Claire wasn't ashamed to admit that she was the jealous type. Anyone she allowed into her heart was watched carefully for signs of betrayal. She didn't want to have her heart broken and she didn't want to become her parents. She had spent her life watching her mother move from affair to affair and her father pay the men off to never return before he went to one of his many mistresses.
That's why, when Claire found out that her boyfriend was friends with another girl, her blood began to boil. She didn't care if they were friends, so long as they were actually friends. However, Claire knew that Allison wasn't interested in being just friends with John Bender. No girl was ever interested in being just friends with John. He wasn't that kind of guy.
Claire tried to let it go. She trusted that John wouldn't do anything, or at least she tried to. He had told her that he hadn't exactly been "faithful" by any means, but he was trying for her, which was more than he had done for any girl before. That was made difficult by the fact that not a soul knew about their relationship. Since both she and John came from opposite sides of the tracks, Claire knew her reputation would be completely ruined if anyone found out that she was with bad-boy John, and no one in his life would understand because she shouldn't have ever looked twice at him. She should have never even looked once at him.
She had. Claire and John were in the library when it happened. She was looking for a specific book and John was hiding from Vernon. As Claire looked through the catalogs, John kept whispering at her. He was funny and she couldn't help but laugh at his jokes. He wasn't much to look at, at least, not according to what she should have found attractive, but she thought he was gorgeous. His brown hair fell over his eyes, giving him a mysterious quality that she found irresistible, and he pulled off the rebel-without-a-care look perfectly. She knew him by reputation, but this was the first time they had been face-to-face.
By the time the bell rang for classes to change, Claire was weak-kneed and starry-eyed. John asked her out on a date, not really caring what side of the tracks they were on, and she agreed. Now their relationship was heading for the rocks. Claire's little green monster was rearing its ugly head and looking directly at Allison.
The cafeteria was crowded, as it usually was at lunchtime, but from her seat at their corner of the large room, Claire could see John and his friends. John was sitting on top of a table, one foot up on it and the other on the back of someone's chair. He had a match in his mouth and was showing them all the fact that he could light it with his teeth. After he tossed the match into someone's milk, he started telling a story. By the looks of things, it was a funny one.
That was when Allison walked over to John. She stopped his story and moved in a little too close for Claire's comfort. She felt the rage build up inside of her and threaten to spill out. Who did Allison think she was? She knew that John was taken, yet she was throwing herself at him. If they hadn't been in a crowded lunch room, Claire would have marched right over there and…
And done nothing, she realized. She wasn't the kind of girl who started fights, though she had been known to finish one or two that had actually turned physical. Claire was more of the talk-down kind of girl. She would rather yell and scream and get her point across than throw a punch. Her parents would throw a fit if they ever found out that she'd gotten into a physical fight, especially if one of them just so happened to leave its mark on her face.
Regardless, Claire spent the rest of the day at a boiling point. She went home, changed her clothes, and then left again without telling her parents anything. She'd go over to John's, give him a piece of her mind, and then hopefully they would go back to normal and he would ignore Allison. She didn't have any proof that he was cheating on her except that Allison wanted him to. Since that wasn't good enough, she wondered what she would have to do to make him turn his focus to her once more. It made her wonder if he would behave differently if she would give in and just sleep with him, but she didn't see the point in spreading her legs if he wasn't going to stick around anyway.
She mulled things over as she walked from her house to John's. Along the way, she noticed how the houses got smaller and graffiti became more and more common. The buildings in some areas of the town were downright derelict, and she couldn't believe how extreme the change was from one side of the tracks to the other.
When she came up to John's house, she didn't bother with the front door. She walked around to the back and knocked on his basement window. When it opened, John helped her inside. While she wasn't surprised at what she found, it made her no less angry to see Allison sitting on his bed, smoking what Claire prayed wasn't a post-coital cigarette.
The glare was instantaneous. John noticed it and sighed. Allison stood up and snuffed out her cigarette in the ashtray. "You have something to say?" she asked, holding her arms out defensively.
"Yeah, get out!" Claire cried.
"I was already leaving," Allison replied, moving passed the two of them for the window. She jumped out without needing any assistance from John, leaving the couple alone in the basement.
John sighed. "Are you kidding me?" he demanded. "For Christ's sake, Claire, what's your freaking problem?"
"My problem is that she's trying to move in on you!" Claire cried. "She's the only person who actually knows that we're together and she's trying to sabotage that, but you still keep her around!"
