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Coast to Coast and Back Again

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Beacon Hills

“What do you mean, you’re leaving?”

Stiles Stilinski stands in the threshold of his bedroom and watches as his girlfriend – former girlfriend, apparently – Malia Tate finishes packing up her things.

All of her things. Everything that she ever brought with her when she moved into Stiles’ little house seven months ago. It’s apparently not a lot, seeing as it fits into two suitcases and a cardboard box. Stiles thinks that probably has some sort of meaning.

Malia sighs and shakes her hair back from her face. It’s a move that Stiles had adored up until this very moment, now it just looks…like she’s very, very bored.

“Stiles, how can you…” she trails off, like she’s searching for the words. “Tell me you didn’t think this was actually something that…that you thought was going to last?”

Stiles doesn’t say anything, just thinks about the hours of overtime he’s been doing at the school during the summer vacation, the ring he’d picked out at the jewelers in town.

Malia doesn’t laugh, not exactly, but there’s something in the sound she makes that Stiles doesn’t really like.

“Stiles, it’s…I like you, I do, but I didn’t think this was anything serious.”

“Malia, you don’t move in with someone you don’t think you’re in a serious relationship with! That is the exact opposite of what you do!”

Stiles really wishes he could just go back to before he opened the door and found his girlfriend in the process of leaving him. Or maybe he should be wishing he could go back to high school, before he even met her, save himself all of this heartache.

“I thought it was just more efficient!” Malia yells. “I was always here anyway, why should I pay full rent when I could just move in here and share with you?”

Stiles pinches the bridge of his nose. “Malia, you really should stop talking. You’re just making this worse.”

Malia just shrugs and hefts the suitcase off the bed. Stiles feels the urge to help her, but his feet remain glued to the floor.

“Where are you even going? You don’t have your apartment anymore.”

“My dad asked if I wanted to go stay with him for a while, do the bonding thing everyone seems so concerned about.” She makes a face, like she doesn’t understand.

“Your…Malia, you saw your dad yesterday.” Honestly, if Stiles were asked, he’d probably say that Malia and her father aren’t exactly the best of friends. The fact that she’s willingly moving in with him and out of Stiles’ life speaks volumes.

“Bio dad,” Malia says and oh, yeah, that was a thing a few years back, when Malia found out that she’d been adopted as a baby. Stiles hadn’t known that she’d been in contact with her biological father and the fact that she has been and that she’s apparently already organized staying with him means that she’s been planning this for a while. A long while.

Stiles feels sick.

“Get out,” he says, his voice hoarse and tight. He’s just about hanging on to his emotions and he refuses to break down in front of the girl who is currently breaking his heart.

“Stiles,” she says and he doesn’t look at her but he can hear sympathy in her voice and he just can’t. He cannot deal with this. At all.

“Don’t…just leave. If you’re leaving then you should just…you should just stop talking and do that.”

There’s a beat of silence and then Malia doesn’t say anything more. Stiles steps out of the door and into the hallway so that she can pass by as she gathers up her things. She has to make three trips and Stiles stares at the wall until he hears her gather up her purse. She pauses by the front door and Stiles holds his breath and squeezes his eyes closed and prays to whatever deity is out there that she doesn’t try to say something again.

But instead, there’s a jingle of keys as something is dropped into the bowl that sits on the table next to the door and Stiles knows what that sound is and his tears start falling even before she’s closed the door.

Stiles moves away from the wall and into his bedroom but he stops short when his eyes reach the bed. Their bed, his and Malia’s. The bed they’d made love in just this morning and Stiles really is going to be sick.

He’s scrolling through the contacts of his cellphone before he knows what he’s doing and when it’s answered, he almost sags in relief.

“I need to get drunk and I need to do it somewhere other than my house.”

“I’ll pick you up in fifteen.”

New York City

“Will you calm down?!”

Cora Hale snorts and waves her hands in the air. “No, Erica, I will not calm down. In fact, I’d very much like it if I could remain as un-calm as possible so that that…that…bitch can feel the full wrath of my anger when I go in there and smash her face in!”

