As she lay in bed, Claire listened to the rain.
It hit the concrete on almost all sides, sounding all around her domed bedroom. Her morning interrupted by a cacophony of octave pitches. The echoes of the drops filled the cool space, pinging off every rounded surface inside too.
Arrhythmic, but soothing.
Claire wondered what the rain sounded like in a real house, on the mainland. Could they even hear it, if they were downstairs, or in their bedrooms? Or was it like during school, where you only knew it was raining when the windows shook? When the lights turned off, again, before the generator kicked back on. Or you didn’t really know, depending. If you were in Conference C, you might not know it was raining until you had to go to your next class, or until you went home.
Maybe, on the mainland, their houses were built so that you couldn’t hear the rain, even in the worst storms. Maybe they didn’t feel the thunder shake beneath Pier, or hear the wind howl as it ripped wood shingles away from the battered shack next door.
Claire figured that sometimes those kids didn’t even know it was raining at all. They didn’t have to.
The battery-powered alarm clock chirped loudly on her nightstand, reminding Claire that it was time to get up. She smacked the snooze button but sat up anyway, stretching and rolling her shoulders under her blanket.
Usually, on the first day of school, Claire wouldn’t change her summer schedule. She still went for her morning swim – rain or not – circling around Crow’s Cape, then hang around The Shallow to guard or teach some of the younger kids. Only when the sun started to rise, around seven, would she head home to change for school.
But this year, it was already seven, and here she was, still in bed.
Her summer wasn’t really the same as years past either, though.
Claire grabbed her water bottle and stood, giving only a cursory glance at the curtain-clad windows. Light seeped through the edges of the curtains which she decided to leave closed. She turned on the lantern over her desk. It sent sterile, white light across the surface’s contents. Uncapped pens rested on half-filled notebook pages next to a Douglas Adams novel that someone loaned her. Her textbooks from the last two years were worn and water-stained.
Her guard whistle hung on a wall hook, gathering dust.
“Claire! Are you up yet?”
“I’m up,” Claire called back, and the room echoed with her voice as it had her sister’s. You would think her mom would’ve put down more carpets, or something on the walls to absorb the sound. Nope; carpets and wall panels got wet and moldy. And besides, they weren’t indoors much anyway. Nobody was, in Crow’s Cape. Not when the alternative was a walk down Pier, or a swim.
Everyone was perpetually tan, damp from humidity or a swim in the freshwater, and absolutely fine with it.
Claire laughed to herself – how had she ever been like that?
The rolling barn-style door opened dramatically, as it typically did when Layla was on the other side. Layla crossed the room in a huff – dressed, but hair damp, Claire noticed – and threw herself on the bed. Her groan was muffled by the pillows, so she turned her head to speak.
“What if I just dropped out?”
Claire laughed at her little sister. “Little” was probably on its way out, though. Claire was still taller by an inch, and a little more muscular. Layla was deeply tan, with elegant muscles and sleek dark brown hair, where Claire had her lighter hair and wide shoulders. If it weren’t for the fact that everyone knew they had different dads, nobody would think that they were even related. They were about as different as two sisters could be; Claire liked to swim butterfly and study, Layla liked to float and flirt.
“I’m serious!” Layla insisted. “I’ll just wait until Joe takes over for his dad, marry him, maybe open a little boutique.”
“Marry who?” Claire giggled. “Joe, or his dad?”
“Whichever,” Layla replied, turning onto her side so she could waggle her eyebrows at her sister. “I’m not picky.”
Claire laughed again, but she knew just how serious Layla was. What was even more terrifying was her ability to make either option real.
“High classes aren’t that hard,” Claire tried to reason as she opened her school bag and began shoveling things inside. “And you only have to take them for two years, if you don’t want to take the GED or be a captain. The only real downside is that you might have to pick up a book every once in a while.”
Layla huffed and lifted her upper body off the bed.
“Why would you even say something like that?” she sighed. “Why would you even joke?”
She flopped back down on the bed and began to roll herself up in the blanket, burrito-ing herself before looking up at Claire again. The elder had already grabbed everything she needed for school and was standing by her sister’s side.
“I don’t want to go,” Layla whined. But Claire wasn’t so distracted by her own thoughts that she missed the sincerity in Layla’s voice.
“I know,” the elder replied, patting the cotton-covered head still on her bed. “But you have to. Suck it up.”
