Word Count: 3,333
It didn't take him long to find her again. She wasn't sure what she expected, but the next day wasn't it. Claire was in her room doing her homework after church, one of those blending-in things the Butler's did every Sunday.
"Claire," her dad called up.
"There's someone here to see you."
"Be right down."
Assuming it was West, she took a minute to brush her hair and put some lip gloss on before making her way downstairs. As a last thought, she grabbed her sweater in case he wanted to go outside. Things were tense between West and her father, to say the least.
She stopped short when she saw Adam sitting on her mother's couch. Straight and proud, hands at his knees he sat taking in his surroundings. He didn't look uncomfortable exactly, but didn't appear to be enjoying himself either. She didn't know how long he'd been alive, but it was pretty clear he didn't exactly belong in this time and place.
Would she notice that if she didn't know? Did her father know? Suspect? He stood as soon as he saw her and she couldn't help but smile.
"Hi," she said.
"I wasn't expecting you," she said, glancing at her dad. He wasn't sitting in the living room, looking as if he was going to kill Adam. That was good. He was leaning in the doorway, watching them intently.
"You should introduce me to your friend."
"Uh, yeah, Dad this is Adam."
"Adam," her dad said, offering him his hand. Adam took it.
"Nice to meet you, sir."
"How did you two meet?"
"At the library," Claire said quickly. It was the only thing she could come up with that sounded both reasonable and believable.
Claire shrugged, read in his eyes that her dad didn't totally believe her. Smart man, considering she was lying through her teeth.
"I just wondered if you felt like a walk."
"Sure," she glanced at her dad. "Is that okay?"
"I suppose. Don't be gone long."
"I won't, I still have homework."
"I wasn't expecting you so soon," she said once they were outside.
"You find that something you've been searching for what seems like an eternity for, Miss Butler, you don't let it get away."
"You've been searching for me for an eternity?"
"Now that I know you exist, it does feel that way. I'd lost hope."
He chuckled, reaching for her. He wrapped some of her hair around one of his fingertips. "Claire… May I call you Claire?"
"Sure… Is there a reason you shouldn't?"
"Thank you, old habits are hard to break."
"I suppose they would be."
He touched her cheek then, hesitantly almost as if he didn't believe she was real.
"I've finally found my princess."
"I'm not a princess. And if you hadn't noticed I'm dating someone. You can't just walk up to someone and …"
"That boy you went to the film with? And I'm not just walking up to someone. I'm saying it to you."
"You can't do that!"
"I can and I did. You don't get it. I've spent centuries believing I was the only one, doomed to walk this earth alone. No boy is going to stand in my way of having that dream, the dream of no longer needing to walk alone, come true."
"I'm not the answer to your dreams. You're talking centuries. Centuries! Do you hear yourself? I'm just a girl. I'm still in high school, a cheerleader, who lies to her dad, and goes out on dates. With boys who don't lay this type of deep stuff on me. At least not when I've just met them."
"And what will you feel sixty years from now when he's old and dying? His mind so riddled with Alzheimer's that he no longer remembers you? Believes maybe you're a grandchild because you look the same as you do now? Or close to it. How will you explain to your grandchildren that they're growing older and dying but you're not? How will you survive watching everyone around you die again and again and again, leaving you constantly alone and starting over?"
"I don't know."
He drew her to him, pressing his forehead against hers. He felt normal, like anyone else. There was nothing about him physically that betrayed the fact he was years and years old. She rested her hand against his chest and felt his heart beat under her fingertips. Further proof that he was a living, breathing man.
"I've been doing it, but I assure you it's neither fun nor easy. I have found you; I will not let you go without a fight. And if you think I cannot win, you are quite wrong. If I set my mind to obtaining something, I succeed."
"I get that about you."
"Then we're clear."
"No, we're not so much with the being clear. I'm not something you can obtain."
"You have a heart I can win. And I have quite a few lifetimes to succeed at doing that."
"So, it really doesn't matter who I am? You just want me so you don't have to be alone anymore."
"It does matter. Once he'd gotten his memories back, Peter spoke highly of you and I knew I had to see for myself that you might be who I've been looking for."
"And if I was already married?"
"Then I would have to wait until that wasn't the case."
"I knew it!" West's voice startled Claire. She'd been so caught up in talking with someone who wasn't just special but like her she hadn't noticed him. Adam had answers to her questions. Adam apparently was not startled, because he turned his back to her as if protecting her.
"You're seeing this guy behind my back, aren't you? Why else would he show up at the same movie we did by himself?"
"No, West, it's not like that."
"He had his hand on you!"
"We were just talking."
"You said you didn't know him."
"You are calling her a liar as well as a cheat?" Adam glanced at her over his shoulder. "And you are willing to tolerate that?"
"Well, it does kind of look like I might be doing both."
He scoffed and turned his attention back to West. "She speaks the truth. We had not met before last evening and we were, in fact, just talking."
"Why should I believe you?"
"Do as you like, but to do otherwise is not only insulting to Miss Butler but to me as well. I have no reason to lie to you."
"You were about to kiss her."
"I cannot deny the thought crossed my mind."
