She's more precocious than most people her age and yet wise beyond her years. She has lost both her parents, started to help raise her youngest brother and dealt with the trappings of becoming a woman all before the ripe age of thirteen. She is on the brink of entering those cataclysmic teenage years when she should be worrying about her friends, clothes and boys; instead, she thinks about the pressures of her blossoming violin career, worries about what life will be like when Charlie gets tired of being a parent at twenty-five and fears her family's financial well-being as the restaurant continues to struggle after her father's death. It's too much for any person to deal with, but for Claudia, it has sadly become a way of life.
The one bright spot in her life lately has been Bailey, the one person who she has always known was on her side no matter what. He has been there to listen to her work out the more difficult parts on her latest violin concerto and help her with her pre-algebra homework and take her wherever she needs to go whenever she needs to go. Julia can't be bothered to deal with her most days and Charlie has a lot on his plate between Owen and the restaurant, so it falls on Bailey to step up and be the constant in her life. It is a role that he has taken on wholly and willingly, but even Claudia can see that her very young brother will have his breaking point. It's not until a few years later that she sees how badly that all goes down.
It's only when Claudia brings home an A on her math test that Charlie takes notice of her improved school work, and the family ends up celebrating at their weekly dinner. Much to her delight, Bailey even arranges for the wait staff to perform a revised rendition of their traditional birthday song and Julia lets her have her slice of cake when dessert comes. It's a special meal for the five of them, a moment worth celebrating that had become increasingly rare in recent weeks when life had just seemed to be in the way. They talk and laugh about their days at school and at work, and when Charlie holds up his iced tea in toast to his baby sister, she sees a grin of genuine pride on his face that leaves her feeling warm and fuzzy long after he has tucked her into her tent for the night.
The intervention was the very definition of a disaster. Claudia hated to be used for anything, but when it came to Bailey, her hero, she was willing to do anything to save him. She knows that she wouldn't have made it this far without him, and if she doesn't step up, they are going to lose him. For a girl that has already lost so much, it's too much to bear. That's the only way she can justify making the threats that she made and has every intent to uphold.
However, that strong resolve that held her together earlier seems to have evaporated in the quiet hours of late night as she sat huddled alone. Dressed in sweats and one of his old t-shirts from high school, she feels lonelier than ever. She misses Bailey all the time now and has for months. This isn't her brother, the same guy who had been the backbone of their family since a drunk driver single-handedly ended two lives. That's the part that makes this all worse. He knows the effects of alcoholism but doesn't care. His disease is a selfish one, and they are all suffering.
Claudia isn't sure how she will tell Owen that he can't see Bailey anymore. Her brother is too young to understand what is going on, but he knows that he misses his brother's presence in his life. He calls out for him sometimes when everyone is together at the house, frantically looking around the room from his highchair amidst the chaos of Sunday breakfast. There are times when he wakes up in the middle night and screams Bailey's name and Charlie just isn't the same when he tries to rock the toddler in the wee hours of the morning. It's just one more thing that Bailey is missing, just another thing that he doesn't care about.
She is just about ready to climb back into bed when that very cry wails from down the hall. Claudia blows a strand of dark hair out of her eye as she rushes toward Owen's room, glancing over her shoulder for any signs of movement from Charlie or Julia's rooms. Owen is standing up in his crib, peering over the rail with both arms in the air, just begging to be held. The moonlight casts its glow across his tiny little perfect face and when he sees his sister, Owen's face breaks out into the most brilliant smile. Claudia lets down the side of the crib and lifts him out effortlessly, burying her face in his shoulder. There might not be much hope for Bailey right now, but there's still hope for Owen. She promises to herself then that she won't let this happen to him.
It's the end of that year, the worst of her life, and Julia has just done the stupidest thing that any of them could ever imagine. It's not that they don't like Griffin or want their sister to be happy. It's that she is still in high school, can't even hold down a part time job and is probably the most self-absorbed person that Claudia has ever known. She expects the family to be thrilled when she comes dancing in and flashes her wedding band. She expects them to be even more supportive when she announces that she is spending the next two months in Europe with her ex-boyfriend, not her husband.
The summer apart does little to help Charlie's simmering anger, and Claudia feels torn between loyalty to her sister and agreeing with her brother. Bailey is still trying to make up for a lost year at college and doesn't have time to focus on Julia. Life has moved on without her, and for once, Julia isn't the center of the Salinger universe. Claudia has done a lot of growing up over those three months and comes back from summer camp a lot more mature than Charlie is prepared for. Later on, when the two of them meet Bailey and Owen for dinner, they don't even notice how Julia is missing anymore. They just talk about Claudia's impending first day of high school and how well Owen is doing with learning the alphabet and why Bailey is thinking about changing his major and Charlie's plans for a new menu at the restaurant.
In fact, Claudia doesn't think about Julia at all until three days before school starts when she shows up at the house after another fight with Charlie. Things have been tense, to say the least, and Claudia has avoided everything by staying clear of her sister. However, Julia seems determined to spend time with her younger sister by taking her shopping. She insists that she has to have the perfect outfit for her first day of class and even offers to treat her to lunch on their little excursion downtown. Claudia wants to refuse but when Charlie drops by her room with money and without a word to Julia, she gives in and goes downtown with her.
