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Chapter 7- For Comfort
The next few days were hard. Mona was working all weekend, Marco was neck deep in diapers, and Claire was a total recluse. I texted her on Saturday morning, How are you doing? I’m worried about you. I didn’t hear back from her, but I did see her from my window checking her mail that day, so I knew she was OK in some respects.
Sunday morning, I got a reply. I’m ready to talk. Meet at the bench? Time? I shot back immediately, Now is good for me. A few minutes later I got, OK.
I had just finished breakfast and the morning was hot, so I was still in just my boxers. I slipped on a pair of shorts and a light t-shirt, then walked bare-footed out to the lake. Claire was on the bench, waiting. She had on an over-sized t-shirt and loose shorts. I sat down and faced the playground, just as she was. After a minute of quiet, I asked, “How are you feeling?”
“That’s a big question,” she said softly.
“I mean…physically. Are you still in pain?”
“Sometimes. But that’s not the worst part. I really don’t want to talk about that right now, though.”
“Russ…the first time you came to my place and we…did it, that was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”
“What? You were so chipper, I thought…”
“Please,” she said firmly. “Just…listen.” I closed my mouth. “I acted like I was OK with it, but I was freaking out. You were still, for all practical purposes, a stranger. I almost changed my mind. I was holding my phone in my hand, about to call it off when you knocked on the door. So I just went with it. I acted like it was no big deal.” She looked over at me with a sad face. “Confidence is my shield, Russ. I can fake it pretty well, but inside, I’m usually terrified.”
She looked away and paused to take a deep breath, pushing some hair from her face. “While you were next to me, stroking yourself, I had the movie on, but I wasn’t watching it. I was lying there terrified. When you got ready to finish in me, I really almost jumped up and moved away…I think I would have if I hadn’t been scared of how you would react.”
I creased my brow and opened my mouth to object, but Claire held up a hand, “I know. You wouldn’t have hurt me or anything, but how could I have known that back then? Do you know what I was thinking while you were jerking off? I was thinking that I should have tracked down Morgan to find out why she left. What if you were abusive, or some kind of psycho? I realized I had made a foolish mistake. In retrospect, I lucked out, you’re mostly a nice guy. But I was scared. After you came in me, I hurried you out of the room. I was flippant about it all, but I really just didn’t want you to see me cry.”
I turned and looked at her sympathetically. “Oh, yes, I cried. As soon as you were out of the apartment, I curled up on the bed and cried. Then I got up to make sure you had actually left and weren’t waiting in the apartment to rape me. I don’t remember anything about that movie I had on- I sat there while it played, but my mind was all over the place. Fear, anxiety, regret, terror, self-loathing, hating you, feeling guilt, despair… But I told myself it would all be worth it. Once I held that little baby in my arms…”
She got too choked up to continue. I waited silently.
“Anyway,” she went on, taking a deep breath, “it got better. But then on the third night, when you said you wanted to have sex, I almost had a little panic attack right there. So I gave you a test. If you freaked out when I said no the next night, then it was over, even if you didn’t want it to be. And I decided that I would never do this again, I wouldn’t find another guy. I would give up. But you were OK with it, and you were patient, and willing to accommodate me. And you did have a good point or two, so…I was OK with a little sex. And what helped was that by the second month, I was liking having you around. I hadn’t realized how much I missed having friends in my life, close by. I started to be glad I had met you, even without the baby factor.”
I wanted to interrupt and tell her that I felt the same way and that I felt horrible betraying her. But she cut me off again, “I’m almost done…hang on.” I nodded.
“My theory on you was that you were pretty much a passive guy- you let me call the shots. Maybe that was your thing- you wanted an ‘older’ woman to tell you what to do. But then at the wedding, you spoke up and helped Adam when you could have just walked away. And you gave my mom the kind of tongue lashing I’d been wanting to give her for years, and you defended me. I…I think that’s when I realized that you weren’t just being passive with me, you were being considerate, and kind. You knew what real strength is- it’s making yourself weak for someone else. You really cared. So no, I don’t hate you. And I know you really care about me, just like I care about you. But dammit Russ, do you have any idea how much you hurt me?”
“No,” I whispered, “I probably don’t.”
