Claire was by herself in the shadows off to one side, wanting to be alone. The night air was cool on her skin, cool on the tears drying on her cheek. She wrapped her arms tighter around herself, sniffling. Looking over, she watched the bright headlights of several cars sweep across the parking lot, turning as they drove away. A soft murmur of motors hummed under the sound of scattered laughter and conversation in the thinning crowd behind her, people clustered together as they said good bye.
Suddenly, Claire began to think back. In her memories she was still in this place, but it was daylight, a blustery Autumn afternoon on a cold day back when she was in high school. The leaves of the trees had been awash in a tapestry of multi-colored hues, instead of the deep green they were now. They had swayed and whispered in the crisp afternoon breeze. The quickly moving blanket of overcast white above had been fragmented, patches of blue sky beginning to break through. Rays of golden sunlight had started to shine down from the overcast sky, feeling warm across Claire's face and making her squint. The air had been colder that day, but filled with similar sounds. The hum of motors as cars had emptied from the parking lot, filled with laughing students on their way home, excited the school day was over.
Claire remembered her and Joanne running over to pile excitedly into the back of Heather's new convertible. The three of them had been so young, so full of life, laughing happily. They had all been so close back then. When Heather had pulled out of the parking lot, she had followed the stream of cars going down the same street Claire was looking at now. The crisp open air had flowed past the three of them, cool and invigorating. They had felt so alive, talking, laughing, enjoying the simple sensations of just being. For that one moment, it had seemed they didn't have a care in the world.
There had been a line of trees to either side of the road, depositing a carpet of leaves on the asphalt below, falling in the breeze. The sun had finally appeared from behind a cloud. Heather's car had raced through the leaves, kicking them up in its wake even as more had fallen all around them in a dizzying autumn shower of red and gold.
Claire remembered smiling from her place in the back seat, leaning back in the new sunlight with her arms stretched out as the leaves streamed by them like confetti. She had tilted her face to the sky, smiling. She remembered trying to hold on to that moment, trying to lock it away, knowing it wouldn't last. She had actually laughed, laughed at the beauty and joy of being bathed in sunshine and all those colors, as fluttering leaves flowed over the moving car's windshield, grazing her outstretched arms.
Claire smiled at the memory. It was amazing what little parts of a life one decided to remember. But now the sky was dark as Claire looked at the same road, with the same rows of trees on either side. Their leaves were green, dancing in the evening as a cool summer breeze flowed through them. Cars were driving down that road again, but now they were far more likely to be mini-vans or family cars. She watched the red glow of their retreating brake lights sadly, wondering if she would ever have that. If she would ever have that life. A life that seemed so distant now, of settling down, having a family.
Suddenly her thoughts were on Frank again, and she forced herself not to cry as tears filled her eyes. Nothing had turned out the way she had wanted it. She still couldn't believe what had happened, how quickly it had all fallen apart. She turned away, wiping a tear from her face. She felt so alone, abandoned. Claire wanted desperately to talk to someone, but she couldn't talk to Frank about it, and she had done her best to avoid Trevor and Mara after seeing them kissing . She wasn't sure she could handle them as a couple right now.
Two people walked out of the gymnasium behind her. It was Heather and Ben, arm in arm, walking slowly. Heather smiled, looking over at him.
"I'm glad we came, Ben." Heather said in her deep, sultry voice. "It was a little rough... but I'm glad we did it."
Ben smiled as he leaned in to kiss her. "So am I. I don't want to hide you any more."
Heather held him tighter. "I know..."
Feeling happy, Heather looked away, before suddenly spotting someone off to the side, standing alone. It took her a moment to see it was Claire, with her back turned to them. As Claire stood there, her shoulders shook slightly. A look of concern crossed Heather's face when she realized... it was because she was crying. Claire was crying.
"Ben... Could you wait here for a minute?" Heather asked.
Ben looked over at Heather, as concerned as she was, having seen Claire too. "Sure. I'll be right here."
Heather came out of Ben's arms and quietly walked over to where Claire was. She approached her slowly, wondering what had upset her so.
Suddenly Claire turned around, her eyes full of tears. Heather stood there silently, worry on her face.
With a sob, Claire rushed into her friend's arms, releasing it all at once, a rush of words pouring out against Heather's chest.
"Heather... I'm glad you're here! I'm so-. Heather, I'm-" Claire wept. "I've lost him.... Heather, I lost him and I love him so much. But I can't be with him. It wouldn't be right. God, I don't know what to do any more."
