Date: April 25, 2010
Claire tries to come to grips with a recent loss and the prospect of many more to come.
"Who Wants to Live Forever?"
It hasn't been that long since Randall gave up the evening dishwasher shift here, in favor of something earlier and more above-board - but a slight change of hairstyle and clothes, and a major change of attitude from that of a grunt to that of a customer, adds up to enough of a difference that no one has recognized him so far. Nursing a cup of coffee, he waits at a table near the entrance, watching for the one person tonight who's supposed to know who he is.
The last time they were out in public they weren't supposed to be, so this is a first. Claire enters the restaurant, casting an amused glance at the menu that has no noodles on it, before she notices Randall at the table near the door. She smiles as she makes her way to the table, slipping into the seat across from him. "Hey, stranger," she says. "You clean up nice." Though she already knew he did, since they dressed up once to go clubbing. "Nice not to be dishwashing?"
Randall allows himself a tight little grin - his own self-image is pretty relaxed, but it's always nice to hear from someone else - passing a spare menu to Claire as she settles in. "It is. Gets awfully boring after the first hour or so. I'd say it's nice not to be drenched in sweat, but that depends whether you're working or dancing… What about you, you been doing okay?" At this, his tone of voice grows cautious, uncertain how exactly she's related to the senator who's been in the headlines recently.
"Okay is a relative term," Claire says quietly. She bears no physical scars of course of what she's been through. "I'm all right. Things are better for the most part. I mean… I can be out in public. I'm back at my mom's." She doesn't say Dad's — she hasn't seen Noah in far too long to consider the place his at all anymore. "The other stuff…" she sighs a little. "I'll be okay." She opens the menu to peruse its choices. "What happens if I ask for noodles? Do they get really mad?"
"Well, that's good, I know being cooped up was pretty rough on you." Randall is content to steer clear of the other details; given that all he really knows for sure is that she's 'Peter's niece, sort of', he probably wouldn't be able to make much sense of them anyway.
"Nah, they usually just blame it on the owner," he continues, "who always seems to be conveniently absent. Sometimes the customers get mad, but hey, it's New York, what else is new."
Claire gives a low chuckle as she skims the menu. "It was. My family's usually pretty close, so not seeing them was hard. The puppy loves my mom's dog who is much much much less enamored of the puppy." She still hasn't settled on a name, sadly. "What about you? You're not working here, anymore, I take it. Most people don't like to eat where they work — did you get another job?"
Randall doesn't answer right away, instead finishing off the coffee and setting it aside for a refill. "I'm… still kind of working that out. The old shop is open again, but I'm selling it to Jade— I guess I could still back out, but it just feels like I'm done with it, somehow. But I'm not sure what I'm doing next."
"That," Claire says with a sigh, "makes two of us. Unless I take summer classes at the community college, I can't do much until Fall, and no one's really hiring. I'm kinda screwed and feel like a slacker. So far the only place I've seen that's hiring that I have any sort of job skill for is McDonald's and … really? 'Do you want fries with that' is not a phrase I ever really planned on hearing myself say, especially at the age of twenty." She heaves another sigh and glances back up. "What kind of shop? I forget if you told me."
"You know, I don't think I did. Pawn shop, little bit west of here. And… I guess it helps if you have some experience, even a little bit." An idea starts to form in the back of his mind, but he has yet to put all the pieces together. Give him another minute for the coffee to kick in. "And I get the feeling-like-a-slacker thing, but really, it's just a feeling… I mean, if you were in college, the spring semester would be ending in a few weeks anyway, wouldn't it?"
"I guess. I just… every time I start school, something happens and it goes south," Claire explains, glancing down at the menu again. "Like someone doesn't want me to do it. Not that I believe that or whatever, but you start to feel jinxed, ya know?" She taps the menu. "What do you recommend? I'll get whatever you say is good." She closes the menu and leans on her hand to look at him.
Randall nods. "Well, going to school isn't for everyone. Wasn't for me, it turned out." Glancing down at the menu again, he points to a couple of the specials. "Either of these is worth it. Or the reuben, if they've got it this w" Abruptly, the idea clicks into place, and he snaps his fingers. "Hang on, the pawn shop I can give Jade your number if you want. She'll give me a hard time about it, but she does that about everything, she'd probably go for it. Unless she's already got someone else lined up— I kind of doubt."
"A pawn shop? I don't know if I … I mean, don't you have to have a clue about like, what stuff's worth and things like that to work in a place like that? I don't know," she murmurs, dubiously, before tapping on one of the two specials having made her decision. "But that's nice of you. Besides, if you don't even want to own it anymore … what makes you not like it? And why would I like working there, if you don't?" She tilts her head curiously.
