One Rainy Night

Claire watches the storm rage over Chatham Island. Spoilers to Book 22: Always Loving Zoey


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Claire sat on her widow’s walk, huddled in Nina’s discarded parka as the rain lashed down on her. She hadn’t noticed first time around that whoever had slashed her clothes had also slashed her waterproofs and, when she replaced her clothing she had not bought herself a new coat. Nina’s was too tight, and constricted her breathing a little.

Usually, she enjoyed the feeling of looking over Chatham Island, but not tonight. Tonight she had a recurring thought, If I can see all of Chatham Island, it probably means that all of Chatham Island can see me. It wasn’t that the thought had never occurred to her before, Claire was a smart girl, after all, but when this thought was coupled with the knowledge that there was someone out there with a huge grudge against her, it was unnerving. No, it was more than unnerving; it was downright terrifying.

However, the compulsion to watch the storm had overpowered her fear—at least, it had when she was in her room. She had been angry in her room—it had already been invaded, her place of solitude, the place she felt safe. Now it had been tainted by him—or her, she couldn’t assume it was a man that was stalking her, she had done plenty of things that had won her more enemies than friends. But really, had she ever done something that deserved so much hatred? Maybe she had, to her father and Sarah Mendel. She had broken down their relationship and caused untold heartache, simply because she did not want Aaron Mendel in her life. What about Lucas Cabral? That boy had gone to jail for her, and it had taken her a damned long time to admit the truth. Or there was Jake McRoyan. She had killed his brother, Wade, the guy that Jake had idolised, and while Jake might be cleaning up his act now, he had turned to alcohol when he had found the truth. All because of Claire.

Yes, maybe she had. Maybe she did deserve this, and more. But it wasn’t fair, damnit. She had suffered too. She had watched her mother die, slowly and painfully, as a cancer ate her insides. Despite the fact she was a cold, self-serving and sometimes ruthless person, she had offered her heart up on a platter more than once, only to have it shredded in front of her, first by Jake, who couldn’t forgive her, then by Aaron, who was simply too impatient to wait for her.

It was only recently that she had become so introspective, or at least, that her thoughts had taken such a dark turn. She wasn’t exactly what one might term a “sunshine personality”, but neither was she the type of person to mope, or let her thoughts linger on what had gone wrong. It was Claire’s way to review events, then work out her course of action to rectify the situation, but not tonight. Tonight she was up on her widow’s walk, wearing Nina’s too-tight parka, and a pair of jeans that had a long way to go before the new was rubbed out of them. All because she had gone a step too far with someone… and the realisation that she had given most of her friends and family the motivation to be that someone was not a nice one.

The thought could be summed up quite simply now: You have given everyone in your life a very good reason to hate you.

Claire shivered as a drop of water found its way down her back, between her skin and her clothing. Perhaps it was time to go in, the storm had not captivated her the way they usually did. Instead of the usual rush of joy, all she felt was tired and cold. Her legs were cramping from her tightly huddled position, and she thought she would probably wobble when she stood up.

Unbidden, one of her private fears came to mind, the one where she lost her balance, toppled over the railing and crash-landed on the hard concrete below. Once she had thought that it was less of a fear, and more of a fantasy, it wasn’t that she had been depressed or suicidal at the time, but simply that she had felt invincible, and wondered if she could miraculously survive such a fall. She didn’t feel invincible now. Right now, Claire was all too aware of her own mortality.

She held on tightly to the railing as she pulled herself to her feet, so tight that her knuckles showed white, and her hand began to ache from the death-grip she had on the cold metal.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a movement on the ground, and a cry of surprise escaped before she could stop it. Heart thrumming madly in her chest, she steeled herself, then turned to get a closer look at what had caught her eye. She almost laughed, she’d been scared by her own sister running across the Geiger’s front lawn.

