When Claire was seven, she almost drowned. Jackie had a swimming pool. Claire wasn’t the greatest swimmer. Jackie kept urging her to come in deeper, farther, and Claire knew she shouldn’t but she couldn’t say no. She still remembers the feeling of smothering, the way the artificial blue of the chlorinated water made it impossible to tell which way was up. Jackie’s mom scooped her out of the water, lost and dizzy, while Jackie sobbed.
She feels that way now.
Can you keep a secret, the Haitian asked. Like she was eleven years old again, twelve-thirty in the morning, in a sleeping bag in Jackie’s furnished basement, ground strewn with candy wrappers, stray popcorn kernels, VHS tapes. I like that new kid, Zach. But don’t tell.
I won’t. I pinky swear.
Like she hasn’t been keeping it a secret from everybody in the six months since it started, in the five months since she’s known what’s going on, in the three weeks everyone’s gone crazy. Like she’ll ever be able to tell anything to the creep formerly known as her father.
And now she’s just supposed to act like it’s six months ago. Jackie’s still her best friend, and Claire doesn’t know she’s dead yet. Her dad is going to come home and tell her. That’s what the Haitian said, anyway. Claire asked him his name. “I’m just a Haitian.”
I’m just a cheerleader.
And Peter. Her dad is going to make him forget, too, isn’t he? The Haitian said he hadn’t been told to yet but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t happen. She has to stop it. And she has to help save the world.
But at least she isn’t alone.
* * *
Come on, Claire. You have to think. And in order to think, you need to calm down. Just breathe. In. Out. In. Out. Good.
When Dad gets home – swallow your anger, that’s good. When Dad gets home, you need to put on your best Wildcat smile and ask Daddy how his day was, and what’s for dinner, and where’s Mom and Lyle – but innocent, concerned, sweet. And you will sit through dinner and listen to him talk about paper, and compliment Mom’s cooking, and ignore Lyle’s icky teenage boy smell. You will help to clear the dishes, and you will go upstairs and read until bedtime.
Who can you trust? You’ve never felt this alone, not even when you were drowning. And this time, you can’t wait for someone to save you.
But the thing is, you’re not alone. There’s Peter. Which means there are others. You’ve got to talk to Peter, but they can’t know.
Tomorrow’s Sunday. Tell Mom and Dad you’re meeting some girls from the squad at the mall. The police station isn’t far and the walk can be your cardio for the day. Keep a sense of humor, that’s it. Stay buoyant, bubbly, superficial. The girl you used to be. Pretend to be someone you haven’t been for weeks…
Don’t cry. Deep breaths, in and out. Turn on the TV. There’s the garage door. You can do it. In and out. Don’t cry. Keep the secret.
* * *
Sunday, October 22, 11:04 A.M.
Matt can hear her thoughts this time, but he wishes he couldn’t.
He’s on his way out of the building when he hears her voice in the lobby. “Peter Petrelli... He was in here yesterday. The police didn’t think they were gonna let him go.” She’s maintaining her composure, but he can hear she’s a mess. Peter need to talk to Peter Dad oh God Peter Jackie forget Haitian Peter Peter need to see Peter…
He’s gonna have to be the one to break it to her.
He changes course and crosses the lobby. “Claire? I’m Officer Matt Parkman. We spoke yesterday, briefly. Can I talk to you for a minute?” He establishes eye contact with the receptionist and nods. She nods back. He tries not to listen to her thoughts.
Claire’s take on more panic, if that’s possible. Oh, God, oh, God, he’s dead and I’m alone. He seemed sick yesterday. I’ve killed him. I’m alone and it’s my fault.
“Claire, Peter was released yesterday.” The panic in her thoughts takes on a different quality, but it’s still panic. Her outward demeanor is still incredibly composed. Matt pauses to breathe deeply. “But almost as soon as Peter left the building, he collapsed. Seconds after that, he stopped breathing. The paramedics were able to revive him, but he’s in a coma. He was taken to the hospital.” It doesn’t take a mind-reader to know she’s distraught and bewildered. “I was actually going over there to visit, if you’d like a ride.”
Rides from strangers… police officer… something weird…
“I know that this goes against everything you’ve learned from Officer Friendly, but I like the kid and I’m going to go see him anyway, so I might as well take you. Have you ever ridden in a cop car before?” He grins and she smiles back shyly. “I could always wait for you to call your parents. They could drive you. Or are they waiting here?”