Heather held her, surprised by Claire's sudden reaction. She had no idea why Claire was so upset. She could feel Claire sobbing against her shoulder, and Heather held her tenderly, her eyes starting to mist up too. As the two women stood there, it was as if all the years between them had fallen away, and they were just as close again as they were in high school, one friend comforting another one in pain. Heather stroked Claire's hair, trying to ease her grief.
"Claire, it's ok. What happened? Just tell me..."
"I just thought that-... I thought there was finally someone 'real' in my life that I could care about, and now he's-.... Heather, I thought that... I thought-"
"It'll be ok, Claire. I'm here. I'm right here..." Heather wondered who she meant.
"Oh Heather," Claire pulled back, trying to stop her cries. "I'm sorry that I'm unloading all of this on you. I'm just feeling a little, a little... lost I guess. I don't mean to-" Claire gestured to where she had just been crying in Heather's arms.
"No, it's ok, Claire. Really. Are you all right? Do you...do you want to talk about it?"
Claire sniffed as she wiped her eyes with a sad smile, looking at Heather. "Yeah... Yeah, I think I do. Thank you, Heather. You're a good friend."
Heather nodded, her eyes full of sympathy. "I'm right here for you, Ok? We'll go somewhere to talk about it." She smiled. "I seem to remember an old friend of mine who once showed me this place right around the corner that sells some really great french fries..."
Claire laughed. "Yeah. I think I remember that. That would be perfect. Thank you Heather."
Heather hugged her warmly, holding Claire's face on her shoulder. "Come on Sparky. We'll go talk about it, ok?" She leaned back and softly wiped Claire's face dry.
"Ok..." Claire inhaled.
With her arm around Claire's shoulder, they both began to walk away. Heather looked back once at Ben, who was waiting behind them. He nodded, seeing that the two women needed to be alone. He watched them leave, staying where he was.
Claire and Heather walked slowly away from the school, moving across the parking lot as stars filled the night sky above. Claire began to tell Heather all that had happened, talking softly as the stars watched overhead, twinkling serenely. Finally, each star began to slowly fade into the brightness of...
...a clear blue, Sunday afternoon in Chicago.
Jaclyn walked towards her apartment carrying bags of groceries in her arms. Sunlight flowed through the window at the end of the hallway, outlining her form as her steps echoed in the hallway. It was Sunday afternoon, and Jaclyn knew that Claire was flying back tonight. They both had a busy work week ahead of them, catching up on all they had missed over the last few days. The keys rattled as Jaclyn unlocked her apartment door with a sigh, happy to be home. She opened it and walked it, but stopped suddenly when she saw what was inside.
There were rose petals scattered everywhere. It was as if two flower shops had somehow collided at high speed in her tiny apartment.
Jaclyn's jaw dropped as she looked around in wonder. Delicate rose petals were strewn across every surface of her apartment, both pink and red. Her ceiling was filled with floating balloons, ribbons hanging down from them. Numerous flower arrangements of various designs covered several tables and chairs. Slowly, Jaclyn put her bags down on the floor beside her door, closing it behind her in a daze. Smiling, she looked at the wave of colors spread brightly around her as she turned slowly in place. The room seemed to spin, full of flowers, full of so many beautiful flowers. She almost laughed, smiling broadly. The fragrance alone was amazing.
"How..." Jaclyn smiled, before realizing that the land lord must have let him in. "Champ..."
Her face positively beamed as she took in the sight, still turning slowly, drinking it all in with her arms extended out to either side. She stopped when she noticed an envelope propped up on top of her small kitchen table. A beautiful, long stemmed rose rested beside it. She walked over to the table, still smiling at the explosion of colors all around her. Gently, she picked up the rose, bringing it to her nose. It was clear enough by that one rose who had done this. This was Champ's latest volley in their little contest. She took the envelope off the table, glancing what was written on the outside.
I hope I didn't go overboard with the flowers. Maybe I'm just overcompensating for what's in this envelope. It's something I've never done for anyone before, so if it really sucks, forgive me.
Curious, Jaclyn opened the envelope. There was a single sheet of paper inside. She lowered herself onto a seat at the table, resting the rose across her lap as she unfolded the paper and began to read. It was a poem. A poem in Champ's handwriting.
I once remembered poetry,
as set apart from you
Where as I read I thought instead,
but let no feelings through...
Jaclyn blinked, not believing it. It was a poem. A poem about her. No one had ever written her a poem before. Her lips parted, distracted as she continued to read.
Now I can't read poetry
without you in my mind...
My heart is filled, against its will,
and yearning still to find....