Erica Reyes, Cora’s PA, winces, but Cora knows it’s more from the tone and volume rather than the fact that she disagrees with anything Cora is saying.

“Yes, but, Cora, it’s your word against hers and you know damn well that Kali has seniority here. She’s higher up than you are and she’s been here longer. Not many people are going to take your side on this.”

The memory of seeing Kali’s name attached to the presentation – the whole fucking idea – that Cora literally spent months developing, losing sleep and weight and her relationship with her boyfriend because he’d said she wasn’t spending enough time with him, makes Cora’s blood boil. She seethes with rage and sadness, because she knows that Erica is right. There’s nothing she can do. It doesn’t matter that she has edits from the early drafts of the art work, doesn’t matter that she has notes and memos and entries in her diary that date back eight months, because Kali will just claim that Cora was part of her team so of course she would have drafts and edits.

Cora feels sick.

“I need to get out of here,” she says, her voice hoarse. Of course she does, because it’s almost eight o’clock at night and Cora has been at the office since seven that morning preparing and freaking out over the whole presentation and she just needs to wallow for a while.

“You want me to tell-” Erica says but Cora cuts her off with a shake of her head.

“No, don’t tell anyone, I’m just gonna…go.”

She grabs her purse and heads for the door, heels clacking on the tile floor. She hails a cab to take her home, which is just stupid at eight o’clock at night in Manhattan but she just can’t face the subway. Can’t face the crush of bodies.

When Cora finally steps foot into her apartment, Laura’s sitting on the couch and there’s an open bottle of Jack Daniels on the coffee table. Cora knows that Erica probably called Laura, but she’s too happy to see her sister to care.

Laura pours two glasses as Cora strips off her shoes and shirt and even her pants, leaving her in her underwear and camisole, but she doesn’t care. She just wants to get rid of Cora Hale, Ad Exec for just a minute and just be Cora, baby of the Hale family, and let her big sister take care of her.

Laura hands her a glass and just settles back into the couch and looks at Cora expectantly.

“She took the credit. She took all the credit for the whole thing and she just sat there, smiling at me, like she had no idea what she’d done. Like she hadn’t just ruined my entire career.”

“Cor,” Laura shakes her head, “it doesn’t have to be like that. It’s one project.”

“One project that was going to make my whole career, Laura. One project that was going to get my name out there, that would have agencies and companies clamoring all over themselves to hire me. And now what? Now I’m just back where I started, lowest rung on the ladder. It’s going to take years for me to even get the chance for another shot like this.” Cora swallows her drink in one go, wincing at the burn. “God, and now I have to go back there and work with this…monster. I don’t think I have the stomach for this.”

“So don’t do it.”

Cora turns and stares at Laura with wide eyes. “What the hell are you talking about?”

Laura shifts closer to Cora. “Look, how much overtime have you built up over the last year or whatever? Surely you have some vacation time saved up, right? So why don’t you just…” she shrugs and waves her hands in the air. “…go away somewhere? Take some time for yourself and just chill out for a while.”

Cora rest her head against the back of the couch. “God, I don’t even remember the last time I went on vacation. I think it might have been that time in Vermont, you know…before?”

Laura’s eyes grow sad and Cora’s really glad that it’s just the two of them here right now.

Laura takes a deep breath and throws her shoulders back and gathers herself and Cora is suddenly reminded of why Laura was such an inspiration for her when she was growing up. Still is, really.

Laura grabs her iPad from the floor next to her feet and flicks it on scrolling to Google immediately.

“Alright, so, somewhere sunny, right? What about…Barbados? Or, ooh, St. Barts? That sounds pretty cool.”

Cora looks at the pumps she left lying on the floor, the pumps she hates putting on every day. She doesn’t like the person she’s become since taking this job, the persona she has to pull on every day to keep up with the people she works with. She just wants to be herself for once, literally let her hair down and run around in Chuck Taylors and graphic print t-shirts. St. Barts sounds like the kind of place she wouldn’t be allowed to be in if her bikini wasn’t made by Agent Provocateur.

