So Long


Her alarm goes off, the sound of Sugar Ray’s Every Morning too much to handle this early, and Claire damn near hisses like an angry cat as she reaches blindly for her phone. Unfortunately, her flailing knocks the device to the floor and, judging by the sound, under her bed. She groans and debates whether she should even get out of bed right now. She hadn’t fallen asleep until after three because of the guys, and now it’s six a.m. and she’s exhausted.

The thought of disappointing Niall and losing her job on her second day is the only reason Claire forces herself to move. She stumbles sleepily to the closet and stares with bleary eyes at the four professional outfits Deirdre had bought for her. They all look identical to her, but her sister-in-law had been adamant they were all necessary. Claire reaches for the clothes hanging closest to her, not giving a damn what shade of blue the shirt is or whether there are or are not pinstripes on the pants. Her movements are awkward, slow, stilted, as she changes, and she somehow manages to not fall on her face while she steps into the slacks.

The apartment is dark and silent when she shuffles down the hall. Claire slips her feet into a pair of low heels; with as tired as she is, she has a feeling that if she goes for pumps, she’ll fall on her face and die. Her keys jingle loudly as she grabs them off the key-hook. She doesn’t even try to close the front door quietly behind her, just locks it quickly and heads down the stairs.

Unsurprisingly, traffic is just as nightmarish as usual. Claire somehow manages to not get into a wreck, and she finally pulls up in front of the house forty-five minutes later. Her head is pounding from a mixture of exhaustion and lack of caffeine. Locking the car behind her, she makes her way up the walk and to the front door. She hesitates just outside - is she supposed to just walk in? Knock? Do a weird little jig on the doorstep in hopes that it’ll alert him somehow that she’s here? - but she doesn’t have long to wait. The door opens, and she’s greeted by Niall’s grinning face.

“Abby told me to tell you she’s sorry that she forgot to give you the spare key.”

“Well, tell Abby… yeah, I don’t even know. Morning.”

“You look tired.”

“If that’s your polite, Irish way of saying I look like shit, thanks, you’re not wrong. I am tired.”

He steps aside so she can enter the house, and Claire flashes him a grateful smile that only grows when he promises her that there’s coffee in the kitchen. A man sits at the table, staring down at the screen of his phone, but he looks up at the sound of Claire’s footsteps. She waves vaguely; her attention is solely on the beautiful machinery on the counter that holds the only thing she cares about. Niall is nice enough to get a mug from the cupboard without her having to ask, and his eyes are shining with amusement at the grabby hands she makes in his direction. She doesn’t bother with sugar or milk, just takes a sip and muffles a hiss when the coffee burns her tongue.

“Claire, this is Sean Mulholland, my best mate. Mully, this is Claire.”

“Hi.” Claire keeps her hands wrapped around the mug, though she does give him a pleasant smile. “Sorry, I’ll be better at this whole human thing in a few.”

Mully grins and shakes his head. “It’s understandable. Far too early in the morning for social interaction. It’s nice to meet you, Claire, but I’d best be off. Work and all.”

“Don’t remind me that working is a vital requirement to adulting,” she groans, feeling oddly victorious when both men laugh.

Niall turns to her once Mully has left the kitchen, and Claire swallows another mouthful of coffee before preparing herself for listening. To her surprise, all he does is announce that he’s going to have a lazy morning, and she’s free to join in; he says he didn’t sleep well last night, so the only thing he wants to do is lounge around and listen to music, but Claire thinks that it isn’t the sole reason. Can he possibly be making an excuse to make her day easier? She shoos the thought away, finishes her coffee.

Claire feels awkward just sitting on the couch, but Niall doesn’t seem to notice. In fact, he appears perfectly comfortable with where she is and the fact that she isn’t doing any sort of job that she’s been hired to do. After a long thirty minutes, Claire clears her throat quietly and asks if there is anything about the job that she needs to know. Niall frowns, but she can’t question it before he’s answering her inquiry. There are a lot of names that he recites, and she struggles a bit to write them down along with the dietary restrictions he tells her he has - mostly because he keeps bouncing back and forth between the subjects without warning - but this is something she can do. Having a task to focus on settles the unease in her gut.

Claire checks the list against the items in the grocery cart. She hasn’t missed anything, she doesn’t think, so she heads to the checkout. The cashier behind the register barely looks away from his hands as he scans the items, and she doesn’t try to initiate conversation. She is still tired, her mental processes seeming to lag the longer she’s on her feet. The only reason that she came to the store is because she’d seen the shopping list pinned to the fridge, asked Niall if it was part of her job to get groceries, and been somewhat surprised when he said no.

“Well, not really?” he amended at the way her brows raised to her hairline. “I mean, Abby never really did the shopping, I usually use delivery services, but if you want to, feel free to do it whenever as long as we’re not busy.”

