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Claire was a senior in high school. She liked to tell people that she had an acute case of senioritis, and she spent more time at Bergdorf's with her friends than in her blow-off classes. She was already accepted at NYU anyway. Sometimes she asked Peter to write her excuses for the office, and he would grumble, but take a pen out of his pocket and she'd tear a sheet of paper out of her notebook for him.
She brought her boyfriends to Thanksgiving dinner. Peter generally liked the boys she chose to date; affable and frank young men with blond hair and white teeth. Peter took many nice women out for dinner on Friday nights. Claire was kind to whatever woman was on his arm at political functions. They both posed in Christmas card photos that were sent out to political associates. They exchanged gifts at Christmas, ones like gift certificates and DVDs.
Claire's officially an adult now. She didn't try out for cheerleading this year. She went to a Killers concert. She moved her bedroom to the top floor of the Petrelli home, and painted the walls red.
If he could give her anything, anything in the world for Christmas, it would be a necklace he saw in the Village a few months ago. Peridot. It reminded him of her, somehow.
But you don't give your niece jewelry for Christmas.
Her prom dress was cream satin, and she spun around in the living room, showing it to Heidi and the boys. Peter's mom thought that it was inappropriate, too sexy, the way that the folds of her dress clung to her body. It was deeply cut in the back to show off the fine clefts of her shoulder blades and the curve of her lower back.
"Indecent," sneered her grandmother.
"Right," said Claire, threading an earring through her earlobe. "Well, I am a Petrelli," she said nastily to her grandmother, before catching Peter's eye with a smirk.
Usually he would have smiled back, but not tonight.
"Where's Chaz? It takes twice as long to get around in a limo, you know," said Heidi, bringing a boutonnière covered with plastic from the kitchen.
"I said not to come before seven so we could take pictures," said Claire.
"What a nice idea," said Heidi. "Peter?"
Peter picked up the camera from the coffee table, and peered through the little box. Claire kneeling with the boys. Claire and Heidi, laughing. Claire and her grandmother, who refused to smile.
"Heidi, take a picture of Peter and I now," said Claire, skipping forward to take the camera from his hands.
"No, don't," said Peter.
"Why not?" Claire's eyes were crinkling at him.
"Oh, take a picture with your niece, Peter." Heidi spoke in her best mother voice, and Peter let himself be pulled over to the mantle by Claire.
He stood with his left hand tucked into his pocket, his right resting lightly on a tanned, bare shoulder.
"Smile!" The camera flashed
When she snuggled deeper into the cleft of his arm and put her hand on his chest, he relented and slipped his hand around her waist.
"Ah," said Heidi, and the flash went off so many times that Peter had to blink. "That's adorable."
He hides in Nathan's office before the doorbell can ring, and shuffles through the pictures on Heidi's camera. Just like he thought, the camera caught him glancing at Claire in one. His hair falls over his face, his dark eyes are fixated on the girl next to him. She smiles straight on into the camera, doesn't notice his stare.
He deletes that one. And the one after it. He deletes all of the ones with him in it, except for the first one, the one where his arm was around her shoulder only.
A few days later Claire was thumbing through samples for her graduation party invitations. Peter was sitting next to her on the couch. Occasionally she'd flip one at him and ask him what he thought.
Peter's face screwed up at the latest one. "No way, Claire. It looks like a dinner menu."
She started to reply when Nathan walked into the room, looking ready for war.
"Claire, this is not a wedding. This is not a show on MTV. It's your graduation, and I don't think you need anything this elaborate. Dinner with us, and I'll send you and your little friends on a cruise this summer, okay?"
She didn't say anything, just sighed heavily, and blew a piece of hair off of her face.
Nathan looked at his brother. Peter just shrugged.
"Talk her out of this, please," said Nathan exasperatedly.
"Nathan, come on," said Claire shortly as she pushed a pencil behind her ear.
"I'm not paying for this. Who's paying for this?" Nathan picked up a few of the invitations on the coffee table.
