A/N: Well, he's the next part of this story. I'm planning on writing a companion story to this one...except it takes place on the Sunshine Islands. Chelsea will be the main character, and I expect to get around eight chapters out of it. It's currently a work in progress, but it really will be important to something coming up in Claire's life she will struggle with. I intend for the companion story and this story to interweave, so they can be read separately, but I'll involve them enough in both to be read together as well. And yes, it will be a romance...of sorts.
You're gonna be the one that saves me
And after all
You're my wonderwall."
(Oasis - Wonderwall.)
For the first month Claire mourned the loss of Dante. She prayed and wished the time might turn around and she might see his face once more. When the nightmares settled in and she suffered through sleepless nights, tangled in her sheets and blankets, she started to hate him. During those months she desired no more than to erase the memories and vision of his leering face from her mind. But every night, without fail, he returned to her, his fingers ghosting across her skin, branding her. The apparitions felt too authentic.
From time to time she dreamed the night everything happened. She watched Trent fall down, his body weakening from blood loss. Instead, this time, there was no Officer Harris to save her when Dante held the gun to her head. This time his fingers stilled around the column of her throat, his mouth hovered near her ear, and he whispered in her ear. Her blood chilled every time when he fulfilled his promise and turned the gun on Trent, pulled the trigger, and killed her fiancé.
"I want to make you suffer like I suffered."
She participated in a support group and attended meetings with a counselor and therapist during those months where she feared the night and oftentimes stayed up days in a row, fueled by caffeine, to keep the visions at bay. The people around her were all products of abusive relationships, whether parental or relationship abuse victims, as well as victims who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, brutally violated and beaten to the point of post traumatic stress. At first she was shocked by the amount of people like her; people who lived day to day with the constant fear of blacks and blues, broken bones, and the mental fear of their abuser, probing them day in and day out without fail.
Her parents coddled her for the six months she lived back home with them, assuring her they would do everything in their power to assure she would find herself in a more stable mindset come summer time. She allowed them the satisfaction of her trust, when in reality their jobs prevented them from spending much time with her. She found herself amidst the presence of old friends who she discovered held nothing in common with anymore. While they partied and shopped endlessly for the latest and greatest fashions, spent hours on the beach every day, and flirted with men at the bar, Claire stuck out like a sore thumb in her shorts and bikini top, no tan present, with no desire to dangle sex in front of other men's noses.
"I have a fiancé," she told them, extending her ring finger.
"Yeah, back on that farm you do," Milania said, smirking at the man she kept fastened around her little finger, the skin peeking out her bikini top the center of his attention. "No one said you couldn't look elsewhere while back home."
Claire slipped away from her 'friends' without another word and returned back home where she spent most of her time during her six month stay. She barely ventured outside, save for spending time in the pool when it got particularly hot out, and laying on a lounge chair in the backyard with a book propped up in her hands, her mind slipping away into nothingness. Part of her counseling involved finding a hobby, which she had through enveloping herself in a good book. It was easy to forget the pain of yesterday by losing herself in the words of someone else's passion, voiced through their words.
Before she knew it July creeped around the corner and Claire boarded the next flight back to New York and placed a payment on a ferry to Mineral Town, given the okay from her therapist and counselors. Her parents sat beside her, their eyes locked on the scenery drifting further and further out of view. Miranda's fingers were wrapped around the invitation they'd received a month prior, speaking of Jack's wedding on July first. Claire leaned back in her chair, a smile planted across her features.
By the time you get this letter, we will be even closer to seeing each other again. I know this letter is terribly short, but with your brother frantically planning his wedding, I haven't had much time to sit down and tell you just how much I am looking forward to seeing you again. Just know I cannot wait for July...and hope we can finalize our own wedding plans, if you are still wanting your summer wedding.
I love you.
As always, Trent.
It looked the same as she remembered. The sunny shores, the rolling waves, the isolated beach. Even the dilapidated Snack Shack, now run by Won the traveling salesman, mirrored her stored away memories. Walking through the town itself proved her memories true, each lamppost still in place, the various shops and homes which littered the streets. The inn she spent so many days at - as well as drunken nights with Karen - with a giant 'CLOSED' sign plastered across the door, everyone already making their way to the church for the big ceremony.
