I wonder what it would take to get her to say "cock?"
T.J. walked by just then, untying his apron and stowing it under the bar. I probably should have felt a little jealous at the fact that he was a good looking guy and he got to be in close proximity to Claire all the time, but watching them interact just made me laugh. They were like brother and sister with the way the shoved each other, threw insults back and forth and tattled to anyone who would listen. As a result, I decided I liked T.J. and I didn't have to kill him.
"Hey, T.J., do me a favor. Get Claire to say ‘cock’ and I'll give you twenty bucks."
"Deal," he said automatically before turning away from me.
All of the patrons were gone and Claire had just switched on the "closed" sign and was in the process of walking back from the front door.
"Hey, Claire, remember that one guy who came in here a few months ago, smacked your ass and called you Cutie Claire? What was it you called him?"
"A cocksucker," she replied distractedly as she got back behind the bar and began organizing bottles.
With a dreamy smile on my face, I slid a twenty across the bar to T.J. and he walked away. This was going to be a beautiful friendship. If he could get her to say, "Fuck me hard Carter," I might buy him a pony.
T.J. said good-bye and walked out the door while Claire finished straightening up. After a few minutes, she came around the corner of the bar and sat down next to me on a stool.
"You look exhausted," I told her as she rested her chin in her hand and let out a sigh.
"Is that a nice way of telling me I look like shit?" she teased.
"Absolutely not. If you looked like shit, I'd tell you. I would also tell you if the jeans you're wearing make your ass look big, if something you cooked tasted like it came from the bottom of my shoe or if a joke you told was not funny at all."
"Wow, that's very kind of you," she said with a laugh.
"It's what I do."
We sat there for several minutes just looking at each other. None of this seemed real yet. I couldn't believe she was sitting here in front of me. I couldn't believe she was still so remarkable and funny and beautiful and I couldn't believe she had a child, my child.
"You kind of amaze me, you know that?" I said, breaking the silence.
I watched the blush brighten up her cheeks and she looked away, her gaze locked on a drink napkin that she started to shred.
"I'm not that great, believe me."
I shook my head in disbelief at how she clearly didn't see herself very well.
"Are you kidding me? You hooked up with a total loser one night at a frat party, got pregnant, had to give up your dreams and quit school, worked your ass off and raised an awesome little boy and now you're opening your own business. If that's not amazing, I don't know what is."
She continued to rip up the napkin at an even faster pace while I continued.
"You're strong and confident and beautiful and you make everything look so damn easy. I am so grateful to have met you again. I will be forever in your debt for taking care of…of our son. You've done such an amazing job with him and you're so selfless that I am just in awe."
Whew, I said it. My son. Gavin is my son. Oddly, it didn't make me want to hurl myself on a rusty nail.
She still wasn't looking at me, though, and it was starting to make me nervous. And I felt really bad for the drink napkin that now resembled a small pile of snow. I reached over and placed my hand on top of hers to make her stop fidgeting with the mess.
"Hey, what's wrong?" I asked.
She finally turned her face towards mine and I'm not gonna lie, it really freaked me out to see tears in her eyes. I didn't do crying. At all. If she asked me to set myself on fire right now I would do it just so I wouldn't have to see her cry.
"Gavin is wonderful. He is smart and perfect, he's funny and he's the best little boy in the world. He has his moments but he’s very well-behaved and just perfect. Perfect! Every single person who meets him adores him and I love every second of being his mom….,” she trailed off.
I knew she was sugar-coating things. If she said the word “perfect” one more time I was going to start crying myself. I didn't want the watered-down version. I wanted to know it all, everything I missed. The good, the bad and the ugly. Her foot was tapping nervously on the rung of the bar stool, and she looked like she was about to explode. I knew with everything going on right now she had to be under a lot of stress. She was a single mom with a lot on her plate and I knew for a fact Gavin wasn't flawless. What kid was? But she definitely wanted me to think so. Was she really afraid I would change my mind if I knew the horrors of being a parent? I’d always wanted to have kids someday. It was one of the biggest issues between me and Tasha. I knew it wasn’t all rainbows and kittens. I knew it could suck the life out of you and make you second-guess your sanity.
"It's okay if you want to complain. I can only imagine how tough it is for you."
"I love Gavin," she repeated with conviction.
I chuckled a little at how panicked she looked.
"No one is questioning that. But you don't have to act like you have everything under control a hundred percent of the time. I'm not going to think less of you or Gavin if you need to vent, believe me. I want to know everything. I wasn't lying when I said that to you earlier."
She was softening a little. The napkin was finally free from her abuse and her foot wasn't tapping manically anymore. She still looked at me warily, though. I knew one way I could get her to calm down and open up. I stood up and leaned over the top of the bar, reaching my arms as far as I could, and wrapped my hand around what I needed.