So Long


Evidently, it’s best to jump straight into new situations, since that’s exactly what Claire is doing. She checks and replies to emails, occasionally having to ask Niall for clarification on whether the message is a priority or if it can be put off until later, and she’s gotten much better at answering calls. Niall had laughed, not unkindly, the first time she’d greeted someone; nerves had caused her to stutter and stumble over her words, flushing bright red when she had to take a deep breath and try again. Thankfully, Niall didn’t comment on it whenever he heard her practising what to say if the phone rang again.

Claire had been surprised at his genuine curiosity on Wednesday when she let herself into the house with a shopping bag in her hand. She’d passed over the coffee she stopped to get for him then pulled out the new planner and pack of pens she bought on her way home the night before. His brows pulled tightly together over his eyes, and his gaze flicked between the scheduler and her face a few times before he hesitantly reminded her that both the laptop and the phone have calendars on them that sync up. She had shrugged in response, said she liked her system, and that was that.

Thursday morning dawns cloudy and grey, and Claire wants nothing more than to stay wrapped up in her blankets. Niall gave her today off, but she knows she can’t enjoy it the way she wants, absolutely not - Abby had warned her that even when she isn’t working, she’s working. So with a sigh, she shoves back her comforter and pads across the room, stretching out her sleep-tense muscles as she goes. She drags a pair of dark skinny jeans from the hanger then shuffles toward her dresser for a top. She yanks the jeans up her legs quickly, shivering in the cool air of her bedroom, then trades her long T-shirt for the tank-top and royal blue sweater.

Once she’s ready for the day, long hair pulled back into a low bun and teeth brushed, Claire gathers up the documents she needs and makes her way through the apartment to the front door. She shoves her feet into her favourite pair of knee-high boots, zips up the sides, and grabs her keys from the hook. A moment’s hesitation, then she grabs the umbrella from the stand by the door. The rack had been her contribution to the apartment shortly after she moved in, after she got tired of stepping in puddles from the guys leaving their wet shoes and sweaters on the floor whenever it rained; they still don’t use umbrellas regularly, but at least they now throw their rain-soaked belongings onto the rack instead of everywhere else.

Thunder rolls overhead, but the rain doesn’t come yet. Claire knows it’s only a matter of time. The leaden clouds roil above the city, and she hopes against hope that they don’t let loose while she’s driving. It seems like whenever it storms, a majority of drivers either decide they don’t know how to drive properly or the low visibility and drenched roads mean “become a speed demon and forgo any and all safety rules”.

The parking lot of the building is surprisingly nearly vacant; only three other cars sit in the spaces, and Claire grins to herself. She takes a moment to double-check the schedule that Abby started, frowns when she sees a business trip planned for the middle of next month. She isn’t quite sure how long the process for a passport takes, but she’s pretty sure it takes more than five weeks. Shrugging, she decides to ask the clerk inside.

Bright spots dance in her vision after the camera goes off, and she blinks rapidly as she steps aside. The woman behind the desk promises that her passport will arrive within a few weeks, definitely in time for her trip. Claire smiles and says a sincere thanks before leaving. The sky is still a sheet of grey and heavy with moisture, the pavement of the parking lot darkened by the rain that’s fallen during the hours she spent inside. She hurries to her car, sending a text message to Niall from the work phone that she’s done with the passport stuff, does he need her to come in today?

He still hasn’t responded by the time she parks outside of Starbucks, and Claire rolls her eyes. Her phone buzzes, but she dismisses the text reminder of her appointment tomorrow with her doctor. She literally set the appointment Monday night, so she’s pretty sure she would have remembered even without the text. She hesitates just inside of the warm building, waits for a reply from her boss, but none comes. So she heads to the counter and asks for her usual drink.

She hasn’t had her job for very long, but already it feels weird to be out among the masses on a weekday instead of in Niall’s house. She honestly would prefer to be there instead of here; the coffeeshop is far too crowded for her liking, and the chairs aren’t nearly as comfortable as the armchair that she has practically claimed as her own in her boss’s living room. Plus, there’s no steady strains of the Eagles or Fleetwood Mac playing in the background. With a sigh, she checks her phone for a text, but the screen remains free of any notifications.

Claire ends up in her parents’ driveway an hour later. She wonders what the hell she’s thinking even as she steps out into the humid air. Her mom and dad have been amazing through everything - typical parents who want to be supportive but also don’t want their child to have to struggle. But Claire is still worried about what they’ll think of their daughter being a personal assistant; they had high hopes for her when she went off to college, and the last thing she wants to do is disappoint them. She knows there isn’t anything shameful about her job - in fact, the fact that it’s so demanding and time-consuming is what makes it the most difficult job she’s ever had. Groaning aloud, she pushes the circling thoughts from her brain and walks up to the front door.