“No,” she shakes her head, “nothing like that. Nowhere pretentious. Nowhere Kim and Kanye are going to rock up looking too perfect to be real. I want to be real. I want to be…normal.”

Laura hums under her breath and taps at the screen her eyes widening as she stumbles onto something. “Home exchange?”

Cora crowds up to her so that she can see the screen. “What? What’s that?”

“It’s this website where you sign up and swap houses and cars and…everything for, like, two weeks or however long you want.”

“That…that actually sounds pretty perfect.” Cora looks around her penthouse apartment, the spacious rooms and high end technology. Someone would probably really love spending a few weeks here.

“Okay, so where? Florida? Texas?”

Cora reaches over and taps the screen. “California.”

Laura wrinkles her nose. “You want to go to Hollywood?”

“No, not…nothing like that. Just…somewhere quiet but sunny. Calm.” Somewhere she can walk down the street without running the risk of being mown down by a cab or a bike messenger or sit on a bench in the park and read a book without being caught in the background of a thousand tourist photos. Somewhere…peaceful.

“Beacon Hills,” Laura says with a confused lilt, like she’s never heard of the place, which is fair, because Cora hasn’t either. “It was just posted. It looks…oh, it looks nice.”

She clicks the link and tilts the screen a little so that Cora can see the slightly blurred photo of a cute little bungalow with a cozy living room that looks well-used, if the various wine bottles next to the couch are any indication.

It’s a small town, according to the listing, just less than thirty thousand people and Cora hasn’t even contacted this person yet and she’s already imaging herself sitting outside a coffee shop and she wants it.

“Contact them,” she says quickly, “email them, just…do whatever you have to do to get that place.”

Laura grins.

Beacon Hills

Stiles wakes up slumped in an armchair, an empty bottle of red wine in one hand and a throbbing headache.

He groans as he forces himself up and takes a look around his living room in the dim light of early morning.

Scott and Kira are curled up in the other armchair, looking adorable and completely uncomfortable. Lydia is passed on her stomach on the couch, one arm hanging off the side, her fingers tangled with Parrish’s, whose lying on the floor next to her, and no, Stiles is never going to be able to refer to him as anything other than ‘Parrish’, no matter how long he and Lydia have been dating or the fact that they’re living together.

Lastly, there’s Isaac, who’s lying on his back on the coffee table Stiles’ laptop resting on his stomach.

It’s the laptop that does it and Stiles forces himself to take a look around again and he realizes with a start that he’s in his own living room.

The last thing he remember is Isaac – the first name he’d come to in his phonebook – coming to pick him up and taking him to Scott and Kira’s and Kira passing him a shot of something.

God, he really hopes they walked back here from Scott’s house because if his dad finds out that they drove drunk, they are all in for a world of hurt, Deputy Parrish or no Deputy Parrish.

Falling to his knees off the chair, Stiles crawls to the coffee table and wakes up the laptop. He frowns in confusion when he looks at the screen and the website that’s displayed there as well as the chat box that holds an entire conversation between Stiles and someone named ‘Cora’.

“Um…” he says eloquently because he’s not really sure what he should be saying. He doesn’t really understand what he apparently talked about last night with this girl he’s never met.

“You’re flight leaves at four,” Parrish mumbles from the floor. “All you have to do is pack. You have a while yet to freak out.” Lydia rolls off the couch and lands on top of him without waking up. Parrish just grunts.

“I’m going to New York?” Stiles mumbles at the screen. “Why would I go to New York?”

“Because,” Kira says, lifting her head from Scott’s chest, “it’s summer vacation and you’ve been working overtime like crazy. You have the cash and the vacation time for a few weeks in the Big Apple.”

She means the overtime he was working to saving up the money to buy the three thousand dollar engagement ring that he wanted to put on Malia’s finger at their anniversary party in two months’ time. It really hurts that he’s not going to get to do that now. He didn’t tell anyone about it, because he wanted it to be a surprise and now he’s really glad because those pitying looks he’s getting from his friends would be even worse.

