The Human Stain
By Anna Kate
Dedicated to Lisa and Jon,
Without whom, I would have never written Claudia
Chapter One- Moving In
They arrived one autumn afternoon after a long car journey that had taken hours. They had driven from Devon to Surrey, and now to Farnham in Surrey.
The streets were quiet in the glow of the setting sun, and all the lamps either side of the road had been switched on, making the street seem brighter, almost ethereal.
Claudia had fallen asleep a few hours ago, her father had noted. He really didn't have the heart to wake her up; she hadn't been sleeping well recently, ever since the death of her mother.
He leaned over, diverting his eyes from the road for a few seconds, to smooth some black locks way from her eyes.
Her mouth was parted slightly, almost as if she was talking in her dreams. Her legs were curled underneath her, and her head was pressed against the window, her arms wrapped around herself.
He smiled to himself, his eyes snapping back to the road. He should have taken her advice.
"Can't we just fly to Gatwick instead of driving half way across the bloody country?" he remembered her saying, as she pulled her hair into a ponytail, her eyes glaring at him, identical to his own.
"It'd be too expensive. Besides, what would I do with the car?" he had had asked her. She gave a dramatic sigh.
"That old thing? Burn it, that's what you could do with it, Dad," she had told him, before turning back to the TV to watch one of her soap operas she so loved. He had smiled to himself then, and went back to typing.
Of course, he hadn't taken her advice. He never did, and he regretted it now though. The thought of another journey like this one was enough for him to buy a whole fleet of planes to fly.
He sighed and switched on the radio. He was bored, and since Claudia was away with the fairies, he had no one to talk to. That didn't really matter though, since after about an hour of the journey, Claudia had given up trying to talk to him. They had just listened to the radio in peace, while Claudia read through his latest manuscript.
"Well, what do you think?" he had asked as he pulled sunglasses over his eyes.
"What do I think?" she clucked her tongue and twirled a lock of hair around her finger. "The plot is good. The characters are great… Your best work yet, dad!" she had laughed then, a sound he loved to hear.
"What do you think of Morgan?" Claudia flicked through the pages, rereading the descriptions of Morgan, and then she laughed.
"It's me!" he laughed as well, and she had hit him lightly on the arm. "Another bestselling novel by Harry J Evans," she teased him, putting on a deep voice that made her sound like a presenter of a TV show. He grinned at her, snatching his eyes away from the road to catch her gaze. She grinned back, and then put the manuscript in the back quickly, before pulling out another of his novels.
"Seeker" it was entitled, and it was her favourite of his books. A young boy shows amazing magical powers, and is taken away by a giant to go to a magical school. He made friends, and became a 'seeker' for a team game played on brooms.
Harry felt a sharp pang of pain go through his heart as he remembered the inspiration for the book. Claudia didn't need to know about his past. She just thought that 'Seeker' was something from his imagination.
In a way, it was therapy for him to write that book. To let go of his past in a way that didn't reveal him to Claudia and Anna. Harry winced.
Another pang of pain. Anna… Poor, sweet Anna, who was never any the wiser of who her husband truly was.
Harry ran a hand through his messy black hair, and began looking for the drive to their apartment building. It was near here, the estate agent said it was. Harry looked up, searching for a road sign.
One proudly proclaimed that the road they were on was called 'Castle Street'.
'Hmm, inventive,' thought Harry sarcastically, seeing as Farnham Castle was right behind them. He sighed, and as he pulled up to a red light, leaned over and shook Claudia's shoulder.
One green eye cracked open a fraction, as if to check that the coast was clear.
"What is it?" Claudia mumbled, still pretty much asleep.
"I need your help finding the apartment building," Harry said. Claudia mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like 'Fuck off' before sitting up, opening her other eye. Harry gave her 'the look' and she had the grace to blush.
"Sorry," she mumbled, tying her hair back into a ponytail. Harry smiled at her, and went back to looking at the road.
"Okay, kiddo," Claudia winced, "search for Old Inn drive," Claudia looked out her window, resting her chin on in her hands. "And pay attention!" Harry reminded her, knowing Claudia's habit of slipping into a daydream. She grumbled, and sat up straight, scanning the left side of the road.
"Nope. Nope. No… No…" she talked in this manner for a few minutes before she cried "TURN LEFT, TURN LEFT!" Harry turned left, rather violently, since knowing Claudia, her reaction was slow.
They pulled into Old Inn Drive, and searched for Potter's Court. Harry thought it was ironic that he would live in Potter's Court, given his history. But the apartment was what he was looking for, and there was a good private school near for Claudia.
"There it is!" Claudia sighed, as she pointed to an old Victorian building. It was quite small for an apartment building, only 3 floors. One apartment took up an entire floor, and there was a swimming pool and gym in the basement.
"It looks like the house in Prague, doesn't it Dad?" Claudia said excitedly, practically bouncing in her seat.
"Yeah, 'course it does, Claude," he mumbled, not really seeing the resemblance himself. Claudia pouted.
"You don't believe me, do you?" she said.
"What? Of course I do, Claude," he said, lying through his teeth. Claudia glared at him, and turned back to looking at the window.
