Part Five

"You gotta be fucking kidding me..."

At the time, it was all I could think to really say, but it wasn't like I ever would've thought this kind of thing could happen. At least not when I had just run from the exact same problem not even fifteen minutes before.

I hated to admit it, but this wasn't the first time this happened to me. There was a reason I didn't drink all that often, at least not as much as I had that night, and I was sure as hell remembering why right then. Especially when I had to see that damn name up on the wall in big, red letters on a blue and yellow sign.

"Smitty's Bump Shop, huh?" I chuckled weakly. "And here I thought he hated that nickname..."

"I still do." Having just opened my car door, I jumped to hear the man's voice, but when I went to look up at him, I just about went out cold right there on the steering wheel. Not that he really gave me a chance to do it before he opened up that big mouth of his. "What are you doing here with this car anyway?"

"Well, it's my damn car," I snapped back. "I figured Rick would've told you that, but I guess you're still not much of a morning person, are you?" The man's face flushed when I said it, but soon enough those dark blue eyes of his narrowed once more. Luckily for him, I wasn't really in the mood for an argument because given the mood I was in, he would've lost more than just his pride."You want my money for fixing this piece of shit or not?"

He leaned back away from my door, giving me just enough room to step out and come face to face with him, but even though I would've like to have just paid my bill and went, he just couldn't hlep but push a few buttons. "Since when are you two living together?" he asked roughly. "Or did you just shack up with him last night?"

"That's none of your damn business!"

Just when I had gotten myself ready to give him a piece of my mind, I heard the front door of the farmhouse open. A little boy was standing there, his own blue eyes narrowed in the same way as the man in front of me, but as soon as the man saw him, his face softened. Something which told me the child was his even if the mop of black hair wasn't.

"Go inside," he ordered. "It's too damn early for you to be up anyway. Get back to bed." The boy nodded, and with one last look at me, he closed the door again. "I don't know what I'm going to do with that kid..."

"I take it he doesn't like to sleep much?" The man just sighed, pulling his hat down over his eyes, but I could tell he was smiling. "Anyway... what do I owe you, Gray?"

"Just enough for the parts," he assured me. "Rick called in a favor, so don't worry about it."

"You can't be serious..." As soon as I said it, he frowned, but he didn't argue at first. Something which was more than a little unusual for him. He just dug into his front pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes, and after offering me one, an offer I declined, he lit his own and leaned against the front of my car. "What are you doing?"

"Waiting for you to quit being so fucking stupid." To be honest, I never cared for Gray all that much, and it didn't take much for me to remember just why that was. It was the way he talked... like I wasn't worth any of his time. Like he was doing me a favor by putting up with me... or like he was my god damn father. "You really should stop drinking like that, you know. You get yourself in a lot of trouble that way."

"I could say the same to you," I reminded him coldly. "Is that how you got yourself that kid?"

It was a terrible thing for me to say, but I didn't take it back. Not when there was a good chance it was probably the truth. After all, habits like that didn't go away so easily, and I was starting to think that maybe I knew that better than anyone. If my track record with these things was any indiction, that is. Something I wasn't particularly proud of, of course...

"You know, you really are a-" Before he could light into me, he was quiet again. I didn't have to look behind me to know why having heard the sound of someone walking over the frost covered ground, but I still winced to see Rick standing there.

He really did look a hell of a lot worse than when I left him asleep in his apartment. After all, when I first woke up next to him, he looked so at ease. He was the only man I had ever known to sleep so so damn silently, and at first I hadn't even been sure he was actually asleep. Something which had been a real problem for me when it came to finding my clothes. He slept through it all, though, and after finding my car parked out front, I thought I had a clean breakaway.

Little did I know the man who fixed it for me would be someone I knew as well.

"Don't worry about it, Claire," Rick assured me with a smile. "You don't have to worry about paying for this." At first I wondered why he would bother to tell me the same thing twice, but as soon as I knew what he meant by doing so, I felt my whole face warm. "Hey, Gray. Sorry for askin' you to take care of this for me."

"Not like I have anything better to do lately," the other replied with a shrug. "Business hasn't been all that great, you know... but I wish you wouldn't bring me into this kind of thing. I told you women were trouble."