"You are!" Claire threw the invitations in her hand onto the table. "Heidi told me I could, and I think you owe me 16 years of birthday parties anyway, so let me go a little wild with my graduation party, okay?" And she stomped out of the room. Funny how loud size six shoes could sound on mahogany.
"Peter…" Nathan sank down onto the couch in the spot his daughter had just vacated. "What's the point of you being so damned close to her if you can't get her to listen to you?"
"I don't know why you think she'd listen to me any more than you."
Nathan sighed. "Oh, she does. She may not do what you say, but she always listens to you. I don't think she even hears what I'm saying about this ridiculous party."
Peter cleared his throat. "Well, I don't see what you have to object to…sure it's a little over the top, but nothing obnoxious."
Nathan rubbed his eyes. "Claire is an issue that my constituents would prefer not to have shoved in their faces."
"Claire isn't an issue, Nathan, she's your daughter," said Peter, and shook his head.
A loud slam echoed above their heads from Claire's bedroom door. Nathan winced.
"I know that…I guess sometimes, I just forget." Nathan spoke the words sincerely.
Peter leaned back onto the couch and crossed his arms. "You don't get it."
"Anyway," and Nathan changed the subject like a true politico. "Heidi says Claire was out all last week with this Chaz kid. What do you think of the guy?"
"Um. He seems nice. Decent. Mom says it's a good family," said Peter.
"Yeah, yeah. The Parsons, old money. She could do worse, I think."
Peter shifted, laughed weakly. "She's only eighteen. I don't think she's gonna be settling down anytime soon."
"Oh, probably not. But still. You never know, I guess," said Nathan as he stood up from the couch. "I'm going to grab a beer. You want one? Hey. Peter. Wake up. I said, do you want one?"
Peter shook his head, and Nathan rolled his eyes before he left the room. Peter was too busy wondering why his fingers were numb to notice.
No one appreciates her like she should be. No one could ever love her the way she should be loved. No one is good enough; no one would do it right.
He'd like to buy her a tower somewhere, safe from the ugly world that would wipe that little smile from her face. Rapunzel, with long blonde curls that smell like vanilla when he gets too close to her. She could keep the key, and let him visit sometime, maybe.
There were probably twenty of the little pink boxes lined up across the kitchen. Claire went down the line, flipping the top of them open.
"Jesus…" said Peter, and shook out of his black blazer. "I better get serious."
She laughed and smiled at him, the way that made him want to smile too. "No backing out. You said you'd help pick my graduation cake."
"I did," said Peter, and he nodded.
Claire had already dug into a red velvet cake. "Mmm. Too southern though. Not New York-ish. Grandma'd kill me."
Peter cut a small bite out of one with yellow frosting. "Yech. Lemon."
"You're right. It definitely needs to be richer," said Claire, and tapped her finger on her lips.
Peter turned away quickly and busied himself with a likely piece of German chocolate, when she appeared in front of him.
"Try," she said, and leaned on the counter, holding a forkful of cake out to him.
He took the fork from her, and slid the cake into his mouth.
"Eh," he said.
"Eh?" Claire was incredulous.
"Yes, eh!" Peter smiled and laughed quickly.
Claire tsked, and they were silent for a few minutes, chewing.
"Okay, here. This one." Claire held her fork out to him, level with his mouth. The cake was white, with a rose colored frosting.
Peter paused, and then dutifully ate from the fork in her hand. Claire watched his reaction, barely blinking. Peter chewed for a minute. "Mmph. Good."
Claire smiled and nodded, and moved to the next box, but not before she put the fork, the fork that he had eaten off of, in her mouth. She licked at a bit of the frosting, twisting the pink swirl around her tongue.
Peter watched for longer than he should have, and then told Claire that he needed to get going.
Sometimes he dreams that his whole family disappears. Except for him and her. Where everyone they've ever known somehow is gone on a long vacation, or moves to Canada, or something.
Which is ridiculous because he loves his family, so much. He'd never want them to disappear, and just the fact that he sometimes thinks about it makes him scared and paranoid because this isn't like him, not at all.