And yes, he has three thousand dollars that’s lying in his bank account doing nothing now but he’s not really sure he wants to spend it on a trip to New York. Manhattan is a really expensive place, or so he’s heard. It’s not like he’s ever actually been there.

“Come on, Stiles,” Scott mumbles, “you just need to get away for a while. And something like this is perfect, you get to spend some time in an awesome city, staying in a really fucking fantastic apartment, and just…forget about Malia for a while. I don’t see the downside to this.”

“Yeah, but…” Stiles sighs. “It’s…it’s three weeks. I’ve never been away from my dad for that long, not since before…” Not since before his mother died. He doesn’t say the words, but he can tell just from the looks on their faces – even Parrish’s – that they understand.

“It’s not like you’re leaving him all alone,” Kira says softly. “We’ll all be here to look in on him, make sure he’s eating right, that he has clean underwear.” She snorts delicately, stifling a laugh behind her hand, but it’s not like what she’s saying isn’t true. When Stiles had moved away for college, moving out of his childhood home for the first time, he’d come home for Thanksgiving and found that his father had completely failed to figure out how to work the washing machine and was thus completely out of clean clothes and resorted to wearing some of Stiles’ that his son had left behind while taking his Sheriff’s uniform to be dry cleaned.

Stiles had had to persuade Scott and Kira – the only two of their little rag-tag band who had stayed in town after high school – to check in on the Sheriff every week and make sure he was okay.

It’s what had led to Kira joining the Sheriff’s Department as a deputy, something that Stiles has to admit that he never saw coming but something that works all the same.

After Scott and Stiles himself, Kira is probably closet to the Sheriff and Stiles knows that if she promises to check in on Stiles’ dad, she’ll go out of her way to do it.

And just like that, Stiles realizes he’s out of excuses.

It’s summer vacation, his classes with the summer school are voluntary and can probably be filled by just about anyone else, he has no other responsibilities than his dad and Stiles knows that Kira will stay true to her word and everywhere he looks in his damn house reminds him of Malia. The bathroom, the kitchen counter, the fucking front door. She was insatiable sometimes and Stiles had loved every second of it, thinking it proved just how perfect and well suited they were. And just look how wrong he was.

Part him wants to say ‘fuck it’ to the vacation and use the money he has saved up to redecorate, get a new bed, a new couch, something comfy and squishy and doesn’t have the scent of his ex-girlfriend embedded in it.

The thought, though, of getting out of this small town, even for just a few weeks, is much too appealing. Stiles isn’t cut out for living anywhere but his hometown – none of them are, really, even high-flying Lydia, who could have taken the math world by storm, could’ve become the youngest recipient of the Field’s Medal, instead coming home to teach at the high school her mom still taught at – but New York, the idea of being able to stand in the middle of Times Square, tip his head back, spread his arms as he closes his eyes and takes it all in. It makes Stiles breathless with possibilities.

“I, um…I need to take a shower. And clean the house.” He waves a hand at the wine bottles everywhere. “And groceries…I need groceries, because Malia was supposed to go shopping yesterday but I’m gonna guess that she didn’t do that.”

“You have no food,” Isaac grumbles from the coffee table, still apparently completely asleep.

“Lydia and I can go shopping while you shower,” Parrish says. “We can just get the basics and we can leave…leave this…” he furrows his brow. “I’ve forgotten her name.”

“Cora,” Scott tells him and Parrish nods.

“Yeah, Cora, we can leave her directions to the grocery store and the library and…other places in town. And phone numbers and things, in case she has any questions.”

“Cora Hale,” Stiles repeats, squinting at the screen of his laptop. “She sounds…fancy. Like someone who doesn’t even belong in Beacon Hills.” Even just the word ‘penthouse’ has Stiles looking around his little bungalow with trepidation. Someone who lives in a fucking penthouse couldn’t possibly be comfortable staying in his tiny little bungalow, could they?

“She picked you, Stiles,” Lydia points out, apparently awake now. “She chose to come here, even after seeing those crappy photos you posted to the site. She’s probably going through as rough a time as you are and just wants something quiet, instead of the rush of the city. This place is probably as perfect for her as NYC is for you.”