"Well, it's not that it's a bad place, it just feels like it's not right for me any more, you know? Maybe it's because I got chased out of it… we were actually there when they tried to kidnap us." Randall sets his menu aside and leans back a little. "And you don't have to know what stuff's actually worth— you just have to know what people think it's worth, and you can pick that up just by watching for a while. And Jade usually gets rid of the window-shoppers by being rude to them… it's weird, but it works." If only she didn't take just as much delight in turning that same attitude on him…
"Well, gee, that makes me feel better," Claire adds with a laugh. "Job hazards: possible kidnapping." She holds up a hand before he can protest. "I'm kidding, I know that's over, and really they came into my mom's house, and I'm still living there. Or back to living there. Can't let the past keep me from doing the things I need to do, right?" She sighs and glances out the window. "It just feels like whatever I start — it's going to get interrupted by the next big threat, you know? So why bother?" She helped 'save the world,' as Micah said the other day, but why doesn't the future look brighter?
A smirk: then he follows her gaze outside for a moment. "I guess… because sooner or later, your number's bound to come up after all. A lot can change in five years." Roughly how far apart their ages are. Who knows where he'll be when he hits thirty? "Besides, even if something doesn't last long, it still gives you a little something for the future. Like working at the shop could be your foot in the door someplace else, later."
His words get a bit of a snorted laugh from her. "The more things change, the more they stay the same. At least for people like me," she says cynically without explaining. "But I appreciate the offer. I'll think about it, how's that?" She offers her hand as if for a handshake. "Unless Jade disagrees, of course, since you wouldn't be my boss."
Randall nods, returning the handshake. "Deal. Or you find something else— as long as you've got something to do with your time, it's all good, right? And I'll tell her that you clean up nice, too." An impish grin: 'ex-cheerleader' kind of goes a few levels past 'cleans up nice', after all.
There's a less cynical laugh this time, accompanied by a little bit of a blush. "I don't think I have to dress up much to work in a pawn shop, do I? I mean, it's not exactly a dress-up kinda job, I don't think, unless you have one of those super posh pawn shops," she teases him. When a waiter finally wanders over to take their orders, she points out one of the specials, ordering a Coke to go with it.
Randall winds up ordering the other one. "And a refill, please?" No rush, they're busy as usual. "Actually," he offers to Claire, deadpan, "that black number you wore to the club might be just about right. People like to know that the salesgirl cares, you know?" Not that Jade's habit of doing her nails on the clock has drawn a whole lot of complaints.
Claire arches a brow and laughs. "Yeah, don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen. I'm more of a jeans and sneakers kinda girl except for special occasions," she says with a laugh. "I can't pull off that kind of look most of the time. In a dark club, sure, where no one can see my chipmunk cheeks." She nods to the waiter as he leaves the table to get their drinks.
The dress-up gag is easily abandoned, leaving Randall with a quizzical look on his face. "Chipmunk cheeks?" he echoes, really having no idea how to respond. "Hey, you look— I mean, there's nothing wrong with jeans and sneakers." Way to be all awkward there. Again. Fortunately, the sandwiches show up at around that time, buying him at least half a minute or so.
She shrugs. "Just that I can pull off 'cute' more than anything more sophisticated, I think," Claire says, busying herself with thanking the waiter again, and unwrapping a straw wrapper that takes lots of concentration so that she doesn't have to look at him for a couple of moments. "Anywayyyy," she says after a moment of awkward silence. "So you don't have any ideas what you wanna do next? After the shop?"
Randall shakes his head. "Some vague intuitions, but nothing I could put into words yet," he answers, while absently cream-and-sugaring the coffee. "I've got a few different things I could do, it's not like I'm gonna be broke next week… just nothing's really jumped out at me quite yet, that's all."
"Well, that's all vague and stuff," Claire says with a laugh. "You sound more clueless than I am… aren't things supposed to get clearer as you get older? I have no hope now." She mock pouts at him. "I was hoping that by 25 I'd be all omniscient and have a plan and all. You've ruined my vision." She sticks her tongue out before taking a sip of her Coke and then picking up her sandwich to take a big bite.
"Well, I've still got my original plan, at least." In between bouts of working through his dinner, Randall continues, happy enough to be past that awkward moment earlier. They've had a few of those in the short time they've known each other. "I still want to see as many different things as I can, get a handle on how it all fits together… it's just tough to actually do that, you know? Like right now, there are so many other people here, I can't see anything about you except what they'd see."
Claire tilts her head, brows knitting together as she takes another bite of her sandwich and chewing it as she looks at him. "So you can only see stuff with … less people around? Do, like, too many people cancel it out or whatever?" she asks, curiously. "I mean, other than the color or whatever it was — what do you normally see in people?" Her voice has dropped a touch, since they are talking about something less mundane than where to get a job.