At that exact moment, Champ was in his apartment trying to watch television, sitting nervously on his couch. He was bathed in a golden light from the window, where the sun was beginning to set. Champ lifted the remote in his hand, flipping quickly through the channels, completely distracted and not really paying attention. He began to think to himself. Maybe it had been a mistake. Maybe he shouldn't have done it. Jaclyn must be home by now. Champ glanced towards his phone, but it still sat there silently.
Worried, he leaned back again. He had gone with what he felt, and had tried to show that to Jaclyn as best as he could. But what if... what if it scared her away? What if he was going too fast? Champ sighed. If nothing else, he hoped that at least she wouldn't just flat out laugh at his attempt.
I once remembered love songs
that didn't speak your name.
But now it seems those lyrics dream
of you now just the same.
The door to Jaclyn's apartment suddenly closed, leaving behind a room filled with flowers and rose petals, bright and colorful. No one was there any more, the apartment was empty except for one discarded envelope resting on the kitchen table.
I once remembered 'Jaclyn' as just another word,
But now it sings on silver wings
above all things I've heard...
Champ got up and began to pace back and forth through the late afternoon rays of sunlight coming through his window. He was getting more and more nervous with each passing minute. Jaclyn hadn't called. He didn't know what to think. It had been so long already. She must be home by now. Why hadn't she called? Was it because she hated it? What if he was trying to take their relationship to a place she didn't really want to go right now? Had he he just ruined any chance he would ever have with her? He wanted this thing to work out so badly, because he couldn't deny how he felt about her. Champ continued to pace, uncertain, wondering if he still had time to go over there and get all those flowers out of Jaclyn's apartment before she same home.
Your smile is in my dreams,
but my dreams are in your light.
I don't know when my heart will mend,
so I have to get this right.
Suddenly there was a knock on his door, startling him. Champ looked over, wondering who that could be. He glanced at the phone, still waiting for Jaclyn's call, suddenly reluctant to leave it. But finally he sighed and walked over to his front door, opening it.
"Jaclyn..." Champ said in surprise. He hadn't expected to see her at his door step.
She looked softly into his eyes, stunned, not saying a word.
Champ tried to smile, still nervous and self conscious. "I, uhh... I see that you found the poem."
His eyes travelled to the hand at her side, which was holding a sheet of paper and the rose he had left beside it. Champ's voice sounded cautious. "Did... did you at least like the flowers?"
Jaclyn's expression didn't change as she slowly stepped into his apartment, watching him. She closed the door behind her and he swallowed, hoping that didn't mean she was about to yell at him. He had no idea what that expression on her face meant. Why wasn't she saying anything?
"I, umm..." Champ laughed awkwardly. "I... I hope the poem wasn't too much, Jaclyn. I'll admit I went overboard with the flowers, but I didn't know if you would like the poem. But you do have to give me credit right? All those flowers will sure be hard for you to beat. Let me see... umm, let me see you top that. Jaclyn...? Why are you looking at me like that?"
She slowly took another step towards him, still not saying a word. He was forced to back up again, wondering why she was so mad.
"Ok, I'm sorry. I just wanted to show you how I really feel and-"
Finally, Jaclyn spoke. "Champ..."
Suddenly Jaclyn's rushed forward and before he realized it, he was in her arms as she kissed him deeply. Shocked, Champ looked at her as a wave poured over him until his eyes fluttered shut. The unexpected kiss was amazing, exploding through him like a dream come true, and he could have melted into the floor from it right then and there. He couldn't believe this was happening, happy beyond belief, wondering what he had done right. But then he stopped questioning it, stopped thinking about it, just concentrating on kissing Jaclyn in return and holding her tightly. He was swimming in a perfect bliss of Jaclyn in his arms, overwhelmed by that one dizzying moment as they kissed deeply. The world around them seemed to fade away, and he forgot where he was. Or even who he was. Nothing else existed. There was only her, there was only him, and there was only what they felt for each other, shining brightly as the light of the sunset surrounded them and that one, long... kiss.
Champ realized he had been wrong. He had never even had a chance of winning their little war of the roses. Jaclyn could have won it at any time, with this kiss. She had beaten him, and finally he surrendered, holding her close. Nothing beyond that mattered.
Champ could suddenly feel the hunger in Jaclyn's lips as her slender body pressed against his, pushing him back. They were slowly stumbling towards his couch, lips still moving on each other, not stopping the kiss. Champ opened his eyes, realizing what she was doing.
"Jaclyn..." He mumbled against her lips, not able or willing... or able, actually, to pull himself from them. "Jaclyn are you sure you want to do this?"
