Chapter One – Lucas
“Damn it,” Lucas exclaimed when he nearly tripped over Trooper, his three-legged chocolate lab while rushing around his small bedroom. “I’m never going to make it at this rate!”
He was getting ready for a romantic evening his girlfriend of three years had planned, though there was no occasion. What a woman, Lucas thought when she told him to look nice for a special night on the town, her treat.
Lucas Treadwater and Claire Danson met in their sixth grade year at King Junior High and became fast friends. The pair was inseparable throughout junior high despite exorbitant differences in economic status. While Lucas’ parents kept a tight rope on their money to be sure to be able to provide for Lucas and his kid sister Lauren, Claire’s father owned a collection of mortuaries. Mr. Danson always said that it was the best business to be in because regardless of the economy, people always die. Lucas always thought that Mr. Danson was a tad morbid for his taste, so when the man offered him a part-time job as a paper pusher his freshman year of high school, he opted to stick with his job as a waiter in a Mexican restaurant.
When sophomore year rolled around, Lucas noticed he was beginning to feel more than just friendship for Claire, and, after prodding from seven-year-old Lauren, finally took Claire on an official date. She was shocked in the beginning, but when Lucas pulled her up to dance during a lull in their dinner and asked her to be his girlfriend, she obliged and initiated their first kiss, which was better than Lucas could have dreamed of. That’s the way it had always been in their friendship, comfortable and as if they took turns being in charge.
The two fell in love quickly and never looked back. Now Claire was taking them back to the restaurant where they’d shared that first date – and a delicious chocolate lava cake – for a special night with just the two of them. Lucas was on fire with excitement. They didn’t get to see each other much because of college. Lucas was attending a community school so that he could live at home and continue to work, but Claire had gone out of state to a private college, with a dorm overlooking the Appalachian Mountains. She was normally claimed by her sorority for most weekends, working on projects or something, Lucas never knew. He just listened to her gush when she talked about her sisters, throwing in an “ooh” or an “ah” at seemingly appropriate places in the conversation.
Finally ready. It had taken Lucas far too long to make himself presentable, but he wanted to look perfect for the big night out with Claire. He took a deep breath at the bathroom mirror and turned to Trooper, who was sitting devotedly by his side as usual, and kneeled down. “Well, Troop, I don’t know what it is about this girl, but she still makes me nervous after all this time.” Trooper’s eyebrows pulled together to give his face the concerned look that made Lucas think he was part human, and then he pushed his face into Lucas’, something he’d been doing for years to comfort his human. Even when he was being rolled into emergency surgery to get his back left leg amputated after being hit by a car, he was the one comforting Lucas. Now he pulled away from Lucas’ face and gave him a winning, lopsided grin while wagging his tail as if to say “Okay, Luke, get over yourself and have a great night!” Lucas grinned back and jumped up to leave, back to being excited about the evening.
Chapter Two – Claire
Claire trudged out to her car in the newly biting October air. When she got in and turned the key in the ignition, the nerves set in. Her stomach began flipping in ways that almost made her want to toss open the car’s door and throw up right there. She took several breaths to calm herself and put her hands on the wheel. It was all she could do to pull out of her driveway and head north on Spring Avenue. Claire felt as though the Mercedes-Benz SL-600 that her father bought her when she graduated from high school knew the way to the Riviera. By the time she had willed herself into not turning around and running back home, she had made it to the restaurant and could see Lucas’ beat up maroon Ford Escort that looked like it belonged in the Dark Ages parked conveniently next to an empty space in front of the restaurant.
As soon as Claire parked her car, Lucas appeared at the door, ready to open it for her. She gave him a tight grin and accepted the arm he offered as he led her from the cold evening into the comfortably heated restaurant. The reservation Claire had made was honored immediately as one of the perks of being a Danson, and they were escorted to the best table in the house. This kind of treatment was nothing new to Claire but she knew that Lucas was always slightly in awe of being treated so well, and tonight was no different. For some reason, it got on her nerves today and she had to fight to hold her tongue. Tonight was not a night for anger.
The thought began to cross her mind at the end of Claire’s senior year. She had never dated anyone other than Lucas. Yes, she loved him, but what if she was missing out on something better? She had nothing to compare. That summer was filled with too bright, burning days that seemed to heat her thoughts into a mad boil that raged on and on. While she should have been enjoying her last summer before college, Claire was instead stuck in a sickening void of “what-ifs.”
