Sorry this took so long! This story is intended to be third to my previous fics, "Sometimes What is is Meant to Be" and "'Til the Sun Don't Shine (You Will Still Be Mine)." As before, you can probably read this one on its own, but I'd love it if you checked out the others first! I finally put them in a series to make them easier to find.
Title still from the Waitress Broadway musical, and (on a completely personal note), I wrote 80% of this on a new tablet on a plane to Los Angeles, so if you see any mistakes, please let me know! I'm not used to writing on that.
Well, it's about time, Claire thinks as she frantically looks around her surroundings, her breath as heavy as her chest feels as her hands search for something in the diorama that could help her get to her feet. Making her entire adult life about de-extinct dinosaurs despite the abundance of chronicles detailing the misfortune of others telling her to run the other way had led to this inevitability. Nobody survives this as many times as she has without experiencing the burning pain consuming her split thigh at least once.
You haven't survived this one yet, Claire.
Her hand slips off the set piece she thought would help her out of there, and a frustrated whimper escapes her throat as her arm falls back to her side. She wonders if she'll ever be able to walk again.
A high-pitched shriek, faint in the distance, follows a crash from somewhere else within the house, the noises pulling Claire's attention up towards the ceiling as if she'd be able to see through the walls. Maisie…that was Maisie. Claire doesn't know how far away the girl had gone when she left them, but she knows she's probably far enough away that Claire shouldn't be able to hear her cries. What's happening to her up there? And if she's still screaming like that, what does that mean for…
You have to get up!
With a deep breath, Claire finally finds something to hold onto and pushes herself up, doing her best to hush the guttural cry of agony that she can't keep inside. While she's allowing herself a minute to get her bearings, a piece of her hair untangles itself and slides down the back of her neck. A bolt of fear shoots across her stomach, and her heavy breathing stops on a gasp, her eyes wide as she looks behind her. Claire sighs as she realizes what the feeling against her skin was, runs a hand through her ponytail, then moves forward. The broken glass crunches beneath her boot, and she looks down, her brow furrowed as if she'd forgotten that would be there.
The room is a mess. The beautiful, pristine, almost magical museum she'd spun her way through just a few days ago, now the site of another genetically-modified massacre, Claire marking her presence in this new piece of prehistoric history with the blood dripping off her soaked-through cargo pants. The only sounds filling the silent air are those of her still labored breathing as she mentally retreats to her comfort zone and runs through a to-do list: find something to wrap her leg and stop the bleeding, find something she can use to defend herself, find Owen and Maisie, hope they're both okay.
The spiral staircase in the museum is wrecked, so Claire looks over her shoulder, knowing she'll have to take the long way, past the portrait of the man whose legacy she's nearly single-handedly destroyed, to get to the main staircase. With another deep breath and a reassuring nod to herself, Claire begins heading towards the stairs, hissing with every bit of pressure put on her wounded leg.
She only makes it a few steps before she stops, however, not because the pain is too great to keep going, but because of the terrifying chill that suddenly shivers up her spine. Someone – something – is watching her; she can feel it. Claire bites her lip to stop it from quivering as she glances around the spacious room, up and over all the skeletons, into every diorama, searching, hoping she's wrong, hoping she won't actually meet the eyes of Dr. Wu's latest catastrophic creation.
For a brief moment, she wonders why on earth she insisted Owen leave her down here, hurt and alone while a monstrous dinosaur with a fleeting attention span roams these haunted halls, and then she doesn't have time to scold herself or even think anymore because she spots them: the two ghastly orange reptilian eyes, nearly glowing in the darkness across the room…locked only on her.
Claire awoke with a small but startled gasp, her body jolting against her mattress. Her eyes took in her bedroom window and the calming blue walls in front of her as her head dropped back down to her pillow. Soon after she'd settled, Owen's arm slid protectively around her from behind, knowing something wasn't quite right. Claire turned only her neck to glance at him; Owen was laying on his side, facing her, caring eyes looking down at her face. The arm not currently around her body bent against the bed to support his head with his flattened palm, his elbow resting between his pillows and hers, and Claire suddenly understood why she'd been dreaming about having the Indoraptor's eyes on her. A noise somewhere between a groan and a sigh, fueled by the cruelty of an interrupted sleep, escaped her lips as she rolled her head away from him.