"She's not trying to sabotage us," John sighed. "You're overreacting, Claire. She was just here because her parents are fighting and she wanted to get away. I don't want to fight about this, Claire," he said, meeting her eyes. "You know I'm not going to do anything with her. Trust me."
"I trust you," Claire replied. "I don't trust her."
John sighed and put his hands on Claire's shoulders. He met her eyes, making sure that they were looking only at each other. "Trusting me means that it doesn't matter if you trust anyone else. It means that you know that I am not going to do anything with anyone that will hurt you. Why don't you trust me, Claire?" he asked. "We've been together for four months."
"It's not you, John," Claire said, seeking comfort in her boyfriend's arms. The sensitive side was the side he only showed to her. She wrapped her arms around his waist as his folded around her shoulders. She sighed heavily, breathing in a smell that was uniquely John: Cigarettes, marijuana, sawdust, Irish Spring soap, and a hint of sweat. Claire loved it. "My mom is going through one of her drinking/cheating binges again and the guy was still at the house this morning when I left for school."
"I ain't your mother, Claire," John said. "I ain't your father either."
"I'm not saying that you are, John," Claire replied. "But that doesn't change the fact that my parents screwed me over for life! I don't know how to really trust anyone because of them!"
John sighed and kissed Claire's forehead. "A leap of faith," he said. "That's all it takes. You'll probably be surprised by the outcome."
Claire sighed and pulled away from John. "How can you take a leap of faith if you don't have faith that someone will be there to catch you when you reach the bottom?" she asked. "What if the fear of splatting on the pavement is stronger than the faith that someone will actually be there?"
John sighed. "Then you stand up at the top of the cliff alone and afraid," he said. He walked over to his nightstand and picked up his cigarettes. He pulled one out of the pack and lit it before he sat down. "Is that what you want to be?" he asked. "Alone and afraid? Or are you going to just trust me and let me catch you?"
"How can I let you catch me when you're out flirting with other girls?" Claire cried without having intended to. Allison had left, and that should have been the end of the argument, but something made her bring it up again. "This is because I won't sleep with you isn't it?" she demanded. "I bet Allison would let you do whatever you wanted to her and smile about it!"
"She probably would!" John cried, having reached his limit. "And if you would just go for it, you'd probably enjoy it! But you're too afraid to let anyone get that close to you!"
"Why should I sleep with someone who isn't going to stick around?" Claire yelled.
John stared at Clare with his mouth hanging open in shock. He slowly stood and took a last drag from his cigarette before snuffing it out in the ashtray. "Do you really think that way?" he asked.
"Why shouldn't I?" Claire demanded, knowing that there was no point in taking the words back. "You've had thirteen girlfriends in the last year and you haven't been with any of them for very long. Not only that, but you were sleeping with half of them at the same time!" she cried. "Why would you want to stick around with someone like me who won't even give it up? I'm just another cherry, right?" she demanded, crossing her arms in front of her chest.
John's face hardened. "Yeah, you're right," he spat. "You are just another cherry. You're always gonna to be a cherry because you ain't ever gonna let anyone touch you! So why don't you just get the fuck outta here?"
"You don't have to be cruel!" Claire cried, tears forming in her eyes.
"You don't have to be a prude!" John nearly yelled.
By pure reaction, Claire picked up a nearby ashtray and hurled it at John. He ducked and the ashtray hit the cement wall, breaking apart and spilling ashes and butts everywhere. "How can I be anything else when all I have is you?" she demanded. "You're hot, you're cold, you're high, you're drunk! You have a new scar every week, and the only place we have to go is the one place you hate more than anything! How can you expect me to even want to sleep with you in this dump?" she yelled.
"I love you!" John shouted.
Claire stood frozen, staring at John in absolute shock. Her heart pounded in her chest and she didn't know what to think. In the months that they had been together, love had never been mentioned. Trust was an issue. Love was taboo.
"Why do you think I haven't been sleeping around?" John asked. "Why do you think I've been faithful to you, even though you aren't giving me anything?"
Claire slowly sat down. She held her face in her shaking hands and felt like she couldn't breathe. She started shaking her head. "I can't do this," she whispered. She stood back up and climbed out through John's window before she began running home, leaving John standing in complete shock as the window slammed shut behind her.
The next day, Claire couldn't face going to school and seeing John. She let her dad drive her to the high school and stared up at the building while he drove away. When her father's car was out of sight, Claire turned away from the school and walked on to the mall. Her father's credit card was burning a hole through her wallet and she wanted to use it. Therapy, she called it. She could drown her sorrows in new shoes, clothes, and purses, so long as she didn't max out the limit.
