Dark Irresistible Things
Claire Carrie Brighton was the next to the youngest of five sibling girls. Her daughter, Zoe-bell... two years, ten months and twenty-nine days… she will tell you that in her own words….going on thirty, she was a child wise before her time.
Claire’s father had abandon them after she was born and before the birth of her younger sister. Her father had wanted sons and with each new birth became just a little more disgruntled about the cards being dealt him. With the last child he had asked for an ultra sound and when he was told it was a girl, he simply walked away. What kind of man does that?
Claire was an average five foot five inches tall and skinny as a bone, no dieting involved. With a metabolism that ran high and a lifestyle that kept her going all day, every day … many women would envy that trait. Her dark and close-cropped hair-doo made her super large blue eyes look even larger. With her top lip twice the size of her bottom lip, it made her look almost as if she had an overbite. Every day she prayed for hips and boobs, but for years, absolutely no luck. At twenty four years of age, she resigned herself to the fact that the freckles that graced her nose, were there to stay.
She had met the love of her life, a struggling young attorney. He had treated her well and together they had made a home of a semi-comfortable lower mid-scale apartment south of the Golden Gate Bridge in an older district of San Francisco. It was the best he could do on his salary for now. With the added burden of student loans, car payments and credit card debt to pay back she had to help out by kicking in a portion of the rent, utilities and groceries each month.
With the exception of business trips the company required him to go on that would sometimes take him away for several days at a time, Claire was happy. Secretly she hoped that someday he would propose marriage making her dream complete. He often spoke about getting a promotion in his job, one that would provide better money and would afford them better accommodations and the chance to get out of debt with his student loans. She was certain that the moment that happened, he would ask her to marry him.
When Zoe-bell was born, he did not disparage the fact that the baby was a girl. Claire took a deep breath and thanked her lucky stars. She was also delighted that now, after years of hoping and praying, while nursing Zoe...she had boobs… and a little more hips.
In an effort to get ahead just a little, after Zoe’s birth, her dad picked up more hours and his work schedule almost doubled. For some time they had been ships passing in the night as his out-of-town business meetings became more prevalent.
A few months before Zoe’s third birthday, she picked up the newspaper to discover that the love of her life had been killed in a car accident just north of the Golden Gate Bridge on his way home from work to his family in Mill Valley.
She had read the article at least twenty times before the truth of it set in. He had been married to an old money debutant and they were without children. Caroline…her boyfriend’s wife, spent her time orchestrating charity functions, shopping and having drinks with friends. It was hard for Claire to admit that she had just been his lunch break, a place to wait out the traffic… someone to bunk with after a long day at the office… a distraction… the other woman.
After a little digging, Claire discovered the awful truth. Apparently, it had been his father that owned the prestigious law firm where he had worked and where he had pulled down a generous seven-figure income. She had been a kept woman and hadn’t had a clue. The word ‘kept’ kept screaming at her from inside her mind. What a joke. She had struggled to share all of their expenses with him. They had been a team, working hard to build a better life for themselves and their daughter. But the truth of it was that they had been no more than occasional roommates with benefits. The bottom line was that he was ashamed of her and her upbringing because she never did have the right pedigree.
He had also skewed his name from David Michael Woodhouse to Michael Davis Houser so she would not be the wiser. The man on her daughter’s birth certificate never existed, he had been a lie, and he had left them with nothing.
Still living her life as the walking wounded, she had kept her job within walking distance of the apartment. Working as a waitress, she struggled daily to make ends meet. Since she had used his laptop to take classes online to get her degree in business management, after he was killed, she had to make arrangements to finance one for herself, paying thirty-five dollars a month for the next three years at twenty-nine point nine nine percent interest. What a nightmare.
Every day after work she placed a dollar fifty from her tips into a jar just to be absolutely certain that she could make the payment. Every day it made her just a bit angrier. He had come from wealth and privilege and he couldn’t even buy her a laptop. Talk about keeping someone down. She had come to the conclusion that he had wanted to be in control of the time she spent online and this had been the best way to do it. Thinking back, he had always stayed close to her when she was doing her homework online.