"You okay?" he asked.
"You know I hate it when you just watch me sleep," Claire complained.
"Well, then, you're just gonna have to work on making yourself less beautiful," Owen seriously replied, a smile tugging at his lips.
A definitive groan reverberated around the quiet room this time before she said, "You're sweet-talking me," pretending to be offended.
Owen chuckled behind her. "Maybe," he admitted. "Beautiful part's true, though."
"So you said last night," Claire grumbled.
"Why're you so cranky?" Owen asked. When Claire said nothing in response, his tone grew a little more serious as he again asked, "Are you okay?"
"Were you playing with my hair?" she asked over her shoulder.
"What?" he replied.
"Just now, while I was sleeping," she clarified. "Were you playing with my hair?"
"A little," he admitted. "I told you I like it like this."
He watched as Claire took a deep breath and exhaled on a sigh. She knew it wasn't his fault his affection had turned into subconscious terrors, so she turned her head to look at him again, her face softening as her eyes met his concerned ones. Claire tried to snuggle back into him, intending to remain in their spooned position for a little longer, but the pressure she put on her legs to propel her body back into his chest brought her awareness to the very real ache radiating in her thigh. She rolled onto her back instead, her head nearly colliding with his bent elbow, and reached for him.
"Come here," she whispered.
Owen let his hand fall from his own head to the top of hers as he leaned over and pressed his mouth against Claire's. She tugged on his side as they shared gentle good morning kisses, coaxing him closer, and Owen carefully shifted on top of her. He held himself up to keep from hurting her, knowing her leg was still sore, and Claire rubbed his bare back as she slowly pulled her lips away from his and looked up at him, her face illustrated with a look of content.
"I'm okay," she said, her nails lightly scratching his skin.
"Promise?" he asked softly. Claire nodded.
Satisfied with that reassurance, Owen fell back to her side, landing on his stomach beside her. He kept an arm slung around her middle and rested his head partially against her shoulder. Claire clutched his arm with one of her hands and tangled the other in his hair as she turned her head to glance at the time. The numbers on her clock were quickly approaching late morning, and she turned back to Owen, her eyes wide in disbelief at how long they'd all managed to sleep.
"Maisie?" she asked.
Owen, his eyes closed, shrugged. "Not a sound yet," he said. One eye peeked open as he asked, "Is she old enough for the sleeping-until-noon phase?"
"I have no idea," Claire said honestly. She sighed again and said, "I guess I'll add that to the list of mom things to ask Karen."
Owen laughed, his chest quaking against her side. "How are you gonna tell Karen about this?" he asked between chuckles.
"I have no idea," Claire said again, a little more helplessly this time. "But I think we need her."
"We?" Owen muttered.
"What do you know about kids, Owen?" Claire asked. Owen picked his head up and opened his mouth to reply, but before he could say anything, Claire knowingly tilted her head in his direction and corrected, "Human kids."
Owen nodded, sinking back down to her shoulder. "Not much."
"Like, I don't know whether to be relieved or concerned that she hasn't sought us out during the night," Claire admitted.
"She's resilient," Owen said. He pushed himself up to kiss Claire's forehead and added, "Like you."
As Owen fell back to her shoulder, Claire's hand moved from his arm to his cheek. Her face softened into a small smile as her thumb caressed his skin, and she leaned down to peck his lips again, her eyes lingering for just a moment after their kiss before sliding out from underneath his arm. She moved slowly as she slipped out of bed and started heading for her bathroom. When Owen caught her wincing as she moved, he got up, too, pulling on his t-shirt as he headed for the main room instead.
Claire had just finished brushing her teeth when Owen entered the bathroom, her medicines in one hand and a chilled water bottle in the other. Claire's eyes widened gratefully, a sigh of thanks escaping her lips as she dug for the painkillers. As soon as she'd swallowed one, Owen grasped her sides and lifted her to the counter to change the bandage.
