So Long


Claire steps through the door of the restaurant and looks around at the patrons dotted through the dining area. A few people glance her way but immediately turn back to their meals; she ignores them, searching for the group she's meant to be meeting with. A hostess steps up to the podium with a wide grin.

“Sorry about the wait, ma'am. Just you today?”

“Actually, I'm supposed to be meeting with some people. Uh, I think it's under Darlington?”

“Of course.” The hostess looks down at the seating chart in front of her before smiling at Claire. “If you'll follow me, please.”

Claire hitches her purse further onto her shoulder and trails after the bubbly woman. They've just passed a booth to the side when Claire comes to an abrupt stop, her heels skidding slightly at the sudden halt of motion. She deliberates for a split second - follow the hostess to the table and be on time for the interview, or stand her ground and maybe, just maybe, prevent it from happening to someone else. She pivots and bares her teeth in a cold facsimile of a smile. The man’s smirk falters under her weighted glare, and Claire backs up a step so that she falls even to him. She leans down, slides her arm along the back of the booth.

“Listen here, you little cumstain garbage baby, you don't have the right to slap my ass. I could waltz through this joint naked as the day I was born, and you still wouldn't have the right to put your hands on me. So, I highly suggest you take my words to heart and remember this little message whenever you get the urge to put your greasy, frat-boy paws on another woman. Because if you do?” She turns her head to whisper directly in his ear, her voice low and menacing, “I will find out, and I will hunt your sorry ass down and make you wish your mother had aborted you.”

The group of guys at the table are all deathly silent as her lips quirk upwards, and she walks away, relishing the click-clack of her heels against the tile under her feet. There’s something that makes her feel more powerful after she makes a point like that. The hostess gestures toward the empty seat at the table, and Claire thanks her and turns to the other three once they’re alone again. She shifts the strap of her purse, holds out her hand.

“Hi, thank you for being patient. I’m Claire Hunter.”

The woman stands to shake her hand, though the men remain seated. “Nice to meet you, Miss Hunter. I’m Abigail Darlington - we spoke on the phone. Please, have a seat.”

“Hello! I’m Peter, I’ll be your server this afternoon. Can I get you anything to drink, ma’am?”

Claire flashes him a smile. “Just a water is fine, thank you.”

Peter disappears, and she focuses on the trio. Miss Darlington is rifling through a folder full of papers, the young man to Claire’s left stares down at the plate in front of him, his beanie pulled low on his forehead; the man across the table from her has her pinned with his gaze, blue eyes narrowed as he scrutinises her. She forces a quick grin and resists the urge to squirm in her chair.

“Okay, Miss Hunter, do you mind if we go ahead and get started? Our schedules are full for the rest of the afternoon.”

“No, no problem. I’d like to consider myself accommodating.”

“Wonderful. So, first questions first, why do you think you’d be a good fit for this position?”

Claire inhales as steadily as possible; it’s now or never, and as much as she would like to lie, she knows she has to be upfront. “Well… if I’m honest, I didn’t. I, um, I didn’t even really apply, not myself. My brother did it for me.” At Miss Darlington’s shocked look, Claire rushes to explain. “He knew I was looking for a job and that I wasn’t having any luck, so when he saw the position was available, he decided it would be perfect and applied for me. He told me about it later that night, and I realised it was a good idea. I mean, the job itself sounds like it’ll be interesting. I like organisation, routine, all that. I’ve worked as an assistant to a wedding planner before, so I know I’m rather efficient at keeping schedules and juggling priorities and handling confrontation in a manner that won’t escalate the situations. I enjoy interacting with people, which comes in handy when having to make calls or write emails, and I don’t mind doing menial tasks whenever needed.”

Miss Darlington nods slowly, writing something down on her notepad. “I can’t say I’m thrilled to learn that you didn’t even apply for yourself, but… Would you say is this a job that you would actually do your best in, regardless of that fact?”