“Good canlı bahis answer,” she said, fighting tears again. “Because you’ve hurt me in a way no one ever has. I’ve had lovers break my heart before; I watched my ex-husband shrug…shrug, Russ, when I told him I wanted a divorce. But I’ve never had a friend hurt me like this. You deceived me and gave me false hope. You played on my weakness and my dreams to get something out of me. You used me. I was just a fucking body to you. And the fact that I somehow got pregnant in the end doesn’t make it right. I did call Marco yesterday. He couldn’t talk long, but I tricked him into confirming that you had discussed ending our arrangement. And he really didn’t understand why you were doing it. That was enough for me to believe you, and it’s the only reason I’m talking to you now.”
She paused, which I took as an opportunity to speak. “And now?”
“And now,” she said, “I really should just walk away. I don’t know if I’m ready to forgive you. But the problem is, I’m at my lowest point right now, and I don’t know where else to turn. I’m hurting…bad. I just cry all day. I need my friend to be there for me. I know I need to look past what you’ve done and still accept you. I need someone to comfort me, and you’re the one I keep thinking of who can do that. I need us both to forget about our whole deal and I need for you to just be my friend.”
I took a deep breath, the kind that sounds shaky because you’re either crying or about to cry, and said, “I can’t do that, Claire. I can’t forget it, because you’re not the only one that needs comforting.” Then I let myself cry for the first time since she had knocked on my door Thursday night. “I know I wasn’t supposed to be involved in the child’s life, but it was still my child. And after thinking I would never know that joy, getting you pregnant…Claire, that was my greatest dream come true.”
Rather than answer, Claire just leaned over and put her head on my chest. I put an arm around her and we cried together for a few minutes, making quite a sight for joggers going around the lake and parents watching kids on the playground. Once she was able to speak again, Claire said, “Russ, I don’t want you doing this because you expect us to try again. I don’t think I can do that- emotionally. It was a bad idea to begin with.”
“I don’t think it was a totally bad idea, but I understand. But Claire, I just miss my friend right now, OK?”
“OK,” she said softly. Then after a few minutes, she lifted her head and said with a hint of a smile, “So, any interest in starting season two?”
I squeezed her a little and said, “Yeah, definitely. But how about at my place, since you don’t need to be in bed.”
“That’s good. And besides, I’m hoping you have some drinks at your place. I purged my kitchen of alcohol, and now I want it back.”
“Sounds like a plan. Dinnertime?”
“Lunch,” she said, sitting up straight. “I’ve got nothing to do but mope, otherwise.”
“Lunch it is…I’ll make the order,” I said, pulling her hand as I stood up. I was sure we would need at least another hard conversation or two, but it felt like we’d gotten over the big wall between us.
Getting back to work on Monday was good for both of us, and having a jam session/practice Monday night was even better. In one week, we’d be playing some songs at Marco’s cook-out. After Monday’s session, we picked out our four best songs and planned to just have fun with those at the cook-out. It wasn’t a performance, just some background music to lighten the mood. I had also talked Mona into getting there early and helping Becca with the kitchen work. Mona, surprisingly, never mentioned to Becca that she was a professional chef. She just took orders from the tired mom and executed everything efficiently. I did notice, however, that some of the side dishes were noticeably tastier than in years past. Becca was happy to take the credit for it.
The cookout itself was a blast. The Rainy Day Band was playing as people arrived, and we were well-received, even though we were obviously not professionals. Once I had to leave to start the grill, Steve played an impromptu duet with Rusty that made me close my eyes and imagine rolling seas and lonely sailors.
There were about fifty people there, pretty typical for the annual event. I had convinced Claire to come, telling her it might be a good chance to make some more friends. Because of that, I was happy to see her locked in conversation with one young woman for almost an hour. I hadn’t seen her there in years past. She was probably my age or younger and was pretty, with brown hair past her shoulders and a curvy, trim body. Their conversation seemed serious at times, and they both spent time crying. Later, I saw the two of them head over to an older woman, whom I had talked to at previous cook-outs and knew to be one of Marco’s clients- the director of a women’s shelter. I felt protective of Claire that evening, but it seemed she bahis siteleri was in good hands. Besides, I was mostly stationed at the grill with Rusty and Steve keeping me company and making sure I was well-supplied with drinks.
