl? "Well, good have fun then. And DeeAnna," he said. "If you see Randy at your school next year you come say hi to him."
"Really?" she asked.
"See Kyle," she said and John couldn't help but laugh.
"Sorry. She loves dogs, which is great but she seems to think she can walk up to any dog. She has no fear."
"Oh, you're right telling her to be cautious."
"Thanks for stopping by," Kyle said.
"Yeah, sure. Be sure to pass along the message to your parents."
"I will," he said.
John chuckled softly to himself at the thought of Claire's brother seeing his business card there. He'd know no doubt why John had really been to the house.
"Good luck at school next year."
"Thanks," he said.
John and Randy walked toward his car just as, presumably anyway, the girlfriend pulled onto the driveway. He waited at the end of the driveway for a minute with Randy, letting him sniff the grass near the curb while she got out of her car. It wasn't nearly as nice of a car as Kyle's. It wasn't a bad car or anything, but he wondered what Kyle's parents thought of their son dating someone from out of their income bracket. If he was going to be an engineer he stood to do well for himself. Then he had no idea what she was going to school for. Maybe she was going to be an engineer, too.
He glanced to the front door as Kyle answered, letting her in. He tried not to be obvious about watching as the girl kissed him. She kissed him first, John noticed and shook his head a little at that, remembering being that age and someone kissing him first. She'd been the only one to do that that he could remember.
"Come on, Randy," he said as the front door shut. He caught Kyle looking at him, too, so John knew he had to leave or it'd be really suspicious him being out here any longer.
"Hello?" Claire said when she picked up the phone.
'Have you lost your freaking mind?'
'Uh, yeah,' he said.
"Why would you ask me that?"
'You told him who Kyle was?'
"No! I mean, yes, but he already knew. All I did was confirm that. He is a policeman, Christopher, you realize that, right? He really didn't need me to do anything but confirm what he thought."
'Yeah, well, you need to tell him to leave my family the hell alone.'
"What are you talking about?"
'He came over here today.'
"He did what?" she asked. She pushed Rosencranz's head off of her lap so she could stand from the couch. She'd just sat down to watch some news before meeting a couple of friends of hers for drinks.
'Yeah, that's right. You heard me. Came over here, left his business card.'
"I find it very hard to believe that he'd just walk up to Kyle and…"
'Oh no, he was very clever and subtle about it. Kyle said the officer mentioned some break-ins in the area and they were doing door-to-doors to tell the neighborhoods effected they were aware of the situation and were beefing up patrols at night.'
"Okay. So you think that was a lie?"
'No, but he's a K9 cop, door-to-door informational relays aren't exactly up his alley. Are they?'
"How would I know!"
'Claire. I mean it, you tell him to stay the hell away from my family or I will see about a restraining order.'
"He's not violent. You can't get a restraining order against someone who hasn't done you any harm. He's not going to hurt Kyle. He was probably curious."
'Tell him, Claire. I don't want him coming around here. He has no business…'
"Well, if you want to be technical about it."
'Don't be technical, Claire. He's my son! I didn't do this to have that guy show up nineteen years later.'
"I know that. I do. I'll talk to him."
'You really didn't know he came over here?'
"No. Why would I know that?"
'I don't know.'
"Did Kyle ask any questions?"
'No, but I'm not sure he'd ask this time. You know? He saw John's name on the card same as I did.'
"Oh," Claire said. So now Kyle had a name to go with the face he once saw and thought could potentially be his father. Great.
"I'm sorry, Chris, I really am."
'It's not your fault. I just, talk about a thing to come home to.'
"Yeah, I can see that. I'm going out tonight anyway, I'll stop by his house on the way and take care of it."
'I'd appreciate that. I mean, I guess I can't stop him. He was here on official police business, but I think I'd prefer he allow a different police officer handle Shermer PD's business in our neighborhood unless his dog is needed for some reason.'
'He said he was real nice to DeeAnna.'
"Well, of course he was, he's not a monster, Chris. If I've ever done something to give you that impression that wasn't my intent. Not wanting to tell him I was pregnant was my thing, my being stubborn."