Claire ignored the anguished cries behind her as she made her way out of her room, blinking as she stepped into the large, open space where her bedroom connected to the rest of the house. The Paloma-Gutierrez family was wealthier than most, not that that meant much in Crow’s Cape. But, it afforded them one of the larger houses off one of the other piers.
The home looked like a series of concrete domes, the structure looked like a small pile of soapy suds, bubbling up on stilts out of the ever-present surf. It was ancient – over a hundred years old – but it barely needed upkeep since the weather had calmed down. On one side of the almost bunker-like building, the kitchen and master bedroom domes stood some twelve feet tall, along with a shorter one that was Layla’s room. Then, there was the big, central dome where the dining table and living area were, and opposite the master was Claire’s room.
It was meant to be a sitting room, with lots of windows and a large squared opening, but Claire was the only one who spent time there, even before it was her room. When she started High classes, she convinced her mom to send out for a door, because Layla was too loud. The view of the bay and Pier was the perfect backdrop for her desk. A few months later, she convinced Layla’s dad Mark to move her bed in there. After that, she rarely spent time anywhere else. When she had to be inside, anyway
Claire stepped into the bright kitchen, grabbing an orange from the crate stacked next to the counter before reaching for a bottle of water to add to her canteen bottle. Her mom, Heather Paloma, stood at the farmhouse sink peeling shrimp. It was a sight that Claire knew she took for granted – her hippie mom, prepping seafood in what was essentially a decorative basin.
Heather reached for a bottle of water to pour over the shrimp, and Claire caught her mother’s eye as it darted around her mom’s dirty blonde dreads.
“Any shrimp this morning, sweetie?”
“I’m okay,” Claire answered. “Plus, I’ll probably have some for lunch.
Heather nodded for a few beats too long and went back to the shrimp.
“Need anything from Pier?” Claire asked. “I have to grab another notebook after school.”
“Spinach, if they have it,” Heather replied as she finished the shrimp she was working on. She rinsed her hands with the water from the bottle before wiping her hands on her floor-length, tie-dye dress. She pulled a pair of reading glasses from the front of the dress and placed them on the end of her nose, grabbing a list that was tacked to the door of the fridge.
“And eggs, they should have those,” she added, blinking as she read her list. “And tell Bill to put us down for batteries next week – double A, and D, please.”
Claire nodded as she shook the last few drops from her bottle and tossed the empty plastic towards the recycling in the corner. She started peeling her orange.
“Anything else? Did Layla need anything?”
From the other room, there was a pitiful cry that sounded like “a new brain!”
Heather shook her head.
“She wanted a new floatie, but she’s going to need to pay for that herself,” Heather said, but Claire smiled. She knew that Mark had probably already bought one for his darling daughter.
He’d do the same for Claire if she ever asked. He always said that his daughters were the best part of his life. And as far as step-dads went, he was a pretty good dude. Claire soaked up any information he’d provide; he had lived on the mainland for years before meeting Heather, so he was one of her only sources of non-Cape info.
Claire and Heather had been here forever, for Claire’s whole life. In fact, Heather had been there before her first daughter was born. Her parents brought her when she was just a little girl, and she said that the Cape always “just felt like home.” Mark and Layla came later.
Crow’s Cape had a way of doing that, sucking people in. Almost like it did with the water, way back when.
From what Claire understood, the whole place used to be a resort off another state, one called Florida. Back when there were fifty of them. And people would come from all over to vacation at The Crow’s Cape resort – before it was the school. And they built Pier, and it was the only pier around, connected to the mainland instead of stranded out here in the water. It had all sorts of little shops, and they weathered all the storms that blew through.
But the storms got worse and worse, and after one of them, the water stayed. Like the people stayed. And then the tourists stopped coming. They couldn’t see their private beaches anymore, or their manicured grass. The imported palm trees were gone, and the mainland was too far away, but the people that worked and lived there, they stayed. In the fancy resorts they built, the temples to wealth and luxury. In the villas, and with the boutiques.
Some who stayed learned to fish. Lots of people knew how to drive boats already. And as the water levels rose, Pier stayed above it, and the mainland got further and further away. There were and still are strips of bridges that fly above the water’s height, and tunnels far below, but the captains just go around those now. There’s always a way around.
Claire glanced at the wall-mounted clock; it was already a quarter after.