With department stores calling out her name, Claire set out on a mission to really make John realize what he had.
John looked for Claire throughout the day. Normally he would see her in the halls as she went from one class to the next, but she was nowhere to be found. Feeling down from their fight and the way she'd taken off after he confessed his feelings for her, John made his way into the library to hide. He looked at the card catalogue and remembered how he'd worked up the courage to talk to her. He smiled at the memory, even if it was painful right now.
With a sigh, John turned around and found himself face-to-face with Carl, the janitor. "Ah, shit," he muttered, knowing that the bell for class rang about fifteen minutes prior.
"You're supposed to be in class," he said, leaning against his mop. "What's going on, Bender?"
John sighed. "Girlfriend problems," he muttered, sitting down on one of the tables. Carl tilted his head to the side with curiously. John took the cue from Carl to start talking and told the janitor everything, including who the girlfriend was.
"Wow," Carl said when John had finished spilling things out. "That really sucks, man. So, are you two still together or not?"
John shrugged. "I don't even know what the deal is," he said. "Like I said, she took off after I told her that I love her."
Carl sighed. "Looks like you need to be locked in a room until you figure things out."
John sighed. "I don't think she wants to be in the same building as me right now. I have no idea how I'm going to get her in the same room."
It was that moment when Carl's walkie-talkie came to life. "Carl, we have a fire in a locker in the senior hallway."
Carl sighed. "Be right there," he replied into the device. Carl shook his head. "Kids these days," he muttered. "I just hope the alarms don't go off. You should get outta here though. Vernon's going to be coming through for this one."
John sighed. "Sure thing," he said. As he walked away from the library, he saw Vernon walking toward the hall. John, knowing that it was expulsion if he was caught out of class again, quickly rushed to the fire alarm and pulled it. A moment later, John was engulfed in the mass of students heading for the doors.
Vernon had a bad day. One student was sent to the hospital thanks to his butt being taped together by a jock, another student's locker had caught on fire, and now the fire alarm was going off. He didn't even want to think about what was going to happen next.
Vernon followed the students outside. He had just watched Bender pull the alarm and knew that there was no way the kid could possibly know about the fire Vernon himself was about to investigate. Surely, Bender had been skipping class again. Surely, if he had been in class, the alarm wouldn't be blaring in his ears.
"Dammit!" Vernon hissed. With a renewed fervor, he walked outside. He scanned the students until he found that familiar denim jacket. He walked up to Bender and grabbed him by the back of the jacket, turning the teenager around sharply. "That's it, pal," he growled. "Your ass is mine. Detention, tomorrow. Be there or I tell the cops it was you set the fire and you're going to jail, mister. Understand?"
Caught and without a better alternative, John nodded. "Don't call my dad," he said softly.
Vernon knew the kind of life the kid had at home. His one act of compassion was a nod because he knew that if word reached Bender's parents, the kid would be in a hospital bed instead of detention the next morning. "Seven in the morning," he said. "Be there."
John nodded as Vernon let him go. He fixed his jacket and decided that sticking around wasn't his idea of a good time. Without a second thought, John left.
When Claire returned to the school in time for lunch, she found herself caught, thanks to all of the students standing around outside and a fire truck parked by the front doors. She sighed heavily and walked up to her friends. Before she reached them, one of the teachers caught up with her. "Did you have fun shopping, Miss Standish?"
Claire slowly turned and saw her English teacher standing in front of her. "You weren't in class today. I thought perhaps you were ill, but now I see that you just had better things to do with your time. Come with me, please," she instructed.
Resigned to her fate, Claire followed.
Detention. Saturday, at seven in the morning, John walked up to the high school. The last thing he wanted to do was venture into its halls that morning, but it was better than jail or expulsion. He was stunned when he saw Claire's father pull up to drop her off. As she shut the door of the car, she looked up and saw John standing at the edge of the road. She sighed, knowing that he probably wanted to talk to her. They would be in the same room all day, but they wouldn't be able to get things off of their chest. There was no way they could be alone….
When Vernon left them in the library, Claire did her best to ignore the man who loved her. She noticed the insults, heard the comments, and couldn't help but notice how everything was personal. And then, of course, there was Allison. She and John in the room were bad enough, but to throw Allison into the mix was just torture. There was a sinister god at work here who had to be punishing her for walking out on John after he told her that he loved her. It made her feel even more guilty than before.