"How long do you think it'll take to heal?" Claire asked as he cleaned the stitched-up wound.
"You've got two layers of stitches in there," Owen reminded her. "Probably gonna be a couple weeks before the internal ones dissolve." He reached for the antibiotic ointment and said, "I think you're gonna hurt for a while." Claire sighed, and he added, "Sorry."
His attention was pulled to her rising shoulders as she shrugged. "I kind of like the idea of finally having a scar people can see," she muttered. It made everything she'd been through more valid somehow, as if she hadn't really been a survivor until she had more than just the hidden emotional wounds to prove it.
Owen smiled slightly at her admission, reminded of the evening Claire spent tracing her delicate fingers over his own scars in a hotel room in Costa Rica. A simple surveilling of their own bodies after the park incident had turned into one of the most intimate things they'd ever shared, the stories of how his body had been marked over the years whispers on his lips as Claire listened carefully, her skin against his, discovering the marks with her fingertips before committing them to memory with her lips. He'd return the favor and trail his lips across her leg someday; until then, he'd settle for helping her heal. Once the new bandage was in place, Owen stood up straight and stepped into her body; this time, he felt her legs curl around him, her feet tucking behind his knees.
Claire smiled as Owen placed his hands on the counter, one on each side just behind her, leaning in close as he said, in a low voice, "So last night…"
Claire didn't say anything at first; she simply curled into him and placed a soft, lingering kiss on his cheek. She met his eyes as she pulled back and held the silent gaze for a moment before asking, "Did you sleep any better last night?"
Owen crooned his affirmative answer and wiggled his eyebrow as he said, "Thanks to you."
Claire felt the blush creeping across her cheeks, and Owen grasped her hips and pulled her towards the edge of the bathroom counter. Claire's eyes slipped shut as he leaned in, his lips teasing the edge of her ear as he said, "I somehow forgot how good you feel."
Claire hummed and whispered, "Likewise."
Her fingers thread through the hair at the base of his neck, and he pulled back to look at her, an almost mischievous smile at the edges of his lips, as she opened her eyes again. Owen dipped his fingers beneath the waistband of her pajama shorts, teasing the skin just beneath the elastic line. Her hands landed on his chest, not to push him away, but to momentarily halt him from any further fondling.
"While that was certainly good," she said. "Why didn't we ever talk like that before?"
"I guess ignoring everything was easier then," Owen muttered, dropping his forehead to hers. "Fighting was, too."
"We're still going to fight," she sighed, her eyes rolling up to look at him knowingly.
Owen knew that was true, but that was an inevitability he didn't want to think about yet, so instead of answering her, he pulled her hips forward to meet his, and Claire's eyes closed again when Owen ducked his head around hers. He kissed down the column of her neck as his fingers, still underneath her waistband, slid down against her skin, but before he could pull her shorts off or drop to his knees in front of her, Claire's eyes opened, a foreign sound in the distance, and she tugged on Owen's hair.
"Do you…hear something?" she asked, her face scrunched in concentration.
Owen stilled for a moment as he listened, a faint noise tingling against his senses, too. "What is that?"
They remained quiet, focused on the sound they weren't entirely sure was there. When the soft noise in the distance turned into an unmistakable sob, Claire's eyes widened.
"Is that Maisie?" she asked with alarm. She hit the floor and began moving towards the spare bedroom before Owen could attempt to gingerly help her off the counter.
Owen sighed. "We're gonna come back to this later, right?" he said, mostly to himself, as Claire had already left the room.
"Maisie!" she called softly, walking as quickly as her leg would allow down the hall.
Claire entered her guest room (Maisie's room, Claire thought), Owen just a step or two behind her. They found the young girl sitting up against the pillows, still in her clothes from the day before, curled into a ball and crying so hard, she could hardly breathe. Maisie's red face briefly met Claire's worried one before turning back into her self-made cocoon, and Claire glanced at Owen before making her way to the bed.
"What happened?" she asked, her voice gentle. "What is this?"
