Episode 11 — Promise

Everything is changing.

The trees lining the empty streets are a silent explosion of colour — fireworks in slow motion, their vibrant sparks scattering to the damp earth. Soon only skeletal frames will remain, a haunting reminder of recent beauty.

Claire tugs a mitten from her left hand and runs her fingers over the craggy bark of a towering oak as she passes. She walks slowly, glancing left and right, trying to memorize every tree, every house, every blade of dying grass. She inhales, the late autumn air stinging her lungs as she tries to hold all of these images within her, but she knows she must eventually exhale, letting go of this moment for the next.

When she enters the narrow bookshop, Mack greets her with a hug — a reminder that this hello is part of an even greater goodbye. He leads her to a short stack of books piled on his desk near the back of the store.

“I know the last thing you need is more to pack but…” He passes her the books and shrugs sheepishly, “I think you might like those.”

Claire glances at the spines and grins, “Thank you, Mack.”

They stand across from each other, awkwardly silent, each waiting for the other to give a signal — some sign as to how they are to progress from here. Claire smiles at the discomfort while Mack simply mumbles and glances at his feet.

“Is Marcus around?” Claire asks, not only as a means to break the silence, but also out of genuine concern. He wouldn’t skip out on saying goodbye, would he?

Claire’s heart sinks when Mack frowns. “He’s been really busy, even I haven’t seen him much this month.”

“But he should be back soon,” he adds quickly when he notices Claire’s smile fading. “He’s a bit of a chicken when it comes to talking about his feelings, but I don’t think he’ll let you go without saying goodbye.”

With a nod and another thanks, Claire turns to leave.

“Don’t tell him I said that. The chicken thing.” Mack clears his throat and looks away, his eyes wide with exaggerated guilt.

“Don’t worry,” she says, giving him one final hug, “your secret is safe with me.”

“Claire?” Art calls from the hallway as Claire slips in through the front door. “Do you have a minute?”

Claire wipes her feet on the rug and then follows her to the kitchen. There she finds Art leaning against the kitchen island and Sara standing beside the sink, staring out at the heavy grey clouds through the window there. Claire sets her books down on the island and slips onto a stool. Art sits across from her and begins fiddling with a stack of cloth napkins.

“We… we wanted to ask you something.” Art looks to Sara for reassurance, but her wife’s attention is elsewhere.

Claire waits, running through a list of possibilities that could have led to the tension in the atmosphere.

Sara,” Art calls, impatience bleeding into her voice.

“Hm?” Sara answers without looking away from the window.

“This was your idea, so the least you could do is help me with this.” Art waves a hand toward Claire.

Did I forget to pay something? she wonders. Maybe there’s some responsibility I’ve forgotten about? I’ve never rented an apartment before, is there some weird formality about leaving I don’t know about?

Sara finally turns from the window and comes to sit beside her wife. “If I recall, you were the one who recommended her.”

“Yeah,” Art says, “but I also said there was no point in actually asking.”

“Asking what?” Claire’s heart begins to race nearly as fast as her thoughts.

“It is important,” Sara addresses Art rather than Claire, “to be clear about these kinds of decisions. There is meaning in expressing one’s intention, even if that intent does not materialize as planned.”

Art sighs and shakes her head. “Alright.” Finally, they both shift their attention to Claire. “Claire Brown, we would like to know if you’d be interested in — I mean not now, but one day down the line, you know when we decide to retire…”

“We would like to offer you the opportunity to inherit 53 Ganymede Avenue.” Sara interrupts and then adds, “And all of the responsibilities therein.”

Claire inhales, sharply; this had not been one of the possibilities she had imagined. In fact, this was so far beyond possible it hadn’t even occurred to Claire to ever imagine it.

Me?” Claire asks.

Sara nods.

For a moment, Claire is struck with a jolt of excitement; this is everything she has ever wanted. A gifted purpose. A chance to stay at 53 Ganymede forever. The opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. Her mouth opens to shout Yes! Of course! But instead she takes another breath, deliberately this time. She closes her eyes, leaving Sara and Art — all of 53 Ganymede — behind. Within her, buried beneath the fairy tale excitement, is another answer. An honest answer that she has taken painstaking care to unearth over the last several months.

Claire exhales and opens her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” she begins, taking great care to treat this offering with the reverence it deserves. “If you had asked me last year, even a couple of months ago, I would have leapt at the chance. But I think it would have been for all of the wrong reasons.”

