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Chapter One – Lucas

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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 – Lucas1"">

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.

Clairey, how are your classes going? Mine are so easy they’re boring,” Lucas

they’re alright. My professors seem cool.” Claire answered without looking up
from the bread she hadn’t yet picked up.

was wrong, and Claire wasn’t speaking up. Time
to pry,
Lucas thought, the gnawing feeling back stronger than ever.

awfully quiet tonight, are you feeling alright?” he asked.

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

Claire, cut the crap. What’s going on?” Lucas was always firm with Claire,
though he never stood up against anyone else.

didn’t answer Lucas. Instead, she excused herself to go to the bathroom and
rushed off without waiting for a response.

Chapter Four – Claire

retching finally stopped and Claire was able to take a long, shuddering breath.

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.

don’t know; what are you doing?” came
a voice. A male voice. One that sounded an awful lot like…

Claire exclaimed. “What are you doing in here?!” Her voice had risen an octave
in her shaky state.

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.

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.

Luke. You know I love you,” she began, but then paused, unsure of how to

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.”

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.

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. normal"">All this pain because of you.

was time to say something. Anything. “Lucas…” she began.

don’t say anything. Let’s just be together for a moment longer before you end

You knew what I was going to do tonight?”

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.

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.

had barely stumbled to her car when the sobs racked her body.

Chapter Five – Lucas

wind whipped through Lucas’ jacket as he sat on his favorite tree branch, one
that jutted over the river where he had gone to do his thinking for as long as
he could remember. The tree grew sideways out of a sharp bank on the river,
seemingly coming to life from under the rock that made up the ground in the
little alcove that Lucas had always held dear. It took a ten minute walk
through the woods and a few well-positioned hops down a sharp drop lined with
tree roots which appeared to grow in the image of natural steps to get there,
and it was always worth every moment of the trek.

had picked up Trooper before making his way to the river, and now the two of
them sat side by side, looking out at the lazily moving water in front of them.
It was getting dark now but the river was lit by the full moon while Lucas and
Trooper sat in relative darkness, covered by a sparse canopy of trees. The
night would have been perfect had Lucas’ life not been turned upside down a
mere half hour before.

As he finally began to
allow himself to sift through the river of thoughts rushing through his head, his
chest felt like a weight was being pressed into him with increasing force. He
began taking sharper breaths and his eyes developed a pinprick in them; the
tears weren’t far behind. As if on cue, Trooper whined and nudged his face into
Lucas’ chest for comfort. They sat like this for a long while before Trooper
moved again, this time to pull back and look at Lucas with the concern that
only a best friend can show.

Lucas looked at
Trooper. “Why is this happening, T? I thought we had it all…”

Trooper opened and
closed his mouth, as if he wanted to say something to erase all of Lucas’ pain,
but then remembered his species. In the end, he just sighed and laid his head
down, watching the river go by. Lucas took a cue from his wise dog and lodged
into a dip in the rock face that was actually mighty comfortable once you
settled in.

There they sat, boy and
dog, for hours. The silence was only broken by Lucas’ sobs and the occasional
supportive whine from Trooper.

Chapter Six – Claire

The sun was up. Yes,
the world does move on, even in turmoil. Claire hadn’t slept at all and her red
puffy eyes gave away her nocturnal activities to anyone who cared to notice.
She couldn’t for the life of her understand why she was so upset if this is
what she had wanted to do, but maybe a good breakfast would clear her head. It
was, after all, Sunday. Sunday mornings
in the Danson household were a tradition she had missed while at school. Mr.
Danson always made French toast and sausage for an early breakfast. He hadn’t
missed a Sunday as far as Claire remembered.

Claire took her time
getting to the kitchen, the smell of the cooking breakfast getting ever
stronger the closer as she walked. Her mom’s voice could be heard rambling on
about some event she was planning. When Claire made it to the kitchen, she saw
her brother and sister – twins only a year younger than she was – already
piling their plates high with food. Abigail Grace and Eric were polar opposites
with regards to personality, but put them in front of food and they had the
same big appetite that all Dansons possessed. Claire had always felt like an
outsider around them. Even though they had few interests in common, they had
that “twin bond” people always talk about. Claire couldn’t compete with that.

As her siblings gave
her a nod, Claire headed to the counter by the stove where all the food was
waiting. She made herself a small plate, poured a cup of coffee, and joined her
family. Her mother was already halfway through her first plate and barely
looked up from her food when she piped up “Good morning, Clairey! What time do
you need to leave today to get back to school?”

Claire mumbled
something about soon, took a few bites of her food, and then headed back to her
room with her coffee. Not two minutes after she closed her door, there was a
knock. To Claire’s surprise, it was Eric. “Mornin’ sis,” he said as he pushed
his way into her room. He stretched out over her bed as if he owned the thing
and patted the bed for her to sit next to him. She was too tired to argue, so
she joined him.