Claire sat down on the edge of the mattress in the middle, and Owen followed, coming up to stand behind her. Maisie picked her head back up and looked at them, tears streaming down her devastated face as she tried to catch her breath enough to answer them.
"I…miss…Grandpa…" Maisie said, a word between each heaving cry.
"Oh, sweetheart," Claire whispered, moving towards her with her arms outstretched.
"No!" Maisie cried, pulling her body in tightly to itself. "Don't touch me."
Claire froze. "Okay," she said and dropped her hands back to her sides.
"I don't understand," Maisie said. "He was okay, and Iris was always so careful. What happened? How did his heart just stop like that?"
Claire carefully turned her head, glancing up at Owen behind her, and he returned the look. Silently, they both knew the man's death was far too suspiciously well-timed to be coincidental, but they also knew they couldn't tell her that, at least until the authorities deemed it true, too. Maybe not even then. Luckily, she didn't seem to want an answer to her question, the inquiry quickly drowned in another round of sobs.
"I was mad at him," Maisie admitted. "He wasn't listening to me about Mr. Mills."
Claire instinctively moved to touch her again but stopped, remembering Owen's words about letting the girl tell them what she needs. She sent a powerless look his way, so he took a small step closer to the bed. "What can we do?" he asked.
"Just leave me alone," Maisie said, falling onto her side to bury her face in a pillow.
Owen nodded down at Claire, and Claire bit her lip for a moment before deciding to comply with the girl's request. "Okay," she said again. "But if you change your mind and want a hug, come find us or…just call for us, and we'll come back. Okay?"
Maisie nodded, face still buried in the pillow, and Claire blindly reached for Owen's hand, letting him help her up this time.
When they reached the hallway, Owen shut the door behind them and began heading towards Claire's living room. Claire grabbed his arm and shook her head, not wanting to go too far away. He understood without her having to say it, and they wordlessly sunk to the floor in the hallway, each with their backs against the wall opposite the other. Owen rested his arms on his bent knees, and Claire folded her good leg up towards her chest, keeping the other outstretched towards Owen. Claire, leaning against the wall the bedroom shared, let her head roll back as she listened to Maisie's cries, the audible struggle on the other side tugging at her heart. Her own face looked more and more distraught as the moments passed by, and Owen watched her in silence, knowing all too well where this was likely to end.
Sure enough, it took less than five minutes for Claire's face to crumble, tears spilling out of her green eyes without a single sound or sob escaping her lips. Owen shuffled towards her until he could lean over and rub her bent knee in consolation.
"Claire," he whispered softly, knowing she'd likely been on the brink of tears since at least the previous night. Hearing the young girl's pain had simply been the tipping point.
"What do we do?" she asked in a heartbreaking tone.
"I think you handled that perfectly," he told her.
"You do?" she asked.
"Yeah," Owen promised. "We don't have to sit here and listen to this; she knows how to find us."
Claire nodded, knowing he was right, but she made no motion to get up. She simply looked down at her lap as her eyes squeezed shut again. Owen watched the tears saturate the front of her pajama top and accepted they wouldn't be going anywhere, so he shuffled forward a little more and clasped her hand in his larger one. Hot tears hit his wrist, and she squeezed his hand just once before letting go. When she pulled away, they each retreated to their opposite walls.
Claire's tears eventually subsided, though she and Owen remained in the narrow hallway as Maisie's sobs persisted. Owen gently stroked what he could reach of Claire's outstretched leg to keep her calm, and Claire cycled between leaning her head against the wall, lost in thought behind closed eyes, and looking at Owen, lost in the depth of his gaze.
"Claire!" a small voice behind the door finally called.
Out in the hall, Claire's eyes instantly widened and her hands hit the floor as she tried to scramble to her feet. Owen stood as Maisie called his name, too, grabbing Claire on his way up. The grasp on her arm was meant to hold her back, and her head whipped around to glare at him. She looked like she wanted to kill him for halting her movements, and Owen momentarily couldn't believe she thought she'd be bad at this when her protective instincts kicked in so quickly.
"What?" she hissed at him.
