Word Count: 2,484
He grew distracted from what her father was saying at the sound of her coming home. He had caught glimpses of her here in this new life, but not many and not for very long. If he didn't know better he would think she planned and wanted it that way. He could understand that. He was the only one who knew what he'd found that night.
They'd picked a location where Claire could go to college and still live at home until she felt comfortable living on her own. The Haitian wasn't sure that time would ever come, but he was not a professional on the subject.
It was late, far too late for any night class she might be taking to let out. He caught her father glancing at the clock much the same way he did.
"Hi Daddy," she said, eyes falling briefly on him. He never understood the look in her eyes when she saw him. It wasn't anything he could define and it confused him. Was she upset that he'd left? He had only once assured she was content with her family. As if he'd known what to do with her if she had not been. Did she think he'd told her father all?
"I'm going up to my room. G'night."
"Night," he said with a wave. The Haitian wondered what it was like for Claire to have the love of her father. It was something he had never experienced; love, at least not in this form. Selfless. Her father would have moved the heavens and the earth to get her back. He probably would have sold his soul if that's what it had taken.
Both men were quiet until they heard the sound of her footsteps heading upstairs fade.
"I don't know what's gotten into her. She's never home."
"That is normal for a girl her age, is it not?"
"But I never see who she's going out with. She's always meeting up with people here or there, never at home."
"She lives at home, perhaps her friends do not."
"That could be it," Noah said, clearly distracted now from what they had been plotting moments ago. "It's just there are different boys calling here every week and she comes home late, looking like she just came from the back seat of her car."
The Haitian did not know what to say to that. He had noticed she looked a little disheveled, but had assumed it was just the natural progression of her day. Obviously, her father knew better.
"Would you like me to talk with her?"
"I'm not sure it will do any good. The counselor we send her to indicates she's not very talkative."
"He reveals that?"
"He hasn't said what she has talked about and I haven't asked for specifics. Just generalities. I've been concerned. She doesn't sleep well. She wakes up in the middle of the night sometimes and no one can soothe her. Her appetite is better, but she still isn't eating much. And there are times she does something wrong and I think…" he trailed off. "I'm just not sure what to think. If you could tell me where you found her, maybe…"
"That is not an option. That is for her to divulge if and when she's ready."
"Just who are you loyal to?"
"The young woman who was missing and hurt for years. It is not my place to reveal her secrets."
"I can't help her."
"You are doing what you can for her. Knowing specifics would not help you further. You've gotten her counseling. If she's ready to discuss those experiences she will."
"And if she isn't?"
He shrugged. "I do not know."
"Do you think she will talk to you?"
"I do not know the answer to that either. She seemed attached to me, yes, as the one who saved her. And she knows I am special as she is."
"Do you think that's it? That she has this ability that she can't use openly?"
"It could be. Having to hide what she is may be painful to her."
"Go talk to her."
"And our plans?"
"They can wait. She's more important."
The Haitian stood, hesitating at the door.
"What?" Noah asked.
"It is acceptable I speak with her in her room?"
"You were alone with her for days. If I trusted you with her then I certainly do now in a house full of people."
He ascended the stairs, finding her room easily. He had heard her a time or two on the phone when he was here. Talking with boys he imagined, which was a normal thing to do. At least he assumed it was. Normal for him was far from the path most walked.
He knocked lightly, pushing open the door at the same time. She sat on her bed, brushing her hair out. She had worn it in a braid earlier he'd noticed, which made waves in her hair now that she had removed it.
"Hi," she said simply.
"I didn't think you were talking to me anymore."
"Why would you think that?"
"You haven't said one word to me since you brought me back to Texas."
"I was not sure you wished me to speak with you."
"Well, not talking to me isn't a way to find out."
He smiled at that. "I suppose not. I figured if you wished to speak with me you would initiate the conversation."
"You're always with my dad."
"Do you wish to speak with me, Claire?"
He took a seat at her desk, facing her, his arms draped over the back of the chair. She looked better. He wasn't sure if the couple of months away from her had dulled his memory or if she really had improved that much. He hoped it was the latter rather than the former.
"I can leave you my number. You can call as you need to. Your father says you are seeing a counselor."
"He's an idiot."
"Why do you say that?"
"He has no idea what I went through."
"How do you know that?"
"I can just tell. His eyes glaze over when I start to say anything, as if I'm making it up somehow. And for some reason whatever the police found the night you called them doesn't seem to have made headlines. He'd probably think the article influenced me anyway."
He paused, mulling that over for a moment. It was very possible what she said was true. It was also possible she was either exaggerating or seeing things that weren't really there and using that as an excuse not to get the help she needed.
"I am sorry. Perhaps your father would find you another counselor if you told him."
She looked away then, twisting the brush in her hands.
"I'll figure it out on my own."
"You do not have to do it on your own. The counselor is a fool if he thinks you are making it up, you need one who is not."
She shrugged. "I don't really want to talk about it anyway. What good is it going to do?"
"It will help you realize you did nothing wrong and that you are now safe."
"I just want to go on with my life."
"Is that the reason you go out with so many different boys?"
"Who says I am?"
"What is he following me?"
"No, he observes your phone conversations and the names of those leaving messages for you from what I gathered."
"Unbelievable. I'm just making friends."
"What is it you're trying to say? And, no, they're not all boys."