'I know. I mean, I don't. I didn't know the kid back then to say, but I believed you back then that this was the best thing for all involved. I just want to be sure you remember that it was you making that decision, thinking it was the best thing.'
'Good night then.'
"Night," she said, disconnecting the call and hanging the receiver up. She pet Rosencranz on the top of his head absently, staring out the window. The last thing she wanted to do was see John, but he had to understand he had no right to just show up at Christopher's house like that.
She almost wished she didn't know where he lived then she could have used that as an excuse. She'd called her girlfriends to tell them she might be running a bit late.
She could not believe he'd shown up at Christopher's house! Brian had told her about coming to his house a few weeks ago. She'd assumed when she hadn't heard from him since that night at her house that he'd decided to leave the situation alone.
Or did he go there today just to settle his curiosity?
Either way, she knew it wasn't fair to Christopher and Ellen that John thought he had the right to do that, badge or not.
She rang his bell, hoping against hope he wouldn't be home. She could at least tell Christopher she tried. Kyle was leaving in a couple of weeks for school again anyway. How much harm could John do in two weeks?
Claire imagined if he really wanted to he could cause a lot of harm.
It took him a minute or two to answer the door. She almost turned around to leave, assuming he wasn't home when he opened the door. He snorted softly when he saw her standing there. She, on the other hand, couldn't help but stare for a minute because he'd clearly just gotten out of the shower. His hair was wet and he wasn't wearing a shirt.
"Don't do that. You had to know I'd find out and…"
"Oh, I figured, just wasn't counting on the same night. I certainly wasn't thinking you'd get dressed up to come over here and slap me again."
He thought she was dressed nicely for him? "Get over yourself. I'm going out."
"Oh," he said.
"How's Randy doing?"
"He sure looks like he healed well."
"He did. You got paid and everything, right?"
"I did," she said.
"I was hoping there wouldn't be an issue."
"No, there wasn't. They paid very quickly actually."
"Good," he said. "My captain said you didn't gouge them with after-hours fees."
She blushed profusely at that. She hadn't felt right charging them anything extra when she'd spent a good hour of the night Randy was at her office having sex with John.
"That's why you didn't?"
How could he possibly know what she was thinking?
"They didn't know."
"But if they found out…"
"Who was going to tell them? Randy? I don't know if you noticed but he doesn't talk much."
"Don't be a smart ass."
"Well, I mean, that was nice of you, SPD appreciated you not charging them an arm and a leg, but they never would have known. Besides that had nothing to do with the care you gave to my dog."
She sighed softly, embarrassed that he knew she hadn't charged as much as she could have for that night's services. She wasn't an emergency clinic. Certainly if someone called her she did what she could, but her answering service directed them to the after-hours emergency vet in town.
"John," she said, knowing her frustration at standing here like this was evident.
"You're not going to slap me again, are you?"
"No," she said.
He opened the screen door, letting her in.
"Thank you," she said.
"Yeah, sure," he said.
"Listen," she said.
"Yeah, I know. I had no right going over there. You could have saved yourself a trip over here. I knew that going over there. I knew that before I rang the doorbell. I knew that talking to him. I knew that watching him be protective over his sister with Randy. I had to do it, though."
"Well, no, that wasn't really what I was going to say. I can't really blame you for doing it, but you can't do it again."
"John. He's a good boy who's in school studying so he can be a good man. Do you really want to cause him emotional upheaval and distract him from accomplishing that?"
"No. I was just curious. You know? I'd never thought before what a kid of mine might look like. Be like."
"You should have asked me."
"Yeah, well, the last time I saw you you'd told me to get the fuck out of your house. I didn't think calling you up and asking you to take me to see him was going to fly."
"What you said that night…"
"I know," he said. "I'm sorry. Really I am. It was the reason I didn't go see you right away. If I'd gone after you I would have said all sorts of crazy shit. Crazier than what I did say believe it or not. I needed time to," he shrugged as if searching for the right word. "Process. I realize you didn't get time to process when it happened so it's maybe unfair I took that time. Think about it from my point of view, though. Forget for a minute about him, not completely but the pregnancy part. You say you fell in love with me, but you give our kid up and then it seems like you were with your ex almost right away. Even not knowing about Kyle, hearing you'd gone to school and gotten serious enough to be spending Thanksgiving and Christmas with his family instead of yours. Well, it hurt, I guess," he shrugged. "I mean, I had no claims on you, I know that now and I knew that then. You never calling me or anything made it abundantly clear. It doesn't mean I didn't want to have them."