"Do you think we'll be happy here?" Claudia asked, a little girl shining through in that question. Harry nodded.
"Why wouldn't we be?" he asked, dreading the answer.
"Because ever since Mama died, we've moved from place to place, and you've never been happy. You're never happy!" Claudia said, her anger rising, remembering all the blurred memories of places she had been, schools she had seen and friends that she never had the chance to make. Harry nodded.
"This time will be different Claude," he mumbled, trying to convince himself as much as his fourteen-year-old daughter.
"You promise?" Claudia said, turning her piercing gaze to her Father, staring him out.
"Claude, you know I don't make promises," Harry said, pulling into a parking space.
"Why?" Harry flinched, voices coming back to him.
"You'll stay, right?"
"Yes, I promise,"
"Claudia Emily Evans, you know better than to ask those sorts of questions," he reprimanded, frowning at her.
"Why? Why do you have to hide everything?" Claudia said, near hysterical. Harry glared at her, like he would to an old school enemy.
"I have reasons to 'hide everything' as you so charmingly put it, Claudia," Harry snapped, before undoing his safety belt and getting out the car, slamming the door on his child.
He breathed in some fresh air. 'It's all right, Harry. Breathe in… And breathe out… It's okay; it was just a harmless question… Nothing big… You can handle this, this is easy, man!" he told himself, as he ran his hands through his hair, making it even more messy if it were possible.
He jumped when he heard Claudia's car door slam. She stood on the cobblestones, hands on hips, glaring at her father.
"Are we going to unpack or what, Dad?" she snapped, before stalking to the boot and opening it. Harry mentally stamped his foot. Claudia really was a spoilt brat sometimes. And a moody one at that.
"Yes, grab a box and take it upstairs," he threw the keys to her, "unlock the door too," she nodded stiffly and walked up the small dirt path to the front door.
Before she could unlock the door, it was thrown open by someone else. Claudia fell backwards onto the ground, and stared up at the person in front of her.
The woman's hair was in a short, fiery red bob which she had tucked behind her ears. Her eyes were hazel, warm and caring, and she looked down at Claudia with genuine concern.
"Are you okay? Oh, I'm so sorry!" she knelt down and picked up the box, which had spilled all its contents in the fall. Claudia nodded, mute, and stood up. This woman looked a lot like a girl in one of her father's photos.
The photo was of a girl with bright red hair, standing in a doorway, wearing a school uniform. The girl had struck a pose, and was grinning at the person behind the camera, probably Harry. However, this woman had short hair, and the girl had long. This woman had hazel eyes, and you couldn't see the girl's eyes.
Claudia brushed off her jeans and T-shirt, wincing as her hands brushed over where there were sure to be bruises the next day.
She took the box off the woman.
"Thanks," she mumbled, looking at the woman. But the woman wasn't looking at her.
"Hi!" the woman had smiled and waved at Harry, going over to help him. "I'm Emma Stockdale; I live on the ground floor. You must be Harry…?"
"Evans. Harry Evans," Harry mumbled, picking up two boxes.
"Oh, the writer?" Harry nodded, and Emma looked delighted. "And that must be your little girl, how sweet!" Claudia gave her a death glare; if there was one thing no one should EVER call Claudia, it was 'Little Girl'.
"Yup, that's Claudia," Emma looked fit to burst. Claudia rolled her eyes as the thought of Emma finding her name 'cute', of all things, made her want to strangle the woman. She had to settle for glaring intensely at Emma instead.
"Do you need any help unpacking, Mr. Evans?"
"Just call me Harry," Emma grinned. "And help would be greatly appreciated," she reached into the boot and brought up a box full of books and photographs. It was labelled 'Anna's Things'.
"Who's Anna? Your wife?" Harry tensed slightly, and Emma immediately regretted her words.
"My late wife... She died last year,"
"Oh, I'm so sorry," Emma said her bubbly manner of earlier bursting. Harry shrugged, and cleared his throat. Emma shuffled nervously from one foot to the other, before turning and going into the apartment building.
Claudia had managed to unlock the front door, and had dumped her box in the middle of the large room which would be the living room. Emma looked to the right, and on her left, over a counter and on a level was the kitchen, which had been recently remodelled.
To her left, over another counter was a large open and cream-painted room was the living room area. It was light, airy with a large bay window overlooking the back fields.
Emma put a box down on the counter, and then headed back downstairs to Harry. It was going to be a slow night of unpacking.
Soon after midnight that day, or rather, night, the last box of vital things was unpacked. Harry threw his arms up in triumph and Emma and Claudia clapped.
"Jolly good show, old bean," Claudia mocked, her voice superior and deep. Emma grinned and nodded, joining in the game.
"Oh yes, absolutely spiffing," Harry wrinkled his nose in distaste at their mockery. He stood up, tripping slightly on one of the MacDonald hamburger boxes that surrounded them.
"I really need to clean this up tomorrow," he sighed, picking up one of the boxes and throwing it in the make-shift bin that was in the corner. Claudia nodded her agreement, and staggered to her feet. She had been sitting down too long. Emma looked at her watch and stood too.