“Still,” Stiles mopes, “I just feel a little…embarrassed that this career-driven, professional woman is going to be staying in my little raggedy house.”

“Scott and I can tidy the place up,” Kira says decidedly. “Get rid of all the evidence that suggests you’re a raging alcoholic.”

Stiles points a finger at her. “I would be very much appreciative.”

He leaves his friends in the living room while he goes to shower as Scott pokes Isaac in the stomach in an attempt to wake him up and he has to smile to himself, feeling oddly touched. These people, these five people, just dropped everything they had planned for the previous night to come to Stiles and just…be with him just because he was feeling low, upset over his breakup, let him cry on their shoulders a little. Like the amazing people that they are.

And now they’re helping him get out of the weird situation he got himself into by shopping for him and cleaning his house while he stops himself from having a break down in the shower because he’s spotted Malia’s shampoo in the caddy.

Oh, God, that’s Malia’s shampoo next to his in the caddy and that towel is from the set she’d bought because she didn’t like the color of Stiles’ green ones and that’s a pair of her funky, multicolored socks lying on the floor next to the toilet and Malia’s stuff is still all over the place and Stiles is suddenly finding it hard to breathe.

He struggles to turn off the shower and hops out of the tub, grabbing one of his own towels and hurriedly securing it around his waist as he picks up everything in the bathroom that he can see that belongs to his ex-girlfriend.

Scott’s in his bedroom when he leaves the bathroom, a cloud of steam in his wake, and it looks like he’s packing. He stops, a pile of Stiles’ graphic t-shirts in his hand, and stares at Stiles.

“Are…are you okay?”

Stiles opens his mouth to answer, but then his eyes land on the photograph next to his bed, the one taken on their anniversary last year, the one above the bed is a print of a coyote that she bought at the craft fair three months ago. She picked the drapes and the bedspread and she’s just…

“She’s everywhere,” he says, his voice hoarse and hard. “She took all her clothes and things, yeah, but she left everything else. Everything she bought, everything she brought with her and I can’t…I need…”

Scott drops the t-shirts into the open suitcase that’s sitting on the bed and he takes the items that Stiles’ is still holding in his arms. “Alright, okay, we’ll get rid of it. We’ll get rid of everything. Replace it all, I promise.”

“Before she gets here,” Stiles insists. “Cora, I don’t want her to…she should be surrounded by my stuff, because she’s staying in my place, not…it’s not Malia’s house anymore and Cora shouldn’t have to put up with using a stranger’s stuff. I mean, I know I’m a stranger, but you know what I...what I’m talking about.”

Scott takes hold of Stiles’ still wet shoulders and guides him to the bed. Stiles goes willingly because he doesn’t know what else to do and just stares at Scott when his best friend kneels in front of him.

It would be an awkward situation if anyone were to walk in on them right now and Stiles can’t help but snort a laugh and Scott just rolls his eyes.

“You need to calm down,” Stiles’ friend says, brown eyes wide with concern. “Yes, Malia walked out on you, yes, it’s awful, but it is not the end of the world and you will get over this, alright? Panicking like this isn’t doing anyone any favors and letting this get the better of you is just not what you need right now.”

“I was gonna ask her to marry me, Scott,” Stiles mutters and Scott’s face grows sad and Stiles can’t deal with the pity, so he pushes himself away, doesn’t pay much attention as Scott rocks back on his heels, catching himself on his hands. Stiles just paces the room, drags his fingers through his wet hair.

“I was gonna propose, on our next anniversary, I was gonna ask her to marry me and the whole time she saw me as nothing more than…than a…than a place holder. Someone to pass the time with until she found something else, something better. What…what does that even say about me? That I couldn’t see this, that I didn’t see that she wasn’t on the same page as I was?”

“Nothing,” Scott says carefully. “This isn’t about you, Stiles, this is about her and how little she values herself and the people in her life that she can throw them away like this.”

“Everything reminds me of her.”