"Hold on a minute," he whispered with authority.
"She's calling for us," Claire argued.
"And I don't want her to know we've been sitting right out here this whole time," he explained.
Claire stilled for a moment to consider his perspective, eventually nodding in understanding. She let some of her weight fall against the wall, forcing herself to stay where she was for a few moments, and Owen stood across from her. When Maisie's voice carried another cry of Claire's name into the hallway, followed by a "come back," Claire looked at Owen and shook her head before reaching for the bedroom door, quickly abandoning their waiting game.
Maisie sat up when the door opened. As soon as she saw Claire, she tried to keep her voice steady as she said, "I'll take…that…hug…now," between heavy breaths.
Claire immediately hobbled around the mattress and pushed the blanket away to sit down next to her, adjusting her position on the bed after Maisie moved into her arms just a moment earlier than she anticipated. Owen joined them at an unhurried pace, sitting on top of the covers on Maisie's other side. A few calm tears dripped onto Claire's collarbone from the comfortable place Maisie had found between her shoulder and her neck, and when Claire's hand stilled between her shoulders, Owen covered that hand with his, hoping to reassure both of them at the same time. After a while, Maisie picked her head up and began wiping the leftover tears from her eyes. She moved away from Claire, settling in the middle of the bed again, maintaining a distance between herself and the adults that remained at her sides.
"I just wish I could talk to him again," Maisie said, looking at her own hands. "Grandpa. Just once. I think he's the only one who could answer my questions."
Claire and Owen looked at one another over Maisie's downturned head because yeah, they'd sure as hell like that, too, and they once again found themselves at a loss as to what to say. Just as before, though, Maisie didn't seem to really want an answer to the thought she'd shared out loud, instead looking over at Claire with quizzical eyes.
"What happens now?" she asked.
"Um…well…" Claire stuttered, glancing at Owen again. Owen nodded, and Claire turned back to Maisie as she said, "Owen and I would like you to stay with us."
"Like parents?" Maisie asked.
"Well…we'll take care of you how parents would, but you get to decide how to label us," Claire said gently.
"You can keep calling us Claire and Owen," Owen explained.
"And if that's what you want, too, we'll do whatever we can do to make that happen," Claire finished.
"And…if not?" Maisie asked carefully.
Claire glanced up, sharing another look with Owen over Maisie's head. Owen took over and said, "Then you'll probably end up with another family who would take care of you like parents."
"Who?" Maisie asked.
"We…can't tell you that. We don't know," Claire said honestly. "There's a system that helps kids when they have nowhere else to go. The people who work for that system would find them for you." Maisie's face remained rather expressionless, and Claire continued. "But if that's what you want, if you want to get away from anything that reminds you of dinosaurs or the other night, that's okay, too. We'll understand."
"You sure Lockwood didn't have any other family?" Owen asked.
Maisie nodded, "It was just me and Mr. Mills. And Iris, but she was never supposed to be my guardian. That was Mr. Mills, but he's dead, too, right?"
"We think so," Claire said. She expected that would be confirmed soon.
Maisie nodded. "May I please be alone again?" she asked.
Claire said, "Sure," with a nod at the same time Owen said okay. They met one another at the foot of the bed, and Claire looked over her shoulder and watched Maisie turn into the pillows again. Owen placed a hand on the small of her back, guiding her out of the spare bedroom.
As soon as Owen had shut the door behind them, Claire whispered, "What happens if she doesn't want to stay with us?"
"Then we'll help her get somewhere better," Owen muttered. Claire simply looked at him, her lips slightly parted beneath despondent eyes. "I want her to stay, too, Claire."
"But it's her choice," Claire agreed.
Owen nodded. "She might've just wanted to know all her options," he said. "Doesn't mean she wants to go."
"And you and me?" Claire asked. "If she does?"
"Then we get to make love on the couch again," he said, a comment designed to both confirm his newfound commitment to her and make her chuckle, which she did, despite herself, as he pulled her in. "C'mere," he muttered.