She had paid for her online classes the same way. Everyday two dollars of her tips went into another jar labeled “Tuition”. Another five dollars went into the jar labeled “Rainy Days” and another ten dollars into a jar labeled “Utilities”. She had one more jar labeled “Soon” and another ten dollars went into that one. The rest went into a jar labeled “Rent”. That just about did it for her tips and on some months she would have to juggle. The café she worked at was a greasy spoon. Nonetheless it was busy as all get out and there were a few guys that had always been generous tippers. Her paycheck went to cover Zoe’s daycare and groceries.
After giving it some thought, it had all begun to make sense to her. The struggle was part of the plan. It had kept her busy and ignorant of his deception. Under pressure between arranging day care for Zoe and rushing to and from work to make ends meet left her too exhausted to recognize the signs or research the man with whom she had hooked up.
Shortly after Zoe had been born he had begun to distance himself under the guise of more hours for more money, which oddly never seemed to find its way into the household funds. She wondered how he had expected to handle the situation that he created as their daughter began to grow up. Maybe he hadn’t planned to handle it at all. Maybe their demise was on its way and she had just been too busy and too exhausted to notice. In that moment she was pretty much hating him because she had loved him.
But it was time to put all of that away and get back to what she had been doing when he had shown up in her life.
Her real love was jewelry design. Someday she planned to have her own shop. Every night after spending time with Zoe and after tucking her into bed, Claire would do her homework and then force her sleep deprived self to sit at the kitchen table and craft beads of both glass and ceramics as well as being very adept in the use of enamels. Her work was beautiful. More than anything she wanted to work in silver but the supplies required was just out of her price range. Every night new ideas would come to her and she would carefully draw them and tuck them away for the day when she could buy some decent equipment.
She had been making beads and jewelry since she was twelve. The money from the jar labeled “Soon” went to buy her supplies. This brought her investment back times three, and sometimes four times as much. Now, every Saturday she would catch three buses to get her and Zoe down to the Aquarium so that she could sell her jewelry to tourists and people passing by. Sometimes she would go to the Farmers Market or any other event that was going on around the city in hopes of the big score. On occasion she would take Zoe and venture over to Marin County where the real money lived. But this was rare because with everything she had to tote, the bus ride was a nightmare and thanks to Michael or David or whatever his name was, she was too embarrassed to call old friends or family and ask for help.
Today it had taken a little more effort than usual for her to get down to the aquarium. Ever since she had discovered the duplicity of the man she had lived with for close to three years she felt sick, angry, used and everything felt heavy and all tasks had become monumental. And to make matters worse, her mood swings went from rage to overwhelming sorrow that she had to keep carefully tucked away for Zoe’s sake. It was exhausting.
Today, both she and Zoe were dressed in their Gypsy costumes and she had taken all she could carry and had even strapped a little backpack on Zoe loaded with as many of her creations as she could handle, plus a couple of small toys and a coloring book. She thanked her lucky stars that Zoe was a very happy agreeable child and seldom ever made a fuss about anything. She was a roll with the punch’s kind of kid and this was a trait Claire knew would come in handy someday.
They had arrived early and she was planning to stay as long as possible and sell as much as possible. Without Zoe’s father’s financial contribution, money was tight. She had even blown through the tip jar with the money for rainy days.
Claire had packed lunch and treats and was contemplating how she was going to handle Zoe’s nap when a beautiful young woman stopped to look at her merchandise and was immediately joined by several other women who made themselves very busy passing around her jewelry.
Claire and her young daughter had caught Ithaca’s eye immediately. Dressed in their brightly colored gypsy costumes Zoe-bell was dancing with her stuffed dragon. The child had looked at her and Ithaca had seen her vision. The child had second sight and knew what she was and had waved at her. For some reason Ithaca knew she had to somehow bring the child into their circle. Someday if gently nudged down the right path she would be extraordinary.
