Claudia stood in the spotlight, face turned toward the sky, just taking in the applause. This was her moment, and she intended to make it last.
As Griffin plucked happily on his guitar in his bed in the garage apartment, Claudia made sure to take a mental snapshot. This was definitely a moment she'd want to remember later.
"I don't care that he used to be your husband, Julia, you got a divorce. You're the one that left him, remember?"
Sometimes she think he looks at her and still sees the twelve-year-old she was the first time he met her, and she is so afraid she'll never be able to escape that memory. And then he kisses her and messes up her hair and she gets over it just a little.
"Claud, hold still for just a minute," Kirsten pleaded as she adjusted Claudia's veil in front of the full-length mirror. "Griffin waited this long to marry you; he will make it five more minutes, I promise."
She isn't left with any words when he leaves. Instead, she stares out the window for three days.
Calloused fingers moving nimbly over steel guitar strings is easily the sexiest thing she has ever seen. Later, she makes sure that her hair falling around his face in bed is the sexiest thing he has ever felt.
"Well, Mom, it's been fourteen years," she said softly, rubbing her hands over her swollen stomach. "I just wanted to let you know it's a girl; we're going to name her Nicole after Dad."
She doesn't know when life got this way, just that she is more lost than she had ever been in her entire life. Claudia uses her last few coins to call Griffin and refuses to cry a single tear even after he comes to pick her up.
Tapping her pen idly against her composition notebook, Claudia realizes that she quit taking notes fifteen minutes ago. She's just been writing his name over and over again, and that's when she realizes that she has fallen in love.
"Please, please, please, Griff, you have to tell me!" she begged, tugging on his shirt sleeve, just a few weeks shy of her twenty-fourth birthday. What she doesn't expect, what he does next, is him to drop down on his knee in front of her with a diamond ring in his hand.
He holds her hand tightly as they sit in the first pew, both of them staring silently ahead at the casket in front of them. Charlie is gone, and there is nothing either of them can ever do to make things right again.
With the violin tucked neatly beneath her chin, Claudia started to play for the first time in years. It felt good to lose herself like that again.
Claudia didn't even bat an eye when didn't get into NYU. Dreams change, and she had a boy to follow around the world on tour.
"Bailey and Sarah are finally getting married, and you are going to be my date," she announces to Griffin over dinner at the restaurant. He starts to tell her no, but her smile changes his mind.
When the heat goes out in their first apartment, Griffin plays the guitar by the fireplace to keep her entertained. Claudia never notices when she starts to shiver.
Claudia watches Griffin and Justin chase Owen around the backyard and Bailey and Charlie dance by with Diana as Julia and Kirsten look at bridal magazines. These are the days that bring her peace.
He was her sister's husband and then her sister's ex-husband and then her best friend. Griffin is all these things to her and so much more, and yet, Claudia still isn't exactly sure what to make of him.
The reviews come out and the play is far from a hit, meaning that Claudia will be back waiting tables at the restaurant Monday morning instead of in the orchestra pit. Claudia only spills half the soup in the critic's lap when he orders the lunch special on Thursday.
Griffin finds her keys in the freezer somewhere in the middle of her second trimester and chalks it all up to pregnancy hormones. Claudia laughs for a good thirty seconds before breaking down in tears, reminding him that it is a very delicate balance right now with his wife.
She was one of the youngest performers to have a full symphony performed by the Philharmonic, a feat she achieved a few days shy of her nineteenth birthday. The program reads, "Dedicated to the memories of Nick and Diana Salinger."
"You're Julia's little sister," Griffin laughs when she tries to kiss him after a late-night practice with the band. Claudia is grateful he can't see her tears in the dark.
Sometimes she wonders what that freckle tastes like, the one on the left side of his neck. If she were a betting woman, she'd say it tastes like hope and desire with just the tiniest hint of bliss.
Good things never last. This is a lesson Claudia learned at her parents' funeral when she was eleven.
Julia brings her fashion magazine and Bailey brings her favorite cupcakes and Owen brings a box of truffles and Charlie even tries a bottle of vodka. None of it works when Griffin finally leaves San Francisco for good.
"Oh, you just watch me, Griffin Holbrook!" she dared him. "I will have it all, and I will have you!"
She knows it's not fair when she licks her glossy lips and stares at him in that certain way, but she is determined to have her way. Griffin has said no to her enough to last a lifetime, and it's about time he starts saying yes.
"Julia and I are going to give it another try," he tells her before she starts her sophomore year, and Claudia can only shake her head. She always thought Griffin was smarter than that.
She takes a deep inhale and passes the joint over to Griffin. She knows she'll probably regret this later, but he's smiling at her all cute and she's too far gone to really care.
Two more weeks and then she'll be home. Life on the road isn't all it's cracked up to be.
"He said yes, he said yes!" she giggles into the phone after she finally finds the courage to ask him. Griffin Holbrook is taking her to her senior prom.
Claudia crosses her arms over herself subconsciously and reaches for a blanket when he turns her down. He says it's because she isn't ready yet, but she can't help but feel like there is something wrong with her.