She laughed, her kisses leaving little argument. "Oh, I'm absolutely sure. I'm sure you talk to much..." Her voice was full of yearning as she breathed into his mouth.
With a giggle, she started to kiss him again, over and over, even more intensely than before. Jaclyn backed him up even further, until she was finally able to shove a hand against his chest and push Champ down onto his couch. Jaclyn eagerly drapped her body over his, falling down out of view. The sun glowing through the window behind them began to set, leaving them their privacy. Across the room the television was still on, but no television had ever been so ignored. The sun's light slowly faded away as Jaclyn laughed softly, deepening shadows blending into...
... the dark interior of a jet airliner.
The cabin was covered in shadows as night filled the small rows of windows looking outside. Most of the passengers were getting tired, and the cabin was still except for the low, soothing rumble of the engines and the barely perceptible hiss of pressurized air. Claire was in her seat beside Frank. The small reading light in the console above her head was on as she read a paperback. The seats around her were dark. Frank was asleep, and she looked over at him. Claire still felt the pain, felt the longing in her chest as she thought about what had happened, about what he had told her. It still hurt her even now, and she knew it would hurt for a long time. But at least it was further away for now, and she wasn't as upset as she had been. Sadly, she turned away from him, before looking up only to see Mara quietly approaching across the aisles from her seat a couple of rows over.
"Mara..." Claire said softly.
Mara smiled and took the empty seat in front of Claire, resting her arms along its top as she looked quietly at her for a few moments. Finally she spoke.
"Claire... I just wanted to tell you that... I'm sorry. I know I said and did some things over the last few days that.... Well, I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt you."
"No, Mara. You don't have to apologize at all. I'm the one who should apologize to you. For... always trying to control everything around me. I'm sorry. It was wrong of me to do that."
"But I could have made this trip a little easier, Claire."
Claire looked up at her. "Well, that could be said of the both of us..."
Mara nodded, looking down. Claire watched her, thinking. Thinking about the things Mara had told her when they had been arguing.
"Mara... why didn't you ever tell me?"
"Tell you what?"
"How you felt about me. After all these years, I never knew I was making you feel so... Mara, you have absolutely no reason to feel inferior to me. I'm not the successful, accomplished woman everyone seems to think I am. I mean, I'm bossy, I'm insecure, I'm scared. I'm flawed and, I'm... human. I have tons of things wrong with me. I'm actually a real mess inside. Just ask Trevor. I'm sure he could make a list..."
Mara laughed quietly, but said nothing, looking at Claire with a smile.
"In fact," Claire thought about it, "I've always been the one who's admired you, Mara. Admired your strength of identity. I know I complain about how you live your life, but that's just because deep down I know you have more courage than I could ever have."
"That's not true, Claire."
"Yes it is. You have the courage to live your life and not apologize for it. You're not afraid to put yourself out there. Me... I meet my patients hidden away in my office, under my home turf and area of expertise. But you... you sing on every one else's turf, where everyone can see you. And you win them over, Mara. On their terms. I could never do what you do. You're not afraid to live your life. And that's the best that any of us can do. It's nothing to be ashamed of. I've always been so proud of you, Mara."
Mara looked at Claire. Both of their faces were softly lit by the glow of the reading lamp, surrounded by shadows all around. Mara nodded slowly. "All those years I made your life a living hell, Claire. Because I was jealous of you. Of the way it always seemed people flocked to you and not me. But now that I think about it, none of the things I was jealous of were even your fault. You can't help that people like you, now or then. They have every right to. Because they know how good a person you are. Most people in this world... don't care about anyone but themselves. But you're out there, Claire actually trying to help people. And I've never given you enough credit for that. You really did hold our family together. Through some rough times..."
Claire looked up. "We both did, Mara."
Mara nodded. "You may have never known how I felt, but I never knew how you felt either. Guess I'm just as much to blame."
Claire smiled. "Well, we know now. Hopefully we understand each other a little better because of it. I just wish it hadn't taken so long."
Mara smiled. "While we're clearing the air, I'd like to say I'm sorry for all the fights we've had over the years. Like that time I... chipped your tooth in junior high."
Claire laughed, touching the tooth with her tongue. "I remember..."
Mara seemed worried. "Claire... but what if this new cease fire doesn't last? What if we start to argue again?"
"Well, that's bound to happen, Mara. This isn't something that just goes away over night."
"Then let me apologize for the fights we'll have in the future too." Mara paused, sounding scared. "It's just that..... Claire, I wouldn't trade being your sister for anything. I don't want us to grow apart like we have in the last few years. I love you. I know we're still going to fight, it's just that.... I just don't want to lose you in my life." She almost sounded desperate.