College only seemed to make Claire’s inner turmoil worse. She joined a sorority to keep herself busy and as an excuse to not see Lucas as much while she struggled to make sense of why she was tempted to throw away such a worn-in relationship for the possibility of excitement. Being a sister only made her feel more alone. As the rest of the girls celebrated each other’s relationship triumphs and comforted each other through break-ups, Claire continued to suffer in silence.
Eventually, though, a decision had to be made. She was home now, and Lucas was dying to see her. So she made the reservations, picking the restaurant without question. If only the agonizing conversation that was to come could be so easy.
Chapter Three – Lucas
Sitting at the table with Claire, Lucas tried to relax. Something was gnawing at his stomach, but he couldn’t pick up the exact cause and tried to put it down to hunger. The breadsticks arrived and he offered one to Claire before biting into one of his own.
“So, Clairey, how are your classes going? Mine are so easy they’re boring,” Lucas prompted.
“Uh, they’re alright. My professors seem cool.” Claire answered without looking up from the bread she hadn’t yet picked up.
Something was wrong, and Claire wasn’t speaking up. Time to pry, Lucas thought, the gnawing feeling back stronger than ever.
“You’re awfully quiet tonight, are you feeling alright?” he asked.
“Oh. Uhm… Yeah. I’m okay…” Claire was now staring off at a table of businessmen deep in conversation.
Man, she was distracted today. Distraction in Claire meant one of two things: she was hiding something or she was sick. He hoped (in the best way possible) that it was the latter tonight.
“Alright, Claire, cut the crap. What’s going on?” Lucas was always firm with Claire, though he never stood up against anyone else.
Claire didn’t answer Lucas. Instead, she excused herself to go to the bathroom and rushed off without waiting for a response.
Chapter Four – Claire
The retching finally stopped and Claire was able to take a long, shuddering breath.
“What am I doing?” she asked herself aloud. Spending half an hour dry heaving over the toilet during a panic attack was not how Claire envisioned this evening. It had been an easier scene in her head; her delivering the news and Lucas agreeing wholeheartedly. Now, with him there in the flesh, where she could smell his classic musk of Axe body wash, Trooper, and Easy Mac, Claire was again unsure of everything she thought she had sorted out in her mind.
“I don’t know; what are you doing?” came a voice. A male voice. One that sounded an awful lot like…
“Lucas!” Claire exclaimed. “What are you doing in here?!” Her voice had risen an octave in her shaky state.
“I came in to check on my girlfriend who has been in the bathroom for thirty minutes on our first date since we started school. One of the waitresses said it sounded like you were being sick. Are you alright?” Lucas asked gently.
Oh, why was he so sweet? This was going to be rough, but at least now she had the option of not looking seeing his face as she destroyed his perfect world.
“Uhm… Luke. You know I love you,” she began, but then paused, unsure of how to continue.
She heard feet shuffling. Lucas’ voice sounded closer than before, though he spoke in an even softer tone. “Claire. Come out here so I can see your face.”
Well, there went the hiding plan. Claire took her time standing up, straightening out her clothes, and running a finger through her hair before she finally sucked in some air and forced herself to breathe. Then she slowly opened the door.
Lucas immediately took her face in his hands and pulled her into a long, wonderful, tortuous kiss; a kiss that reeked of loving memories and the painful goodbye to come. Claire couldn’t take it. When she pulled away, their faces wet with tears, her initial idea was to bolt, but Lucas’ arms around hers held her in place. He cupped her chin in his hands, tilted it up, and through his muddy brown eyes, she saw the heartbreak already taking root. It was all Claire could do not to fight her way out of his grip and run out of the bathroom. Instead, she forced herself to look at him. Look at what you’re doing to him, she thought. All this pain because of you.
It was time to say something. Anything. “Lucas…” she began.
“Shh, don’t say anything. Let’s just be together for a moment longer before you end this.”
“Wait… You knew what I was going to do tonight?”
“Didn’t I just tell you to shut up?” Lucas joked. Even when he was in obvious agony, he could still make jokes. She was going to miss him, but the hardest part about being the one to end things was that you couldn’t let those feelings show. Claire considered how lonely she was going to be and almost took it all back. Then Lucas spoke again.
“Okay, look. I’m going to save you the trouble of ending things. You don’t want to be with me anymore. I honestly don’t want to hear why right now. I’ll see you around. I love you, but I can’t be friends with you right now, so you won’t be getting any phone calls from me. Goodbye, Clairey.” He turned and walked out the bathroom door as another lady entered with a confused look at the male exiting the ladies’ room, shook her head, and entered the stall next to Claire.
Claire had barely stumbled to her car when the sobs racked her body.