By the time she and her parents made their way back to Jack's farm, Claire's smile took over, her parents overjoyed by her reaction. Miranda hugged her close and insisted she couldn't be happier their daughter made herself at home in the town, despite her initial thoughts of whether or not her children were deemed fit to live in the presence of 'small-folk.'
The key Claire kept fastened on a chain around her neck slipped into the keyhole without struggle, the familiar click meeting her ears. Clara, Jack's dog, raced across the room and barked at the familiar face, nearly barreling the blonde over in the process. Her palm smoothed over the dogs broad head before she got herself together and excused herself back to her bedroom, emptied out except for her bed. Her cheeks burned at the memories which flooded through her mind over the previous times she spent there. Specifically the feel of Trent's hands burning a hot trail over her skin, his mouth marking her as his - claiming her right before he asked her to marry him for the first time.
Her suitcases dropped to the floor when she noted the bridesmaid dress she was meant to wear to the wedding. Pink, much to her amusement, in a shade which mirrored Popuri's hair. Slipping it over her head, the girl moved to stand in front of the mirror, inspecting herself thoroughly. The dress was nothing extravagant; after all, the bride intended to steal the show their wedding day. Her pink number twisted in the front, right along the buntline, and flowed out to the ground. But it wasn't that which startled Claire. It was the fact the dress showed more skin than she was used to, revealed the scars from the accident.
Remember to breathe. The first thing you do when you feel the anxiety building is breathe it away. Picture that safe place and imprint it in your mind. Do you see it yet, Claire? Picture the people you'll find there in that place - outline their faces. Listen for their voices and block out everything else. They're the only ones allowed in your safe place. The only ones. He cannot reach you there.
She inhaled a deep breath and released it at the sound of her mother in the doorway. The woman squealed at the sight of her daughter, her hands poking, prodding and tugging at the material to make sure it fit her daughter to perfection. Dissatisfied, she tutted, unhappy with Popuri's choice in dresses for the wedding. Claire glowered at her and resumed her position in the mirror. Her finger traced the outline of a scar beneath her collar bone.
"No one will notice, sweetheart," Miranda said, pulling the girl's hand away from the mark. "If anything, I can put some coverup on it for you and hide it. But I am sure no one will bring any attention to it."
"I know...but I forgot it was there. I got scared again." She sighed, braiding two strands of hair on either side of her face and fastening them in the back. "Curl my hair for me?"
Miranda smiled and proceeded to curl her hair with the curling wand Claire brought along from home. Claire remembered when she was a little girl and her mother spent more time at home, focused on building a relationship with her daughter after the miscarriage of their third child. For a whole year the woman spent her days away from work, mourning the loss of a baby and fixing the broken ties between her and her precious children. Miranda spent another year away from everyone when she found out she suffered from horribly cystic ovaries, which prevented her from conceiving - rendering her practically infertile. That year, however, she worked, slept, ate, and did nothing else. Her dreams of another baby were nullified, and in the process so was everything else she already had.
Claire never blamed her mother for the spoiled relationships she created between her children. Jack with his lack of interest in being around the woman for more than a few moments at a time, and Claire with her indifference to the situation as a whole. She could only imagine how much it hurt to be a woman, wanting no more to conceive, only to watch the dream of fertility being snatched away and rendered out of grasp.
At least now their relationship proved to be growing somewhat stable, her mother trying her best to be more present in her daughter's life, as well as helping with preparations for her own wedding in the near future. A week before arriving in Mineral Town the two shopped around for wedding dresses, stumbling upon a private dress boutique where they happened to find the dress she fell in love with at first glance and kept nestled away in its own suitcase, untouched and pristine like it should be. Her mother had cried with the blonde when she tried it on, and a part of her mother revitalized itself in her mind.
She loved her and truly did not want to say goodbye when they left her back in Mineral Town by herself.