Later in the evening, once my jobs on the stage and at the grill were done, I was catching up with Mona. Suddenly, the girl who had been talking with Claire earlier came up to us and said, “Mona?” Mona turned and yelled, “Gina!” The two hugged and laughed and then Mona introduced me to Gina, who used to waitress at Jackal’s. She had apparently moved on from there a year ago to work at the women’s shelter. “Did you see Steve’s here, too?”
“Yeah, I said hi to him already. Sorry I missed your show- I was working late at the shelter.” When Mona introduced us, she said, “You’re Claire’s friend?” I nodded hesitantly.
“She’s a sweetheart. Please take care of her, OK?”
“Will do,” I said sincerely, relieved that I hadn’t gotten a bad reputation already. By the time the party was winding down, Claire found me again, glowing, and said she was so glad she came. I asked if she had a good time talking to Gina and the older lady and she said, “I’ll just say that I don’t feel quite so crazy anymore.”
That was good to hear. Mona and I stayed to clean up, but we first packed Claire’s keyboard into my truck. We got back to my place pretty late, and Mona helped me carry the keyboard upstairs. I walked her back to her car, and just before she left, Mona gave me a soft, tender kiss. I looked at her in surprise, and she said, “You do what you gotta do with Claire, but I’m almost done with Tristan, OK?”
I still had no idea what kind of dance we were doing, but I just tried not to miss any steps.
Claire was up and down for a few weeks, and so was I. I’d feel OK with everything one day, and then something random would make me just want to punch a wall or go cry in the corner…or both. It was good to at least be able to talk to Claire about it. Since her conversation with Dottie, the older lady from the cook-out, Claire had some really good perspective on things. She was still struggling to deal with the hard emotions, but she no longer felt hopeless.
I wished I had someone else to process things with, though. Marco had his hands full, so I didn’t want to bug him about things. And though Rusty and Steve were becoming guys I could talk to, they also knew that Claire had been pregnant and had miscarried. Claire didn’t want it widely known that the baby had been mine, so I couldn’t process things with them. (I later learned that Rusty, who was sharper than I realized, had already figured it out, but assumed the pregnancy was an accident and never said anything out of respect.) Music turned out to be very therapeutic, especially because it also involved time with Mona. The batting cage, too, saw a fair share of my time that month, and with almost every swing I remembered my Dad, I remembered Conner, and I thought of the baby.
Claire and I were cleaning up after a jam session one afternoon in early October, more than a month after the miscarriage. It was a later Saturday afternoon, and I was a bit moody. Once we were alone, I asked Claire what Gina and Dottie had said that had helped her so much.
Claire sighed and thought for a minute. She looked over at her kitchen, then back at me, biting her lip. She was putting way too much thought into answering me, I thought.
“Wanna have dinner and talk about it?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said, not having any other plans for the evening.
Claire pulled out some pots and pans and asked me to help get food ready. We talked as we cooked, and we talked as we ate, and I realized that she had gotten more than just a few words of advice at the cook-out. She had met several times with her new friends and had gotten a whole new perspective. Most significantly, she had come to see that she was defining herself by her ability to have a child, and so when she couldn’t do that, she was devastated.
“I kind of went through a mourning process when I decided to be done with relationships. I had to stop thinking of myself as a woman who was just waiting to get married and instead accept myself as a fully complete single woman. I think I’m doing that same thing now with regard to being a mom.”
“Wow,” was the best I could muster. She had kind of nailed some of my issues with that remark. I thought back to Mona telling me to stop living in a holding pattern just because I was single. We talked about how our culture, especially our entertainment media, really messes with our heads in convincing us that romantic relationships “complete” us and having children “fulfills” us. Things that are good become idols, and Claire and I had both experienced the fall-out of dying idols.
By the time we were cleaning up the dinner dishes, my head was dizzy with all the new ideas and possibilities. I felt like I needed to take some time to reassess. I still wanted bahis şirketleri to move forward with Mona, but I first wanted a better idea of what that meant to me. I was sitting at the table, drinking a coffee while I thought about those things, forgetting where I was. Claire cleared her throat, bringing me back to the present. She was crying.