Claire grabbed his wrist and stood on her tiptoes. "You're not helping," she whispered.
"I'm not here to help him keep you, Claire."
"Keep me?" Claire asked.
"Who is this guy, Claire?"
"He's like me."
"Like you?" His eyes widened. "And you think that means you're what? Entitled to Claire?"
"Something like that."
It was Claire's turn to step in front of Adam. The last thing any of them needed was a scene on the street where anyone could see them.
"It's more complicated than that, West."
"Well, explain it to me. I'm not dumb."
"I'm not saying you are. I'm still trying to understand it myself. He's still explaining things to me."
"Yeah, I can tell you exactly what he wants to explain to you."
"You don't need to be crude," Adam said from behind her. She felt him stiffen, as if he was getting ready to defend himself. Or maybe it was her he was getting ready to defend. She wasn't sure which would be more necessary for him. She wasn't sure why the idea of him defending her made her tingle down to her toes either. "I have not acted untoward in the least."
"Untoward? Who in the hell says that?"
"I kind of like the way he talks," Claire admitted.
"You do?" Adam asked.
"Yeah, it sounds all old-fashioned-like. It's kind of nice."
"Just kind of?"
She realized suddenly West was gone. He'd disappeared just like that, probably flew off somewhere. She should probably be more concerned then she was.
"I guess that takes care of the dating someone aspect of the problem," Adam said, sounding mighty pleased with himself.
"You can't possibly think…"
"You're like forever older than me." She regarded him. He started walking again, so she fell into step with him. "Just how much older than me are you?"
"It won't matter in the end. Eventually, you'll be in the same position but you won't have to do it alone. You won't feel the despair I have felt."
"Yes," he said, sounding sad then.
"You went through that?"
"I've watched my nieces and nephews children's children's children grow old and die. Eventually, you distance yourself, quit keeping track of who's related to you and who isn't."
"And you haven't met anyone else like you? Like us?"
"No. I've met people who can do things similar to what we do, but it's not the same."
"What do you want from me exactly?"
His eyes drifted to her mouth and she stepped away.
"You realize I'm only seventeen, right? I've said that? I'm still in high school?"
"If my dad found out who you really are…"
"You'd have to tell him."
"My dad is pretty resourceful."
"And you think your father would like the idea of you living your existence alone?"
"I think my father wouldn't want to think of me being alive any longer than I'm supposed to be."
"You're supposed to be alive for a very, very long time, Claire."
"How do I know you're telling the truth? You've offered me nothing."
"I have no tangible proof, Claire. I have my word as a gentleman, nothing more. I have my memories, facts that history books cannot reveal. You, however, would not know if I was being truthful because of the very fact they aren't found in the books you learn from."
"You still haven't told me what you want from me?"
"You interrupted me with a reminder of your age and the fact you have not yet reached the age of majority."
"I won't interrupt again."
"I want the princess promised to me."
"You were promised a princess?"
"Yes," he said.
"And you didn't get her?"
"No, as it turned out it was not me meant to gain the princess' favor but someone posing as me."
"It's a confusing tale, and I admit, time has dulled the memory some. But despite losing her, if she was ever mine to begin with, as time passed and I did not age, as I did not get sick and die like so many comrades-in-arms did," he shrugged and looked for a moment like he was relieving all of those deaths. "I began to hold onto hope that maybe a princess wasn't too farfetched for a man like me. Shouldn't I, if I'm to live forever, have someone to share that fate with?"
How could she disagree with that? "I'm sure it's been lonely. Do you make friends?"
"I make them, but I keep my distance."
"How," she stopped, realizing it was really none of her business.
He took her hand and squeezed it. "How what?"
"Nothing, it's nothing I should ask."
"There are no secrets I wish to keep from you, Claire. I don't think you get it. I will win you over."
"And, you're going to what? Stay in California until I give in?"
"If that's what it takes."
"That sounds a little crazy."
"You try living close to four hundred years with no one and then come tell me what crazy is."
"Did you just say four hundred years?"
"Yes," he said without blinking.
"I," she bit her lower lip. "Wow. And that's supposed to make me feel better? Talk about feeling stupid and inadequate. I'll never have the experience you have."
"No, but I have been incapacitated for three decades, there are things I'm sure you can teach me. Now back to your unasked question."
"How have you survived? Do you work?"
"Are you asking if I'm destitute?"
"That's one way of putting it."
"No, far from it. I've amassed a fair amount over the years. I do work from time to time, until I feel I need to move somewhere new."
"You do that often?"
"I did, yes. People grow suspicious after a while when you don't age."
"I guess they would. Where have you been the past thirty years?"
"In captivity. I was duped," he snorted. "I believed they had a cure for me, something that would take away my powers, allow me to grow old and finally die."
"You wanted it that badly?"
"I'd lived a long time, I was ready."
"What changed your mind?"
"Watching Peter get duped as I did, realizing I was not the only one, and not wanting to see him there thirty years from now believing the cure would be made available tomorrow. And then when he told me of you it all fell into place."
"Why not just have someone pierce your brain?"
"What?" He stopped walking and turned to face her.