She was told to write about herself in a thousand words or more. She picked up her pencil and started working on just that, but her thoughts became less about who she thought she was and more about how she felt about John. It took her a few minutes of writing to realize that she loved him.
Claire stared at the paper in front of her in disbelief. She hadn't taken the time to analyze her feelings before and now she was all but confessing her undying love and devotion. She wanted to give the paper to him, but she didn't know how she could manage that without drawing attention to their relationship.
As the day progressed, Claire and John continued to fight through off-handed comments and glares. When he led them to his locker for the bag of dope he had there, Claire wondered if they would actually get a chance for a little one-on-one after all. When John was suddenly separated from them, Claire realized that she'd lost the chance. There would be no way for her to find and talk with him now.
Or so she thought until John came back. When he hid under the table she was sharing with Andrew, Claire didn't know what to think. When his head slowly inched between her legs, Claire couldn't help but feel things in her stomach tighten. Still, that didn't stop her from reacting and smashing John's fingers under her boots while she clamped her knees around his head. When Vernon walked out of the library, Claire couldn't help but hit John a few more times for his lapse of control. When John moved to the back of the library with his dope, Claire couldn't help but follow and hope that there was a chance to talk.
"I love you," she whispered as she reached him. John turned around slowly, gaping at Claire. "I'm sorry about yesterday. I kind of freaked out. Allison's obvious in what she wants from you and I don't like it."
"So you'll trust me and believe me when I say that I'm not going to do anything no matter what someone tries to get me to do?" John asked.
Claire nodded. "I trust you," she said. John smiled at her and wanted to give her a kiss, however they were about to be interrupted by others who wanted some of what John was about to start smoking. Anything more would have to wait, though hopefully not for too long.
When he went back to the broom closet Vernon had put him in, Claire couldn't help but look at the others and wonder what it would be like to tell someone about her relationship with John.
"What is it?" Andy asked, noticing the way she was acting.
"What would you say if I told you that John and I have been dating for months?" she asked.
Andy shrugged. "I'd say that I wouldn't care," he replied.
"I mean, what would you say if we hadn't been through everything we've just gone through?" she clarified. "If we were still the normal kids we were yesterday?"
Andy sighed. "I'd think you were insane," he said. "Bender isn't exactly the kind of guy people think of when they think of a boyfriend for you. How long have you two been together?"
"Four months," Claire sighed. "Five next week."
"You know that if you tell anyone, you're going to be shunned, right?" Andy asked. "Though, personally, that wouldn't matter to me, not if you're happy with him." He looked back at Allison. When he looked back at Claire, he chuckled. "Of course, they might shun me too, so we'll be outcasts together."
Claire smiled. "Thanks, Andy," she said. "I'll be back," she said before she stood and left the library. John had told her exactly where Vernon had stuck him, and she really wanted to have a few quiet minutes alone with the man she loved.
She carefully walked through the halls until she found the closet John had been shoved into. She opened the door and he looked up at her, surprised that she was the one entering. Claire closed the door tightly behind her before she stepped up to John and kissed him without a word. Allison wouldn't be an issue anymore. All that was left was letting go and just being together. There were no more reasons to doubt or be jealous. Things were starting to look up.
John pressed Claire up against the wall. She could feel him ready to burst through his pants, but she wasn't sure she was quite ready for that next leap. He knew that, and he didn't push. This wasn't about sex, it was about being together. Despite being in a closet, it was a perfect ending to detention.
"I want to come over later," Claire whispered in John's ear.
John nodded. "Okay," he breathed back to her. He kissed her gently before he met her eyes. "I love you," he said.
Claire smiled brightly. "I love you too," she whispered.
"You should go back to the library," he told her. "You don't want to get caught here or Vernon will slap you with another detention."
"Let him," Claire replied before she kissed John again. "At least I'll be here with you."
John chuckled. "I suddenly regret getting two months of detention," he said.
"I'll just have to steal you on Sundays," Claire said with a bright smile. John chuckled before they kissed once more, which was when the door opened. For a moment, John and Claire were terrified that Vernon was coming. Instead, they were surprised to see Carl.
"You should get back to the library," he said, looking at Claire. "You've got about five minutes left."
Claire nodded and kissed John on the cheek before she rushed passed the janitor without looking back. Carl gave John a look. "Worked things out?" he asked.
John smiled and nodded. "I think so," he said.