Sara nods, “You’ve grown a lot in a very short time, Claire.”

Claire inhales the compliment, letting it swell inside of her and steady her for the most difficult decision she has ever made in her life. “I think 53 Ganymede — what you do here — is important. A part of me wants nothing more than to just stay here and tend this little garden forever. But…”

“But you’d rather spread the seeds,” Sara says.

“There are so many people out here that need hope, a second chance, a safe place to rest. To feel connected. If I can help reach more of those people then I think it would be an injustice to stay. To them… and to me. I just finally found my direction, if I were so quick to give it up I’m not sure I would really be the right person for the job after all.”

“I told you she’d say no,” Art mutters, throwing the napkins back onto the island.

“Of course she said no,” Sara shakes her head at Art and then turns to smile at Claire, “but now she knows how we feel.”

Each step up the staircase reverberates through Claire’s legs and she grasps the railing tightly in an attempt to steady herself. Doubts swirl within her, but also the dizzying warmth of Art and Sara’s trust. She feels heavy and giddy all at once, and it isn’t until the final step that she notices the tears coursing down her cheeks. A hiccup of laughter escapes as she wipes the dampness with her sleeve and then juggles the books in her arms so she can reach the keys in her jacket pocket. As she fits one into the lock she notices a small slip of paper taped to her door — a movie ticket. She blinks her eyes against the stubborn tears blurring her vision and inspects it more closely. It is for a film playing tonight in a theatre across town. She tucks the ticket into her pocket and smiles.

After offloading her books onto one of the many stacked boxes, she ventures back into the hallway and crosses it to Declan’s door. She knocks and waits.

Nothing.

She knocks again. Surely he is home today of all days. He would have told her if he’d had to work, right?

There is a noise from within. A cough. A groan. The shuffle of approaching footsteps.

A harsh croak that might be Claire’s name sounds from the other side of the wooden door.

Oh no, Claire thinks.

“Declan?”

Another cough, and a slumping sound against the door.

“Are you okay?” Claire asks, reaching a hand out to touch the painted wood.

“I’m so sorry Claire,” he groans, “It had to be today.”

Claire sighs. Bad timing, she thinks, but out loud she repeats, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” he says, pausing for another round of coughing, “I mean, I’m really sick, but yeah. I’ll be okay.”

Claire hesitates, but then leans her forehead forward onto the door. In the quiet she can hear the rasp of his breath in between coughs.

“Can I come in?” she asks, half-hoping he’ll say no.

“Claire…” he begins to protest, but Claire stops him.

“I want to say goodbye,” she pleads.

“You can.”

“Properly,” she says, and when he doesn’t answer she adds, “I’m going to miss you, Declan. Please.”

“No.”

Claire turns around and leans her back against the door, sliding down to sit on the hard floor.

“I can’t, Claire,” he says, his voice so close and yet so distant. “I can’t do that to you. This is your moment Claire, and I know how much it means to you. This is my curse, not yours.”

“But you don’t have to carry it alone. Not anymore.”

“I don’t,” Declan says, and the lightness of his tone surprises Claire. She raises her head, listening intently to his words. “But part of having people support you means you want to support them too. That was my wish Claire. At the fountain — remember?”

Claire recalls the glimmer of silver scales, the splash of the strange coin in the water of the fountain. It seems so long ago now.

“I wished that one day I could be someone that people could lean on. Someone they could trust. Not just someone who everyone forgets. Who causes problems just by existing…”

“Declan…” she protests.

“I know,” he says, “I understand now. But this curse — or whatever it is — is a part of me, and it makes things harder. Not impossible, but sometimes I have to make difficult decisions. Like not opening the door to see the person I care about more than anyone in the world the day before she leaves because I want her to feel amazing when she goes off on her own. I want to imagine her in that new city, a whole new world to explore, with excitement coursing through her veins and nothing but potential ahead of her. I want to call her at the end of the day and hear her laughing, not coughing and wishing she’d had the energy to unpack let alone leave her apartment.”

Claire turns, resting her cheek against the door and imagining that she can feel the warmth of the room beyond. Declan’s words settle within her, the significance of this moment making the few inches between them feel more like miles. Bittersweet frustration blooms in Claire’s chest and cheeks, and she finds herself at a loss for words.