Claire briefly pecked his lips on her way into the strong hug he was offering her, where they both let the heavy emotions of the young day melt into the other's embrace. "There's so much to figure out," Claire finally murmured into his t-shirt clad chest. "In case she wants to stay."
"Let's figure out where to start," he said, reluctantly letting her go.
They headed back into Claire's bedroom to exchange their pajamas for regular clothes. She disappeared into her walk-in closet to retrieve a pair of pants and a comfortable sweater, while Owen remained in the room, exchanging his sweatpants for jeans. Claire met him in the living room once she was dressed. He was sitting on the couch and motioned for her to sit down, too. Once she did, taking up residence where he'd indicated between himself and the end of the couch, he pulled her legs into his lap, and she fell back against the arm of the furniture. Despite the painkiller she'd taken, all the up and down and back and forth with Maisie had caused the discomfort to dawdle.
"Thank you," she sighed as he began to draw soothing circles against her leg. Owen smiled at her, and Claire bit her lip, unsure about how the next thing she wanted to say would go over; it took Owen mere seconds to pick up on her apprehension.
"What?" he asked knowingly.
"That house you're building out in the mountains…" she started. She took a breath and asked, "I don't want to assume anything, but is that for you, or was that for me?"
"For me, if you ended up not wanting it, but it was for both of us," he admitted.
"You were building me a house even though we weren't together?" she asked, her voice warm.
"Thought it might be some sort of compromise…give you a real home but maintain that peace we found out in nature after the media shit storm of Jurassic World. Thought maybe we could still travel a bit, too," he explained. He looked over at her and asked, "Would that have worked?"
"Probably," she admitted with a whisper.
"But?" Owen asked, knowing she'd have more than that to say.
"But…is it safe now?" she asked. "Out in the open like that?"
"I'm not sure," Owen admitted, an idea that had already been weighing heavy on his mind.
"I don't want to take that away from you," Claire said honestly.
"But?" Owen prompted again.
"But the thought of you staying out there on the edge of the forest, especially out in that trailer until the house is done…" Claire started.
"Sitting duck," Owen finished.
Relief washed over Claire's eyes as she sighed, "Oh, thank god you got there on your own."
"Yeah," Owen muttered. Knowing she'd already have a semblance of a plan in her head, he asked, "What do you want to do?"
Claire sighed. "I'm not saying no, but we have to realistically consider the new risk factor involved with a location like that, even when it's a house and not just framework."
"We might not be able to know that for a while," Owen said. "Who knows what they'll do on the mainland?"
Claire nodded and took a deep breath, willing herself to push forward and not dwell on that thought. She sat up from the arm of the couch and said, "Okay, so we'll need to find a new place nearer the city in the meantime; Zach and I kind of step over each other when he's here sometimes, so I think it's too small for three, sometimes four, and you and I should also probably have a conversation about conflict resolution because we can't just say we're going to be better with no real plan as to how, but maybe my therapist can help us with that, and then I probably need to find a lawyer that specializes in family law and get an appointment as soon as I can because I have no idea what to do next with Maisie."
She vocalized the rest of her thoughts so quickly that Owen simply blinked in response as he wrapped his mind around all the ideas she'd just presented. "When did you get a therapist?" he finally asked.
"About four months ago," Claire revealed. "I was having trouble calming my mind and being as objective as I needed to be with the DPG; it was Karen's suggestion."
"And you're gonna make me go?" he asked.
"When have I ever been able to make you do anything?" Claire asked with a hint of exasperation.
"I could say the same thing to you, you know," Owen pointed out. After a moment, he, clearly considering the idea, asked, "Does she…help?"
"Sometimes?" Claire said, more as a question itself than an answer to his, the expression on her face matching the uncertain tone of her voice. "She doesn't really…I think you're the only person who can even begin to understand."
With a sigh, Claire let herself fall back against the arm of the couch as she finished her last statement. She sat up again almost immediately when the sounds of running water suddenly carried down the hall, the shower coming to life. Owen turned to look at her as Claire's eyes shifted over to meet his.
"That's a good sign, right?" Claire asked.