“Who the Hell - Claire Annabelle Hunter, you know better than to scare me like that!” Her mother wipes her hands on the dishtowel hanging over her shoulder then reaches out her arms for a hug. “What are you doing here, baby girl?”

Claire breathes in the scent of cinnamon and sugar that clings to her mother’s hair, reminded so vividly of her childhood. It never seemed to matter how tired or overworked her parents were - they always made time to make memories with their children. She lets her mother hold her for as long as she wants; it’s been almost a month since Claire has come by for a visit. When they part, she follows her mom into the kitchen and instantly makes her way to the sink. She washes her hands as her mom fills her in on the new events in their lives - which isn’t much, considering the sleepy neighbourhood the Hunter parents live in, the same group of friends they’ve had for years. Melissa pins her daughter with a pointed look as Claire starts rolling the dough.

“So, Elsie was ’round the other day. Her boy, Ben, got accepted into Harvard, did you know that?”

“Yes, Mom. I know. Tim told me, just like you told him to. Congrats to Ben.”

“He’s such a good boy.”

“I’m sure he is, Mom.”

“I think you two would be so cute together.”

And there it is. “I’m not interested in dating right now. I mean, I’ve just started my job, and it’s… a mess, quite frankly.” Claire holds up a hand to stem her mother’s protests. “Seriously. I have only been working for less than a week. Give me some time to settle in, and maybe I’ll reconsider. But for now? I’m going to focus on myself.”

“If you’re sure. Tell me about this job of yours then.”

Claire hesitates but then relents. Her mother mmms at the appropriate times as Claire describes the duties she’s had to do over the last few days. The awkwardness buzzing under her skin causes her to stumble over her words, but thankfully, Melissa doesn’t say anything derogatory. Instead, she places a hand on Claire’s, stopping her daughter from transferring the cinnamon rolls to the baking sheet.

“I’m really proud of you, Belle, and I hope you keep enjoying this job. I really do.”

“Thanks, Mom.”

Matt is the only one in the apartment when she comes through the door. She hangs her keys on the hook and gives him a questioning look. He shrugs, goes back to playing Diablo III. Rolling her eyes, Claire makes her way to her bedroom and changes into a pair of sweats. She tosses her jeans and the sweater she wore into the hamper, heading back out to the living room. Guilt niggles at her when she realises that it’s been quite a while since she even spoke to Matt, though they’re roommates and have been for the past year.

“Look at you, all professional and shit,” he comments as she sits on the couch, and she shoves lightly at his shoulder. “Wanna play?”

Claire thinks for less than a second then shrugs. “Yeah, why not.”

He tosses her the extra controller, quits the game he’s currently playing, and settles back against the sofa to let her choose which character she wants to play as. The next few minutes are spent with him explaining the game, her learning the controls, and then merciless killing of the monsters in the game. It’s fun, and Claire feels herself relaxing more and more as she plays. Matt looks over at her for a moment then reaches for the lighter on the table, and Claire frowns at the smell that fills the air. She doesn’t say anything, though; it isn’t her place to remark on him smoking a joint, not when it’s his apartment. She bites back her sigh, focuses on the game.

Niall still hasn’t texted by the time she wakes up at six the next morning. Claire doesn’t let it get to her, though. She knows he has been enjoying the bit of time to himself before he gets busy again, so she sends a quick message to him, reminding him of her doctor’s appointment this morning, and promises to be at his as soon as her check-up is over. She changes quickly into a pair of dark jeans and a long-sleeved top the colour of a plum. Grabbing a black blazer and the messenger bag for work, she heads out to the front door, pushing her feet into her ankle boots.

She fully expects to be sat in the waiting room of the doctor’s office for longer, but she gets called back only ten minutes past the appointment time. The nurse is friendly but efficient, and soon enough, Claire is walking out of the office with an updated immunisation record and mild throbbing in both of her arms from the vaccinations. She tucks the papers into the messenger bag and hurries out to her car. Her phone beeps just as she slides into the driver’s seat.

>> Feel free to come hang out but there isn’t anything on the schedule for the day

<< You sure? I don’t want you to get sick of me already.

Niall’s response is a laugh-cry emoji and a reassurance that he won’t mind her company. So she puts her car in drive and points the wheels toward his house.