They end up on this street filled with trendy boutiques that Julia has frequented for some time but Claudia has never been allowed to visit. Julia helps her try on skirts and cardigans, dresses and jeans, tees and tanks all in hopes of finding the perfect outfit. It's only when they find a gauzy floral dress in a dark print and a fitted denim jacket that Claudia starts to perk up. As she comes out of the fitting room to model the dress, Julia's face lights up and Claudia feels like the prettiest girl in the world. All Claudia has ever wanted was her sister's approval, and standing there in the perfectly lit store, she feels like she finally has a little part of it.
Claudia was the fourth sibling to graduate from high school and the fourth to attend college. There was nothing special about the day, and she knew that. It seemed to be more of an inconvenience than anything as Charlie tried to pack up the baby and Julia fussed about taking time off work to come up from San Diego and Bailey and Sarah tried to rearrange their schedules to plan her graduation party. Kristin had tried in vain to make it up to her, but Claudia has just shrugged off her advances. She just wanted to get through the ceremony, endure one last long summer at home and go off to Brown in the fall.
She's fussing with her short black dress when Bailey knocks on the door. She turns around and straightens the awkward cardboard hat she had managed to pin to her hair earlier. He teases her lightly about being grown up and then about wearing the ugly atrocity that was he graduation gown. And then he sits on the edge of her bed and hands over a gift box, a long slim case wrapped in shiny silver and red paper with and a satin black bow.
Claudia unwraps it slowly, clearly surprised at her brother's gift. She remembers it from when she was younger, this perfect strand of pearls that had been a prized piece in her mother's impressive jewelry collection. She looks up at him with wide, wet eyes as she lifts the necklace from its box. Charlie had been given his father's pocket watch the day that he graduate from high school, while Bailey had been the recipient of his favorite pair of cuff links. Julia had her mother's diamond earrings, and Charlie had put back his father's St. Christopher's medal for when Owen finally graduated. This necklace had been picked specifically for Julia long before her parents had died, and only Bailey had known to give it to her.
She starts to cry like a little girl then, and Bailey wraps her in a warm hug to comfort her. Neither of them say how their parents should be there and how much Claudia is starting to look like her mother and how Charlie's voice sounds just like their dad's from down the hall. Bailey only pulls away, kisses her forehead and reminds her how proud he is of her. And when he clasps the necklace around her neck and smiles at her in the mirror, Claudia suddenly realizes that there is something special about this day. This is the day that she finally got a little piece of her mother that she could always carry with her.
Claudia remembers the first time she ever saw Griffin as the first time she ever thought maybe she could be in love. She was a mere kid then, totally innocent and unaware of what that word really meant. He had been her sister's boyfriend then and later even Julia's husband. It was only after the divorce that Claudia really grew close to her former brother-in-law. He stayed around the house when Julia ran off to live her independent life, picking up the slack when the Salingers needed him most. Claudia was reminded how great a guy he was during that strange year that saw them start a band together. She knows now that it was the start of something good.
She makes it through all four years of college and two years at the Philharmonic without ever telling him how she feels. He sees her perform at least once a month, flying to whatever destination to see her as a featured soloist among one of the greatest orchestra's in the world. He sends flowers on opening nights, asks her to autograph the program from her first performance at Carnegie Hall and even agrees to escort her to an awards ceremony when she is nominated for some recorded work she did with a popular soul vocalist. He has become her best friend in the world and he knows pretty much everything about her – everything except how she's always been in love with him.
He's the first call she makes when the second round of nominations come down, this time for a much bigger ceremony than the regional one she won before. This time it's the Grammys and she's nominated on her own for the live recording of a featured piece she did in her hometown. Griffin congratulates her and stays on the phone for the next two hours, listening to her worry about speeches and schedules and gowns. An impressive bouquet arrives within an hour of them hanging up, and three days later, he is at her doorstep in person, having from all the way from San Francisco to New York.
They spend that week celebrating all over the city, and Griffin heads to the theatre to see her perform each night. He's always waiting for her afterwards in her dressing room, each night holding a different kind of exotic flower from a shop just down the street from her apartment. He helps her pick out a dress at Oscar de la Renta and endures an agonizing afternoon of shopping for the perfect shoes. He doesn't even hesitate when he agrees to be her date. He's so proud of her that Claudia almost feels like she has already won.
Her stomach is a mass of butterflies the night of the ceremony, sitting there just a few rows away from the likes of Beyonce and Justin Timberlake as they call out name after name. Her categories won't make the televised event, but she doesn't care about that. She's been the favored winner going into the ceremony, and she is just praying that she can get through the speech without sounding like a blubbering fool. She's too busy reading over her note cards yet again that she doesn't even hear them announce her category. Griffin pulls her to her feet in a tight hug when the announcer calls out that she has indeed won the award.
Claudia is no stranger to the bright lights and big stage as she makes her way to the podium. She has long gotten over stage fright and isn't necessarily all that nervous about being front and center. Still, she is shocked at the sea of people applauding before her as she takes the gold statue from Michael Buble and exchanges air kisses with the crooner. Her knees are knocking so loudly that she's about ready to answer them when her eyes finally find his in the crowd. He is beaming at her proudly, clapping louder than anyone. Claudia manages to take a deep breath before starting on her speech. Two minutes later, Griffin knows that Claudia does in fact love him and that same smile never leaves his face. He's waiting for her at the foot of the stairs when she steps off stage and literally sweeps her off her feet. She's pretty sure then that it's the best smile she'll ever have.