But that was interesting, where was Nina going at this time of night? It had been around ten o’clock when Claire had climbed up to her widow’s walk, Claire had no idea how long she’d been up there, but it felt like at least half an hour. It was unlikely that Nina would go to see Zoey in person so late, not when a phone call would suffice—and especially not when Benjamin might be there, or worse, not be there. Claire wasn’t so wrapped up in her own life that she hadn’t noticed Nina’s suffering too. Since Benjamin had regained his sight, he had thrown off all of the charms and quirks that had made him Benjamin, the Great Blind Wonder. Claire was distanced enough to see what Nina seemed unable to deal with, Benjamin was no longer the boy Nina fell in love with, and Nina was part of a life that Benjamin had no interest in living. Nina was self-aware enough to see that her relationship had crashed and burned, but too emotionally involved to walk away from the wreck it had left behind.

Besides, Nina was now heading left, towards Coast Road. When on her way to the Passmores, she headed right and went through the centre. For a moment, all of Claire’s woes were forgotten as she watched her sister walk on. It could be simply that Nina craved a new route, everywhere led everywhere on an island this small, but that was unlikely. Nina was a creature of habit, and there had to be a reason she was taking the back streets.

Then another figure came into sight, although it was too far away to be sure, Claire was pretty sure it was a guy, simply from the way it walked. He appeared to catch sight of Nina, and ran to join her. There was certainly something familiar in the guy’s movements, but then, everyone on Chatham Island was familiar. It was hard to see exactly who the guy was, the rain was clouding her vision, and both Nina and her friend were soaked to the skin, making it hard to see the true colour of his hair.

Claire leant forward over the railing, forgetting her earlier fears as her curiosity overwhelmed her. Nina and the guy seemed to be arguing, the storm was too loud to catch anything specific, every so often the wind would carry a sound to her, but she couldn’t make out any words, all the same, the she recognised Nina’s wild gestures from every fight she had had with her.

There was a huge roll of thunder from above, and seconds later there was a crack of lightning that lit up the entire island, it was so bright that Claire saw purple spots dancing in front of her eyes. But she managed to see the boy clearly. It was Lucas Cabral. Since when had he and Nina known enough about each other to have a fight?

For a moment she wondered if it had anything to do with her. Maybe Lucas was the one terrorising her, maybe Nina knew all about it, maybe she had personally led Lucas into the house to shred Claire’s clothes, picking a time when she knew Claire would be out. Maybe Nina had never forgiven Claire for not knowing about what Nina’s uncle Mark had done to her. Then Claire shook her head, she remembered exactly what she had told everyone at that barbeque. “Nina doesn’t lie.” This was not Nina’s style at all, she was not a liar, she was not underhand, whenever Claire annoyed Nina, Nina let her know. When Claire had gone out and bought herself brand new bed linen after her clothes had been slashed, Nina had been far too bratty about it, she had called Claire a spoiled princess, and mocked her for the sudden need to revamp, which had been the feeble excuse Claire had given.

Moments later, Claire got confirmation that the fight was not about her in the slightest, as Lucas leant forward and kissed Nina on the mouth.

Claire felt a sudden and unexpected flash of irritation. Why must she always kiss my exes? Claire smiled at her own stupidity. She didn’t want Lucas, and the feeling was gone as quickly as it came. This was something truly interesting. Nina was out, late at night, in the middle of a storm, kissing her best friend’s boyfriend, this was decidedly un-Nina-like behaviour.

Nina clearly had the same thought, because she pushed Lucas away, and from her gestures and movements, Claire felt it safe to assume that Nina was throwing out some choice phrases to express this. Nina turned to walk back the way she had come, but Lucas again swooped forward and caught her wrist, pulling her back to him.

This time, Nina had no fight. She wrapped her arms around him, and this time, Nina initiated the kiss.

Claire sighed, it had been all too long since she had found that kind of passion. Lucas was a divine kisser, that much she remembered, both from her past relationship with him, and that afternoon in her father’s car. It had been another of her secret dreams to be kissed in the rain, just like Nina was doing now.