“I want to support you Claire,” Declan tells her before hurriedly adding, “Is… is that okay?”

With a nervous chuckle Claire answers: “Okay. Yeah.”

“I’ll come visit. Soon. Delayed trains and inclement weather be damned. I’ll walk if I have to,” he says, laughing through another bout of raspy coughs.

Claire smiles. “How about I meet you half way?”

“Thanks again for doing this,” Lucy says, helping Violet lift the last of the boxes into the Gallagher’s minivan.

“We were planning on visiting my parents in Ashbury this weekend anyway. It’s really not out of the way. I only wish we could give you a lift too,” Violet says, pouting at the open van door revealing a mass of boxes taking up the rearmost seats.

“It’s fine, honestly. We love the train,” Claire assures her, nuzzling her chin into Beans’ head as she carries him to the van. “Are you sure you’ll be alright taking Beans? I know you’re busy with the kids and Art said she could…”

“The kids love him; they’ll keep each other out of trouble.”

Claire hesitates, hugging the wriggling ball of fur one last time before passing him to Violet’s waiting arms. “We’ll see you soon, okay buddy? Just a couple of days and you get a whole new city to explore.”

Beans squirms in Violet’s arms, half crawling back into Claire’s and reaching up to lick her face.

“I’ll miss you too,” she whispers, leaning in to kiss his wispy white fur.

As Violet drives away down Ganymede Avenue, Lucy turns to Claire. “Ready for some more goodbyes?”

“Not really.”

“Having second thoughts?” Lucy asks, her thick dark brows furrowing as she examines her friend’s face.

With a shake of her head Claire sighs. “No. It’s just, it’s just been a lot today. You know?”

“Yeah,” Lucy agrees. They both look up at the big old house, its windows beacons of warmth in the early evening sunset. Lucy shivers and buries her hands deep in her pockets. “Let’s get inside.”

The din of comfortable conversation carries down the hallway, guiding the women back into the kitchen where the other tenants — save Declan and Marcus — have gathered over mugs of mulled wine and the last cake that Lucy will ever bring home from Queen Bea’s. Lucy heads to the cupboard for a fresh mug while Claire drifts towards the cake, passing a small slice to River who had been eyeing it hopefully. After retrieving a second slice for herself, she retreats to the breakfast nook, overwhelmed by the laughter and the encroaching sense of finality.

“May I sit with you?” Hyun-Sook asks, having silently followed her out from the kitchen. Claire reaches out a hand to guide her to an empty seat. “Tired?” she asks.

“A bit,” Claire admits, “It’s been a long day.”

“I imagine you’ll want to rest early tonight.”

“Actually, I have an appointment in a couple of hours.” Claire reaches into her jeans pocket, fiddling with the slip of paper there.

With a look of distaste Hyun-Sook says, “He really couldn’t have just joined in with the rest of us?”

Claire leans in, lowering her voice conspiratorially, “I have it on good authority that public displays of emotion are not Marcus Alvarez’s forte.”

“Sometimes I’m not sure what that authority sees in him.” Despite her sharp tone, Hyun-Sook’s thin mouth struggles to remain neutral, its corners venturing further up her otherwise somber face.

Claire grins. “Probably the same thing we do.”

Hyun-Sook waves as if dismissing the thought, but Claire again sees the quiver of her lips as she resists a smile. Suddenly she reaches into the folds of her skirt and produces a small box tied with a fine white ribbon. She presses it into Claire’s hand.

“I heard about the necklace I gave you,” she says, “and what you did for Lana. I thought I should replace it.”

Claire carefully unties the ribbon and opens the package, revealing a delicate rose gold chain. Each link shifts and dazzles as she lifts it into the light. “It’s beautiful,” she says.

“It’s from…” Hyun-Sook hesitates and lowers her voice to a near whisper, “It’s from the other market. Mackenzie took me.”

The chain slithers from one hand to another, gliding like a living thing over her skin. Claire opens the clasp and places it around her neck.

“I worried it would be too plain,” Hyun-Sook continues, “but I couldn’t find a charm that suited you. I thought maybe it would be best if you picked something for yourself.”

“Thank you,” Claire says, reaching for her friend’s hand, “It’s perfect.”