"Are you nervous?" Miranda asked, settling a warm curl against Claire's shoulder.
Her mother arched a perfectly plucked brow. "To see your fiancé. It's been six months, you know? What makes you think things haven't changed? You are sure he still intends to marry you, yes? If not, honey, I won't hesitate to bring you right back home to California with me and set you up with one of your father's coworker's sons."
"Mom, I'm flattered...I guess?" She shook her head, giggling. "Trent still wants to marry me. Our plans never changed, he's still hoping for us to be married by the end of this summer. He's not getting any younger, after all."
"If I might ask...how old is he anyway?"
Claire glanced at the calendar on the wall and flipped through the pages until she reached October. "He'll be thirty on the nineteenth."
Miranda's eyes widened in the mirror. "Sweetheart, you're okay with being eight years younger than him - nearly nine?" Claire dipped her head. "You do realize he'll want children soon, yes? You'll be a young bride as well as a young mother."
The girl shrugged. "I'm marrying him with the intent of being the mother of his children anyway, right?"
"I'm happy you are happy, nonetheless," she said, placing the last curl against her daughter's shoulder blades. "You look beautiful as always."
"Claire...a woman named Karen is here looking for you!"
Her father's voice radiated throughout the whole room, sending Claire's heart skipping in her chest at the sound of her friend's name. She waved to her mother, gripped the hem of her dress, and raced down the stairs in her nude heels, nearly screaming at the sight of her heavily pregnant woman standing in the doorway. Karen wrapped the blonde in a hug, her arms trembling when Claire stepped back to look at her close up after all these months.
"You look amazing -"
"Honey, I look like a whale. Whatever you do, do not let Trent knock you up ever. Swollen feet - swollen everything, actually - does not look nice on anyone. Whoever says 'you're glowing' when pregnant has probably never been pregnant before. And glowing is a nice way of saying gassy...let me tell you." Karen smoothed a hand over the bowl of her stomach. "I just want her out."
"Her?" Claire beamed at the idea of a baby girl in town.
Karen nodded happily. "Yes, your hubby told us the gender a few months ago. Claire, can I be honest? I don't know if it's my hormones or what but he's been looking good. You lucky girl, you. I bet, with those skilled hands of his, he's great in -"
Billy cleared his throat. Claire hissed under her breath at her friend, trying her hardest to keep her giggling to a minimum. "I think it's the hormones, Kar. You're far more lewd than I remember."
"Yeah...yeah, whatever," the girl said, laughing. "Speaking of your man, let's go to the church and help finish up with everything. Well - you help finish, while I sit back and chug my giant bottle of sparkling cider."
"Sparkling cider?" Claire raised a brow.
"It's in a bottle very similar to a wine bottle."
Trent struggled to finish the tie around his neck. Ever since the girls screamed at the appearance of Claire - his Claire - and voiced their welcomes to her, he found his mind wandering to thoughts of what she looked like after the time he spent apart from her. For months he woke up every day and tried to imagine the image of her. The curve of her gentle jaw, the slope of her tempting neck, the indents on both sides of her waist, where his hands curled around so many times and drew her closer, the bow shaped lips he desired ever since she left him on the ferry...the way her slender form trembled under his.
"You alright over there?" Jack asked, pausing in his conversation with Cliff about whether or not he should ask Ann out on a proper date. "You're looking a little hot and bothered."
"Leave the poor man alone...he's been waiting for today for six months."
Trent knew there was a reason he liked Rick. He smiled at the man and resumed his attention to the tie. His fingers curled around the material just as both Claire and Karen barged in, both in a fit of giggles.
"Rick, let me just tell you, your wife has lost it," Claire said, squealing as Karen pinched her arm. "She's been sitting in a chair over in the corner with this bottle here, pretending it's wine. I overheard her whispering names of wines to herself after each sip she took."