"That will kill you."
"You know this how?"
"It's happened to me. Peter, too."
He reached for her other hand, brought them to his mouth, and kissed the back of each. "You died?"
"The examiner pulled the branch from my head and I came back."
"Amazing. I never."
"You're lucky. It's kind of freaky waking up on an autopsy table with your chest cut open."
"I can imagine it would be." He started walking again. "I have a question for you."
"That seems fair since I'm full of them for you."
"Peter indicated your last name was Bennet."
"But here you go by Butler?"
"We're in hiding. My father used to work for this place, The Company."
"I know them well, it's their hospitality I've been enjoying for thirty years."
"Oh," she said softly. "Well, then you know about them. He's gone against them, taken me with him when they want me."
"Yes, they are very interested in what we can do."
"Was it bad?"
He shrugged. "Define bad?"
"I suppose it's hard to compartmentalize when you've been through so much."
"So, this young man. He knows?"
"He can fly."
"Ah. And that holds appeal to you."
"Not having to lie every minute of every day appeals to me, yes."
"You have many minutes and many days ahead of you."
"So you say."
"You don't believe me?"
"I'm not sure what I believe."
"And yet, you're walking with me, allowing me to hold your hand. In times past we'd be as good as engaged."
"It's a good thing we're not in times past!" She glanced at him then. "Do you miss it?"
"Any of it?"
"Some of it. Times were simpler and yet they weren't. People died from the silliest things. It took forever to get places. Means of communication were limited. And the women were not as charming."
"You are going to make me compliment you?"
"If it'll work."
"It apparently does. As you."
"I find it hard to believe that in four hundred years you haven't met anyone charming until me. Considering, especially, I'm not trying at all to be charming."
"Perhaps I was ahead of my time, but I found most women I met quite dull. There were exceptions, of course, but then I felt guilty for thinking of tying them to me. And it's the fact that you are willing to speak your mind that holds a special charm for me."
"Any other questions?"
"Does my dad know?"
"About you? About my lifespan?"
"I do not know what your father knows. I am fairly certain he would have no knowledge of me."
"So, I only have to worry about him thinking that a man in his twenties is interested in me?"
"As opposed to one much older? Yes."
"He's been on this big kick lately about my dating."
"I don't know. He's been very against it for some reason."
"Perhaps, he's just being a father."
Claire shook her head. "I don't think so, there's more to it then that. He won't tell me, though, so I have no idea."
"You could try asking him."
"That would be too logical," she said with a laugh. "So, how does this work?"
"Us. You and me. You have this thing planned out in your head where we apparently end up together. How do we get to that point?"
"Our courtship you mean?"
"I believe it's already begun."
"You understand I'm not going to be coerced into doing things."
"Yeah, you know, that I'm not ready for."
"I'm not a monster, Claire."
"I didn't say you are, but you have this life plan in mind. I don't want you getting ahead of yourself or forgetting we're not at the end of it yet."
"Hopefully, there will never be an end."
"That sounds kind of…"
"I am sorry to be the bearer of such news, Claire, but the facts are what they are."
"So, thirty years, huh?"
"I've seen them used, but am clueless."
"I'm not sure what that is."
"That either. See, there are things you can show me."
"You're not just saying that to make me feel better?"
"One last question," she said, realizing they were back in front of her house.
"Why do I feel like I'm giving into this whole concept too easily?"
"I do not know. I suspect it's not going to be so easy all of the time."
"Is that your way of implying you think I'm going to be difficult?"
"Can I abstain from answering that question?"
"You said you had nothing to hide from me."
"My words come back to haunt me so soon!"
She smiled. "Sorry."
"Can I call on you again?"
"Sure. Is there a way or a place for me to get a hold of you?"
"Do you want to?"
"You never know when it might come in handy."
He gave her the name of a nice but not extravagant hotel. "I'm staying there for now, but it seems I should look for more permanent accommodations."
"Were you expecting me to leave with you?"
"The thought did cross my mind. A hundred years ago you'd be considered odd for being unmarried at your age."
"That's a scary thought and I'm very glad I wasn't around one hundred years ago."
"As am I, Claire."
"Thanks for the walk and for the answers."
"Stage two complete then, I guess. Should I say good bye to your father?"
"It's probably best you don't."
"If you say so, I don't need him thinking I'm rude since I plan on spending a good deal of time with his daughter."
"Yeah, well, I'll worry about making sure he doesn't think you're rude."
"You think that's the last thing I need to be worried about?"
"Something like that, yeah."
"I consider myself forewarned then and shall be on my best behavior."
"Do you drive?"
"It suddenly occurred to me."
"Yes, of course, cars have been around for quite some time. A little different today than what I'm accustomed to, but I adjusted."
"Curiosity means you're interested, Claire, and I am very relieved that is the case."
"And if I'd dismissed you?"
"As I said, I would have lifetimes to try and win you over. Eventually, I would succeed."
"You haven't succeeded yet."
"Oh, I realize that, Miss Butler," he said, giving a smirk. "I have my work cut out for me. Luckily, I am up for the task and do not give up easily."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com