Clare feels the room sway and straighten.
Mrs Hatfield shifts uncomfortably on her feet. “May I come in?” she asks softly.
Years of good manners, drilled into her by Grandma Lucille, kicks in.
Clare steps aside, casting a confused look to her parents that has since joined, waving Mrs Hatfield inside. “Of course. Please sit down. Would you like something to drink?”
Noting the distress on the face of the girl she once considered one of her own, Mrs Hatfield motions to the living room. “No, thank you Clare. Perhaps we could have a word in private?”
Anxiously, Clare waits while her parents leave the room, avoiding their worried glances. They’ve always respected her privacy, even during times when it must have been very hard for them to do so. She perches on the arm of the sofa, nervously rubbing at a dry spot just below her left elbow.
“Old habits die hard, I see.” Mrs Hatfield comments as she takes a seat opposite Clare. “You used to do that whenever you were nervous about being caught out after one of your adventures.”
Sighing, Clare drops her hand. “Yes. I thought I kicked the habit, but my skin’s been flaring up with all the stress of the finals and graduation.”
The graceful middle aged woman sighs and gets up to start pacing the room.
“I’m sure you wonder what this is all about, Clare.”
Clare nods, her lips suddenly quivering with unexpected emotion. After the elation she felt during the day, the sorrow, anger, and guilt suddenly make her stomach cramp.
All the years of not understanding what had happened. How could she have missed all the signs? What made Lauren decide to take her own life, without leaving so much as a single explanatory sentence behind for her best friend?
Lauren’s suicide had devastated Clare. The loss of the person closest to her had changed the course of her life.
“Do you remember how you used to love playing at your Granny Lucille’s house? You used to dress up as an explorer or a scientist, taking apart your Gran’s garden in your quest for treasure and previously undiscovered insects. Lauren loved playing house. She loved creating order. When you were a bit older, you stopped dressing up but never stopped dreaming about all kinds of adventure and discovery. While you were imagining the discovery of a new species, Lauren would plan out the minutiae of the trip, how long it would take, what you would need to get there, how much it would cost. She loved having control over everything.”
Trying to ignore the aching sorrow in the older woman’s eyes, Clare turned away.
“Yeah. We thought we were invincible. We could be anything we wanted, that we would really change the world. We were supposed to go and explore the world after graduation. Remember her notebooks filled with destination ideas, each with a complete list of itineraries and cost estimates?”
Remembering those carefree days, she experiences a brief flashback to that morning, the feeling of being turned into an invincible superhero by her flowing academic gown. It was the first time she felt the possibilities of life ever since Lauren’s suicide.
“You always were each other’s biggest cheerleaders.” Mrs Hatfield comments.
Right, until she went and killed herself, Clare thinks silently. Everybody else just thinks I’m crazy.
“I know you think that Lauren never left you a note,” Mrs Hatfield continues. Clare nods, her eyes on the envelope the older woman takes out of her bag.
“She did. It was with her note to us, with strict instructions to only hand it to you once you graduate.
She wanted you to go on the trip. We are to give you the money from her savings to help you.”
Confused, Clare can only gape at Mrs Hatfield.
“Lauren left you all her savings, and this letter. Perhaps I should give you some privacy while you read it?” Mrs Hatfield answers.
With shaking hands, Clare takes the envelope. With a deep breath, she starts reading as Mrs Hatfield quietly joins her parents in the kitchen.