“No, I—I took a bus. I’ll go with you. Thanks.”
…gonna be one awkward car ride.
* * *
Peter’s sick. Peter’s sick and it’s all your fault, just like Jackie’s death. He’ll probably die, too. Oh, God. Oh, God. He came to save you and he went to jail for you and he probably caught freaking tuberculosis or something and now he’s dying for you.
What do you have to do with the world? You’re just a cheerleader. You’re barely seventeen years old. You struggle with a back walkover. How can you save the world?
Calm down, Claire. Panic never helps. Deep breaths, in and out. What time is it? Barely an hour since Mom dropped you off. You’re good. You can call, say you’re going for pizza, a movie, a pedicure. Just sound happy and they’ll believe anything. Stay calm.
Peter will wake up, and you’ll talk to him, and everything will be fine.
* * *
Sunday, October 22, 11:27 A.M.
Claire’s preoccupied enough about Peter and her own business that Officer Parkman’s silence and faint jumpiness aren’t all that disconcerting.
As soon as she notes that, Officer Parkman breaks the five-minute silence. “Sorry I’m so… distracted. I just… get headaches. I’m fine to drive, just… not very talkative, I guess.”
“It’s fine. I’m sorry about your head.”
“It’s nothing, really.”
It doesn’t sound like nothing, but Claire lets it go.
* * *
Sunday, October 22, 11:41 A.M.
Claire’s buzzing thoughts increase in frequency and volume as they approach Peter’s room. When they go in, Peter is alone, looking slight and even paler than he did during the questioning. Claire stifles a sob and drops into the chair next to the bed, scooting it closer and taking his hand instinctively. Get better, she whispers, get better.
Claire was going to go to him for help. He was the only one who would understand, who would believe her, and now he’s cut off, too. Who knows if he remembers? Now where can she go?
“He remembers what happened Friday night. He’s… sick, Claire.”
Her head whips around. “Sick, really?” Her voice is caustic, but soft, as if Peter is sleeping and she doesn’t want to disturb him. “How did you know that?” She feigns awe in her voice, but her eyes say otherwise.
Matt bows his head, pinches the bridge of his nose. “We shouldn’t be in here. He thinks we’re making him worse.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Claire.. I have an ability. Like you. And I swear, I will explain it all to you, but we cannot be in here.”
“I don’t want to leave him alone.”
“He doesn’t want you to go, either, you as a person, but he’s just… overwhelmed.” Officer Parkman speaks softly, sympathetically, but authoritatively. “He thinks he just needs to heal. The sooner you go, the sooner you’ll see him. Come on, Claire. Let’s go get a cup of coffee.”
“Let’s go to the cafeteria, Claire.”
“You’re like me. You’re like me, but different.”
“You’re right, Claire. Let’s go get a cup of coffee.” Absorbed in her own thoughts, she reluctantly allows herself to be ushered out the door.
* * *
What does he do? Can he help you? Can you tell him about your father, the Haitian, Zach, Lyle, Jackie? Will he care? Of course he’ll care. He seems nice. Sweet. Like a teddy bear.
…Is he okay?
* * *
Sunday, October 22, 11:53 A.M.
Matt goes to buy them two cups of coffee while Claire picks out a deserted table in one corner of the hospital cafeteria.
“Claire, I can read people’s minds.”
“Including comatose people.” It’s weird, but not much weirder than anything else has been in the past forty-eight hours. Or the past three weeks, for that matter.
“Including comatose people.”
“That explains why my coffee is perfect. Thank you.” She grins, then resumes her serious demeanor. Gotta be grown-up to save the world. “I can heal. And Peter picks up on other people’s abilities.”
“He read my mind. He… I think he mimics people’s powers.” Officer Parkman goes to take a sip of his coffee, pauses with the Styrofoam cup mid-way to his mouth, as if he’s just realized something. “That’s why he wasn’t injured. He was able to pick up on your healing ability.”
Claire murmurs assent half-heartedly, lost in thought. If Matt can hear Peter’s thoughts… but being nearby makes Peter worse…
“My range is about fifty feet.”
Claire sits up like a shot. “God, that scared me. That isn’t nice, Officer Parkman.”
“That’s a good idea, though. His range must only be twenty feet or so, based on how close you were when he healed. So we park ourselves forty feet from his room and I concentrate… we can still communicate, or at least hear what he’s thinking. And if he wakes up.”