“Oh, absolutely. I have no doubt about that.”

The interview continues, and Claire’s stomach clenches tightly when Peter sets plates in front of the two men. Food is the last thing on her mind right now; she twists her fingers around themselves under the table and waits for the next question. Thankfully, it doesn’t take much longer. Miss Darlington exchanges a look with the guy across the table, leans over to whisper something. Beanie-Head clears his throat, jerking his chin toward the door.

“Looks like your mates wanna say goodbye.”

She glances over to see the group of college guys standing by the booth, the one who’d smacked her ass hesitatingly coming closer. “They’re not my friends.”

“You were talking to them.”

She doesn’t get a chance to say anything before Frat-Boy coughs quietly, looks over his shoulder at his friends, then turns to face her. She raises a brow as her heart starts hammering in her chest. Please don’t make a scene, please don’t repeat what I said, please do not fuck up this interview more than I already have, she begs mentally, though she keeps her expression as neutral as possible. He sighs, scrubbing his hand across the back of his neck.

“I, uh, I just wanted to apologise for how I behaved. For, uh, grabbing your ass. You were right, it was completely unacceptable, and um, I promise I won’t do it to anyone else. So… please don’t hunt me down and kick my ass - I mean, butt. Uh, sorry again. Have a nice day.”

Her cheeks burn as he walks away, and she reluctantly faces the others. Miss Darlington is staring at Claire, brows drawn together and lips pressed into thin lines, but the guy who’d pointed out Frat-Boy’s approach is stifling laughter and failing miserably at it. The man across from her is chewing on his lower lip as his grin fights to break free. Claire shrugs and takes a sip of her water.

“Told ya, we aren’t friends,” she says flippantly with a shrug, and the guys’ laughter rings out in the otherwise quiet dining area.

Outside the restaurant, Claire leans against the wall, digging through her purse until her fingers bump into the edge of her phone; she watches as Miss Darlington ushers the two men into a waiting vehicle then unlocks her phone screen. Tim has sent seventeen texts in the last hour, and she's grateful that she put it on silent and turned off the vibrate function. She sends a quick picture of her flipping off the camera to her brother before opening the Uber app. She hadn't wanted to fight for parking, so she'd taken Tim’s coupon for fifteen percent off her first ride to get to the interview.

The next couple of days go by slowly. Between scouring job listing sites and dealing with her roommates being obnoxious as they always are, Claire feels like she's had no time to herself to decompress. So when Tim calls and asks if she wants to join him and his family at the beach, she jumps on the chance, quickly agreeing and rushing to change into her bikini. She's just pulled a tank-top over her head when someone knocks on the front door. None of the four guys she lives with move from their spots in the living room; she sighs but isn't really surprised. They rarely get the door unless they've ordered pizza. She calls out a goodbye over her shoulder as she steps into the hall and only receives grunts in response.

Claire settles into the backseat of Tim’s car as Deirdre, his wife, slides into the passenger seat. Minnie ignores her in favour of dragging her marker across the page of the colouring book in her lap, but Paul gives her a wide, crumb-filled grin. Their carseats press painfully into her sides; she ignores it as much as she can, though she wonders why she hadn’t told her brother she would meet them at the beach. It would certainly have been less of an agonising trip than this even with as much as she detests traffic. Tim reaches over to turn down the radio, and both kids protest loudly. Minnie falls silent first at the warning glance Deirdre sends her, and Paul follows suit - he’s begun to mimic his older sister, much to her consternation.

“So think you got the job?”

“I dunno. The woman said they’d talk it over and then she’d call me once they’ve made their minds up one way or the other.” Claire shrugs as best she can with two plastic seats pushing against her shoulders. “I don’t figure they’ll call until Monday or so.”

“But do you think you got it?”

She sighs, deciding to be honest. “I… uh, I might not. I kinda told her you’re the one who applied on my behalf and that I hadn’t known about the job listing until you’d already sent in the application.”

