Andrew knew he shouldn't be staring at Claire so fixedly, almost spying on her, but he just couldn't help himself. There was a scarcity of patients that day, so their break for lunch had been longer than usual. The midday sun was very becoming to her as she stood there gazing lazily at the ocean in front of her.
She looked so beautiful, so pure, he simply couldn't take his eyes off her. One could almost say she was experiencing life for the first time. At one point she seemed to have acknowledged his presence, and glanced in his direction, only her gaze was lost in some far-away place inside her mind.
Ever since that incident with the flirty drunkard she was acting a little less reserved around him, and her elusiveness was increasingly giving way. And yet there was still something about her that Andrew couldn't fathom. Even as she stood there leisurely he saw her face change every second, as if she couldn't wholeheartedly commit to any feeling in particular. Her eyes would wander incessantly and her arms were protectively pressed against her waist. She was an intriguing lady, indeed!
Eventually, he decided to go and join her at the shrubbery that lined the entrance to his home. He cleared his throat as he approached her to make her aware of him. She jumped and turned to look at him.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you." Andrew apologised.
"It's nothing. I was lost in thought, I guess."
"It's been quite a long journey you've made." Andrew pointed to the sea. "Do you miss your home?"
"No. I have left nothing that I miss." Andrew wasn't expecting that answer. "Well, except for Eliza, that is."
A sad smile spread across her face. "Yes. I never knew my mother, she died when I was born. Eliza has been the closest I've ever been to having one. She's been my friend, my counselor, my confidant..." Their eyes met for a moment, and Andrew could see hers shining unnaturally. "She was my personal maid, actually. She's been with me all my life, even went with me when I... got married."
"You don't have any family left, then?"
She winced at Andrew's question, and the seconds that took her to answer felt like a piercing needle. "No"
Andrew couldn't bear to see her in such a melancholic state, so he thought that a change of subject was in order. He wanted to reciprocate the information she had shared with him by giving her some of his own. "Do you see that lighthouse over there?"
She nodded. "It's lovely."
"It was my favourite place when I was a boy. I would go there whenever I wanted to be alone; which happened every time my father and I had a disagreement." He chuckled.
"And was that a frequent occurrence?" What was not a frequent occurrence was for Claire to be asking him a personal question.
"Every now and then. But all in all, we got along well." He then tensed slightly. "I went there the day he died. I was sad, and overwhelmed by what was to come..., knowing that, from then on, I were to take full responsibility for a ten-year-old girl, imagining all possible scenarios in which I was liable to fail her... Don't get me wrong, I love my sister, but... I guess I was too young then."
"I think you did a great job. Ethel always spoke very highly of you."
Andrew felt more confident after that conversation, so he took his chance a few days later, his sister having given him the perfect excuse to ask Claire out.
"Since we are both to go to Ethel's party this evening, would you find it acceptable if we walked together, Mrs. Parker?" He asked her that afternoon while they were doing their daily cleaning of tools and medicines.
Andrew could see the shock in her face -and her hesitation-, almost to the point to make him regret his offer, when Claire finally accepted it, a coy smile forming on her lips.
The warmth of late June was already felt in the air, so the thought of being out in the open for a while and walk to his sister's home was very appealing to Andrew. Smiling, he offered his arm to Claire, and together they crossed the street. After some silence, in which Andrew was reveling in their new bond, Claire spoke. "I don't know how to properly thank you, Dr. Stuart." And she looked sincerely thankful.
"Do you mean about that drunkard? I did nothing, actually, I have always hated those men who show no respect for women." Andrew stopped walking and looked at her. "Mrs. Parker, I know it is hardly my place to give you any advice, but... Unfortunately, in this line of work, one has to deal with the likes of him from time to time, and... a beautiful young lady like yourself may encounter more difficulties." And beautiful indeed she was, Andrew thought, especially that day, the sunset light making her chestnut hair stand out. "You should never let anyone treat you the way he did."
"I never knew how I was supposed to behave with those men..." She must have sensed the questioning worry on his face, and faintly smiled. "But you shouldn't worry about me. I am not an old spinster, after all, so I'm not so easily impressed by men's misbehaviours." Andrew wasn't so sure about that, but decided not to push any further. Her gaze was fixed on the ground when she spoke again, her voice barely audible. "In any case, I... also wanted to thank you for everything you have done for me since we have known each other. You were willing to give me an opportunity, and you've taught me so many things I could never have hoped of learning."
Her words were melting Andrew's heart at a dangerous speed. "It is me who should be thankful. I must shamefully own that I was a little apprehensive at first about hiring a woman, but... I never imagined that your help would become so invaluable." Fortunately for him, they arrived shortly afterwards at Ethel's home, because he was on the brink of saying something that would, no doubt, have scared her.
The two other guests were Jack's co-worker at the bank, who Andrew knew slightly, and wife. Andrew noticed that Claire was a bit too stiff during dinner; why was she so self-conscious when dealing with men, even with good old Jack? He had assumed that married women of her position learnt how to entertain guests, be them female or male. But she would just lower her eyes, and voice, whenever a man addressed her. Her behaviour with that youngster had not been an isolated instance, after all.
And when Claire got up from her chair to bid her farewell to Jack's friends, who had to leave early, he could see her blushing. He also noticed, however, that she seemed to relax when his little nieces were around her. And it was right before their bedtime that he discovered yet another interesting thing about her.
Claire was whispering something to Becky as the little one embraced her neck, when Caroline came from behind and tugged at her skirt. "Auntie Claire," Andrew was pleasantly surprised at Caroline's sudden familiarity with Claire. "Mother has been telling us that you used to play the piano very well. I'm... just beginning lessons myself, and I would love to listen to you for a while."
They all went to the little parlour adjoining the dining room, and gathered around the instrument to hear Claire play. Andrew couldn't believe the deep emotions she put into every note. Her eyes shone, either out of joy or sadness: he couldn't decide which. And as music filled the air, he could feel her expressing in a way she did not when talking. It was a powerful piece, filled with so many nuances that it was impossible not to connect to it, and he listened to it in complete awe until she finished.
Afterwards, on being asked who the composer was, she simply answered I wrote it, and gave no other explanation.
Author's note: The idea of the "bookshelf piano" is not mine. I found it on some forum about creative ways of using the "MoveObjectsOn" cheat, but unfortunately I can't remember where.