“Talk to me, Claire.
Skipping out on Sunday morning? That’s grounds for some serious counseling.”

“I’m fine. I just don’t
feel that great today. Tired. That’s all.” Claire commented lamely.

“Uh huh. Well, when
you’re ready to cut the crap, I’ll be here. Call me when you get back to
school.” Eric said before leaving the room. Claire could hear him reporting to
Abbie outside her door. Even though they had nothing in common, they made a
great team whenever they wanted information. They were probably coming up with
a plan to get her to talk right then. Instead of listening to them, she headed
to her closet to pack for her trip back to school. It was going to be a long

Chapter Seven – Lucas

Lucas woke up the next morning, it was to the large, slobbery tongue of his
best friend. Trooper, in his usual fashion, was acutely aware that it was time
to get a move on for the day and seemed very eager to do so. Lucas, on the
other hand, felt like he’d been run over by a semi. He was surprised that he had
even fallen asleep, given how long he had sat up thinking about the night
before. His eyes were puffy both from lack of good, old fashioned sleep and the
amount of crying that had taken place the night before. He tried to move and
decided he’d just wait a few more minutes. Trooper, however, was in no mood for
Lucas to take his time waking up. He gave a little whine and looked up toward
the forest, nearly prancing as he did so. Lucas gave him permission to go take
a bathroom break and he bolted up the ladder of roots they’d descended the
evening before.

would normally have gotten a kick out of how well trained his dog was; that he
would wait for his human to give him the go-ahead for such a necessity as his
morning pee. This morning, however, Lucas was simply not in the mood for
chuckling. He raised his arm, slowly, because of how stiff his whole body was,
and checked the time. 7:46am. He’d been here for ten hours. Time to get a move
on. That is, if his body would move.

came back down the root ladder and nudged the side of Lucas’ head.

buddy, okay… I’m getting up.” Lucas grunted, playfully shoving his dog back
from his face. “You’re relentless, you know that?”

simply sat back and grinned at him.

Lucas teased as he started to slowly but surely move, pausing every now and
again to shake feeling into an arm or a leg. Sleeping on rock was rougher on
him than he thought it would be, given how comfortable it had been when he had
laid down there the night before.

Now that he was up, the events
of the night took hold of Lucas. He had to force himself to breathe in and out.
His vision went blurry as he saw the talk he had with Claire in the bathroom as
if it was happening all over again. Lucas remembered how his now ex girlfriend's
face was contorted with pain just as strong as what he felt, and had to rip
himself from the memory. Trooper nudged his face and licked the tear away.
Lucas tried for a smile but the dog didn't buy it. He just gazed at him with
big, sad eyes.

Lucas finally decided it was time to go home. He needed a shower,
some clean clothes, and a distraction. Today was going to be the hardest one
he'd had in a while.

Chapter Eight - Claire

The drive to her college campus was nearly four hours. Normally
Claire would enjoy such a long drive, but today she had far too many things on
her mind to enjoy the scenery around her. Every song that came on her iPod
seemed to remind her of Lucas. Finally, though, she made it.

Her roommate and sorority sister, Jenna, was out somewhere when
she arrived, thankfully. Claire wasn't sure she could handle talking to her
today. She was a great girl but Claire knew that she would ask more questions
than she was ready to answer at the moment.

Claire sat on her bed. She felt absolutely numb. She lay down on
the bed and tried to really cry. She couldn't. How was it that she just
singlehandedly ruined the best thing that had ever happened to her, and yet she
couldn't cry? I must be a rancid bitch,
she thought.

She sat there for the next several hours, until dusk pulled her
room into darkness, trying to cry, but unable to do so. She finally succumbed
to sleep, but it was far from a peaceful slumber. She tossed and turned until
finally she gave up on sleep. Claire looked at her phone. No missed calls, no
voicemails, no texts. Lucas was certainly keeping his distance. They usually
texted each other throughout the day, and this was the first time she had no
new messages from him after a given length of time.

I never knew I’d miss
him this much,
color:black"">Claire anguished. But she was stubborn. She couldn’t admit that
she was wrong to leave him. She just had to hope that he’d find his way back to
her. Besides, he had looked like he was pretty set on them being apart when
they spoke in the bathroom.

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Comment by Steen Krause on February 20, 2010 at 8:41pm
I can't tell you the ending, cause I honestly don't know it yet! Haha stay tuned!
Comment by Donna Stumpo on February 20, 2010 at 7:47pm
Hoo Boy, I'm HOOKED!!!! Write more soon, OK? And what exactly do you mean by that last line about hoping he'd find his way BACK to her? I guess you can't tell me, it would spoil the story; but you sure did pique my curiosity with THAT line! Write more!!!!!!!

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