"John," she said. God, this was exactly the type of conversation she'd been hoping to avoid.
"Was I wrong to say it was your fault I never had any kids? Yeah, I was. I can admit that. It's not your fault. It's my own problem. I can acknowledge that, too. The one person I ever really liked, that I ever really wanted to let see the real me couldn't be bothered."
"I've already explained it to you."
"I know, you did. It makes sense, but that's not how I saw it then. You know? I saw it as you deciding I wasn't good enough. Or at least not good enough for more than just a fuck." He shrugged. "I just never let myself get close enough to anyone again to find out I wasn't good enough for them either. It just wasn't worth it to me to find out I never would be. Then there was the doubt in my head about whether you'd even gotten anything out of it and maybe that was why you hadn't called or anything."
She stepped up to him then, more than a little surprised Randy didn't growl at her as she reached for him. The last time she'd reached for his face with her hand she'd hit him. His eyes closed as she ran her fingertips along his cheek.
"I'm sorry. I really didn't know. I didn't mean to hurt you or to make you feel any less deserving of love than anyone else."
"I know," he said. "My own fault. I guess I should have said something, if not that day I should've called you or something. Brian asked me if I'd even asked you about it."
"He didn't tell you?"
"He told me you came by his house but not what you talked about."
"Oh, yeah, he asked me if I'd ever called you or spoken to you about the possibility. I hadn't and I realized I probably should have. Is that part of why you didn't tell me? Because I didn't ask?"
"No. I was scared. I did love you. It was scary, though, John. I'd never given someone that power before. I didn't know what to do with it. If I showed you I risked you making fun of me. I wasn't willing to risk that," she shrugged. "So, I did nothing. Then I found out I was pregnant."
"You didn't think telling me you loved me then might have been a good idea?"
"I didn't want you to think the only reason I was coming to you, telling you I loved you was because of the baby, because I wanted something from you."
He opened his eyes then, regarding her.
"You certainly would have been within your right to want something from me when you were pregnant with my kid, Princess," he said.
She smiled a little at that. Stupid that nearly twenty years later he still called her that. And that she didn't tell him to stop it.
"I know, but that wasn't the reason I wanted you to be with me. Assuming you would have been with me. I didn't know."
"I would have wanted to try."
"I didn't think you would, John. I really didn't."
He nodded a little. She hoped he understood her thought process. It was a long time ago and a lot easier to be logical about it today than it had been those months before she'd decided whether to have Kyle.
"And the ex? I'm still trying to figure out how he factors into this. Not that I'm an impossible guy to get over or anything. Clearly, I'm pretty easy to do that about."
She sighed softly. She didn't want to talk about Bryce. Not really. It was a topic best saved for another time and place. Not tonight when she really had no desire to rehash the past seventeen years of her life and what an idiot she'd been. She leaned in and kissed him. She had to. Brian was right. Whatever it was about him, that day or today didn't seem to matter. Of course it might have had something to do with the fact he was standing in front of her in nothing but a pair of shorts. Maybe.
He worked a button on her blouse before stopping and pulling away from her.
"What are you doing?" she whispered.
"I thought you were going out somewhere?"
"Oh, I was," she said. "Am," she corrected quickly.
He chuckled softly at that.
"A date?" he asked, kissing her neck just by her ear.
She thought she heard him whisper 'good', but she could have been mistaken and probably was. She wasn't sure she understood John, or men in general, any better than she did that day of detention.
"Why not?" he asked.
She shrugged. "I don't know. No one's asked?"
"I find that hard to believe."
She'd been asked, sure, but not by anyone she wanted to say yes to. She sighed a bit when he continued to the next button on her blouse. She'd gone out on a blind date last weekend. It wasn't bad or anything, but she wasn't rushing out to see him again. He'd called a couple of times since then, but hadn't asked about her plans for this weekend yet. It was summer, people were busy so she didn't take it as a brush-off exactly. She had told him she'd get her kids back next week, though.