“What the Hell, Belle?” groans Tim as he glances at her in the rear-view mirror. “Why would you do that?”

“Honesty is the best policy?”

“Stop talking to Mom, it’s getting weird for her words to come from your mouth.”

“Tim, leave her alone,” Deirdre admonishes her husband before smiling back at Claire.

Thankfully, it isn’t much longer before the car comes to a stop, and Claire turns to unbuckle Paul. Minnie slaps at her hands when Claire tries to help her and unclips the buckles herself, and Deirdre grimaces and mouths an apology. Claire shrugs it off and ducks down to squeeze out of the car. Hot sunshine beats down mercilessly on her shoulders; kids laugh and screech, birds caw overhead, and the briny tinge to the air brings a smile to Claire’s face. She reaches down for her nephew’s hand, wondering how the Hell he managed to get so sticky, and guides him to the wooden stairs that lead to the sand. Once Tim has the canopy set up and the towels spread out, Deirdre squirts an enormous dollop of sunscreen into the palm of her hand before passing it over to Claire. She smears the cream all over Paul’s skin, up under the sleeves and legs of his swimsuit, through his short hair.

Claire follows Minnie to the edge of the water, keeping a close watch on her niece as she runs in and out of the gentle waves. The one thing she’s learnt in the last four years of being an aunt is kids are ridiculously unaware of dangers and will disappear from sight in a blink of an eye. Claire doesn’t think she’d ever be okay with being a mother - the responsibility of children is just… too much for her. At least she has her brother’s kids to spoil instead.


Claire grabs hold of Minnie’s hand, turns toward the canopy where her brother stands; the screen of her cell phone glints in the sunlight. He jogs toward her and passes over the device. Claire waits until he’s got a secure grip on his daughter before she releases the child, stepping away to drag her finger across the screen. She hisses in pain when the hot casing of the phone burns her ear.

“Uh, hello?”

“Hi, Miss Hunter?”

“Yeah, this is she.”

“Fantastic. It’s Abigail Darlington. I was just calling to tell you that we have discussed your potential employment, and we’ve come to the conclusion that you are the candidate who best fits the position’s requirements.”

“Oh.” Claire pauses, lets the words sink in further. “Oh. That’s, wow. That’s great to hear.”

“I’m pleased to hear that. Now, I know it’s last-minute, but would Monday be a good start date for you?”

“Uh, yeah, I - I think so.”

“Wonderful. All right, well, I’ve got some other things to wrap up, but I will be sending you an email sometime this evening with the information you’ll need. We’ll see you first thing Monday morning. Have a great rest of your weekend, Miss Hunter.”

“Th-thanks! You, too, Miss Darlington.”

Claire hangs up and waits until the screen goes to black before she lets out a squeal of delight. Her hips shake from side to side, and she jumps in place. Deirdre laughs and raises a brow. Claire can only screech I got it I got I got it! in response. Minnie collides with her legs, smiling a cheek-splitting grin, and Claire reaches down to pick up the child, hold her close, and spin around in circles. Minnie shrieks happily and tightens her grip around Claire’s neck. Tim throws an arm over his sister’s shoulder, pressing a kiss to her temple.

“Congrats, Belle. I knew you’d get it.”

“You did not, you asshole. You were convinced I’d blown it.”

“That’s in the past, kiddo, gotta let it go!”

She shoves ineffectually at him, laughing nonetheless. She isn’t sure if there’s anything that could bring her down right now. She wasn’t even sure about the job in the first place, but now that it’s hers, she feels like she could float up to join the clouds lazily drifting across the sky. She kisses Minnie’s cheek with a loud smacking noise before setting her niece onto the ground. Tim tells his daughter to go to her mother, and Claire barely waits for him to prepare himself - she takes off running across the scorching sand and, once she’s far enough out, she dives under the surface of the waves. There’s a lightness in her bones and a warmth in her chest that burns with the intensity of a thousand suns.