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Hidden Secrets

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Chapter Thirty-Seven
Word Count: 2,820

May 2005

They had a break in their schedule this week so that John could head home to Chicago and collect Melissa for the summer. A week from now they'd be heading for Europe and wouldn't be back to the States until August. Claire was contemplating joining them in a city or two, but overall she'd be away from Melissa for three months for the first time ever.

As far as John knew Melissa had never had to call the police on Natasha, but whether she'd admit that to him he wasn't sure. Sean hadn't said, but John knew the two of them had sort of developed a friendship over the past couple of years that ran pretty deep. Sean was still very interested in her romantically, John knew that. They'd established something deeper, though, and perhaps more valuable to both of them. Everyone needed someone. John had Claude and had since before he was the age Melissa met Sean. Sadly, Melissa didn't have many friends she could confide in. Her best friend Cindy, but that was about it.

Melissa was out, which meant John was alone with Claire for the bulk of the night. The friends had all gathered here first because John had brought the plaque Melissa received from their recording label for her single going platinum about two weeks before the anniversary of its release. She hadn't known because she'd been so caught up with finals and everything, so the plaque (and what it meant) had been a huge surprise to her. Claire had invited everyone over for spaghetti dinner, only then did Melissa find out about it. She'd been ecstatic (rightfully so) and perhaps a little embarrassed. John wasn't sure. It was hard to say. She'd earned the recognition, though. It was her song.

So, the friends coming over was expected. Her going out was also expected since she was only home for a week and hadn't seen most of her friends very frequently last summer either.

He wasn't complaining about a few hours alone with Claire. He hadn't seen her in six weeks. He wasn't sure when that had become a long time, but after spending pretty much every day with her between last May and March when Shooterz started touring again he was used to it. What was more he liked it and missed her. It wasn't just the sex he missed either, which was what he'd always assumed he'd miss most.

They talked. She listened to his music. He let her talk through designs. Neither were in a position to offer a hard and fast critique, but they weren't stupid either to where if they offered an opinion it was dismissed as being irrelevant. Certainly she could offer an interested party's opinion on whether what he was writing worked. He was pretty clueless on fashion so he couldn't give her much opinion.

He really missed having her in bed with him, waking up next to her in the mornings. Feeling her pressed against him as close as she could get to him at night as if her body instinctively sought his out. His obviously did, too, because he didn't stray away from her during the night.

"So, I was thinking," John said once the cleanup from dinner was done.

"Yeah?"

"You're thinking of coming to see us in France, right?"

"Yes," she said. "That's the plan anyway. Why you don't want me to?"

"You know I do. I was thinking maybe we could get married while we're there."

"I'm sorry. What?"

He shrugged, wiping the counter down while she turned the dishwasher on.

"It was just a thought. That was the endgame, I thought anyway."

"That ring said it for me," he said, pointing at the ring she still wore on her finger.

"You want to get married in France in between tour dates?"

"I want to get married away from people. I don't want to have to deal with your parents and brother the day I get married."

She sighed softly, glancing out the window.

"Hey, if you don't want…"

"That's not what I said. I just wasn't expecting it. I figured you'd sort of lost interest."

"Lost interest? How could you possibly think that?"

"Well, I agreed to live with you without being your wife."

"Yes, you did, so that we could spend enough time together to actually be with one another more than a day or two here and there. We've done that. I want you with me."

"I just figured that's where we were."

"You don't want to be my wife?"

"I didn't say that, John. I do."

"Well, see, and I'm asking you to say those very words in front of some sort of official to make it legal."

"In France."

"Sure. Invite Ally and Andy if you want. They and the band can be our witnesses. I don't need more than that."

"You're serious?"

"As a heart attack. Sorry," he mumbled. Her father had a heart attack earlier in the year. She'd felt guilty because she hadn't been here when it happened. She'd gotten home quickly enough, but there was still that smidgen of the dutiful daughter in here that knew she was disappointing him by living with John.

"England would work, too. We have some time in France, though."

"And then what?"

"Then what? What?"

"You go back on tour?"

"No France is the last stop. I mean, we come back here, Melissa goes back to school, and we go back on the road again. So, I guess. Yeah."

He frowned. Was that not right?

"How much time are you talking?"

"In France?"

"Yes."