Randall waves a hand vaguely in the air. "Well, not cancel, exactly, but… it's faint enough that too many people kind of drown it out. Can't tell what goes with who. If there's just a few people, then it's a lot easier." It's just logical enough to convince him to gloss over the parts that have been inconsistent. Or just plain wrong, in some cases.
"Sounds like it must be hard to figure out anyway. Like how what you see corresponds to … whatever," she says, unsure of how it all works. "My … thing… is a lot more simple than that. But it makes life pretty complicated, too." She takes another bite of sandwich and washes it down with soda. "At least … I got to help the other day. Change things. It feels good to do that. I don't want to just react, you know what I mean?"
And his eyes go wide. 'The other day' could easily have been— "You did? That stuff that was in the news… the weird storm cloud, the earthquake?" Not the thing that happened afterward, that was just regular old tragedy. "You were there for some of that?" His expression now is one of frank admiration; for all the attention he pays to his so-called ability, finding practical applications for it has always been pretty tough. If nothing else, she'd be able to go to the front lines without having to worry about getting hurt.
"Well, don't tell anyone. Yeah, I was there," she says a little shyly, green eyes dropping to her food as she reaches for a french fry to chew. "I'm glad Peter let me help. They get kinda protective, but that's silly, given what I can do. And it's not like it even hurts now." That's one way of looking at the bright side of what Gabriel Gray had done to her. She says it lightly, as if it doesn't bother her that she can't feel pain — it certainly was a boon the other day.
Not that Randall knows about that incident. "Yeah, but I mean it did, right? I can kind of understand them thinking that way— they probably figure you've got a limit, and you might go past it. Or you could've just gotten kidnapped." His own instincts might well go further in that direction, if there was still an active threat hanging around. "Still, I'm glad you were in on it, too. Knew someone would have to be."
"You'd think there'd be like a quota on how many times one person can get kidnapped and held captive," Claire says drily, taking another bite and chewing. Her tone is matter of fact but there's a tightness in her eyes that suggests she is just a touch bitter about that. "But staying in one house and not going anywhere — it's really not that much better, right? We shouldn't be in hiding because we're different, you know?" She sighs and reaches for her soda to take another sip. "Anyway, at least things are better now."
"I suppose it could've been worse. Anne Frank, anyone?" Okay, enough dwelling on the past; Randall picks up a napkin, fidgeting with it while he tries to come up with a new topic. "So how is Peter, anyway? Have you heard from any of the others?" Not that he saw much of them himself, but it's the best he could think of on short notice.
"Well. You know." The vague words are accompanied by a vague shrug and there's yet another glance down as her brows knit together. "It's a rough time." That at least is true, even if she's not entirely forthcoming with information. Welcome to the life of a Bennet. Or a Petrelli. Or both.
She sighs and looks up at him. "Look, my family is all sorts of screwed up and… most of the time I probably can't really talk about them. I don't know where my other dad is, and everything's sort of just…" She clamps down on her lower lip to keep from saying more. "I can't … I don't even know what normal is anymore. I'm sorry." With that she is sliding out of the booth, reaching into the backpocket of her pants for some bills, throwing a ten down on the table before heading for the door, head down.
Ooh, smooth move there, Randall. She's mostly hanging out with you because you're Not Family, and who do you go and ask about? And he should have figured on a stepdad being involved somewhere or other. "Wait, I didn't mean— no, I'm sorry," but by that point she's already far enough away that it gets lost in the background murmur of the crowd. He could still run and catch her… but he's still out of small talk for the moment. No, better to let it go for now, come back to it later after he's got his own act together some more. With a sigh, he fishes out some small bills to cover the rest of the check; there's still time to catch the subway if he doesn't drag his heels too badly.
Outside, Claire moves quickly for the nearest corner, turning swiftly down the side street before she backs up to the wall of the corner building. She slides down until she sits on her haunches and covers her face, already stained by tears. Those extraordinary people in the world may no longer have to worry about the Protocol, but the Protocol was only Claire Bennet's problem for the past couple of months of her life. The resolution of that battle did nothing to wipe away the underlying conflicts in her life — secrecy and family, so intertwined that they seem to mean the same thing to her at times.
Sometimes, big things hinge on the smallest of decisions. After stepping outside, Randall turns to head the other direction… but up ahead, the crosswalk turns red at that moment, which means it'd be quicker for him to go around the block in the other direction. Which means he runs across Claire again along the way.
Well. This calls for something other than small talk. "Claire," he whispers, walking over close enough to rest a hand against her wrist. "I'm sorry, I— I didn't think."
The hand on her wrist — gentle as it is, gets a little jerk, her hand curling into a defensive fist for a second before loosening. She shakes her head, a muffled, "No," coming from behind her hands, before she wipes her face and looks up.