“And that’s why you need to get away for a while, why this thing you’re doing is perfect for you. When you get back, everything about Malia will be gone, even the scent of her perfume on the bed, because someone else is going to be sleeping there for a while and when you get back, it’ll be like a brand new slate, bright and clean and ready for you to just…start again.”

Stiles pauses and takes a deep breath, staring at Scott with narrowed eyes. “Damn, when did you get so wise and knowledge-full?”

Scott smirks. “Around the time you got drunk and signed up to let some stranger live in your house for three weeks.”

Stiles groans. “God, someone like her, she’s gonna hate this place.”

“That’s okay, because you never have to meet her and we’ll never have to see or talk to her again once those three weeks are up. This is a vacation, Stiles, not a marriage. It’s going to be okay. Now, come on, get dressed. I’ll take you to the airport, because you’ll need to leave your keys for Cora, and the rest of them are off making you look like an actual human being, so all you have to do is put some clothes on while I pack the rest of your stuff and then go sit on a plane for a few hours. You’ll be fine.”

Stiles can’t really do anything but nod his head dumbly because Scott is right. He will be fine, and he can’t really back out of this now anyway, because it’s not just his vacation on the line. There’s some woman somewhere in New York right now getting ready to come and spend a few weeks in sunny Beacon Hills and Stiles isn’t the kind of asshole who is going to ruin that for her just because he’s feeling a little sorry for himself.

New York City

Stiles stands in the middle of a bustling, heaving airport in New York and wonders just how bad of an idea this really was.

Beacon Hills – Almost

It’s not until Cora lands at some random airport in California – because Beacon Hills is a small-ish town and therefore does not have its own airport – it becomes painfully apparent just how far away she is from her intended destination.

This realization comes to her when she’s standing outside arguing with a taxi driver because he won’t take her to Beacon Hills.

“Seriously,” she whines. Yes, whines, she’s grown up enough to admit that, but she’s tired and sore and she’s pretty sure she’s jetlagged and a little bit hung over from the wine she and Laura drank the night before after they’d finished planning this whole thing. “I can pay you whatever you want, money is seriously no object.”

“Look, lady, money isn’t the issue here, alright?” the driver says, looking completely exasperated and Cora has to resist the urge to smack him, “but I am not driving you to a town that’s three counties away at three o’clock in the afternoon. I’d like to actually finish my shift and be home in time to read my kids a bedtime story, you know?”

And just like that, all the fight leaves Cora and she takes a look around, noticing all the people staring at her for the first time. God, the scene she must be making, the rich bitch from New York trying to bully the poor cab driver into taking her wherever the hell she wants to go, like he’s some kind of personal chauffeur. It’s humiliating is what it is and she ducks her head and mumbles out an apology as the driver gives her a wan smile.

“The bus station is just over there.” He points to a spot just over Cora’s left shoulder and she just grabs her bags and turns around, not even sparing anyone a second glance as she tries to run from the situation as fast as she possibly can.

Cora eyes the bus with trepidation and tries to remember the last time she was on a public bus. And then she feels like a completely and total airhead, because, really, who has thoughts like that? It’s not like their parents didn’t raise them right, to be thankful for what they had, to work hard and give back when they could. She can suck it up and sitting on a fucking bus for a couple hours. It’s not going to fucking kill her.

In the end, it’s almost six fucking hours on a packed, cramped bus and she’d finished all the books she’d brought in her hand luggage with her on the plane because all the movies sucked. But finally, she’s standing in Beacon Hills’ bus station and there’s a line of cabs right outside, it’s almost ten o’clock at night and all she wants to do is have a hot shower and crawl into some stranger’s bed and sleep for eighteen hours.

Except there’s a guy standing in the living room when Cora finally manages to find the key – under an honest to God garden gnome – and gets the door open. He’s holding two black and white photographs in his hand and staring at the wall like he’s contemplating the meaning of life. There’s an empty photo frame sitting on the coffee table behind him and Cora can figure out the situation, but she’s still having a hard time understanding it.