"Well, I guess that's up to you. I mean, we'd be entitled to a honeymoon. So, we could stay there or fly somewhere else. Melissa would have to get herself to school, though. Or Claude could do it, I suppose. Or we could get married, come back, see Melissa off to school and then go wherever we want for a couple of weeks. We left ourselves enough time, knowing Melissa would have to get back to school and stuff at that time."

"Why not just get married in Florida then?"

He shrugged. "I figured if I brought that up you'd want your family there. I'm trying to avoid that."

"When are you done?"

"I'd have to look, but I think it starts to slow down in November."

"What about over Christmas?"

"Sure, that'd work."

"Is there something wrong?"

"No." He frowned. "Something wrong? I don't get it. I'm asking you to marry me. Why is that indicative something's wrong?"

"Because I thought we were okay."

"I'm okay. I know deep down you don't want to just be living with me."

"I don't want you marrying me because…"

"Did I say that? No. I want to marry you. I'd marry you tomorrow, but marrying you and taking off for three months in Europe seems a little wrong. So, I was looking at our schedule. France is kind of romantic," he shrugged. "I thought what the hell, maybe you'd go for it."

He set the towel over the faucet. He shook his head a bit and leaned against the counter for a second. Did she really not get it? Did she think he'd just live with her forever? He wasn't stupid. Guys like that hockey player at that New Year's Eve party would be all over her if he just kept living with her. That wasn't the reason he was asking her. Not entirely. He, and hell hadn't frozen over, wanted to get married. To her. An idea occurred to him then.

"Where are you going?" she asked and he chuckled softly as he walked to her.

He knelt down then, taking her left hand into his. "Is this better? Make it more official? I love you. I want you with me every day you can be. I'm not overly thrilled about you taking the name Bender, but you know that's my own personal demons rearing their head there. Will you do me the honor of being my wife?"

He was sure that Rhett guy from Gone With the Wind she was fond of didn't fumble over his words like John had just done. He didn't know as every time she'd watched the movie with him he'd fallen asleep. He just couldn't get into it. He wasn't a classy, suave guy though. And he'd never proposed before. Well, to her giving her the ring.

"You're serious," she said, tears in her eyes. Tears of happiness, he hoped.

"Yes!"

"Then, yes."

"Thank God. You thought I was joking?"

"Well, no, I just don't want you to feel obligated."

"I'm not. I'm not eighteen, Claire."

She tugged on his hand a bit so he'd stand and slid her arms around his neck, drawing her to him to kiss him. A pretty fucking nice kiss, too, considering they were in her kitchen. "You said my name, you must be serious."

"Damn straight."

"You'd really marry me tomorrow?"

"Yes!"

"Then let's do that."

"Shut up," he said, certain he was hearing things. People like Claire didn't just get married tomorrow.

"All we need is Melissa and Allison and/or Andy, right?"

"Yeah, I guess. I mean I don't know how it works. I just sort of assumed you'd want some sort of wedding."

"Why? I had that."

He winced a bit at that. He knew it, obviously, but hated thinking about it. He wondered how he'd proposed. He probably hadn't been a bumbling idiot.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that. It's just. We can still plan a trip in December."

"I don't know. You sure you want to get married and then I leave in a week for months?"

"Have I given any indication that I don't trust you?"

"No," he said. The guys in the band still thought he'd hit the mother lode with her. Maybe she wasn't prone to jealousy. He wasn't sure and had no intention of giving her a reason to find out.

"Well then."

"Yeah, sure. I mean, I'm in. If that's what you want."

"You'd rather wait," she whispered.

"Well, no. that's not it. I just can't help but think you deserve better."

"You're going to be touring whether I'm your fiancé or wife."

"I guess so."

"You'd be the only married one in the band."

"I can live with that."

"And better isn't really in play here. I want you."

"Yeah? Funny, me too. If you're done tidying I can prove that to you."

She ran a fingertip along his knuckles. "Would you wear a ring?"

He glanced at the finger in question the ring would go on.

"Why not?"

"You haven't wanted people to know."

"That's not what I've said. I wanted to fly under the radar. We were getting enough attention with Melissa. If I'm married to you, yes, I'll fucking wear a ring showing I'm committed to you. I actually already have one."

"What?"

"Yeah. It matches yours."

"Really?"

"Yes. I bought it at the same time. You want to see it?"

"It's here?"

"It is. I planned on this. Asking."

"You're just trying to get me upstairs."