* * *
It’s going to be okay. Maybe you should wait to talk to Officer Parkman about everything, though. You just want Peter to know first. He’d understand.
For the first time since all of this started, you’re believing what you’ve been telling yourself all along: that everything will be okay. Not okay okay, obviously, because Dad and… how are you going to go back there? Can you keep in contact with Peter and Officer Parkman? What about the others? There have to be others, if the three of you have found each other, and does Peter know them? How did he know to save you? What do you have to do with the world? Does Officer Parkman have any idea?
Oh. Officer Parkman. Is he hearing this?
* * *
Sunday, October 22, 12:17 P.M.
“It would probably be okay if you wanted to call me Matt.”
So Claire is talking to Matt, explaining about her healing abilities, saying it out loud even though she doesn’t need to because the whole mind-reading thing is just a little bit creepy—okay, censor, he might have heard that –because a lot of the time, thoughts can’t be controlled. They’re camped out down the hallway, and it’s just as well, Matt says, because Peter’s politician brother is probably around here somewhere, and he’s—well, he’s a politician.
“There are definitely more people like us,” Off—Matt is saying. “After I found the little girl, one of the first cases Audrey took me on was with this guy. He was radioactive.”
“Yeah, like nuclear. It was really sad, actually. His house looked like a bomb had gone off. He accidentally gave his wife cancer. I was there when she died. And some special faction of the government took him away before we could talk any more. I think something’s going on, dealing with all of—of us,” he gestures, “but bigger than any one of us.”
They sink into a moment of companionable, contemplative silence. Claire’s mind flits to her father, the Haitian—but just flashes, nothing coherent. She’s gearing up to say something when Matt startles beside her. Her brow furrows and she turns to him, opens her mouth to ask--
“Peter’s awake. He’s ready to see people. …He has a lot of questions.”
He and I both. “Can… can I go first?” Claire’s nervous, has no real authority, but wants this more than almost anything, even more than she wanted her cheerleading uniform six months ago, and that desire is a powerful tool. “Because… maybe I can help him get better faster. And with you and the mind-reading thing, it might get confusing, for him.” Because I need to talk to him, she doesn’t say. Because nothing makes sense. Because he has the most answers out of anyone. Because I need to talk to him.
“Yeah,” Matt looks at her understandingly. “Sure.”
Claire lets out a breath she hadn’t known she was holding.
* * *
Don’t panic. It’s just the adrenaline from knowing that Peter’s awake. Don’t think about Dad. Don’t think about Dad. And when you’re talking to Peter, you have to stay calm. He was comatose, after all.
And don’t be nervous about Peter. He’s nice. He’ll understand. You’ve talked to him before. No reason to be nervous. And what will Matt think, about you being nervous? You wish Matt would go back down to the cafeteria, out of range. Maybe he’ll hear; maybe he’ll listen.
Just breathe. In. Out. In.
* * *
Sunday, October 22, 12: 23 P.M.
Peter’s immediate grin eases Claire’s nerves, although she hangs back by the door, afraid of accidentally hurting him by helping him to heal.
“Peter, there are more of us. And it’s so good to know, since everything is falling apart.” Peter seems to trigger the release of the panic that Claire has worked so hard and so bravely to suppress. She is alarmed to find herself crying in the hard plastic chair next to his bed.
“Hey, what is it?” He reaches for her hand, and Claire lets him take it, even though the IV in his hand creeps her out unspeakably.
“When I got back from seeing you yesterday, my brother and my friend who knew… about, you know, the thing… they both acted like they didn’t know. My friend Zach… he watched me try to… to kill myself, so many times… And it was like he didn’t even know me, like the last three weeks hadn’t happened at all. It was horrible. And then I came home and no one was there, so I called my dad, and when we hung up this Haitian man just came out of my closet, like he had been waiting there for how long, in with my clothes… he grabbed me and put his hand over my mouth and he said… he said he works for my dad, and he makes people forget things. He’s what happened to Zach and Lyle, Peter, and he was supposed to make me forget, too, so now I’m just… pretending that I don’t even remember that I can do this, and I’m not supposed to be here at all, I’m not supposed to remember you… my dad, he knew about me the whole time, and he didn’t say anything…Peter, I don’t know what to do…”
“Come to New York with me. That’s where it happens.”