Claire slams the trunk closed and puts the cart in the corral. Her phone rings just as she’s sliding into the driver’s seat of her car. She waits until she’s started up the engine and the device connects to the Bluetooth before answering the call.

“Yes, Boss Man?”

“Hey, so, uh, wanna pick up some lunch on your way back? Nothing in the fridge sounds appealing. Unless you’re already close to here, then don’t worry about it. I’m sure I can find something here that sounds good -”

“Do you always ramble so damn much when asking someone a simple question, or is this a special occasion to drive me nuts?” she mutters as he’s speaking, and she claps a hand over her mouth, hoping against hope that he didn’t hear her.

“- But if you’re still out, I could really go for a Big Mac.”

There’s a clacking noise, a sharp intake of breath, and Claire knows she has no luck whatsoever. Her brain screams that this is the reason she will be out of a job - again. And how is she going to explain that to Tim after he got her the job in the first place? She closes her eyes and clears her throat.

“Sure, I can stop by McDonald’s, text me what you want, ‘kay, bye!”

She hangs up before he can say anything else. Her cheeks burn painfully, and her skin feels hot and cold in turns. Her phone buzzes in the cupholder, and she looks at the message. All it says is Niall’s order, and she’s thankful that he hasn’t mentioned her comment yet. On the other hand, it makes her even more nervous about getting back to the house; is he going to wait for her to pass over the food then fire her? Her stomach growls, loud in the silence of the car, but she knows if she eats, she’s going to throw up. So she just requests and pays for the food her boss wants, sets it on the passenger seat, and drives back to his house.

It’s odd, isn’t it, how the things a person is looking forward to seem to take forever to arrive, but the second they don’t want something to happen, time flies by until they have no choice but to face the event. Claire’s hands clench around the steering wheel, and she tries to convince herself to get out of the vehicle, take the groceries and McDonald’s food into the house, and face the music of what she’s done. It takes a lot more pep-talk than she anticipated, but eventually, she shoves open her door and does as she’s been demanding of herself.

Niall greets her at the door on her second trip into the house, remaining silent until she’s set the canvas grocery bags on the table in the kitchen. Nervousness burns along her flesh under his heavy scrutiny, but she busies herself with putting the food away. Eventually, she runs out of things to do, so steeling herself, she turns to face her boss, clasps her hands together behind her back. He doesn’t move from where he’s leaning against the archway; his brow raises when he sees that her attention is on him.

“So I ramble to drive you nuts, do I?”

Claire swallows past the lump in her throat. “I, I am so sorry about that. I didn’t mean it, not really. I swear it won’t happen again. Please don’t fire me.”

Niall’s serious expression breaks at her begging. He laughs, shaking his head, and Claire cocks her head and frowns. He sits down in one of the chairs, gestures to the one across from him. She lowers herself on shaky knees into the seat.

“I was wondering when your real personality would show.”

“Wh-what do you mean?”

“Had a feeling that you weren’t nearly as sweet and charming all the time as you seemed yesterday.” His words crack with another chuckle. Claire scowls as he visibly gets control of himself again. “Sorry, sorry. Look, Claire, I’m not going to fire you over a snappy comment like that. Abby said a lot worse than that, and I still kept her around, right? Her efficiency was only part of why I liked her.”

“I’m still sorry. It wasn’t professional.”

He snorts inelegantly. “Does anything of the last two days scream professional to you? Just… don’t be completely disrespectful, and I’m sure we’ll get along fine. I like someone with a little fire in their blood much more than I like passive pushovers.”

Claire leaves a few hours later feeling much more secure in her employment status than she had when she returned with his lunch. She’d tested out his tolerance for quips and witticisms, and he responded wonderfully, laughing each and every time. She hadn’t wanted to push it too far, though, so she kept them to a minimum. And if she’s driving home with the warmth of his laughter beneath her ribs, then who needs to know?

Her roommates are in various states of undress - and sobriety - when she walks in the front door. Claire breezes past them, unwilling to risk being caught in their stoned discussions. She does make a stop in the kitchen to grab a Diet Coke from the fridge before heading down the hall. Once she has her bedroom door locked behind her, she hurries to change out of her pantsuit and into a pair of leggings and a baggy sweater. Tim sent a text earlier in the day, asking how her second day went. Her heart swells with his concern.

<< You busy?
<< Because I kiiiiiiiinda fucked up

>> ????????

<< My boss now knows I’m a foul-mouthed smartass…

>> BELLE. He wasnt supposed to find that out until AFTER he figured out he couldnt live without your subpar PA skills!!!

Tim’s response wasn’t unexpected, but it still catches her off-guard. Claire giggles quietly, popping the tab on her soda, and types back with one hand while taking a sip with the other.

<< Don’t be an ass. Besides, he didn’t seem to mind. He actually kinda encouraged it.


“Yeah, yeah, shut up, dummy,” she mutters even as she sends back a Fuck you, Timmy.

She can’t help but wonder if maybe Tim might be onto something, though.