“I didn’t say it was an easy process,” she said, smiling through her tears.
“Don’t get me started,” I mumbled, blinking quickly.
“Can you do something for me, Russ?” she asked, picking up a box of tissues and handing it to me.
“Sure,” I said, glad for a distraction. “What do you need? Season Three?” We had burned through the second season of our show in only a couple weeks, and the third season had just been released. We were both quite addicted.
“No…well, since you mentioned it, hell yes. But that’s not what I’m asking for right now.”
“What is it then?”
She sighed and looked me in the eyes. “First of all, I want to tell you that I forgive you. From my heart, I really do forgive you for lying to me and…and…using me. It still hurts to think about it, but I forgive you, which means I’m not going to hold it against you.”
“Thank you, Claire. Thank you,” I said, glad for the box of tissues on the table between us.
“And I know I wasn’t totally innocent in all this, and that I’ve done some things to hurt you, too. Maybe I’ve even done some things I shouldn’t have,” she said softly. “So I want to ask you to forgive me, too.”
“Of course…I mean, I don’t know what there is to forgive, but…I don’t hold anything against you, Claire,” I said quickly, honestly unable to think of what she might be guilty of.
“Thanks,” she whispered. Then clearing her throat, she straightened her back in her seat and said, “One more thing, Russ. As a friend, and I want to stress that- as a friend…and now, before things get too far with you and Mona…will you make love to me?”
I looked into her eyes for a few seconds, trying to read her. A lot of thoughts came to mind.
“Make love, not just have sex.”
“Because I need some comfort. I want to feel someone’s touch. I want a warm body next to mine.”
“And this isn’t about…trying to…you know.” I couldn’t bring myself to put it into words.
“No. I mean, I would be thrilled to get pregnant again, of course. And at my follow-up visit, the doctor said that the best time to try again would be soon after the miscarriage. It’s the right time and everything, but this isn’t about that. I doubt we’d be that lucky twice, especially if what you told me is true about…you know.” I closed my eyes and nodded in understanding. Her pregnancy had been a crazy one in a million chance, I thought. It wouldn’t happen again, especially not so easily.
Claire continued, “I think it’s more about just needing human touch right now. I’ve been wanting that for weeks, ever since we talked by the lake. And today, I’ve just been feeling so low, so broken and hopeless.”
It had been two months since our celebratory session, and I hadn’t been with anyone since then. My hormones were screaming yes, and a part of my heart agreed. Mona had told me to do what I had to do. But I was worried I’d be taking advantage of Claire when she was feeling vulnerable.
“What are you thinking?” she asked me nervously.
“As much as I want to say yes, I’m just worried that I’ll end up hurting you more than I already have- that you’ll regret this later.”
Claire looked at me pleadingly, then frustrated. With a sigh, she closed her eyes for a moment, then stood up. Walking around the table, she sat on my lap, leaned in, and put her lips on mine. I didn’t want to resist, and when she picked up on that, her tongue worked gently past my lips and into my mouth. I put a hand on the back of her head and held her in place as I started to return the kiss. A minute later, Claire pulled her head back.
“Regret that,” she said, the tear tracks still visible on her cheeks.
Speechless, I watched her walk back to her bedroom, pulling off her shirt. She shouted back to me, “I need a shower. There’s room for two, whenever you’re ready.”
Claire had been right. Just the touch of her lips made my heart surge. If I knew the names of the chemicals, I could tell you what that touch started releasing in my body, chemicals that gave me a high and that fought against the sadness. I guess I knew it was inevitable. I stood up and walked towards the sound of running water. I was naked by the time I reached the bathroom, and, pulling aside the shower curtain, I stepped into the tub. Claire stood under the stream of water, her dark hair matted down and shining. She had her hands over her face, and as I stepped in she brushed her hands back, clearing hair and water from her face.
She stepped towards me and wrapped her arms around my body. I was hard, but not urgently so. There was time to embrace, then time to kiss. There was time to use soap as an excuse to run our hands all over each other, touching every parcel of skin. Claire shivered when I rubbed her breasts, and I moaned as she soaped up my cock.
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