Ordinarily, her mind would be turning, trying to see if this new development would hold any significance, or whether it could be exploited for her own gain, but Claire was too tired. This situation was not going to end well, everyone would be hurt, Lucas, Nina, Zoey, perhaps even Benjamin. It would benefit no-one to mention what she had seen, and it would only cause Nina pain, and there had been too much pain on this island recently. It had been a long year. Maybe more so for Nina, who had confronted Uncle Mark, delved into the wonders of dating, lost her virginity, had her heart broken, and now was involved with Lucas.

Claire turned to leave, as Lucas and Nina continued to kiss. This wasn’t something she should watch, this was a private moment for her sister, and it was Nina’s problem, not Claire’s. She would go back inside, hang up Nina’s parka, with a towel underneath to catch the drips, take a long hot shower, and then go to bed.

She climbed down the ladder, with a smile on her face. Nina’s predicament had at least caught her interest in a way that the storm had failed to do. For a few minutes, her mind had been wholly consumed by something other than her own life, and though Nina would never know it, Claire was grateful. Claire would certainly never admit it, but she had a great feeling of fondness for her sister in this moment.

The smile froze on her face as she caught sight of her bed. She hadn’t noticed on the way down, it was only subtly different, but her pillows had been rearranged, and in the middle there was an envelope with her name typed on the front of it in capital letters.

The illusive stalker had returned, once again he had been in her room, her sanctuary. She remembered leaning over the railing to catch a closer look at the boy Nina had met, she had leant way over, her hands had only been holding on for balance, not the death-grip she’d had when she first stood up. She could have been pushed over! She could see it all too clearly, herself caught up in Nina’s clandestine meeting, not noticing someone climbing up the ladder, especially with howling wind and thunder rolls to mask all other sounds, one firm shove and she would have gone sprawling over, sliding down the pitched roof and landing head-first on the ground below, most certainly dead, and unable to miraculously survive the fall.

She approached the bed, one hand outstretched towards the envelope. Another picture flashed through her mind, this one of herself opening the letter, too caught up in her own fear to notice her closet door slowly swing open and a figure creep up behind her, the light glinting on the blade of his knife. Curiosity, once more, killing the cat.

She whirled around, expecting to see the figure of her vision behind her, but there was nothing. She looked around her room for something to arm herself with, but there was little to hand, she was far too tidy for her own good.

She leant down to unplug her bedside lamp, as a weapon it was far from brilliant, but it would do the job and it was better than nothing. She thanked the heavens above that she had storage drawers under her bed, or she may have been paralysed in the middle of her room, unable to get too close to anything that might have a hidey-hole large enough for a human.

She wrapped the wire around her wrist, one of Nina’s beloved horror movies had taught her that trick, and approached the closet. Logically, she knew that nobody could be in there, it was a walk-in with a white slatted door. If anyone were in there, she would be able to see them—especially since there was precious little in there, since her stalker had gone knife-happy on her clothing. However, she couldn’t shake the feeling that he (or she) was in there, crouching low, ready to pounce when Claire’s back was turned.

She took a deep breath and forced herself to stride purposefully toward the closet—a slow tentative pace would only give him more power—and wrench the door open. The closet was empty, just as she had known it would be. She couldn’t trust her vision though, and had to push the clothes aside to thoroughly check.

Her room was empty, and despite her dark fantasy, she had known that all along. He or she was just playing with her now. Things were only going to get worse.

She moved back to the bed and set her lamp down on the bed. She rubbed her wrist absently, she had wound the cord tightly, her wrist was throbbing, but she was barely aware of that as she reached out with trembling fingers for the envelope. She slipped a finger under the flap and slid the letter out. It was a simple sheet of paper, folded twice.

Claire shivered. She tried to tell herself it was the cold, but she knew that wasn’t the case.