He sings the song he wrote for her to a sold-out crowd. Claudia has never been more in love.
"C'mon, Charlie, get a move on!" she calls out as she runs up Nob Hill. It's been three weeks since he went into remission and their second week of training for the cancer walk.
"You do not have the right to tell either me what to do," she says eerily calmly, but her dark eyes are a distinct shade of red. "You've made plenty of mistakes, Bailey; I think it's about time you let me make some of my own."
He hears her as she starts to play the haunting melody as a sort of lullaby for Diana and gets caught up in her song. She is like a siren, captivating him and then calling him home.
Julia holds up her left hand to show off her sparkly diamond, and it's the first time Claudia remembers really and truly hating her. She'll never be good enough for a guy like Griffin.
There is a set of car keys, a $20 bill and a little plastic card in her purse that guarantees her all the freedom she will ever need. It feels good to finally be sixteen.
Diana has been crying for hours when she crawls out of the house and into his bed. She finally finds sleep in Griffin's arms.
A smile and a wink, that's all it took for Diana to get Nick all those years ago. It's pretty much the same technique Claudia uses on Griffin two days before he finally asks her on their first date.
She watches him walk into rehab and knows that he doesn't appreciate it at all. She had lost her father to alcohol and now she could very well lose her brother.
She jumps up and down and claps excitedly when the Giants finally win the World Series. Her dad might not have gotten to see them finally take it all, but his kids sure did.
Rhiannon's eyes go wide when Claudia shows her a photograph of Griffin. "Now I get it!"
The sky is gray as Claudia sits alone on the bench at Golden Gate Park. Her mom would have been fifty today, just another sad landmark.
Griffin is above her and around her, and she only sees love staring back at her. This is what love feels like.
As she stared at her family around the Thanksgiving table, Claudia missed her parents terribly. They were where it all started, but they would never get to see how it all ended.
He's been gone for three weeks out to sea, just a quick way to make a quick buck when the other gigs start to thin out. Claudia mopes around the house for three weeks before Charlie calls the ship and tells him to come home.
Julia walks in on them without knowing exactly what she has walked in on. Even if her sister has been married to Justin for two years, Claudia still feels like it's cheating just a little.
Their little girl swings freely between them as they walk through Central Park. Life in New York with Griffin is everything she ever imagined – and more.
"You just watch," she tells her reflection one day, "I will marry him someday." She proves herself right on March 24th ten years later.
She watches the small Asian boy play his violin expertly, and Claudia knows that it's the first time that someone her age plays better than her. She probably would have hated him more if he wasn't just so dang good.
Griffin comes into the room after the exam and wraps his coat around her. There are bruises on her face and on her arms, and he can't come to ask her how they got there.
Claudia only shrugs when Julia asks what she wants for breakfast. She gave up having an opinion in this house years ago.
The girl is tall, tan and blonde – pretty much everything she's not. Claud hates her instantly.
Julia's hand tucked in Griffin's back pocket greets Claudia one Thursday afternoon when they pick her up from school. She gets kind of mad on Friday when Jamie won't let her try it on him.
She learns that he has a thing for her neck when he keeps staring at it during band practice. Later, after he has adequately marked her with a sizable hickey, she learns that she might have a little bit of a fetish for knowing that she belongs to him.
School is finally out, and the next three months are stretched out in front of her like they will last forever. It's one perfect summer with Griffin before she leaves for Brown, and she plans to make the most of it by doing absolutely nothing.
She feels a little bit woozy for two weeks, so she makes an appointment with the family doctor. Claudia wonders later if she gets the same sad look Charlie got when he learned he had cancer.
They start treatment first thing on Monday morning, and Charlie never once lets go of her hand. Claudia doesn't look up from the television ; she can't stand the thought of seeing pity staring back at her.
Bailey and Julia are gone now, and it's just her and Owen knocking around this big house with Charlie. She always thought she'd be glad when she had space of her own, but instead, she has never felt more alone.
"Her eyes are this color of brown that I've never seen anywhere else before, but I know that I want to see it again," she overhears Griffin say on the phone. "I already lost her once before, I won't let myself lose her again.
He finds her crying in the living room, holding a simple scrap of silk that looks like it used to be a scarf. Bailey tells Griffin later that it belonged to their mother.
"Truth or dare?" Claudia asks him childishly between sips of beer, her first official drink after turning twenty-one. When he says truth and she makes him confess his feelings for her, she grins at him and says, "This was my plan all along."
One minute she is crying and the next minute she is laughing, and Griffin worries that she has gone bipolar. Then Claudia laughs so hard she starts to cry as she hands over the pregnancy test results.
She hangs a handmade snowflake on the Christmas tree and frowns at all the memories. She always used to love the holidays before...but now, it seems to be the worst time of year.
Claudia's earliest memory is getting caught taking a cookie from Bailey's plate and then getting trouble after. Hardly a day passes where she doesn't wish her mother was around to still yell at her.