Rick just laughed, uneasily at best, but he didn't say anything more. However, as soon as he went to dip into his back pocket, I spoke right back up. "Hey, this is my car, so let me pay for it. You already did enough."

"It's fine," he insisted. "I told you I could handle it, so I'm handling it."

"But I want to." Both men just blinked at first, but even though I wasn't expecting it, Gray was the one who starting laughing. "What's so damn funny?"

"Just never thought I'd hear someone running to shell out that much money. That's all." As soon as he said it, my face flushed again, but I wouldn't take it back. Not when I wanted to keep myself from having to owe anyone anything more than I had to. "How's about you two split it even, and I get back to work? Sounds good if you ask me."

"No one asked you!" I snapped back. The man only shrugged before getting himself got another cigarette to light for himself. Leaving me to try and calm myself back down again. "Listen, Rick..." I sighed as I ran my fingers through my bangs for at least the fiftieth time that morning and tried to figure out just what the hell I wanted to say. "If you really want to take care of this, fine, but I'm done after this. Okay? I'm done."

"I wasn't asking for anything Claire... I just told you I'd take care of it, so-"

"I know, you're going to take care of it," I finished before sighing again. "Just... take care of it already, will you?" I didn't even wait for him to say anything else before I went and opened my door and sat down in the driver's seat. At first, I just sat there, not even paying attention to the men standing next to my car, but not long after I did, I heard the door on the passenger's side open. "What are you doing?"

"Well, I know I just said I wasn't going to ask for anything," Rick explained while shaking his head and sitting down next to me, "but can you give me a ride back home? My head's killing me."

I knew if I told him to get out, he would have without any question, but even though I wanted to get as far away from Rick as I could at the moment, I couldn't bring myself to tell him to walk home himself. At least not until we actually got there.

Luckily for the both of us, neither one of us said much as we drove through the streets of town together. As much as I would've liked to have been able to take the same way back that I came, that was next to impossible for me what with all the one way roads I had to deal with, and so we had to wind out way up and down this way and that for much longer than I would've liked. If it wasn't for that, though, Rick would probably have just fallen back asleep with his head against the window.

"Take a left here," he murmured, fighting back a yawn. "It'll get you back on Main Street."

"You were leading me around in circles, weren't you?" He flinched when I said it, but even though I could've dragged it on, I decided it was better just to let it go. At least when it came to him wasting my time like this. "What'd you want to talk about?"

"Nothing really," he assured me. "I was just thinking about something is all." I bit the side of my cheek to keep myself from starting an argument with the man, but I didn't have to wait long for him to continue. Almost as if he knew exactly what I was thinking "I wasn't sure what to do with this, but... I figured you might want this back. It looked kind of expensive."

At first I had no idea what he could be talking about, but that only before the man pulled something out of his pocket. Something that just so happened to be baby blue satin with white lace trim and a heart embroidered in the middle.

To be honest, I didn't think about it much when I'd left, but seeing my bra draped over his finger, I regretted leaving it behind. Not that I had much of a choice since I hadn't been able to find it myself. A fact that made me wonder just how he managed to get a hold of the damn thing. Then, as if reading my mind, the man chuckled. "I was laying on it this morning," he explained. "You know, you could've just left the bill on my door. You didn't have to go all the over there to pay for it."

"Rick, we were drunk," I sighed, ignoring his weak attempt to change the subject. "Well... I'm not sure about you, but I know I was." After all, even for the most experienced drinker, a whole bottle of champagne was more than a little much. "How much did you have anyway?"

"Six boxes... I think." I raised an eyebrow, but he only sighed and lay back in his seat. "I just counted what was by the trash this morning," he admitted. "There might be more..."

He laughed then, and even though I didn't see what was so funny about him killing himself in such a way, I just had to smile. When I did, though, I finally snatched my bra back as well. Something that made him laugh just that much more and made me chuckle if only a little. It stopped soon enough, though... once we found ourselves parked in front of his apartment.

"Are you going to be alright?" I asked as a sinking feeling starting to fall in my chest. A feeling that only got worse after I started thinking that about the only thing he had to really do was taking out the trash and making the bed. "You know... I could always-"

Before I could say another word, I found his face right in front of my own. I only blinked at first, not being sure of what it was he wanted me to do, but he just chuckled and shook his head as if he was thinking better of something. He pulled away then, but I didn't let him get far as I took a firm hold of his collar.

