4. Marty and Claire [2]

Claire dug out some clothing from the big suitcase that sat beside the mattress on her floor. She hurriedly threw on her usual baggy jeans, a big “I Love NY” t-shirt that used to belong to her mom, and shoved her feet into her tattered Converse high-tops. Back in the kitchen, Marty had found a paper and pen in his breifcase and handed her a list with some essential groceries before giving her a few twenty-dollar bills.

“If it’s too much or too heavy, call me and I’ll come help out with the carrying home, okay? Got your cell? Your new keys? Okay, Honey, see you soon.”

“Bye, Dad,” Claire skipped out the door and locked it behind her with a resounding ‘click’ as the bolts fell into place. Marty sighed just a little. This is why you moved, he reminded himself, to feel that she was safe.

Also, so she could be close to her grandparents. Marty hadn’t told Mr. and Mrs. Adams yet about the move. It had been rather hasty, and he wanted to surprise them. He wasn’t sure yet about how Claire felt about being reunited with them – after all, the last time she’d seen them, she was ten. Now she was just fourteen, which seemed to Marty to be miles away from the sweet and innocent little girl she’d been. As he began to dig in another box for cutlery to arrange in a drawer, Marty thought of the last couple years and the gaping hole that was Susan’s absence in their lives. Claire had gotten her period, had bought her first bra, had started eying boys – all without a mother to help her through it. Marty did the best he could, trying to be the hip dad, the cool dad that girls could talk to. He felt he’d succeeded, more or less, since Claire and he were on good terms and she wasn’t embarrassed around him about the changes her body was going through. But still, he always felt inadequate. Susan would have done things better, he felt.

As Marty indulged himself in nostalgia and meloncholy, Claire took in the bright and beautiful sunshine that made Victoria Road, their new street, seem to glimmer. The neighborhood sure was lovely, she couldn’t deny that. There were trees planted in the sidewalk every few yards and the apartment buildings all had expanses of lawn or flowerbeds in front of them. A warm breeze warmed her face, and she noticed the pleasant sound of the leaves rusteling.

It’s so quiet, she thought. Certainly different from Manhattan. As Claire walked down Victoria Road, only two cars drove by. It seemed unthinkable to have so little traffic after the constant rush-hour that permeated the streets of New York. She liked it very much, she decided. As she turned from Victoria Road to Brushfield Street, she saw her target, Bill’s, the little grocery store that she and her dad had marked last night while driving the U-Haul. She took the list out of her pocket and entered the store.

4. Marty and Claire [1]

Marty looked around the box-filled apartment. He breathed in deeply and smelled fresh paint and dust. He never thought such an unpleasant smell could be so sweet to his senses, but as he choked a little on the swirling dust he smiled, feeling the new beginning that this apartment represented.

It was on the top floor of a building in Old Town in Hartscreek. Marty had chosen the neighborhood because it wasn’t too far from Downtown, but was still safe and fairly quiet. Claire’s school was walking distance away, just a few blocks over, and he knew that this meant that Claire’s new classmates would be kids in the neighborhood, and she wouldn’t need to travel far in order to meet friends. Well, if she’d make friends…

Marty banished the gloomy thoughts from his mind and began to move boxes with a vigor he hadn’t felt in three years. Sweat ran down his face and his back as he fit together two new bookcases he’d purchased, heaved furniture around and started to methodically unpack boxes and put away nick-knacks and clothing.

Around noon, Claire emerged from her bedroom with sleepy eyes and tangled hair. She and Marty had arrived in Hartscreek with the U-Haul they’d rented the night before, had unloaded the boxes and furniture in a feverish rush and had driven quickly down to the nearest drop-off point to leave the van in order not to need to pay for it for an extra night. Claire had stayed up until four in the morning on her mattress on the floor of her new and still empty room, listening to music and trying to sleep. Marty, who’d woken up bright and early, hadn’t had the heart to wake her up.

“G’morning,” Claire mumbled sleepily, yawning as she walked through the rooms trying to find her father.

Marty, whose head was stuck deep in a kitchen cabinet where he was attempting to assemble pans in some sort of order that wouldn’t cause them to topple over with a loud noise every time the door was opened, hollered back that the kettle and the toaster were both already set up.

“Thanks,” Claire said as she strode into the kitchen. “Want some coffee too?”

“Ah,” he pulled his head out of the cabinet. “That’s the problem. We have absolutely no groceries yet. Feel like walking down to the store and getting us some essentials?”