"I think so," Owen said. He thought about the questions they'd asked each other about children since Maisie came into their lives and realized his confidence from their night in the motel may have been a little premature. He glanced down the hall and asked, "We're in over our heads, aren't we?"
"Completely," Claire agreed with a little chuckle. "Though, the more I think about it…"
"What?" Owen asked after she trailed off.
"I don't know; it seemed impossible two days ago, and I still have no idea what we're doing, but the more I think about it…" Claire said again, struggling to put her thoughts into words.
"The easier it is to picture," Owen finished. Claire nodded, her eyes wide again as Owen said exactly what she was feeling. "You and me in a hammock at the cabin while she runs around with the dog," he offered with a grin.
"What dog?" Claire laughed.
"We gotta get a dog," Owen said.
"That can be discussed," Claire diplomatically replied.
"You love dogs," Owen reminded her.
"Yes, but do you really think that's what we need right now?" Claire asked, slightly overwhelmed by the mere thought of adding a puppy to their current situation. His lips curved into a cunning grin, and she tilted her head to shoot him a look, eyes sending daggers in his direction once she realized he was purposely antagonizing her. "That's not funny," she said.
"That's always funny," Owen replied with a laugh.
After an eye roll from Claire and a trip back to her bedroom to retrieve her laptop, they moved to the kitchen, Claire diving into research at the dining table while Owen worked on making lunch. Just before the meal was finished, Maisie wandered into the kitchen, her bare feet quiet against the floor as she moved. Her arrival caught Claire's eye, and Claire sat up a little straighter, pulled her glasses from her face, and closed her laptop halfway. Owen noticed her, too, stilling at the stove. Maisie remained quiet and looked between them, hoping one of them would say something first.
"Cute shirt," Claire offered with a smile. Maisie was wearing a Dinosaur Protection Group t-shirt, one side of the oversized tee tucked into the side of her jeans.
"I found a box of them in my room," Maisie said, as if she were in trouble. "Is it okay that I…?"
"Of course," Claire said quickly.
"You hungry?" Owen asked. Maisie nodded. "You wanna eat with us?" he asked.
Maisie nodded again. "It smells good," she said.
"Take a seat," Owen said with a nod towards the table.
She joined Claire, taking the chair opposite her, and Claire closed her laptop, pushing it aside as Owen started delivering food to the small table, finally taking the seat between them.
After a few minutes of silence, Maisie glanced down at the t-shirt and asked, "Is this the business you told me about yesterday?" Claire said yes. "What happens to it now?"
Claire faltered; her mind had been so preoccupied with personal conundrums that needed solutions, she hadn't yet put any serious consideration into what might be next for her organization. "I don't know," she said honestly.
"Can I work there?" Maisie asked.
Claire laughed at the innocence behind her question and said, "Sure, when you're older." She caught Owen's interested eye and turned back to Maisie. "Does that mean…?" she prompted.
"I want to stay," Maisie revealed.
Claire looked at Owen in relief as he asked, "You do?"
Maisie nodded and looked at Claire again. "Grandpa liked you."
"Well, I liked him, too," Claire said with a somber smile.
"I think he'd want me to stay with you," she said to both adults at the table.
"What do you want, sweetheart?" Claire asked.
"I want to be with people who aren't afraid of what I am," Maisie said, staring down at her plate. Her eyes shifted back up to Claire and Owen, and she asked, "That's you…right?"
Owen nodded firmly, without hesitation. "That's right," he said.
"That's…right," Claire echoed, her voice nearly breaking along with her heart upon hearing the reasoning behind Maisie's decision.
Maisie was quiet for another moment before she said, "I've never had parents before. I thought I did…before I was old enough to remember…but I guess that's not true."
"Well…" Owen answered slowly. "Claire and I have never had a kid before."
"So we'll figure it out together, okay?" Claire asked.
Maisie stilled for a moment, thinking, before she wordlessly nodded again. Owen reached under the table to squeeze Claire's hand.
"Okay," he said.
Just like last time, if you're new to this story, thanks so much for reading, and if you're coming from the previous story, thanks for continuing to read!
All feedback is greatly appreciated :)