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There had been big changes in Peter's life in the past year. He'd gained superpowers, lost a girlfriend, exploded, nearly killed his brother, and saved a cheerleader who ended up being his niece.
But now things were settling down, the wheel was turning back to a slower pace for Peter. He was back doing what he still thought he did best. The best way to help people that he knew of.
Peter leaned his head back onto the seat of the cab. He was tired, completely drained from his flight from Detroit that afternoon. Five days at a gerontology convention. Peter rubbed his eyes. He looked forward to closing the blinds at his place and sleeping for a couple days.
Just as he was nodding off, he felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. He sighed and held it to his ear.
"Peter?" wobbled a voice in his ear.
Peter sat up. "Claire? Are you okay?"
"Yes." Claire sniffed loudly.
"What's wrong?" When she did not immediately answer, he pressed again. "Claire, are you there? Where are you?"
"I'm in New Jersey." Claire sniffed again. "I'm so stupid, Peter, I've done the stupidest thing."
"What's going on?" Peter felt panic rising in his chest, and he tried to fight it.
"I took Nathan's car…his fun car," said Claire into the phone. "And I can't get it to start now."
"But you're okay?"
"Of course I am," said Claire sadly. Peter breathed a sigh of relief. Funny that he still worried about that, even though she couldn't be hurt. Not physically at least.
"Peter, he doesn't know I took the car."
Of course he didn't. Peter knew very well what Nathan's fun car was – a '75 Porsche 914, bright red. He'd never let Claire take it anywhere. Nathan washed that thing by hand, if that was any sort of indicator as to his level of dedication to it.
Peter sighed. "Where exactly are you?"
"I don't know, I don't know," said Claire. "In New Jersey!"
"Hey. Okay, calm down. I need to know where you are, so I can come get you."
"How do I find out where I am?" Claire sounded panicked.
Peter tried not to laugh. "Look on the street by you, okay?"
Claire's cell phone crackled and he could hear the click of her shoes on the pavement. "I'm in a church parking lot…the sign says Avondale Church of Christ."
"Avondale is in Nutley. That's close. Hold on."
"Are you back here?" asked Claire. "I thought you might still be in Detroit."
"Nope, you've got great timing. Hold on." Peter spoke to the cabby. "Hey, change of plans."
Lucky for Claire that it was a Saturday, and the traffic was light. It took Peter about twenty minutes before he pulled up to a tiny brownstone church with a very conspicuous car sitting alone in the parking lot.
Leaning against the car was a worried-looking blonde girl in jeans and a thin sweater that covered her hands.
She didn't see Peter get out as she was looking in the wrong direction. He slammed the door shut, and she turned. "You shouldn't bite your nails," said Peter jokingly.
"Peter!" She ran over to him and threw her arms around his neck. "I am so glad you're here."
Peter hugged her back. "You delinquent." He looked down at her face and wiped a tear off of her chin.
"I know. I screwed up big time, " said Claire, and she was still holding onto him.
"Nathan will kill you if he knows you took his car. And he'll probably know," said Peter, finally stepping away from her.
Claire frowned. "I barely know him and he's going to hate me forever."
The tenuous bond between Nathan and Claire had not had much time to grow past an awkward friendship. And Nathan didn't forgive so easy, as Peter had found out several times.
Peter hauled his bag out of the cab and stuffed it into the back of the Porsche. "Don't look so sad. I used to drive this thing all the time without him knowing when I was in college. I know all the tricks."
"Really?" Peter loved the bright smile that spread across her features. "But, it's broken, it won't start," said Claire.
"Well," said Peter, opening the door and sliding into the car. "These 914's are notorious for vapor lock. They're made for modding, see…"
Claire looked at him blankly.
"Nevermind. How often did you try to start it?"
"Well, I tried like, a lot before I called you," said Claire.
"And the last time you started it was how long ago?"
"Um. Probably since I talked to you on the phone."
Peter looked at his watch. "That's been awhile. Let's try her."
Claire handed him the keys, and Peter tentatively tried the ignition.
The car revved to life instantly. Peter gave it a little gas, and Claire clapped her hands.
"Get in," said Peter.
"Oh, thank you God," said Claire, and skipped over to the passenger side.
They fastened their seatbelts, and Peter eased the car out of the parking lot. "You were flooding it, you ditz. Do you even have a license, Claire?"
She blushed. "Um, not exactly. I had a permit, in Texas."