“Layla!” Claire called across the house. “C’mon, let’s go!”
Begrudgingly, Layla trudged out of the back room, her backpack dragging behind her like a deadweight.
“Do I have to take any Miss Hupper classes?” she sighed, pulling her sunglasses over her eyes as she stepped outside behind Claire.
“Not yet,” Claire replied, holding the door for her sister, then falling into step beside her. “And you know you don’t need those, right? It’s raining.”
Layla sighed again, louder this time, and Claire tried not to laugh. The pair fell into an amicable silence as they made their way up their pier – known only as “227,” thanks to the abandoned buoy tied to the dock near the intersection with Pier.
Then, at the main thoroughfare, Claire let Layla walk ahead.
Claire always let Layla walk ahead. The younger girl had so many people to say hello to, to wink at or shriek towards. Claire usually had her nose in a book, using the well-worn planks underfoot to keep her from falling into the water. Shouting, and waves, and foghorns of boats — Crow’s Cape was loud, in a way that made Claire want to escape, just a little. But she’d usually sit out on Pier with her books if the weather was nice.
Until this summer, anyway.
This summer, she’d been inside as much as she could. When she couldn’t be with Miss Hupper at the school, she’d been in her room. Studying, or reading whatever the last Runner had brought her from the mainland. The blinds of her window were opened most of the time, until Michael left three weeks ago.
Then she’d mostly used the lantern.
Claire had thrown herself into the books all summer – anything to distract her – and she was hoping that it showed. If she wanted to go to college next year, she’d have to take the GED in October, but she was only confident in her math and science skills. Claire supposed it’d be too much to ask, that Crow’s Cape school of fifty would have access to a fantastic math teacher and someone who knew grammar. Especially when there were only a couple kids who wanted to take the GED in the past decade, let alone the last five years.
And now, maybe, her.
Claire felt a prickle of nervous sweat start in her armpits, and she knew it wasn’t the weather. Maybe she’d defer another year. She couldn’t do school anymore – she’d turn eighteen next week – but she could get a job, maybe a Runner position, and take the test next year, when she felt more prepared.
“Layla! And Claire, without a book? You look pale, butterfly!”
“Uh, thanks, Mr. Rivera,” Claire blushed as she called back to the captain of one of the larger fishing boats. They must’ve gone out early, or just come back from a long trip, because his crew was hauling net after net of fresh fish onto Pier.
It was a childish nickname, “butterfly.” Claire couldn’t remember if she got it from a swim coach or from her own mother, but she guessed that was just the nature of Crow’s Cape.
The school building – the old resort, the current town hall, the hurricane shelter, and the living space for a good sixty or so people – was about halfway up Pier, past Bill’s General Store and Anna Maria’s clothing boutique. It wasn’t as big as some of the other resorts used to be, but that made it stronger.
It was also one of the only places in Crow’s Cape that still ran on electricity. Six floors, generator-powered, with three conference rooms and a grand, tile lobby. The whole building felt so modern, and out of place in their community. It was opulent compared to the rustic wooden pier, or the lantern-lit storefronts.
Maybe, in a year, Claire would live in a place that was run entirely by electricity. Maybe her room would have air conditioning. Maybe it would get cold there – like really cold, with snow, and she would have to bundle up before she walked to the library where she could get any book she wanted, for free, as long as she brought it back.
Yeah, and maybe you’re not smart enough to be in college.
Claire grit her teeth at the intrusive thought. She had until October. She could do this.
They approached the school- for the last, “first” time, Claire realized.
Layla took off up the concrete steps, already smoothing her dark hair against the precipitation. She yelled to someone that Claire knew she knew, but her brain couldn’t keep up. Everyone looked the same, but still. She knew everyone. Everyone knew everyone here.
And maybe that’s what made Claire stop, under the light rain. With the endless expanse of the Gulf around her, she’d never felt more trapped.
She looked up, into the drops that hit her face at all angles, dripping down her nose and off her round chin.
She wondered if she’d ever know if it wasn’t raining.
Gretchen Welch is a construction nerd known for obsessing over local architecture or traffic configurations. Her professional writing experience includes a smattering of poems and short stories, as well as newspaper articles for the college paper. She’s also written and performed a prolific catalog of white-girl-acoustic guitar songs. Mostly, Gretchen spends her time writing emails or Dungeons and Dragons campaigns for her friends.