Along with her companions she had approached the child’s mom to look at some of the things she had created and it surprised her. Claire’s bead and enamel works were unlike anything Ithaca had ever seen. Her work was surprising in detail and craftsmanship.
It was their lucky day.
Claire watched the women carefully but could barely keep up with who was holding what and where things were and it had begun to make her a little nervous. She really couldn’t afford to lose anything to shop lifters.
After examining her creations extremely carefully for quite some time, the woman had said the magic words that she had always longed to hear.
Smiling, as she reached into one of her companions strap bags, she pulled out an envelope and handed it to her while the women began loading Claire’s creations into several of their bags.
“I will take everything you have here...and your name and phone number. And if you are available, I would like you to make more for me. I have a small jewelry company and I am looking for quality and beauty and your work is both.” There was no discussion of money but when Claire had looked into the envelope she saw several bundles of fifties and hundred’s and choked on how many bundles there were. After making a quick calculation inside her head she was absolutely certain that she was being paid substantially more than she had in merchandise.
It was just ten fifteen AM and they were on their way home, not one single piece of jewelry left between them… not even the earrings she had worn.
Claire gave the sandwiches she had made to a man that looked down on his luck and had splurged. They stopped to buy a medium priced bottle of wine and got some take-out from a little Italian bistro that had always been just a little too expensive for their budget. That night after Zoe had been tucked in, Claire poured herself a glass of wine and had sat crying, staring at the pile of cash in front of her. Other than the day of Zoe-bell’s birth, this… had been the best day of her life and she had to admit, it did take a tiny bit of the sting out of discovering that Zoe’s father was not who or what he had seemed to be. For the first time since meeting him, she had a glimmer of hope that she could make it on her own.
Thinking back to the time she had met the man she thought would be the love of her life she had been in design school and taking business classes. Friends had filled her life and she believed her very best times were ahead of her. He had played her the Pied Piper song of romance and love and happily-ever-after and she had listened to the music and she drank the cool-aid.
Before she knew it she was a waitress, pregnant and removed from the path of her friends and family and all for the love of a man that… now that she had time and a little more perspective to give it some real thought… really hadn’t taken very good care of her.
That night she relived the time she had with the man she never really knew allowing silent tears to fall in hopes of washing away the pain and vowed to be done with him, then, she fell asleep on the couch.
Claire woke to the sound of the phone with her nose stuffed up and her eyes still puffy from crying. A woman called to set-up a time for her to come in and speak with Ithaca. When Claire had told her that she would have to arrange for someone to watch Zoe, the woman said she would send someone to pick them both up.
When the doorbell sounded, a heavily tattooed woman with a hair-doo in the style of a modern day Mohawk and with a variety of questionable body piercings stood at her door. On behalf of her benefactor, she had been sent to collect Claire and Zoe-bell and bring them to the location that housed Ithaca’s jewelry business.
Despite the strange and a bit scary appearance of the women sent to fetch her, she had been bright and engaging and was even able to talk jewelry and design with her. It had been a nice ride with good company and great conversation in a black luxury town car.
Ithaca was small, dark and breathtakingly beautiful and was everything Claire wished she could be...sexy, curvy and dressed in really nice clothes that looked as exotic as the woman that wore them. They were without question expensive, and if not custom made, definitely designer label.
The location of her warehouse was just past the Embarcadero district and was close to the waterfront. Claire could hardly believe the spacious high vaulted ceilings and fresh clean light and open feeling. Looking around, it took her a moment to be able to breath or swallow.
As they stood talking on the mezzanine area looking down at people working, she saw that they all looked relaxed and happy. She also noticed a door, the signing in bright playful lettering... ‘Daycare...Playcare’. She had closed her eyes and wished to be offered a cubicle in which to do her work, a place where she could be close to Zoe, see her at lunch and know that she was safe, hopefully for a nominal fee and with an employee discount.
Wish granted...but this came with an unexpected bonus.
