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ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Moments With Claire
"Mom! Mommy! Mom! Mommy!"
Juliet feels the weight of the small body on her side of the bed, and she cracks open an eyelid. And as is typical of her mornings nowadays, she's greeted with Aaron's excited face as he stares at her hopefully. She mumbles something, then kisses him softly on the forehead before she shuts her eyes again. She knows she's not getting anymore sleep this morning as she feels the young boy clamber over her to settle in between her and her still-sleeping partner.
His voice is loud and she can feel his warm breath against her ear, can almost feel the pout in his tone, and she sighs as she stretches in bed.
"I'm up, Aaron," she yawns. "I'm up."
She smiles at his obvious delight as he giggles, and then he slides off the bed and slips out of the room. She can hear his footsteps as he patters towards the kitchen.
She takes another few minutes to properly wake up, and it takes her a little maneuvering, but she finally disentangles herself from the blonde in bed. Sometimes she wonders how Claire can sleep through Aaron's calls, but then Claire's been able to sleep through almost anything, ever since they returned from the island. She glances down again at Claire, leaves a lingering kiss on her temple, before making her way to the kitchen.
Aaron's managed to clamber up onto the stool and is patiently waiting for her, his head in his hands as he leans against the countertop.
"Morning, Aaron," Juliet smiles as she walks over to the fridge and takes out the carton of orange juice, pouring it into Aaron's plastic cup before giving it to the boy.
"Good morning, Mommy," he replies. "Can we have eggs today?"
"Of course," Juliet says, "We can have anything you want."
"And can we save one for Mom when she wakes up?"
Juliet smiles. "I'm sure we can."
Aaron's chatter as she scrambles the eggs keeps her entertained, and she loves him, she does, with all her heart. But she can't shake the nagging feeling that something's missing, with Claire lying in bed and not out here with them.
When she thinks back on it, she doesn't know how she didn't see it coming.
One day, Aaron's taking a nap, and Juliet finds herself alone in the laundry room.
It's been her favourite place to be alone of late. She likes the smell of the laundry room; it's a clean smell not like the disinfectant clean of a hospital, but the fresh kind of clean that only newly-washed laundry can have. It's warm and it's inviting, and the low hum of the spinning machines soothes her. Sometimes, it gets loud enough so she can't hear her own thoughts, and she likes that. She likes not having to think sometimes.
She stiffens at first when she feels arms coming to wrap around her waist, but soon she relaxes into the familiar touch, grins slightly at the feel of familiar lips pressing light kisses to the back of her neck and shoulders.
"Hey, you," she smiles, and twists so that she's face-to-face with Claire.
"Hey yourself," Claire smiles back.
They lapse into a comfortable silence, content to hold each other, and maybe it's because the window's open, but Juliet can hear the low buzz of traffic on the street outside through the rumbling of the dryer, and she knows it's just another typical winter day in New York.
Years later, when she thinks of Claire, she will always think of this moment.
It's a little strange, she thinks, to have settled into this domesticity.
She'll cook breakfast because Claire can never get up on time, and Claire will prepare dinner in return. Juliet will send Aaron to school, and Claire will pick him up.
It's nice to have some routine in life, and she especially welcomes it because it's a stark contrast to life on the island, where nothing was ever routine and she woke up wondering if that was the day she was going to die.
It's comforting, this routine.
She leaves in the morning with Aaron, and they both kiss Claire on the cheek before they go out the door.
Later in the day, when she's at work, she gets a call.
Aaron's still at school.
She goes to pick him up immediately, calling the apartment on the way to find out why Claire isn't with Aaron but she gets no response.
When she arrives at the school, Aaron looks a little upset.
"Mommy," he whispers into her ear when she leans down to give him a hug. "Where's Mom?"
"I don't know, honey," Juliet says, trying to keep the worry out of her voice as she pulls away. "But Mommy's going to find out, okay?"
Aaron nods slowly, and even though he hasn't done it in a few weeks, he reaches for her hand and grasps it tightly for the entire walk home.
Aaron's at a friend's house when Juliet and Claire have their first fight in a year.
"You should have said something! I just thought you were just tired; you've been like that since we got back from the island-"
"And what would you have wanted me to say?! 'Morning, love oh, by the way, I have a tumor in my brain'? I didn't know! How could I tell you something I didn't know myself?"
"You should have said something," Juliet repeats, livid. "That you felt more tired than usual, anything! If you'd said something, I could've-"
"You could've what, Jules?"
The silence that follows Claire's question is thick with tension.
After a few minutes, Claire speaks, her voice low as she leans against the counter for support. "You have to stop blaming yourself, Juliet. It's not your fault; it's not anybody's fault. It just happened."
Juliet can sense the onslaught of tears before they actually happen, and she spins around, furious at herself.
She's soon aware of hands on her shoulders, then on her hips, and then she's turned around gently to face Claire. She feels soft fingertips at her cheeks, wiping away the tears as they fall silently.
She's trembling, and she wants to stop, but she can't.
Instead, she allows Claire to pull her close.
"It's okay, Juliet," Claire soothes. "Everything's going to be fine."
And Juliet can't help but think about how ironic this is, Claire comforting her. The dying comforting the living. And she hates herself for it, for being weak, but then Claire kisses her on the lips, and, just for a moment, she lets herself believe Claire.
Everything's going to be fine.
Claire decides not to go forward with the operation, and over the next year her condition quickly deteriorates.
It's hard on Juliet, because Claire says hurtful things that Juliet knows she doesn't mean.
And it's hard on Claire, because in her moments of clarity she knows she hates treating Juliet this way.
But it just happens.
She's annoyed, snappy, impatient. And she can't help any of it.
One day, weeks before she's lost her ability to speak properly, she tells Juliet, plainly, "I love you."
Juliet looks at Claire from where she's sitting. A small smile. "I love you too."
"No," Claire shakes her head, She looks Juliet in the eye, "I mean, I love you. For taking care of Aaron, for taking care of me. For being you."
Juliet gets up from her seat and walks over to Claire, placing a kiss on her head.
Juliet holds on to this moment, because she knows it won't be long before Claire's mood changes again, and because she knows this is the most loving, the most like her old self Claire has been in months.
"I know. I love you too."
It's only been a year after Claire dies, but Juliet's finding it hard to picture her nowadays.
If she tries, she can just imagine a face, with blue eyes and light blonde hair. But she can't remember the details, not the way she used to be able to.
It scares her, how quickly she's forgetting, but sometimes she thinks it's for the best.
Claire would have wanted her to move on, anyway.
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