"It wasn't your fault. It's just … me… My family… everything. I don't know how to be a normal person, Randall. I can't even tell people basic truths about my family, that normal people shouldn't have to hide, you know? Aside from being … special, or whatever you want to call us, I — there's someone else like me that is like 400 or something years old, did you know that? I don't know if I'm like him or not, but what if I am? How can I even…"
She heaves a sigh and stands. "Why bother even getting to know anyone, if I'm going to be like that?"
Having gotten her attention, Randall takes a step back, crouching down so he's eye to eye with her instead of hovering above. "I didn't, but… I guess it makes sense. The trouble is, we have to try to be normal and special at the same time…" Probably in a lot more low-key way in his case, but at least he can sort of understand her situation.
"It really does help if you have a few people you can unload to. Even if you end up drifting apart later" And there's something he knows all too well. "it can still be good that you went through it for as long as you did."
She rests her arms on her knees, her hands coming up to run through her hair. "I don't know. I don't… I don't want to get close to people just to keep losing them." Claire's husky voice wavers a little. "Especially if …" if she is going to outlive them all by an unnatural number of years. She pushes up to a standing position, as passersby are giving them odd looks.
She shakes her head at some little old lady asking, "is that man bothering you?" and chuckles. "Sorry," she says, again, to Randall, teary eyes glancing down at the sidewalk as she offers a sheepish grin. "I didn't mean to freak out on you."
Randall shakes his head, straightening up to follow suit. And shooting the little old lady a sharp glance, after she turns her back: no, she's not part of Haynesworth's flock, but there's enough of a resemblance. "No, hey, you're right— that's gotta be really weird. I don't know what to tell you… But if you actually know the 400-year-old guy? You should ask him about it, I figure he's as likely to have some good ideas as anyone else."
"He's… I don't know. Kinda weird. I don't think I could talk to him about it. For some reason I don't think he'd admit to it bothering him. He put a gun to my head to make a point," she points out, regarding Adam. "Not really the most … uh… chummy kinda guy. He did give me a knife, though." She actually smiles at that. One hand comes up to scrub at her eyes with the back of a hand, leaving a smear of mascara on each eye. "I don't usually cry at the drop of a hat, you know. It's just… Nathan and … everything."
Okay, that would be strike two of the evening. Just because you've survived doesn't mean your sanity has. Still, it was worth a shot… "Yeah, I can sort of imagine," Randall offers, tamping down the instinct that tells him to look for a handkerchief to help her clean up. "It usually gets better over time… but knowing that doesn't make it go any quicker. I don't think anything does, I wish it could."
She nods and sighs again. "Time heals all wounds, or wounds all heels, I forget which," she quips, offering a slightly crooked smile that doesn't meet her eyes. "Thanks for being so nice to me. I mean… I keep running away from you like a freak or something. I shoulda been on the track team, not a cheerleader, right?" She pushes off from the wall she leans against and begins to walk, though not run, toward the subway. "How many more times do you put up with me before deciding I'm not worth the trouble?"
Randall keeps pace with Claire, he was headed for the same station earlier that she's going to now. "As many times as you keep coming back, I guess. Not like I know a whole bunch of people, either… I know some, but there are more I've lost touch with than the ones I haven't. And it's not like you don't have good reasons to be freaked out."
As she heads down the steps into the subway station, Claire nods. "I sometimes wonder what things would be like if everything hadn't changed, you know? I probably would still live in Texas… go to A and M or something, maybe. I wouldn't even know about my … other family." There's a wistful sigh for the thought of normalcy, and then a frown of guilt after — did she just wish away Peter, Nathan?
"If you didn't have your ability, you mean? If I didn't have mine, I'd probably still be in California… I left because it was all too familiar, I couldn't see anything clearly enough any more." Randall shakes his head. "But then I'd be a completely different person… and so would you. Have to take the good with the bad, I guess." In other words, he wouldn't wish away their friendship— but then his 'bad' is pretty minor, in comparison. No judging.
"And that which doesn't kill us makes us stronger, right? I should be a freakin' iron man by now," Claire muses, giving a little bit of a cynical shrug to his platitude. "I go this way," she says, jutting her chin to the left where the tunnel splits. "Thanks for listening, though. I'm sorry to be a downer." She makes a face, followed by a smile and a shrug.
Randall nods, starting to head off the other way. "Thanks for opening up. Same time next week?" Under more relaxed circumstances, he'd wonder whether it counted as dating or not, but tonight is clearly the wrong night. Down the road, mmm, who knows.
It sounds more like therapy than dating. The weekly appointment, but without a couch to lie on. Claire looks surprised at the question. The guy is either a masochist, or… "Maybe, if I'm not completely batshit insane and in the nuthouse. I'll check my schedule," she says lightly. At least she didn't say maybe IF she's batshit insane, which would be a bit of a putdown. "See ya, Randall." She turns and heads down the tunnel to her platform.