Claire quickly put her hand on top of Mara's, squeezing it softly. "Hey... You'll never lose me, Mara. Ok? You won't. I love you. You can't lose me."
"Why not, Claire?"
Claire looked at her. "We're sisters..."
Nothing else really needed to be said.
Claire sighed, coming to a decision. "Mara... if you want to date Trevor, please don't stop because of me. I know that I've been acting a little... weird about it. The truth is... you two are good for each other. I care so much about you both, and if you want a relationship with Trevor, I won't complain. I promise. I'll be totally supportive. Trevor's a really great guy. If you want to be with him, he'd be lucky to have you."
Mara smiled. "Thank you, Claire. I appreciate that, but... I really don't see anything happening between me and Trevor."
Claire blinked, surprised. "Why not?"
Mara looked straight at her. "Because it's not me who he's in love with..." Mara smiled to herself, thinking about it, before she turned away from Claire without another word.
Claire watched her leave and felt better, hopeful that things would be different between them now. She began to wonder what Mara had meant with that last statement, but she put it out of her head.
Claire looked over to where Frank was sleeping beside her. A few strands of hair had fallen over his eyes, and out of force of habit she reached out to brush them aside, until.... she stopped herself. She wasn't sure that was her place to do any more. Pulling her hand back, Claire lowered her eyes sadly and went back to reading her book.
Champ's bedroom was dark. A deep Chicago night filled the windows. Silently, he lay in bed, his eyes wide awake as he looked at the ceiling. He began to think about all that had happened today. He felt so much more for Jaclyn than he had ever felt for anyone before, and that worried him. He wanted to be with her so badly, that every decision made him feel like he was dancing on a knife's edge, trying not to fall. He didn't want to lose her, but he couldn't be sure he was smart enough not to. What if he did something he couldn't take back? Slowly, Champ looked beside him.
Jaclyn shifted her naked body beside his, still asleep and smiling contentedly. His bed sheets were wrapped around both of them as he held her in his arms. Her arm slipped across his chest as she snuggled up close to him in her sleep. Champ gazed at her tenderly and smiled. She looked so beautiful when she was asleep. He brushed the hair from her eyes, glad he was finally able to do that. She was beautiful. He knew it. Knew it so much that it almost brought tears to his eyes from the intensity of what he felt, overwhelmed by the mere sight of her laying next to him.
Champ leaned over and kissed her lips as softly as possible, trying not to wake her. Jaclyn sighed, and shifted her head slightly where it rested on his chest. As he watched her, Champ was happier than he could ever remember being. He was also completely scared out of his mind.
Champ was well aware of his history with women. Not that he would have traded what had happened tonight for anything, but... usually after he started sleeping with a woman, that was when he would find some way to screw it all up. This was the point in all his relationships where he would sub-consciously sabotage it in some way, and now that fact scared him. He didn't want it to happen again.
Worried, Champ exhaled and looked up at the ceiling. He couldn't let this end up the same way. He desperately wanted this time to be different. If only he could trust himself to not run scared again just because he felt he was getting close to someone. As he lay in Jaclyn's arms, he began to wonder. Maybe this night had been the biggest mistake he and Jaclyn could have made.
It was the middle of the night on the flight back to Chicago. Now almost everyone was asleep in the quiet cabin. Claire was still bathed in her reading light, not able to sleep, so she read her book. She didn't notice that there was only one other light on among the passengers a few rows over.
Trevor was still awake too, flipping through some airline magazines but not really interested in them, turning pages absently in the glow of his reading light. In the seat beside him, Mara was sleeping. Looking over at her, Trevor smiled at the sight of her, before he noticed something out of the corner of his eye.
He saw the light on the other side of the cabin. Claire was still awake. He watched her for several long moments, drawn to her. His face was calm as he looked at her. It constantly surprised him how beautiful she could look at times like this, when she was quiet, unguarded, not aware someone was watching her. Trevor didn't want to stop gazing at her, but Claire turned a page in her book, shifting in her seat until she faced towards him a little more. He looked away before she could notice what he was doing.
Bored with her novel, Claire glanced up from her book. She looked across to the only other light that was on. Trevor was sitting there, looking silently out the window. Trevor didn't notice her watching him. She gazed at his face for several moments, considering what he meant to her. Finally, Claire sighed, before she quietly looked away.
The plane was quiet and dark. Both of them sat under their lights on opposite sides of the plane... and neither of them said a word.