"I really should get going," Harry nodded in the kitchen, as he fumbled around for mugs for himself and Claudia. "I'll come and see you guys tomorrow. Night night!" she went to the door, waved, and disappeared into the dark corridor, shutting the door behind her.
Silence reigned in the apartment for a few moments. It was not an uncomfortable one, and that made Harry smile. They hadn't had a pleasant silence for weeks.
Harry finished making a cup of tea for Claudia, and a coffee for himself. Picking up both mugs in on hand, he reached for a packet of biscuits, and brought all three things down to the living room, which Claudia was 'tidying'.
"Thanks," she mumbled, taking her tea from his hands, and sipping at it carefully. Her bottom lip went a bit red as she choked. "Hot!" he grinned.
"It would be, it's only just been made," she rolled her eyes, and set the mug down on the counter next to her. "So, when can I send you away to plot my evil scheme to destroy all your shoes!" he faked an evil laughing, steeping his fingers.
Claudia turned to look at him, an eyebrow raised. "Dad, considering we have no beds set up, sending me to bed will be a problem,"
"Aha, but, as the wonderful and imaginative father that I am," ("Modest too,") "I have had the wonderful idea that we set up our sleeping bags in here and camp out in our living room,"
Claudia looked at him in a mixture of disgust and awe.
"Camp out?" Harry nodded.
"… In our living room?" Harry nodded again, grinning. Claudia sighed and nodded her consent, yes.
"Only for tonight though, I don't make a habit of sharing the same room as my father," she muttered. Harry wrinkled his nose again.
"Claudia, even I am not that twisted," she laughed, and nodded.
"Yeah, Dad, I know," he smiled at her, then dug through a large pile of clothing and pulled out two bags.
"Et, voila!" he threw one of the bags at her, and began opening his.
In a matter of minutes, two sleeping bags lay together, side by side in the middle of the living room.
Harry at thrown on a pair of tracksuit bottoms and a T-shirt while Claudia had changed into her pyjamas in the bathroom, after taking two wrong turns
Harry sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. It had been a long day; both he and Claudia were tired, and tomorrow would hold more unpacking and settling in for them. Not to mention, they had to visit Claudia's new school.
Closing his eyes, Harry intently listened to everything around him. Claudia was brushing her teeth in the bathroom, and there seemed to be a cat outside.
Harry gave a soft hum, and opened his eyes again, heading towards the bathroom.
Knocking on the door, Harry leaned against the opposite wall and waited for Claudia to shout that he would go in. She yelled out, and Harry entered.
"Hey," Claudia nodded a 'hi' and slipped out the bathroom, holding her wash bag. Harry sighed once more, and stared at himself in the mirror.
I'm getting old he told himself. I'm forty-three next year… Okay, it wasn't old old, but it was getting there. Harry smirked slightly to himself. I was only twenty-two the last time Aries saw me…
There was that stupid pang again. Harry grit his teeth. He waited for the pain in his heart to go, and when it did, he brushed his teeth.
He mused to himself about what his life would be like here. Would Claudia like her new school? Would she make friends easily?
He had read somewhere that moving a child over the age of nine is difficult, because by that point, everyone has their own group of friends. Was he doing the right thing?
By the time he had finished in the bathroom, Claudia had fallen asleep in her sleeping bag. She cracked one eye open when Harry shuffled into his.
"Go to sleep, Claude," Harry whispered. Claudia sighed, and turned on her stomach, looking at him.
"Why did you choose here?" Claudia asked, opening her other eye.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, why did you choose here, of all places? Did you live here once?" Harry shook his head, and pulled his cover over his head. Claudia giggled and tugged on it, dragging it away from his face.
"No, I haven't Claude. I just liked the place," Claudia nodded, and smirked.
"Liar," Harry rolled his eyes, and emerged from the covers, black hair sticking up all over the place.
"Liar, liar, pants on fire!"
"Claudia…" Claudia giggled, and Harry tapped her on the nose.
"Bad girl, Claudia, bad!"
"Daaaad," Claudia whined. "I'm not a dog!"
"Want a bet?" Claudia hit him on the head, and raised her eyebrows when he glared back.
"Are you challenging me, Mr. Evans?"
"Why, I do believe I am, Ms. Evans," Harry, looked her squarely in the eye. He raised his hand slightly, in the shape of a gun.
Claudia waved her hand dismissively.
"No, too tired," she yawned. Harry patted her on the head, gently.
He stood up in his sleeping bag, and hopped over to the lights, turning them off. He hoped back, almost falling over Claudia and lay down again.
"Night-night!" he whispered.
She raised her hand slightly and waved.
Harry waved back, smiling. "Good night, Claudia Emily,"
"Good night, Harry James," she ended their little traditional good-night. Harry pulled Claudia to his chest, and kissed the top of her head.
Claudia mumbled something, and buried her face in his chest. She fell asleep near instantly.
Harry looked at the top of his daughter's head and thought. Would she be happy?
Of course she will…
Harry nodded and smiled, closing his eyes.
When the morning came, they would be happy. But for now, father and daughter were held in the caring arms of dreams.