Claire shakes her head, violently. “I have to keep the secret. I want to… but I can’t.”
“Matt can help.”
“Matt could lose his badge, Peter. He’s a cop, and I’m only seventeen, and there are all those laws about crossing state lines with minors. I have to keep the secret. I just… I don’t know what to do. I don’t know anything about what’s going to happen…”
“I think I might.”
“What do you mean? What’s going to happen? How do you know?” It’s just like school, Claire realizes. The answers just lead to more questions.
“Right before I blacked out, I had this vision. I was in New York. The streets were full of cars, but all of the cars were abandoned…”
Claire listens, rapt but skeptical. “It sounds like it was just a dream, Peter.”
“But that’s the other half of my power… my dreams come true.”
Claire laughs. “How poetic.”
“Claire, it’s not funny. The first time it happened was about six months ago. I dreamed that my brother and his wife got into a car accident. The phone ringing woke me up. It was Nathan, telling me to meet him at the hospital.”
“And that’s why you think I should come to New York? Because of this dream you had?”
“Claire, it’s bigger than that and you know it.”
“Look, since it started, how many dreams have you had? And how many of those came true? I do believe that you have this
power, but it’s just so improbable. I mean, I really want to help, I do, but how would me coming to New York help, anyway, when all we have to go on is you exploding? I mean, if this dream even does come true, I’ll have to be there, anyway. So doesn’t it really make more sense for me not to be there?”
“All right, Claire.” Peter sounds resigned, and somehow disappointed. “You go home and pretend. We’ll find you when we need you.”
Claire giggles a little. “It sounds like the mafia.”
“Don’t call us,” he says, making a face. “We’ll call you.”
* * *
So Claire goes home and does her best to pretend. It gets kind of fun, actually, fooling her parents in a way she never did before. She figures she has to make it fun or she’ll go crazy.
She acts confused about why none of her old friends like her, tells her parents she reckons it’s because of Jackie. Things like that change people, she says. She turns in her uniform and spends a lot of time crying.
They don’t know it’s for a whole different reason.
* * *
Wednesday, November 1, 3:34 P.M.
There’s a diner almost halfway between the school and her house where Claire used to eat with her friends after school. Now that she doesn’t have friends, she eats alone and does her schoolwork.
One day, weeks after that Sunday in the hospital, she swears she sees Peter, trenchcoat and all, watching her cross the street. She shrugs it off; for days she saw them all everywhere from the corner of her eye. She goes in, drinks her milkshake, does her trigonometry.
But the next day he’s there again. Her father’s probably having her followed, for God’s sakes. She hopes Matt’s around so they’ll both hear the panic in her thoughts and leave. She glares at him a minute before going in and ordering her milkshake. When she risks a look out of the diner’s windows, Peter’s gone. She breathes a sigh of relief and focuses on her homework.
When her milkshake comes, she looks up to thank Norma and sees him, watching her from the counter. She sinks lower in her booth, feeling the hot panic flood her body. As Norma leaves, Peter rises and begins coming directly towards her.
“Oh, no, no, no. Oh, so not good,” she mutters to herself. “Oh, shit. Oh, no.”
“Excuse me, miss?” Peter addresses her as though she’s a perfect stranger. What? “Do you know what time it is?”
She rummages through her purse for her cell phone with shaking hands. “It’s 3:34.”
“Thank you.” He turns and leaves. She hopes Matt is around so they’ll know she has no idea what the fuck is going on here, thank you very much.
But twenty minutes later, when she closes her binder to put it away, a folded note goes flying out across her to hit the wall. She reaches over and picks it up.
The front has her name, in girly handwriting, like something one of the girls on the squad would have written weeks ago. Brow furrowing, she opens it up.
It’s time, it reads in big, blocky letters. We need you. There’s an address, a time, and the word tonight.
The address is the bus depot, she realizes when she Mapquests it as soon as she gets home. After dinner, she fumbles her way through an excuse about studying physics with her new fictional friend James from seventh period. She fills her backpack with the essentials: all the money she’s saved, a few pairs of jeans, some shirts, almost all her underwear.
Peter’s waiting with two tickets by the bus to New York City. “We’re not actually taking the bus, in case you’re being followed,” he murmurs by way of greeting. His smile is small but sincere. “But I told you we’d find you.”
“You did,” she says, smiling back up at him, heart racing. “And I’m ready.”