By late evening the wind has risen and brought with it a biting chill borrowed from the heart of winter. Even the subway platforms, nearly devoid of all signs of life, offer little protection; Claire’s breath hangs visibly in the air as she departs the train and makes for the stairs. Thankfully the theatre is not far and she sprints to the hulking silhouette of the mall complex that houses it. By now most of the stores are closed or closing, and there are only a few more people here than down in the subway, but at least it is warm.

“About time,” Marcus jabs when she mounts the final step of the escalator to the theatre entrance.

“It’s not like you gave me much notice,” she counters. “What if I had plans?”

Marcus shrugs, “Then I’d be out eleven dollars.”

Claire rolls her eyes and follows him in to find their seats. “You wouldn’t have been disappointed?”

“Part of me hoped you would have better things to do than come spend an evening with me.”

Claire inspects his face, much the same way she did the first evening she bumped into him at this theatre. The lines around his mouth seem deeper now, filled with the shadows of the auditorium, but those same shadows cling less heavily beneath his eyes. There is also a stillness now to his expression, a tranquility to the rise and fall of his shoulders that she is sure had not been there before.

“You just hoped you wouldn’t have to say goodbye,” she tells him, settling into her seat and training her eyes on the advertisements flashing across the screen.

“I don’t,” he says, “I told you before, I’ll be around.”

“Not too much I hope,” Claire says, “Mack will miss you.”

“I’ll bring him with me.”

“That would be nice.” For a moment Claire is overcome with a fear that this moment will end, that a long time will pass before she will get to experience anything like it again. She takes a handful of measured breaths. It isn’t gone yet, she reminds herself.

“I’ll try to bring your boy with us,” Marcus says, drawing her attention. He rubs his chin, “Although I’m not sure he travels well.”

“If you’re referring to Declan, I’m sure he’ll manage just fine.”

“What kind of movies does he like?” Marcus asks unexpectedly.

“Movies? I–” Claire wonders when Declan last went to the movies. Since his mom died?

“Mack likes pretty much anything as long as it isn’t too graphic. I’m sure we could find something we all like…”

“You mean it?” Claire bursts out, looking around self-consciously as the lights begin to darken around her.

“Sure,” he answers, nonchalantly. “If I can find the time…”

“Well that’s your expertise isn’t it?” Claire elbows him gently, drawing his gaze from the brightly lit screen, “Finding things?”

“I suppose it is.”

The sky is still dark when Claire and Lucy slip out of the front door of 53 Ganymede. With a yawn, Claire reaches behind her to close the front door, but not before a shadow slithers out onto the porch.

“Meow,” Ginger cries, her eyes flashing in the electric porch light.

Claire lifts the cat into her arms and scratches behind her ear. “I’ll miss you too.”

“I’m not sure I will,” Lucy mumbles, but she reaches out a hand to stroke the cat’s soft orange fur anyway.

Claire deposits Ginger just inside the front door where she sits, silently for once, as the door closes. Lucy fits a key into the lock, and then slips it into the mailbox.

They almost miss the small parcel on the front step; Lucy nearly crushes it with her foot before Claire cries out and carefully deposits it in her coat pocket. Although her fingers ache to unwrap its brown paper, they are in a hurry to catch the train and it will have to wait.

The train station is surprisingly lively despite the absence of light, people milling here and there while they wait for a train that will take them home, or perhaps away from home. Some will be back before the sun sets and others never again. Claire watches each of them, wondering at the stories contained by each potential journey.

It isn’t long before the roar and screech of the arriving train tugs at her attention, the platform awash in false daylight as the mechanical behemoth passes and illuminates everything in its wake. When it finally stops, Claire and Lucy climb the steps and find a seat together, stashing away their few bags in a compartment above their heads. They have many long hours ahead of them, many miles to place between themselves and the place where they once were. They are leaving a home for a home and so, for the moment, they are transient — between places — with no roots to ground them. Claire’s heart races with fear and excitement.

The first hour passes more swiftly than she expects as they lose themselves in conversations of what awaits them, of an apartment they’ve never seen before. A place that they know will both exceed and fall short of their infinite expectations.

They are well into the second hour when Claire shifts and notices the bulk in her jacket pocket. She recalls the package and pulls it out, showing Lucy.

“Who do you think it’s from?” Lucy asks.

Claire considers the plain brown paper, the carefully wrapped twine. “I don’t know. Alice must have delivered it last night, or maybe this morning?”