"You look beautiful," he exhales as he stands on the stoop waiting to pick her up on their first official date as a couple. He's seen her a thousand times before this, but somehow seeing her beneath the amber porch light feels like the first time.
She keeps a ticket stub from every date on their first tour and presses them all into a scrapbook. She'll use it later to show their children that they really used to be cool.
Claudia takes to drinking like her father and Bailey before her. It's the family disease, and nothing seems to be the cure.
"We've gotten through worse," she whispers first to Bailey before he goes to rehab and then later to Charlie as he goes in for the first round of chemo. "We're all behind you, you've got all of us."
She holds Diana to her chest and listens to her sleep. As long as she is holding this beautiful little girl, all seems right with the world.
Owen writes a paper in the fourth grade about his hero and chooses Claudia as his perfect subject. She's the only one who has never turned his whole world upside down.
There isn't enough hope in the world to make Claudia believe that it's going to be alright this time. She quit believing right around the time he said goodbye.
He tugs on her hair while she writes her term paper, the last for the semester. Some time between the fourth and fifth pages, he convinces her to abandon it altogether.
"We're together, get over it," Griffin tells Julia matter-of-factly before storming out of the Salinger house with Claudia in toe. The younger girl grins over her shoulder at her sister and shrugs – the whole thing was a long time coming anyhow.
She was a girl on a mission, and Griffin knew he didn't have a chance in hell. Those boots and that smile pretty much told him everything that he needed to know.
She makes braised potatoes the first night in their tiny apartment and pretty much burns them to a crisp. They end up eating them on paper plates in the middle of their empty living room floor, and Griffin tells her that it's the best meal he's ever had.
She steps off the cable car and into the humming buzz of Chinatown. She has been away from San Francisco for too long, but the aroma of egg rolls finally brings her home.
"I have to help her," Griffin tells her as he puts on his shirt apologetically and leaves to pick up Juila. She wonders if he'll ever love her as much as he loves her sister.
She is at home on the stage. Claudia was made to perform.
He is waiting on the stairs after they have their first big fight. His arms have never made her feel more safe or more at home.
Claudia applauds as Kirsten and Charlie make it down the aisle. It's their love story that makes her believe in happy endings.
It's the kind of heat wave that makes Claudia feel like she is going to crawl out of her skin. And then Bailey shows up with a box of popsicles and one of those huge commercial fans, and suddenly summer doesn't seem so bad after all.
She's too young to know this cemetery like the back of her hand, but Claudia could find her way to her parents' burial plot blindfolded. She counts it among the worst things she is an expert on.
She listens to Charlie Rich on vinyl in her apartment in Soho and misses him terribly. It only takes one phone call in the middle of the night and a plane ticket across the country before he shows up at her door.
It's not cheating because she's technically not married. Okay, so she's engaged, but she promises to end it as soon as she quits kissing Griffin long enough.
She thinks saying "I love you" is the scariest thing ever. That is until she gets to the seven seconds where she waits for him to say it back.
She comes back to the dorm from music theory sophomore year and finds him waiting for her on her bed. It's been three years since the last time they spoke, but an hour later, it feels like hardly a minute has passed.
He paces the hallway rocking the baby for three days when she is sick with colic. Claudia listens as he sings over the baby monitor and knows that she picked the perfect husband.
The five Salingers dance around the living room in their sock feet as Billy Joel fills the house. It's just a random Wednesday night, nothing special, but it's the most fun they've had all month.
The label is waiting on her to finish the album, but she just can't seem to get the final track right. Griffin flies down to where she is recording in Miami to lay down the harmony; they email it to her A&R rep the next morning.
"Sometimes you just have to let go," she tells Griffin before taking a step off the bridge and letting the bungeex cord spring her dangerously close to the water below. She had never really been a risktaker before, but she was definitely taking a risk on him.
"I am sorry for your loss," she tells Jamie, an old friend from childhood, after he has lost his mother. "Welcome to the club that no one wants to belong to – let me introduce you to a few of the others."
They sit side by side on the bottom step after Julia leaves for Europe. Claudia reaches for Griffin's hand, and he is glad to have at least one Salinger on his side.
He sends her roses to every venue when she is away on tour. It's just a small way for him to say that he still misses her.
He traces her face in the dark, his fingertips dancing delicately over her skin. Nothing has ever felt more intimate for either one of them.
Owen squirms when the doctor pushes the syringe into his forearm, but Claudia is there to distract him with a game. She always hated getting shots when she was a kid and remembers the days when their mother used to do the same thing for her.
She's never been more afraid when she shows up at his tiny little apartment in San Diego and begs him for a second chance. He disappeared once from her life, and all she wants is the opportunity to have him back.
Griffin falls in love with Claudia the very first time he meets her, even if she is all of twelve. Yeah, it's strange and the definition of love changes drastically over the next decade, but Claudia will still insist that she always knew.
Claudia has never had everything she ever wanted before. She can't help but be a little scared that she just might be about to lose it all.