"Oh whatever...at least I haven't been staring at a door for the past hour like a space cadet -"
Both girls continued to giggle. The sound brought to life the familiar tug of desire there. Trent swallowed, his back still turned to the women. He knew he shouldn't be thinking about her in such a way, especially when the two hadn't seen each other in half a year. His first priority was fastening the tie around his throat, then wrapping the girl in question within his arms and kissing every inch of her face until he memorized every slope and curve all over again.
"Well, looks like this ugly mug of a brother is getting married today," Claire said, flopping down on her brother's lap. "Who would have thought?"
"Very funny. Looks like six months in the loony bin did you some good."
Trent gulped. He expected an angry response out of the fiery blonde, and instead heard her laugh.
"They say the smartest people in the world were a bit loony themselves. So what's your excuse?"
Jack smirked. "I'm sexy."
Karen snorted this time. "Says you."
"Says Popuri, too -"
Rick shouted something incoherent. "Jack, I can easily end this wedding right now."
Karen wrapped her arms around her husband, her belly making it look awkward and uncomfortable. "He's just paranoid because he's trying to forget what happens after the wedding is over -"
Trent heard movement behind him. "I missed being home," Claire said, moving to stand before him, taking both ends of the tie in each hand. She tugged him closer, leveled her mouth at his ear, and whispered, "I missed you."
He felt the tingling sensation in his gut spread along the rest of his body, rendering him numb before the girl. Were they not in public he might have wrapped her in his arms and done whatever he wished of to her, not caring about anything else in the world but the feel of her skin, warm beneath his fingers. For now he leaned down and waited for the familiar sensation of her kiss against his lips, but she instead finished his tie and slipped out of his arms, winking at him from beside Karen.
"We have to head back to help with the final preparations before the bride walks down the aisle," Claire announced, hooking arms with Karen and slipping out of the room.
"Quite the tease, isn't she?" Rick asked. "Trust me you two -" He pointed to Jack and Trent. "- It never gets any better. They're always going to be like that. Always. It's encoded in their DNA to make you go crazy, and yet love them for whatever reason. It's cruel. And yet you'll allow them to. Either way you're screwed."
Claire stood at the altar across from Trent, her bouquet in her hands. All around were people she loved, sharing a beautiful event with an equally beautiful couple who found love in one another and extended their love for their loved ones to see. Her parents were settled in the front row, her mother with a handkerchief already wiping her smudging make up, while Popuri's mother made herself comfortable on the other side.
The final couple walked down the altar and settled themselves in line before everyone turned their attention to the door and awaited the familiar wedding tune to begin when the bride entered the room. Everyone in the room gasped at the beautiful woman making her way toward the man of her dreams awaiting her at the end of the aisle, her demure smile contagious. The gown she chose screamed Popuri, from the lace trimmed outline along the bust, to the pink pops of color in the form of small beads sparkling along the back of the dress.
The two held hands for the ceremony, eyes planted on one another. Claire was sure everyone in the room heard and saw the love expressed between the two through their small gestures, the tilt of the lips, the crinkle around the corners of their eyes. Soon enough they shared 'I dos' and recited their vows. Claire's eyes shifted to Trent's as the couple sealed their marriage with a first kiss as a couple, and mouthed out, 'We're next.' Soon enough she would walk down the aisle to the man of her dreams, proclaim her love for all to hear and see, and bind herself to him for the rest of her life. Her heart swelled at the very idea.
The crowd dispersed to the inn for the reception, leaving both Claire and Trent alone within the familiar walls of the church. He made his way toward her, his hands immediately cupping her cheek when she came within grasping distance, drawing her nearer. She smiled up at him, a hand pressed over the curve of his chest, right over his frantic heart.
"Goddess, I missed you so much -"
His mouth mets hers in a kiss - a silent 'I love you' she never needed to hear. His expressiveness when intimate with her screamed through every fiber of her being, every bit of her core. Radiated within her whenever he drew near. She moaned into his mouth at the feel of a hand tangling in her curls, her lips parting to allow him full access to her mouth. He tasted of peppermint as always. Her favorite.
"Marry me in August."
She nodded her head. "I will." Her mouth settled by his ear, the smirk evident in her voice as she said, "But right now I want you."