"Well, there is that, too. It's a pretty nice ring, though. I don't want you to think I'm lying."

She smirked, running her fingertips along his jaw and cheek.

"We wouldn't want that."

"Not about this."

"I love you."

"Back at you, Princess."

"I better go call Ally before we go upstairs."

"I guess."

"I think Andy's done with school, too, so that would work."

"All right. Just tell me the time and I guess which suit you want me to wear."

"Do you have the suit you wore that day you went to see my father here?"

"I do."

"That one."

"You like that one, huh?"

"I like the memories it brings."

"Me, too."


***

"Oh my God. You're getting married tomorrow," Melissa said when she got in later that night. She'd gotten in much earlier than expected.

"Yeah," John said.

"But we're leaving," she said with a frown.

"Your mom said she was all right with that. I asked her to meet us in France and the conversation sort of took the turn to tomorrow."

She glanced from one parent to the other. "You're not pregnant, are you?"

"No!" Claire said and John chuckled.

"Thank God," Melissa said. "I can admit I really like being only child. Changing that twenty years later would so not be cool."

John laughed at that.

"I mean, you know. I wouldn't like get mad or something. That came out wrong. I'm just glad."

"You and us together. I won't deny if your mother had wanted another one I would do it. I'm curious to know what all I missed out on, but not curious enough. I'll catch it when you give us grandchildren."

She blushed at that, a very deep shade of red. One of the friends that had come for dinner and she'd gone out with was the guy she'd gone to her senior prom with. At that time they'd just been friends, but John knew things could change and he'd seen the way the guy had looked at Melissa today. Interest was definitely there and Melissa didn't seem opposed to the idea. Claire had assured John the guy wasn't the type to look at Melissa differently because she had two releases on her hands that had both charted pretty nicely. The second song was still working its way up since it had just been released a couple of weeks ago. This one was released in just her name.

As far as John knew she hadn't dated anyone, male or female, since breaking up with Natasha. She'd admitted to him when Sean pressed for more from her that she was scared. John told her he totally understood fear. You get hurt by someone who's supposed to care and love you, no matter who hurts you, it's hard to trust after that.

"In like seven or eight years would be ideal," he added.

Claire scoffed at that.

"What? Just saying. I'm not in any hurry to become a grandfather."

"That works because I'm in no hurry to make you one."

"Fantastic. I like when you Standish women agree with me."

"We're going to pick out something to wear."

John rolled his eyes.

"So in other words, I won't see you again until morning?"

"Ha ha," Claire said.

"That's not too far from the truth."

"I suppose not, but we won't take that long."

He snorted at that. Not taking long for those to find two dresses to wear was a joke. They could be there all night for all he knew.


***

"I thought I'm not supposed to see you beforehand," he said, catching her watching him put the finishing touches on his tie.

"I think those rules don't apply when you're already living together."

"Maybe so."

She stepped toward him then and he turned to face her instead of their reflection in the mirror. She fixed his tie much faster and easier than he could do it.

"Keep looking at me like that and we're going to be late."

"They're not going to start without us."

"I suppose not," she said.

He chuckled, kissing her. "I look at you like this all of the time."

"Not all of the time."

"Name me a time I don't."

"When you're performing."

"I can't see you so doesn't count."

She nibbled her lower lip as if she was really thinking on it.

"You get the next week to see me."

"I plan on making the most of it, believe me. I'm glad Melissa's booked because she'd probably get mad at us for never coming out of our room."

"We will, too!"

"Not very often if I have anything to say about it."

"Do you think Dominic likes his room downstairs?"

"He does. He said so."

"It's smaller than he's used to."

"That's because he's housed in a section of the house designed for more than just him. He knows that."

"All right," she said softly.

"You looking forward to not having to cook?"

"I am, but actually I hope I can help him and maybe learn some things I've never had the chance to learn before."

"All right. That's good. It will keep you busy and practicing up for when we don't need him anymore."

She scoffed, kissing his jaw. She clearly knew he was joking. Sort of. He couldn't cook his way out of a paper bag so if they ever were going to get rid of Dominic it'd be up to Claire to feed them.

"Let's go then," she whispered.

He grabbed the two jeweler's boxes from the dresser, pocketing them.

"Have everything you need?" he asked, flipping off the light.

"Yes."

"Funny, me, too," he said, leaning in to kiss her again.

~The End~