"It's the truth."
"They're loss," he said, sliding his hand inside her blouse once he'd finished unbuttoning it. She drew it out of her skirt and started sliding it off. He stopped her, though.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
He gave a soft snort.
"Don't worry. I was just going to suggest going to my room."
"Oh," she said.
"I mean if the door sounds better to you…"
"No," she said.
She followed him to his room more than a little surprised at how big it was. She was going to ask how he'd managed that, but he didn't give her the chance to say anything really because he slid his shorts off as soon as they were in his room.
God, he was gorgeous. He had been that day, too, but now it was so different. She reached behind her to work the zipper of her skirt, stepping out of it once she'd kicked her shoes off. She was probably going to hell for having sex with him so many times with nothing even resembling a commitment or anything from him. It was so worth it, though, she mused as he reached for her. He drew her to him for a kiss as he reached for her panties to slide them over her thighs. She stepped out of them once they'd fallen to the floor and joined him on the bed.
"I have a proposition for you," he said, kissing her jaw a while later.
"Okay," she said.
"Go home," he said.
"What? What kind of proposition is that?" He wanted her to leave?
"I'll follow you. You want to do this again tonight then we'll be at a place where you or I don't have to leave right after to let animals in or out."
"John," she said.
"What? You said it wasn't a date."
"Planned sex is a bad thing?"
"No," she said.
"You want to spend the night with me?"
"Well, that was the general idea behind my going to your place. I guess if you don't want me to I can leave at some point."
"Why would you want to do that?"
He drew away then, shaking his head. He shifted so he was sitting at the edge of the bed. He was watching her, though, very intensely. "So I'm good enough to fuck but not to sleep with? Really? Lots of women I'd expect that from, but not you."
"I didn't say that!"
"It sure sounds that way from my vantage point."
"I just," she sighed softly. She leaned up then, reaching for his back with her hand before she kissed it. "I've never had anyone want to sleep with me before."
"Shut up," he said.
"You've got kids, Claire. Obviously someone wanted to do something with you."
"That doesn't require sleeping." It didn't require actual sex either when it got down to it. Of course, John wouldn't know that.
"Are you shitting me?"
"No," she said.
He frowned slightly. "So, was this you or him?"
"I can't talk about it, John."
"Well, if it was you…"
"It wasn't me!"
"So then what's the problem?"
"My kids are going to be home next week."
"That's not tonight."
"I know," she said. "I just think it's a very bad habit to get into."
"It's one night. We'd need more than one night to make it a habit. Besides, your house is big enough I bet I could sneak out without anyone else seeing me."
"The dogs wouldn't allow that."
He chuckled softly. "You might be right. Let's worry about tonight now and the kids being home later."
He shrugged. "Maybe I think you deserve having the night spent with someone."
"Unless your other plans sound better…"
Absolutely they did not sound better in the least.
"Are you going to bring Randy?"
"That was the general idea, yes. I'd bring him knowing I wasn't going to be home later."
"Are you going to get dressed?" she asked.
He smirked a bit. "I don't know. Would you rather I did or didn't? You seemed to enjoy looking with just my shorts on."
She ran a fingertip along his shoulder, over his collarbone and down to his chest. She couldn't see him, but she didn't need to.
"Okay, more than just looking. I can certainly leave a shirt off. I doubt it's going to drop to freezing tonight."
"Uh, because it's the middle of August. What kind of question is that?"
"No, why do you want to do this. You're mad at me."
"I'm not mad at you. I'm mad at the situation, but there's nothing I can do to change it. Before you told me I wanted to see you, see where maybe we could get without social standing and peer pressure involved."
"Yeah," he said. "That's why I asked you to come have Chinese with me that night."
"Maybe we could have Chinese for lunch tomorrow."
"You don't work in the morning?"
"I do, but that doesn't mean you couldn't bring me lunch."
He chuckled. "I suppose it doesn't."
"You really want to come home with me?"
"Oh, Princess, I've wanted to come home with you for a very, very long time."
She laughed softly at that. "I just bet you did."