Ithaca handed Zoe a Sippy cup filled with fresh fruit smoothie and Claire received a white chocolate and hazelnut coffee blend. Ithaca spoke softly.
“A while back I purchased an apartment building that was badly in need of renovations, so many in fact that I thought that the construction would last for a couple of years. The contractor restored it completely in six months. I lived there for a while and I loved it. It is a great space.
I lease these apartments out to my employees at a reduced rate so they have nothing to ever worry about except doing their jobs and doing it well. I will lease one to you for half of what you are paying in rent now. It’s very comfortable and not too far from here and it is partially furnished. The kitchen, dining room and most of the living room have the basic essentials.
But, if we do this, I will need you to sign a two-year creative design contract as well as a Non-Disclosure Agreement. I don’t want anyone knowing our business strategies. I am sure that you understand. We will call the line of jewelry that you develop ‘Claire’ and they will be manufactured and sold exclusively by my company ‘Wishing Gold’ ”.
Claire was about to hyperventilate but kept her composure by nodding and biting her bottom lip. This was her chance, possibly her dream come true. She ventured out of her comfort zone to ask.
“I have some designs that I would like to produce in silver. Do you think that would be possible?” Smiling Ithaca answered.
“I would love to see them and if they are as unique and as beautiful as your beadwork... then absolutely. Yes. I have a facility just for metalwork. After the designs are approved, they will be given to the mill for production. Now let me show you your station and then we’ll get those contracts signed.”
Claire left that day with keys to an apartment, one she had yet to see. But she didn’t care. It was half what she was paying now. It was away from memories that she just didn’t want to deal with anymore...or ever again. She had a two year contract which meant that she could even quit her current job and leave behind the old thrift store furniture. And bonus of all bonuses...her income had been drastically improved... and the more designs that were approved...the more money she would make. She had several notebooks full of drawings that she had been working on since she was fourteen and at least eighty to ninety percent of them were worthy of production. But it even got better. She would create the designs and her team would carry out their production. Glancing to her fingernails that took the brunt of the creation of her jewelry, she knew that they would start looking better real soon. Heaven must look something like this.
The following day Ithaca had even sent two of her employees with boxes and a truck over to help Claire move whatever it was that she needed into her new apartment. They had laughed and joked with her and made her promise to buy them beer if they didn’t break anything and she was more than happy to oblige. Gawd, it felt good to have some cash in her pocket. And, it almost felt like she had friends again. Zoe’s father had skillfully separated her from all of her friends and family and she never had the time or the energy to even notice.
Her new apartment was in an old converted warehouse building and had a slightly industrial feel to it. The building was eight floors high and the apartment she had been assigned was on the top floor. Thank goodness it had an elevator. Ithaca had told her it had a roof top garden and deck for the residence to enjoy.
The halls were wide, clean and well lit. With concrete hallways that sported carefully crafted graffiti stenciling on the floor instead of carpeting, it suited Claire just fine. It felt young and fresh and she was all of that. It was time to start living like it.
She looked forward to catching the one bus that would take her and Zoe to work on Monday. That she didn’t have to worry about arranging daycare was a relief but the best bonus of all was that it was free to the employees and…and… even better and best of all, there was a ‘Daycare Playcare’ video cam on her computer. Whenever she wanted to check on Zoe all she had to do was click to that channel and the cameras would show her what was happening in kid wonderland. Oh joy of joy.
She couldn’t wait for Roger and Joe to leave and for Zoe to be tucked into bed...which, for now, they only had one. She had used some of the money she had received from the sale of her jewelry to order one to be delivered to their new apartment the day they moved in. It was still wrapped in plastic and had never even seen their old apartment, and she liked it that way.
She had decided that she was no longer taking old memories to bed with her and she had no intention of sleeping in them any longer than was necessary. But right now all she wanted to do was to put on some music and dance for joy, wander around their new residence while drinking a glass of wine and think about a new kind of life.
Her life had completely changed in the length of a three-transfer bus ride and now she wanted to begin to live it. Guess it is true. Life can turn on a dime.