breaking free by juleshg

16 May

Claire checked the roast in the oven one more time and then laid her oven mitt on the counter.  It would be another hour before Brian got home and dinner was coming along just as planned. 

She knew that roast beef with roasted potatoes was his favourite.  She had even been to the farmer’s market that morning to pick up some fresh asparagus and then to the bakery for the spelt bread he loved.  He would definitely appreciate her efforts – he always did.  Brian was never one to take her for granted.

That’s what made this whole situation so awful.

She pulled the tattered letter out of her pocket, unfolded it and read it again.  “Congratulations Ms. Henley.  We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted into our Creative Writing Program for the academic year beginning September 2010. “ 

Claire closed her eyes and took a deep breath.  Standing in her kitchen in Cranton Creek, New York University seemed a world away.  She had read the letter a dozen times since it arrived last week.  First in disbelief:  NYU wants me.  They read my work and they want me!  Then with excitement:  Zadie Smith, Anne Carson… writers and poets she had admired and whose works she had devoured.  She was going to study with them; sit in their classrooms; listen to them reading their works. 

Finally, she read the letter with sadness.  New York City was hours away from Cranton Creek.  Her life, her family and her marriage were all here.  She had left this small town once before.  She had followed Brian to New York City when he went to law school and they lived in a beat-up old apartment ten blocks from campus.  She had worked in a cafe and at a quirky bookstore even though Brian’s family and a generous scholarship covered their expenses. 

When he graduated they hadn’t even discussed their next steps.  The boxed had appeared out of nowhere and before she knew it everything was loaded on a truck back to Cranton Creek.  She and Brian had stood in their deserted apartment one last time and looked around.  Claire had tears in her eyes and he had walked over to wrap her in his arms. 

“Don’t worry darling.  We’re going home,” he whispered in her ear.  “No more cafes or night shifts for you.  You and your mom can start planning the wedding and I’ll be a partner in the family firm before you know it.  I guess we’re just not big city people.”

Claire’s heart sunk as she heard the happiness and relief in his voice.  She loved the big city.  She loved her job and the inspiration that came from walking the streets and looking at new faces.  There were no new faces in Cranton Creek.  She had known everyone in town from the day she was born. 


She heard the front door open and Brian setting down his keys on the shelf by the coat rack.  He would hang up his beige trench coat and leave his black shiny briefcase on the ottoman as he did every day.

“What smells so good?  Is that roast beef?  Is it my birthday?”  he asked with a chuckle.

Claire met him in the dining room and gave him a quick peck on the cheek.  “It’ll be ready in one minute. Why don’t you get yourself a drink before you sit down.”

Brian walked over to the liquor cabinet and grabbed the bottle of Scotch.  Claire knew it even before she turned around.  He grabbed the same bottle every evening after work.  She also knew that he didn’t even like Scotch and drank it only because his father and grandfather did the same.  Just once she would love to see him walk into the kitchen, grab a cold beer and drink it out of the goddamn bottle.   She wondered if he ever chafed against the rigid boundaries that had been set out for him.

He lowered himself into the chair at the head of the table and took a sip of the Scotch as she walked in with two heaping plates.

“Fresh spelt bread from the bakery?  Asparagus?…. either  I’m dying or….” he dropped his fork and jumped out of his chair.  He came over to her side of the table and dropped down to one knee in front of her.   “Are you pregnant?… Oh my God…”

“No, no, NO… I’m not pregnant, geez…”

He looked disappointed for a moment and then slightly embarrassed as he headed back to his chair.  “Sorry, I guess I jumped the gun a little there.  I know that we are still just talking about a family but I guess I am more excited about it than I let on.”

Claire forced a smile and concentrated on her plate.  God, she loved Brian.  She truly did.  If there was no world outside Cranton Creek she could happily live in this house and be his wife for the rest of her days.  But there was a big world out there and after she had seen it for the first time she knew that she could never be truly fulfilled here.

“So, uh… remember when we were living in New York and I was taking those writing workshops at NYU?”

“Of course,” Brian said as he looked up with a smile.  “You were amazing.  You should really find some distance workshops so you can keep up with your writing.  You,” he said as he pointed his fork at her, “have a gift.”

“Thanks,” she felt a flush rising up her cheeks and she cleared her throat before continuing.  “Well, NYU has the best programs from what I’ve seen and it is really tough to get in.  I, uh… I submitted some of my work a few months ago and they liked it.”

Brian lifted his head slowly and stared at her without a word.

“I’ve been accepted in their undergrad program.”

The silence was overwhelming and Claire started to speak quickly, almost afraid of what would come out of Brian’s mouth if he was given a chance to respond.

“Sure, I’m 26 and I’ll be a little older than my classmates but the opportunity is amazing.  And you know you I have always wanted to go college.  This is just such an incredible chance – once in a lifetime.”

“Our life is in Cranton Creek,” Brian said quietly.

“No, your life is in Cranton Creek.  Your family’s law firm, this amazing house.  This is your dream.  I get that.  You have talked about this since we were 16 and sneaking away to hold hands by the old pier. “

“You wanted it too,” he said roughly.  “All of those years and all of those daydreams and you never disagreed.  You never once told me that you wanted anything else.  For the past ten years we have been working towards this life and you never, ever told me that you wanted something else.”

“I wanted to want it.  I love you.  I love you so much it hurts and I know that I am walking into a world of the unknown.  But in my heart I know that I don’t have a choice.  I can’t stay in Cranton Creek.  I need to go back to New York.”

Brian sighed.  “My dad is going to kill me.  When I tell him that we are leaving to go back to New York he is going to kill me.  Shit.  Tomorrow I’ll call that recruiter from the New York firm that approached me when I was in law school and see if there is still an open door there.”


Brian’s eyes filled with tears as he looked at her.

“No, I am going to New York alone.  I need my dream and I know it can’t come at the expense of yours. Next week I’m going to New York to find a place and then we can discuss all of the details.  I don’t want anything… you can have the house.  I won’t fight you.  I just need to live in a bigger world.”


2 Responses to “breaking free by juleshg”

  1. jmforceton May 19, 2010 at 9:12 pm #

    Tough day for Brian, kind of double jeopardy. A well drawn picture of a classic case of, ‘how well do we really know the people we should know the best’.


  1. worlds apart by juleshg | the character project - June 1, 2010

    […] We first met Claire and Brian in Breaking Free. […]

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