"I know I cannot begin to fathom what you went through."
"That's right, you can't."
"I close my eyes and I see that room, I see you, and I know that does not do your experience justice."
"And you don't think I do that? You don't think I close my eyes and see my room for the past three years? The other girls? Smell it? That I don't check my hair to make sure there's nothing in it that shouldn't be there on an hourly basis. That I don't dream of it? That I don't wake up, forgetting for the first few minutes that I'm really back home?"
"I am sure you do. I cannot fathom what goes through your head. However, seeking solace in boys is not the way to heal."
"Solace? You think I'm out sleeping with every guy on campus as a way to get better? To forget? Is that what my dad thinks?"
"It would not be unheard of for a woman in your circumstances to go that route. And I cannot help but recall how you woke me up your first night with me."
"Oh my God! I'm going out on dates. I'm trying to be normal. Isn't that why my dad moved us all the way to California? So I could have a chance at being normal? Girls my age date."
"They do, but I think it is the frequency with which you date different boys that has your father worried." He gestured to her with his hand. "And the fact you come home looking as if you slept in your clothes."
"You told him!"
"I told him nothing, but it was your father who found the ad for you. He's a smart man, so I believe he can put two and two together to come up with four, Claire. It is not my place to confide in him where or under what conditions I found you. That is for you to do when you are ready."
"I don't want him to know."
"He's my dad!"
"I'm not sure I understand."
"He already thinks he failed me somehow."
"I think all who care about you do. You were taken from them. It is natural to assume that they failed in protecting you to the best of their abilities."
"He couldn't have stopped it."
"And you think you could have?"
"I knew better!" She looked at him then and he saw the tears. He wasn't sure she'd actually cried yet, not when she was awake anyway. "It was engrained in me from childhood. Stranger Danger. Don't approach a car."
"That is how they approached you?"
"Yes, asking for directions. They had a map…"
He stood from the chair and made his way to her. He stooped in front of her, placing a hand on her knee.
"Claire, you did nothing wrong."
"But my parents, my teachers all warned us. We had police officers come to our classrooms and tell us…"
Her voice was barely a whisper now, the tears falling freely making marks on her pants as they dropped from her cheeks.
"Look at me. I'm not your father, I'm not your teacher, I'm not a counselor, but I know you did nothing wrong. You thought you were helping someone."
"I should have known."
"How could you have?"
"I don't know. I just want them to like me."
"Who?" he asked with a frown.
"The people at school."
"I go out a lot because I want to be liked."
"Oh," he said softly. "And you think that is the way to get liked?"
"I don't know. You're the only person who's stopped me."
"Prior to this you had no choice. There was no stopping for you, Claire. Do you not understand that?"
"I know, but when I did it right they didn't hurt me."
"You should never have to do something in exchange for someone to not hurt you, Claire."
"I'm not sure I know any different."
"That is what the counselor is for. Tell your father the one you are currently seeing is not suitable to you and find a new one. I am always available to lend an ear, but I cannot take the place of serious assistance in what you have experienced."
"And you should not be going out with so many boys."
"It's not that many."
"You are bound to get a reputation. And then where will you be?"
"Do guys really talk about stuff?"
"Some," he said, not that he had experience on the matter.
"I'm just not sure I know how to do anything else."
"Just be yourself."
"That's the problem, I'm not sure who I am."
"I would recommend staying away from potentially disastrous situations until you figure it out."
She sniffled, her shoulders shaking as she fought to control her crying.
"Take my memories away. Isn't that what you said you can do?"
"Yes," he whispered.
"I do not think it would be wise in this situation."
"Because I do not know that erasing the memories takes away the feelings you are experiencing because of what was done to you. That could cause you to have more of a problem, not understanding why you are behaving and feeling the way you are."
"I will make a deal with you."
"You tell your father you want a different counselor and truly try to find one who believes you and can help you. If you do and still wish me to then we will discuss it again. I cannot in good conscious do it now. I would not approve nor would your father."
"And you work for him, right?"
"So, even if I tell you later I want you to if you think he'd disapprove you still won't."
"I'm making a deal with you not your father, but you must sincerely try, Claire. I have not provided your father with the answers he seeks as to the circumstances under which I found you. And I will not."
"Why haven't you?"
"That is your secret to tell. When you're ready, if you're ever ready. He may not really want to know anyway."
"You're probably right."
"So we have a deal?"
"You realize I'll know if you're lying?"
"When I take the memories I am able to see what I take. That is how I know how deep to go. I will know if you did not truly try. And I will stop the moment I see that is the case."
"All right," she said, sounding like she might have been thinking of doing just that.
"I will need the names and numbers of the boys you have," he paused, searching for the correct words. "Gone on dates with."
"I will take care of their memories."
"Because you do not need that type of reputation, Claire. One day, you will thank me."
She laughed softly.
"Okay, maybe not thank me. One day you will understand. Is that better?"
"Are you sure it's not just to ease my dad's mind?"
"All right," she said softly.
Info. on icons used for background:
The non-illustrated icon is courtesy of lay-of-luthien @ LJ. She's got some nice work, and did this and 4 others very quickly! The illustrated icon is courtesy of: julietbunny who gave me this in addition to some other great goodies for the Heroes_Holidays Spring Hiatus project.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com