“Happy birthday.” Chantarell grinned to Sean as they crossed paths in the woods, slightly before dusk, Chantarell leaving his house, as he headed towards it.
“Yeah, thanks.” he said quietly, not quite making eye contact with her, still obviously quite a bit upset about all the secrets that surrounded she and her family, his family.
“Oh cheer up. I left you a present.” she told him with a wink as she moved past him, back towards her own home, “Goodbye Sean.” she added with an almost wistful sadness that somehow didn’t fit with the small smile she still wore, but moved past him, more quickly, without any further explanation.
He just shook his head at her words. Though, when he did arrive at his home, the time he was giving himself to find a way to be with Claire, without letting himself be distracted by finding out the whole truth about them, had now run out. What interrupted his thoughts though, was not Claire, as she no longer was waiting there in the living area of the home. What threw him was when he saw the bag that Chantarell had seemingly forgotten there at his home.
He sighed once more as he bent to retrieve it, figuring he could just return it to her, since she still couldn’t have been that far off, but as he leaned down, his eyes spied a note, addressed to him. Sean took another deep breath and took a moment to consider, then finally picked up the note, and began unfolding it. On the note, was scrawled the following words:
We know it’s been hard for you, more than hard, to accept all of our secrets; but what we need you to remember is that though we may seem strange to you, all we have ever done is try to help you find your own way and make you own life. And now that you have, just remember that we wanted nothing more for you or from you. Yes, we’ve asked you to keep secrets, but we’ve never caused you or your love any harm, despite all of our strange ways. And though this doesn’t supply you with any of the answers you think you want; we hope that it will help the next phase of your life to be happier than it ever had been before. We may be unsolved mysteries to you and Claire both, but we do care greatly about you and wish the best for your future together. And we can only offer you this as a means to attain that future happiness that has been so long overdue in your life.
Your strange, but loving, family.
Sean swallowed a bit upon reading the mysterious note, and then slowly moved his eyes back to the bag the note had rested upon. He took one more breath, and then moved to open the bag. Inside, he found no less than the equivalent of five thousand dollars, in cash: An amount that no one in that day could even have imagined, let alone, laid eyes upon. And his shock as he gazed upon the money was enough so to make him almost forget that, outside, the sun was now setting in the sky above his new home, and that, unbeknownst to him, his odd family were now disappearing into the night, beyond the only other home he had ever known.
“It’s dark out.” Claire’s voice interrupted his stunned silence as he still knelt near the bag when she stepped out from his bedroom, into the doorway between the two rooms, “And I’m still here. Guess you really will have to marry me now.” she teased, though still spoke to him warily.
Sean couldn’t help smiling, at not just her words, as he turned back to her, “Hi.” he stated softly as he moved to stand once more.
“That’s all you have to say, after being missing for two weeks?” she teased further, only relaxing slightly at the sight of his smile.
“Sorry?” he said with a small shrug, still a little too shocked by his ‘present’ to be very eloquent.
“You’re going to have to do better than that.” she scolded, though still smiled, while still not finding enough of her own confidence to move from the doorway just yet.
Sean just looked down again, as his smile deepened before he moved over to where she still leaned upon his bedroom doorway, “Very sorry?” he chuckled as he moved in to wrap her in a hug that this time seemed more joyful and loving, than just passionate.
“You’re just lucky it’s your birthday.” Claire chuckled as she let herself move easily into his arms, wrapping him in her own as well, holding him quite tightly there, almost as though to be sure he really was there in her arms once again.
“Now, I’m not trying to take off on you again, but I really do need to go to the Torrence house again.” he told her apologetically.
She then moved back from his arms as she looked up at him disappointedly, “You’re not serious. As much as I like Chan, the last time you did that, I had to wait two weeks to see you again.” she reminded, “I was going crazy, thinking I did something wrong!”
“No, Claire it’s not that, it’s just” he then glanced back toward the bag full of cash, “Come here.” he switched gears mid-sentence as he moved away, gesturing for her to follow him back over to the bag.
She sighed, still a bit annoyed at his suggestion of leaving her side once more, but followed him nonetheless.
“This is why I have to go see them.” he stated with another breath, as he leaned down once more, and opened the bag to show her the contents, which caused her breath to catch as well as she moved closer, to squint down at the bag in the now much darker interior of the home. As if reading her thoughts, Sean moved to light a nearby candle, bringing it back over to where she still gazed down at the bag, “It looks like it’s nearly five thousand.” he shook his head again, upon saying the words out loud, “See why I need to see them? This is crazy.”
Claire shook her head, still not turning her eyes from the money, “What’s that note say?”
“It sounds like they’re leaving it to me---to us.” he added.
“Well, yeah” his voice trailed off as their eyes finally met, seeming to both have the same thought at once.
“Well, let’s go.” Claire added as she stood again, waiting for him to follow.
“Us?” he repeated with a raised brow as he also stood.
“As you pointed out, it is pretty ridiculous that I’ve known Chan for three years without ever having met the other two. And even more ridiculous if she thinks she’s going to get away with going anywhere without even saying goodbye to me!” Claire stated firmly as she moved to push the door open, before Sean even could get it for her.
He just shook his head at her determination, but quickly moved to follow her, candle still in hand as she started through the yard and across the road, Sean hurrying to lock the door and still catch up with her determined footsteps, casting another glance at the stars above, knowing he should insist on returning her to her own home instead of the one place she had always been forbidden to go, but somehow doubting he’d win that argument.
