“Claire, honey, I need you to come home now, okay?”
Her mother’s voice is rough, rougher than it was when Aunt Mary died or the time last year they had the screaming match about Claire and sleepovers. “Mom? What’s wrong?”
“Just get home soon, sweetie. And don’t watch the news. See if Mrs. Johnson can give you a ride, alright? Or I can come pick you up-”
“Chill out, Mom. I’ll be home soon, I promise.”
It isn’t hard to apologize to her friends, to ask Mary’s father for a ride home. Claire had thought she’d need an excuse but all she has to do is ask and everyone becomes very understanding. They don’t understand at all. They wouldn’t even if her father had gone missing, had died, under circumstances they could recognize. They don’t look at her the same. Mary doesn’t even seem bothered that Claire is leaving, and any other fifteen year old girl would be hurt, but she has been things that no other fifteen year old has ever been so she can handle it. She can be a grown up if she must.
There’s a trick to the front door. Mary’s father idles at the curb until she gets it open. He drives away as she steps inside. The apartment is a lot smaller than the house she grew up in, but Claire likes it. It doesn’t have memories around every corner, seated in every chair, or out in the front yard just waiting for her to get home.
“Claire, honey-” she’s barely got the door closed behind her before her mother is hugging her tight. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
“Mom, what’s going on?”
The TV flickers light across the far wall. Mom doesn’t watch it much; says it rots the brain and besides they don’t have cable. “I need you to sit down for a minute. Would you like milk? I made cookies earlier.”
Claire pulls away to better look at her mother. “Milk? Mom, you don’t need to treat me like a child, why don’t you just tell me whats wrong-”
“Claire Amy Novak, you are most certainly still a child. And you’re my child. Please, can we just-” her shoulders sag, and it would be funnier if it wasn’t so terrifying, because something must be wrong to upset her mother this much, they’ve both seen a lot and they don’t scare easy. Not anymore. “Please.”
The kitchen table is from a yard sale, complete with mismatched chairs, and Claire claims the wicker one her aunt hates. It gives her a moment of satisfaction. Her mother pulls a chair up next to her, leaning in close, reaching out to grip her hand. “It’s about… your father.” She pulls away, and doesn’t reach for a tissue, just lets her hand lie on the table. “No. I’m sorry. It’s about Castiel.”
But Claire already knew that. Her chin comes up, and her eyes brighten, but she’s not going to cry. Being brave starts now. No matter what she learns, she will be strong for the family she loves, because the two of them? They’re all they have left now.