Peter shook his head in mock-frustration. "You should probably cut your teeth on something less expensive. We could practice, if you wanted."
"No, I am never driving again," said Claire emphatically. "This was so horrible."
Peter grinned. "Then why did you want to drive this thing? You make no sense."
"I don't know! I was being dumb. No one was home, and I was bored…" Claire shrugged. "I don't know why I did it."
Peter steered the car onto the 495, accelerating rapidly. He'd forgotten how much fun this thing was to drive.
"Where is everyone anyway?"
"Some luncheon," said Claire. "I wasn't invited."
"It's almost four. I bet they're done and back by now," said Peter.
Claire's head dropped forward. "Crap."
He had a brief moment of guilt. He knew that he should probably tell Nathan what his daughter had been up to. Adult solidarity and all that. But he pushed it to the back of his mind. Claire looked so contrite, so sad. He'd do just about anything to take that look off her face.
"I'll cover for you," said Peter.
She gasped. "Really?"
"Yes, if you swear to me you won't do it again, okay?"
"I swear! This was awful. I wanted to kill myself when the car wouldn't start," said Claire.
"You might have had trouble with that," said Peter.
She smiled, but did not speak. When she did, her voice was soft and a little shy. "Thank you, Peter," said Claire, from beneath her long eyelashes. "You always seem to bail me out."
"You're welcome," said Peter gravely.
"I haven't…had anyone I knew I could depend on in awhile," said Claire. "You've never really let me down."
"I never will." Peter didn't mean to speak so forcefully, and was a little surprised at how the words came out. He looked over at her quickly.
She was staring at him, giving him that 'Golly, I think you're great!' face that alternately made him feel like a very large person or very nervous, for some reason.
"I don't get why you went to Nutley, though," said Peter, changing the focus of the conversation.
"I wanted to see Rutgers," said Claire. "I'm thinking about applying there next year."
"Don't you want to go away for college? I thought you'd want to go away."
"Not really," said Claire nonchalantly. "It's nice to be close."
"It is. Plus it's a great campus." Peter hesitated. "I could take you out there some weekend. I know my way around the place."
"Oh, did you go there?" Claire asked quickly.
Yes, to see his girlfriend at the time, but he didn't think he needed to share that information at the moment.
"Nah, just had friends that went there," said Peter, pulling to the curb in front of his brother's house.
Nathan was down the steps of his building instantly. "Peter, what is going on?"
Peter looked at Claire significantly. Nathan had a sixth sense about that car.
"I, uh, wanted to show Claire the Porsche."
Nathan gave him a steady look. He'd long ago let Peter drive the car occasionally, but that's not to say that Nathan was happy about it when he did. "I thought you were in Detroit."
"Just got back," said Peter, and thumbed at his bag in the Porsche. Peter tossed the keys to Nathan.
Nathan caught them and gave his brother another long, suspicious look. "Huh. Okay. Well, glad to have you back. You coming in?"
Peter shook his head. "Nah. Too tired. I want to get back home," said Peter. "I'll grab a cab."
Nathan nodded. "Claire?"
She smiled at her father brightly. "I just want to say bye." Nathan nodded again and walked into the house.
"Are you sure you have to leave?" Claire asked a little wistfully, walking up to him and folding her arms.
"I'm sure," said Peter, as he smiled down at her.
"Aren't you hungry or something? I could get you something," said Claire.
Peter stuck his arm out for a passing cab, and opened the door of the Porsche to get his bag. "Isn't committing a felony enough excitement for you today?" asked Peter, laughing. He hitched his bag over his shoulder.
"Yes. Totally. I'm never doing anything that dumb again," said Claire.
Peter smiled at her softly. "Sure you will. Just be safe."
They looked at each other for a quiet moment, until the cabby impatiently honked.
Peter turned at the sound. "Well," he said, and started to step off the curb.
"Wait!" Claire walked over to him. "You saved me, again. Thank you."
She bounced up and brushed her lips against his cheek, balancing herself by lightly resting her fingers on his chest. It was so quick, so fleeting, that Peter wasn't sure if it had actually happened for a second.
Peter tried to speak but couldn't. He cleared his throat. "It's nothing, Claire. Anytime."
He threw the bag and himself into the car. He raised his hand at her from behind the glass window.
She raised her fingers in return. The sun glinted through her blonde curls, and she mouthed "Goodbye," at him as the car pulled away.