Without another word, the man scooped the girl up into his arms, marched her down to the clinic, and slammed his bedroom door shut behind him. Tie be damned, he nearly ripped that off, too, and proceeded to make up for the six months spent apart from the woman he loved more than he ever thought he could love her in kisses, touches, and soft, pleasurable sighs of their love.
Cocktail hour would have to wait.
Claire's breath rose and fell swiftly, her dark haired fiancé's mouth like hot coals against the column of her throat. Somewhere in the next room over the bride and groom danced to the music pumping out from a stereo system hooked up within the walls of the inn. The blonde found herself preoccupied, however, with the heat building in her belly once again, reignited by the assault his mouth supplied every time he drew near to her. Six months. Six long months, and all the pent up desire to fuel a fire raged through her system, ready to be released.
"I love you..." she gasped out through gritted teeth, trying to stop herself from releasing a sound which might alert the attention of others. "But - ah - we should...nngh...get back."
Today was about her brother and her best friend, after all. There would be more than enough time to find herself reacquainted with the way Trent always knew where to kiss her in order to drive her mad. She wriggled free from his grasp, fixed his tie, and helped get his hair back in place. To no avail, no doubt, but she cared less whether or not the women in town wanted to gossip about her relationship.
No one noticed the couple who entered from the kitchen doors. In fact, everyone looked so entranced with their partners, Claire was certain the faintest of sounds might stir the couples out of their silent reveries. Trent held out a hand to her. She smiled up at him, her head tilted to the side, and placed her small hands in his larger ones. Their movements were awkward at best. The last time they danced like this they were drunk on love, their eyes full of lust, movements jerky and far from fluid. But after a moment, she settled into his embrace and leaned her ear over his heart, smiling to herself.
She caught Jack's eye while she swayed to the music, his hands on Popuri's slender hips. Claire knew this was what her brother needed after the disaster with Raquel. Here he found himself a beautiful, genuine woman, prepared to give him all the love he desired. Exhaling, she turned her eyes up to Trent's jawline. He looked down at her and kissed her forehead. She admired how he held her like she were the most fragile of flowers he'd encountered, always careful to handle her as if she might break at any moment. He was her human rock, and she wanted to be his as well.
It was hard to think about all the things wrong in her life before coming to Mineral Town when surrounded by the people she loved, wrapped in the arms of the man she would marry in a months time. Those dark eyes, the dark skin, the dark hair, the blacks, blues and yellows were still present. The nightmares still haunted her at night. But she knew now they meant nothing. From now on her future smiled down on her. A beautiful new sister, a handsome husband to be, her best friend's baby due any day now, and all the things in the future to look forward to. For the first time in her life things settled into place.
"Thank you..." she said, her voice a whisper.
Trent arched a brow at her. "For what?"
"For the first day I met you...for making me understand what it really means to be loved - for showing me how to love and be loved." Her fingers danced along his chiseled jaw. "For giving me a bright future to look forward to at your side."
He kissed her and breathed his reply against her lips. "Thank you."
The slow song drifted away like the wind and was followed by a more upbeat song, to which the younger couples perked up at, while the older ones slipped back to their tables and scanned the room, not participating. Much to Claire's amusement, Trent drifted toward her parents and settled himself down at her father's side, shaking his hand and truly making the effort to make them more comfortable with the idea of him marrying their daughter at such a young age.
She watched from her position by the wall, a smile upturning her lips. Both men laughed at a joke, while her mother simply smiled at the two, enraptured in their conversation. Satisfied, she walked over and sat down beside her fiancé, her fingers interlaced with his. Billy clapped Trent on the shoulder, a laugh sounding from his throat at another comment Trent supplied about their more than strenuous jobs.
"Wait until this one comes down with something," Billy said, pointing at his daughter. "Ever since she was young she hated doctors. Ran out of more than a few offices whenever she was told she needed a shot -"
"Dad..." Claire groaned, giggling.
"The first night I met her she questioned my morals as a doctor."