"I'm not going anywhere," he assured me with a weak smile. "I'm not done just yet."

"Just... shut up," I muttered. "I don't want to hear it." Rick didn't argue, really. Instead, he simply dug into the pocket of his jeans to find his pipe and lit it while we continued to sit there in front of his apartment. I, on the hand, just sighed as I leaned against the driver's side window and asked myself what the hell I was doing. After all, when I'd left that morning, I wanted to forget the man all together, and now I was telling him to stay with me... "So what happens now?"

"Well, there's two things we can do as far as I can tell." I waited for him to continue, but he just went on puffing his pipe. That is until I was just about ready to snap at him for it. "Either we can act like nothing ever happened, or..."

"Or what?"

"Or we can just go for it and see what happens then." I stared at him for a moment, not wanting to even let myself think he was being serious, but when he didn't take it back, I started to wonder. "It's not like either of us has much to lose as far as I can tell."

"Speak for yourself," I muttered. Even if I wouldn't admit to it, though, I knew he was right. I might have more to do than a couple of chores at home, but it wasn't like I enjoyed any of it. "And why should I go out with you anyway? Like I said, it was a one time deal, Rick."

"You're right," he agreed, smiling to himself as he cleaned out his pipe. "Next time I'll remember it."

I stared at the man for a moment as my cheeks began to warm, but he only chuckled as if it was the most plain thing in the world. "You were really that drunk?" He didn't answer. "So you're telling me you have no idea what happened?"

"Well, it's not like your bra wasn't a good enough clue," he replied dryly. "Like I said earlier, don't worry about it. It's not like I mind."

"But maybe I do!" Ricked looked more than a little surprised to have me snap at him so suddenly, but even though I hadn't meant to, I couldn't seem to stop myself from continuing. "You want to know how embarrassing it is to wake up next to somebody I barely even know? And then I had to see that asshole just to have you come along and make it even worse! And now you're trying to tell me you don't even remember what the hell happened last night?"

"Does it really matter if I remember it?"

"Of course it does!" As soon as I said it, I knew I'd wish I hadn't. Especially after he started to chuckle to himself again. "Oh, shut up. You know damn well what meant. I mean... if I knew you were that drunk, I never would've done anything."

"Sorry, if I wasn't worth your time," he sighed, his smile now gone. "It's been a while since I've done anything like that."

"Why are you the one apologizing? I'm the one who screwed up..." After all, if it hadn't been for me coming to see him that day, I wouldn't have ended up spending the night over there. Sure, my car still would've broken down, and knowing my luck, Gray would end up being the only mechanic in town that was available. That wouldn't be so bad on its own, though. After all, if worst came to worst, I could've always socked him one in the jaw like I did a ways back. "Can't we just forget about all this?"

"Only if you can put up with seeing me every night," Rick reminded me. "You guys are the only ones around here that sell pipe tobacco... unless you want me to ask somewhere else. Be a shame when you went through all the trouble of ordering it for me."

"You can't tell me you-"

"Then I won't." I readied myself for him to make some kind of move, but when he did, it wasn't what I expected. Instead of kissing me or even putting his hand on mine, he just opened the door and stepped out onto the lawn. "Thanks for the ride, though. I'll see you tonight."

With that, he closed the door behind him and made his way towards the apartment. When he walked away, he didn't even seem fazed by what had happened, and had I not known any better, I might have thought he was walking just a little straighter with his head a little higher. The sight of which made me wonder if maybe something hadn't changed about the man. Something which maybe was more than what I could see.

I knew I could just run out after him, and maybe I would have if I didn't let myself think twice about it. Of course, I knew he meant what he said when he told me he would see me later that night, and as I pulled away and he walked in the front door, I had to wonder if maybe I might have something to say to him when I saw him again. The only thing I had to do was some thinking...

And then again, maybe it was better if I didn't.

--

Author's Note: Well, even though I know there will most likely be those of you who feel that this story has been left unfinished, I'm actually quite satisfied with how this ended. I knew from the beginning that I wanted an open ending, and after doing a little revising of my original idea, I can say that I'm just a little bit proud of this. And not just because I actually had the guts to post a lemon. ;)

Thanks for reading!