It was only a moment before they were about to step out of the grassy patch between the forest and the road, and into those woods, when the sound of a carriage approaching upon that road, caused them both to turn back again. It was then that they saw that it was her father, coming to a noisy halt in front of Sean’s house, several feet off from where they had been just about to enter the woods again.
“What exactly do you think you’re doing, Claire?” he asked her angrily, not subtle about the accusatory look he gave Sean as well, “Your mother’s been pitching a fit since she found out you were gone, which means I had to come looking for you. It’s after nine already, and dark out, and who the hell are you?” he asked the last question to Sean as he moved down from the carriage and toward the grassy patch near the tree line where they still stood.
“Dad” Claire stammered a bit, giving Sean the time to interrupt.
“My sincere apologies, Mr. Wallace.” he began, upon hearing the way Claire had addressed the man, “I only made the acquaintance of you wife briefly, but not yours, I’m afraid. My name is Sean, Sean Beringer, and...”
“The one who wants to marry her?” he scoffed, speaking as though Claire weren’t even present, then continued, “Well, considering how close you’re standing to her, and the hour it is, you’re damn right you’re marrying her, especially now.” he told Sean roughly, his insinuation obvious, “But right now, you’re getting your ass home before they have any more talk to spread about you!” he ordered his daughter as he moved to roughly grab her arm and began pulling her back toward the carriage.
“But, dad” she protested weakly as Sean looked on, not exactly sure what his best course of action should honestly be, as the entire evening still had him quite a bit more confused than was ever usual, despite the strange company he and Claire both had kept in recent times.
“Not a word from you!” her father bit out as he rushed her into the carriage in front of him, barely wasting another moment before whipping the horse into action and heading back down the road once more.
Upon pushing her back through the door of their own home that night, her father just slammed the door behind them and moved past her to get himself a glass of liquor as his wife stood quickly upon their return, “Was she at that horrible Torrence house, Benjamin?” her mother worriedly asked her husband as he just shook his head and took another swig.
“No, there ain’t nobody there, at all.” he answered her briefly, with an annoyed shake of his head, as if even having to acknowledge his daughter’s existence long enough to retrieve her that night, was an incredible inconvenience to him.
“What?” both she and her mother asked at once, though with very different tones, though her mother’s question was followed by a look of warning for her daughter not to interrupt their conversation again.
“The place is completely abandoned. And good riddance.” her father returned with another swig, “But I guess that’s why she’s moved on to new ways to embarrass us.” he scoffed and downed another mouthful of the hard liquor.
“What?” her mother said, her relief at hearing of the Torrence’s seeming departure quickly replaced by an icy look of suspicion that she centered on Claire, upon hearing her husband’s words.
“I didn’t do anything!” Claire had to jump to her own defense, ignoring the way her father scoffed at her denial.
“Go to your room, now.” her mother growled.
“Well, if you’re deciding what I’ve allegedly done, then shouldn’t I be in the goddamn room to tell you you’re wrong?” Claire argued further, her own temper, which she so often tried to force down, easily came to the fore at last.
“Now!” her mother exclaimed with even more fury, obviously infuriated by not only Claire’s argumentativeness, but her word usage as well.
Claire just glared at them both and shook her head vehemently as she stormed off to her own room, nearly cracking the wood with the force of the door slam that punctuated her exit.
“What was she doing?” her mother finally asked her father after taking a long moment to try to calm her own anger after Claire’s departure from the room, not sure she wanted to actually know the answer.
“Heading off into the woods with that idiot who wants to marry her.” Benjamin Wallace shook his head again, “And I can at least figure out why he said he wanted to, now.” he added the amazingly off-color comment, about his own daughter, in a cynical monotone, the statement itself causing his wife’s breath to catch as she took a seat on the couch, dramatically moving her hand to her heart with a shake of her head.
“So, you think she has, then, let him, you know” her mother asked in a shaky whisper.
“Why else would any man want her?” was her father’s simple response as he took yet another drink.
It was then, from her place leaning against the inside of her bedroom door, where Claire’s tears welled up at the sound of her father’s words. She tried to force back some combination of a choke and a cough as she moved, through tear-blurred eyes to try and grab as many of her belongings as she could, the tears streaming freely down her pretty cheeks. She choked back more tears as she shoved random items into the garment bag from the pretty dress Chantarell had given her so long ago. She then finally moved to toss the bag out of her bedroom window, following behind it, herself, and heading off toward the woods, the hugely awkward bag in tow. It was in that moment that she decided that there was only one place in the world where she could go and maybe, just possibly, finally be loved.
It was after nearly eleven that night when Sean returned to his home after going and finding that the Torrence home was, indeed, completely abandoned, all their belongings, and even their horses, gone without a trace. He moved around the home for quite some time, trying to find some clue or hint, or reason, for their departure but found none, especially when his investigative skills were already lacking through his own worry at how much trouble Claire was now in with her parents as well. He took a deep breath as he made his way back to his front door and began unlocking it once again.
It was then that he was startled by Claire appearing from where she had hidden herself away inside the only half-built barn which sat several feet off from his house, “Claire?” he greeted her, squinting through the darkness as she stepped out from behind one of the completed walls of the barn.
“You came back.” was her greeting, which seemed to be choked out through tears, which he still had not been close enough to see yet.
“I do live here.” he said slowly, worriedly as he finally moved toward where she still leaned heavily upon the outer wall, her beautiful eyes still cast downwards.
“Can I too?” she whispered through more tears as he moved more quickly to take her in his arms, pulling her close to him once again.