"Sounds about right." Billy leaned back in his chair, laughing. "She pull the whole 'all they want to do is grope women all day' act?"
Trent's eyes slid over to the blonde. "Maybe a milder version of that," he said, smiling. "But I do intend to always take care of her. As a husband is supposed to."
Claire leaned against the man's arm, his body warm and firm against her slender form. Her parents both smiled at the couple, her mother insisting to take a picture of the two to show her friends back home at the hospital. Claire knew she intended to show off her daughter was marrying a doctor - and a handsome one at that, but chose to ignore the burning annoyance in the back of her mind and pressed a kiss to his jaw.
"I want both of you to come visit," Miranda said, taking a sip of her drink. "Hopefully before the wedding. There is a lot of planning yet to do, and in such a short span of time. You're both really settled on an August wedding?"
"Claire grew up in California. Summer in Mineral Town is really mild compared to elsewhere. I figure it's the best I can do to make her day special -"
"Our day," she added.
Billy curled his hand around Trent's shoulder. "You're really in love with my daughter, son?"
Trent dipped his head. "I wouldn't have asked her to marry me if I wasn't sure about a future with her. To lose a wife would be carelessness."
Billy turned to his daughter next. "And you are sure this is the man you want to spend the rest of your life with? We don't get divorces in our family...you are more than aware of that. Till death do us part. There is sanctity in marriage, though slight in society lately, even to this day. We like to uphold that."
"Daddy, I'm going to marry Trent. He is the one." She squeezed Trent's hand.
"Then I can rest easy knowing my daughter will be in good hands," he said, pulling the younger doctor into a hug. "After having her back home for six months I realize how much I failed to see because of my job. Son, I hope you will always find time for her. I know how hard and stressful it can be, but I want you to never neglect my daughter. She calls me up crying or even the slightest bit unhappy, you can bet I will take her back home. Even if she is twenty-one, she's still my baby girl."
"I will, sir."
"Call me Billy. My father was called sir."
Marriage meant today, tomorrow, and all the days after. Marriage promised of a forever, until death separated the two. Marriage meant loving each other, even when the couple argued and went to bed silent. It meant waking up and reconciling your differences for the sake of falling back in love by lunch time. It meant promising to love all the parts one hated about themselves; the freckles on their cheeks, the wrinkles about their brows when they laughed, the shape of their bodies. Marriage bent beyond those limitations - it covered time, space, and words. It tried to make tangible the intangible. One could love, but they could not hold it in the palm of their hands. Marriage tried to fix that. But most of all, marriage meant promising to make the best of the good times, look for the silver lining in the bad times, and enjoying the ride together as an entity. Two beings become one flesh. Love in the rawest of forms.
Claire knew that now, standing on the beach, watching Popuri and Jack wave to onlookers as their ferry drifted away and took them to the Sunshine Islands for a tropical honeymoon. The whole night felt like a dream. From the ceremony, in which she witnessed the binding of two souls in a declaration of pure, unadulterated love, to the reception and all the emotions between. Their love brought others joy; she could see it in everyone's faces. From the way Rick held his wife close to his chest, rubbing a gentle hand across her belly, to Gray and Mary, happily engaged, and even the youngest, May and Stu, who smiled at each other coyly.
Their love brought a smile to her own lips, brightened her heart, and made her fall in love with her fiancé all over again. And as they made their way to the clinic, sights set on spending her first night home with him, she toyed with the ring on her finger, eager for the day she married him.
"Ready for bed?" Trent asked, slipping off his suit and button up shirt, as well as his pants, and replacing them with a pair of pajama pants.
She nodded. "Help me out first."
Trent's fingers unzipped the back of her dress, the pink fabric falling around her in a cloud on the floor. Before she could rummage through his draws for something to wear, he moved her back against the downy comforter of his bed, and kissed her shoulders, his faze nuzzled against her back. Silence drifted over the room, and, suddenly desiring to thank the man for making her day all the more special, she turned over in his arms and went to kiss the spot behind his ear he submitted to her whenever she exploited it.
The man was fast asleep.
"It's good to be home."