“Open it,” Lucy says, leaning in close to watch.

Claire tugs on the twine and the knot comes lose. Inside is a plain wooden box with a similarly unornamented clasp. With trembling fingers Claire lifts the clasp and opens the tiny chest. There is a moment of disappointment as Claire realizes the box is empty before she is overcome by a scent — no, many scents: lavender and chocolate, hyacinths and roses, rain and freshly tilled earth, cinnamon and marshmallow and full-bodied red wine. Lucy’s eyes widen and Claire knows she has smelled it too.

Each distinct smell summons to mind a moment, a person, a memory — the Grey Market, a rainy night on the pier, a walk through the Chateau de Verre, a candlelit evening with a good friend, a dinner shared with neighbours. As she sees the tear drifting down Lucy’s cheek Claire wonders if the scents are the same for her, and if she also has a memory for each.

“What do you think it means?” Lucy asks, wiping her cheek against her sleeve.

“I don’t know,” Claire admits, “It feels like the house, or maybe the city, saying goodbye?”

Lucy considers the emptiness within the box and frowns, her thick brows furrowing in thought. “I’m not sure,” Lucy says, “It feels more like… like a promise.”

“A promise?”

“Like it’s still there. All of it. The city, 53 Ganymede, everything that ever happened. And… and the box is still empty,” she takes it from Claire, inspecting it one more time in the faint light through the train window. “Like it’s still waiting to be filled.”

She passes the box back to Claire who breathes in its heady scent once more while considering the winding grain at the bottom.

The pale sun is high in the sky by the time they depart the train, glad to be able to stretch their stiff arms and legs. They hurry from the platform through to the station, double checking their phones for the directions to their new apartment. They set out from the station onto the street, their pace a war waged between curiousity and the sharp bite of the northern air.

“I wish I’d brought my winter jacket,” Claire laments and Lucy laughs.

“Oh look!” She points to a string of low restaurants and cafes across the street. “Maybe we can come back this way tonight and get something to eat?”

“Maybe we should order in.” Claire stamps her feet, trying to fend off the numbness in her toes.

“We’re supposed to try new places, remember? It’s part of the plan. Gathering ideas for the layout and all that.”

“I know, I know. But maybe once the Gallaghers bring my winter clothes.”

Lucy takes a step closer, and they huddle for warmth as they walk, mentally listing all of the places they hope to explore once they settle in. Thankfully it isn’t long before they reach a broad street lined with high-rise buildings, monuments of glass and steel like shining, jagged teeth against the skyline. Lucy points to the one they seek, storey upon storey of identical square windows and tiny square balconies. She presses a number on the keypad beside the sliding glass doors and waits until a middle-aged woman comes to fetch them. She leads them up to the ninth floor and hands them a set of keys.

After a quick tour and a polite welcome, she departs leaving them alone in their new home.

Claire drifts to the narrow balcony doors, taking in the sprawl of the city beneath them, the haphazard lines of unfamiliar streets. For a moment she feels disoriented and dizzy, her compass spinning in an attempt to find the comforting tug of the familiar.

“You okay?” Lucy asks, reaching a hand out to her shoulder.

Snowflakes begin to fall, tiny white flecks against the drab grey sky. For an instant, Claire is certain she sees a flash of blue below. There — several blocks away near a group of trees — a small park maybe. The next moment it vanishes and Claire wonders if it was ever there at all.

“Yes,” Claire says, “Yeah, I think I am.”

She reminds herself to breathe and turns to face the empty apartment, full of bare floors, blank white walls, and possibility.

She turns to Lucy, “So… where should we start?”

Author’s Note:

Hey everyone!

Audio is up now! The sound quality is not exactly what I would like, but I am learning as I go. As I record old episodes I will eventually come back and re-record these episodes. Thanks so much for your patience as I figure this all out! (On the plus side, I’m having a lot of fun recording and learning how to edit audio.)

Only one more episode left before this season — and all of 53 Ganymede — is complete! Because the third Friday in December falls really late in the month and December is a crazy month for me, I will be releasing the final episode TWO WEEKS EARLY! So make sure to check back on Friday, December 6th for the conclusion. Thanks for reading ❤

<— Back to Episode 10

Continue to Episode 12 —>

All 53 Ganymede

Photo by Katherine McCormack on Unsplash

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