It’s a strange autumn this year.
She isn’t surrounded by buildings and cars, for one thing, doesn’t greet the falling leaves on a crowded street downtown but out among barns and crop and that kind of crisp, fresh air that she hasn’t even known she’s been missing. Perhaps part of her has.
They still live some kind of life that’s been put on hold, still poking around in the lives of their parents but more and more often now it feels like they’re living their own lives as well. As though it’s merged together, all of it.
Clara writes as much as possible – working on her novel when she finds the time and on her freelance articles when she needs to get some money on her account quickly. The Barchester Chronicles, their local newspaper, has been accepting most of her work thus far and she’s been positively surprised by how welcoming everyone’s been whenever she’s seen the journalists and editors face to face.
Thom does most of the farming. He’s a naturally lazy person so it’s still amusing to Clara to see him on his knees in the mud, weeding and watering, tasting tomatoes and then googling various ways to improve their taste and size. He’s becoming quite the gardener and she’s finding it oddly reassuring to watch. When she moved to Sim City he had been living at home and they’d lost most of their contact during the first years of her freedom and his late teens. Then he had just never left home and their interaction had become more about her lecturing him than anything else. Now it seems they might just find their way back to each other, step by step.
She worries about his personal life, though. Thom’s a good guy. A kind, sweet guy – the sort that gets overly enthusiastic about relationships and takes them much more seriously than the girl he’s dating does and then it usually ends in tears.
Now he’s dating Cindy Cox who is a single mother and Clara isn’t fond of that at all. Mostly because she thinks the girl in question would prefer to get herself and her life together before she enters any kind of relationship but also because her brother is madly in love. And when he’s madly in love he tends to see everything as Meant to Be, rather than a fun little distraction in the background.
He claims they are both agreeing about what sort of thing they have going on, though, and she can’t do much more than side-eye him but leave him alone to make his own mistakes. Again.
Like Kent, she supposes. Kent Hansen, editor at the Barchester Chronicles and very unexpected friend, as of late.
She doesn’t make friends easily. Barely at all, to be honest, and it suits her, she doesn’t need a lot of social life and spends much of her free time in her own head, doing introverted things by the computer or in her home. Alone. It’s not a bad existence, not at all. She’s chosen it, after all. But then there are people that pass by, people like Kent, and she has to re-think certain matters she had thought were truths – that she’s not interested in dating, that she’s not looking for a partner even if someone comes along that seems perfect – because of his very existence.
It’s not like he’s flirting with her. Not much, at least. He’s calm and composed, not a man of dramatic gestures or flirty interactions. He seems, all things considered, like a male version of herself, if slightly older. He’s approaching his mid-forties and he’s where he wants to be in his career though, much like her, he would not mind writing fiction for a living if he had the chance. They talk a lot about literature. And film. And cities they’ve visited, cities they want to see; they talk about Barchester (he’d moved here from Veronaville ten years ago and still feels like a stranger) and farming (his grandparents owned a ranch when he grew up) and there’s just something so simple about their interactions. Something natural about it, about them.
Clara isn’t one for romantic dreams and she’s shy, much more shy than she’d ever let anyone know so the night before she musters up some courage to ask him if he would like to have dinner with her some time she barely sleeps at all.
But she does ask him.
Her chest rumbles, her feet are cold, her hands are sweaty, her head soars with thoughts but he says yes, he’d love to, see you this Saturday perhaps? And the earth doesn’t shatter beneath their feet.
Even if it doesn’t, she’s still fairly nervous as Saturday arrives.
They have some work to do during the day – a few hours down at the Farmer’s market where they sell their produce and talk to everyone who knew their parents and wants to offer their advice or opinions. It’s fairly exhausting, but they make some money from it and right now every bit of coin is more than welcome.
In the afternoon she visits the shops down in the Old Town to find something to wear. They had agreed on a pretty nice little Italian restaurant so she won’t be wearing jeans but beyond that she has no idea. Clothes aren’t her passion in life, that’s for sure.
In the end she settles for a cocktail dress and a pair of earrings hoping they will fit the general atmosphere of the place.
Back home Thom appears thrilled to have the place to himself for the evening, as well. He’s invited Cindy over and Cindy has even brought her daughter Jean.
It’s apparent that Thom wants to make a good first impression there, and Clara has a lot of things she could – and wants to – say about the whole matter but she doesn’t because as much as she wants to make her brother understand his own good, she also doesn’t want to be late for her dinner.
Kent looks happy to see her when she arrives. Happy and a little bit nervous, which actually makes her pleased because he wouldn’t be unless he cared.
They talk a lot of work at first. About writing as a profession, about the uncertainty of it, the lack of stability and predictability.
Then Kent places a hand on her arm and looks into her eyes for a moment.
“For what it’s worth, Clara, I’m really happy you returned to Barchester when you did.”
She smiles, almost unable to speak. “Me too,” she says eventually and she’s not even surprised to learn that she actually means it.
He gives her a long, warm hug when they have finished their food and dessert – she orders coffee, too, just to prolong it a bit further. No kiss, not yet, though she can certainly count on it in the near future if the fluttering feeling in her gut is anything to go by.
And she walks to her night bus with a big smile on her face.