“Um, hi…?” she says, like it’s a question, like she’s the one intruding, even though this is her home for the next three weeks.

The guy startles and turns to her, his blue, wow, very blue, eyes wide with alarm.

“Oh, God, I am…I am so sorry. I just…I’m really not supposed to be here, right now. It’s just…you weren’t here and Stiles asked me to do something. For him. Before you got here. And I…I got caught up in doing…that and then I saw that you weren’t here yet so I thought I could finish up before you…”

The guy trails off and Cora has to laugh because his babbling is adorable and he blushes, ducking his head back down to look at the photographs in his hand.

“I’m sorry, I just wasn’t expecting anyone. It’s been sort of a long day, you just…startled me.”

“I’m…I’m almost done, if you wanna…wanna put your stuff away. It’ll only take a couple more minutes, I just have to…yeah.”

Cora nods, doesn’t say anything as she picks up her bags and carries them down the hall to what she guesses is the bedroom.

She leaves her suitcases and purse on the bed and explores a little, ducks her head into the bathroom and what appears to be an office pretending to be a guest room. She goes back to the bedroom and changes, taking off her capris and fitted shirt, replacing them with sweatpants and a tank top.

When Cora gets back to the living room, the frame has a photo in it and is up on the wall and the guy is shoving something into a box.

“So, do you have a name, or are just some mysterious picture hanger who saves the town from horrible home décor?”

The guy blushes again and Cora bites her lip to hold in a laugh.

“I’m Isaac. Lahey. I’m a friend of Stiles’. He just asked me to do some things for him before you got here, but I sort of flaked on it a little.”

“I’m Cora Hale, current resident of this cute little bungalow.”

Isaac laughs. “We gave him so much shit for moving in here, but this sweet old lady that he used to look out for left it to him when she passed and he kinda didn’t feel right renting it out to a stranger or something, but I actually kinda like it now.”

Cora gazes around, looking at the place anew and gleaning some insight into this Stiles person as she does it. The little chat box conversation didn’t really allow them much space or time to get to know each other.

Her eyes land on the box of stuff Isaac was shoving stuff into and peers into it, catching sight of a lot of feminine hygiene products, shampoo, clothes. There are a few pictures of a beautiful girl with a bright smile and Cora gets it before Isaac has to say anything.

“Bad break up?”

Isaac nods. “Pretty bad. He wanted everything that reminded him of her out of the apartment. That’s why I’m here, picking this stuff up and replacing the photographs.”

Cora looks at the photo on the wall above the couch, raking her eyes over the sharp angles and dark shadows of what looks to be a forest. It’s beautiful and when she tells Isaac, his blush darkens.

“Um, thank you,” he mumbles and Cora raises her eyebrows.

“You…you took this? The photo?”

“Of the Preserve, yeah. It’s what I do, I take photographs.”

“Like, professionally?”

“Oh, no…no, I’m not…I’m not good enough for that. I’m a clerk at the Sheriff’s Office. This is sort of a hobby, I guess. I’m just putting these up until he can find something better that he likes when he gets back.”

Cora shakes her head. “No, Isaac, these photos, they’re…they’re so amazing. Really beautiful. My brother’s an artist, I know what I’m talking about when I say that these photos could sell for a lot of money.”

“You really think so?” Isaac asks and there’s just something so sweet and innocent about him that it makes something in Cora ache.

“Yeah, I really do.”

They stare at each other for what feels like hours before Isaac clears his throat and hefts the box in his arms.

“I should let you settle in instead of crashing your vacation like this. Our friend, Lydia, she left you a list on the fridge, phone numbers and email addresses as well as directions around the town. So just…just call if you need anything.”

“I will, thank you. And I…I’ll see you around?”

Isaac nods. “Yeah, have a good night, Cora.”

Isaac leaves and Cora watches him go, smiling a little at the dorky wave he gives her as he closes the front door.

Cora makes her way into the kitchen, looking at the lists on the fridge, names like ‘Scott and Kira’ and ‘Lydia and Jordan’ along with numbers and email addresses. There’s no contact for Isaac.