Claire had just turned fourteen in July, and she’d thought for the longest time that she should have the right to be on her own more often. In Manhattan, though, her father had been overprotective and they both knew it. He’d told her, in a fit of exasperated honesty about a year before they moved, that he knew he was being ridiculous but no, she couldn’t go alone to Union Square on the subway, that he’d go with her over the weekend, and that if she absolutely, positively had to buy the CD she wanted that day, then she could go with a friend. This had led to Claire bursting into tears and screaming that he was blind and didn’t notice that she didn’t have any friends, before running to her room and slamming the door.

And now here was Marty not only allowing but actually offering Claire to go out on her own, in a new place that she wasn’t familiar with. She thought she knew what this was about. Old Town was safe and almost suburban, despite it being made up mostly of classic old apartment buildings. What could possibly happen to her between their building and Bill’s Food Stuffs, the quaint neighborhood grocery store? Nothing interesting, that was for sure, Claire thought. Still, it was nice to know that her dad was finally trying to give her some space.

“Sure, Dad,” she said, after mulling it all over for a moment. “Let me get dressed quickly and-” she continued, raising her voice as she walked back to her bedroom- “write me a list of what to get, okay?”

3. Heather [3]

“How are you, girl?” Jake said as he walked over to Heather’s usual booth. It was a small booth that only sat two. Sometimes Heather’s mother, Bella, would meet her at Lila’s and then the two would share the booth and a meal or sometimes just a dessert. Tonight, though, Heather was alone as she slid gratefully into her regular spot.

“I’m great, Jake, just exhausted,” Heather smiled at him. “Yourself?”

“Fine, fine, all fine,” Jake’s eyes twinkled. “Love is in the air, and all that. You know.”

Heather knew. Vicariously, at least. She’d watched the romance, or dalliance or whatever it was, flourish between Jake and Bo over the last three weeks of beautiful summer evenings. She’d been friendly with Jake even before, but he had seemed so droopy, so sad and sort of lost. But then Bo joined Lila’s staff, and Heather couldn’t be happier for the change that had come over Jake.

“My sister’s going to come over some evening this week,” Jake went on. “Well, I haven’t exactly asked her to yet, but I’m going to. I think she’ll like this place – and you’ll like her, too. I’ll ask her to come in the evening so you can maybe meet her.”

“Sounds great, Jake! I didn’t know you had a sister.”

“Yeah, a twin. Her name’s Amanda. She goes to Valley U. So, the usual?”

Heather nodded, and Jake bustled towards the diner’s kitchen to get her hot-chocolate for her. She stretched back and looked around the small space. At this hour, it was usually still empty, but Heather knew that if she stayed for another half hour, the place would fill up. Downtown Hartscreek was a hopping scene, and there wasn’t a night of the week when an eclectic crowd wouldn’t appear, as if by magic, at Lila’s: there were young professionals, coming for a dessert after a dinner somewhere else, or maybe just meeting up for a meal after putting their children to bed; there were club-goers, dressed in bright colors and skin-tight materials, catching some protein before a long night of dancing and drinking; there were the punkers, stocking up on fries and milkshakes before heading to the latest underground show. Heather loved to take them all in as she sat there, savoring the taste of her hot drink as she sipped it down almost agonizingly slowly.

Tonight would be no different, she hoped, as she lay her chin in her hands and stared across the room to where she knew Jake would be coming out in a moment with that delicious hot chocolate in his hands.

3. Heather [2]

At around eleven, Heather finally switched off the lights and locked the door of Miranda’s shop. Miranda herself lived above the store, and ever since hiring Heather she’d taken to going up to her room a bit early and letting Heather close up for her. Not that Heather minded in the least. She enjoyed having a few moments of peace and quiet in the shop, all by herself. She felt then that maybe someday she’d be able to own a place like this – or maybe a place a bit nicer than this – and be independent. She hadn’t been independent yet in her life, not really. Not since… but no, that wasn’t something she wanted to think about.

Heather finished locking up the door and turned into the cool summer night. It always got to be so much cooler at this hour, and she breathed the air in thankfully as she began to make her way back home. Home for her was a small and cozy apartment that she shared with her mother in downtown Hartscreek, just about fifteen minutes away from Miranda’s shop. On the way home, Heather usually stopped in at Lila’s for her final treat of the day – Lila’s Warm-and-Fillin’ Hot Chocolate. There was no better drink in town, as far as Heather was concerned. She thought back to the days when she’d only looked at the option on the menu, never quite daring to order it. She stopped herself from following that line of thought again, and pushed open the door to Lila’s, hearing the usual tinkle of the bell and seeing her favorite new waiter, Jake, smile at her from across the room and yell out a greeting.

Heather smiled back. It was so very good to finish work each evening.