It Pays to Be a Winner
Had it really been over a year since Maisie had entered their lives? It must be, because the DPG was about to celebrate the one year anniversary of the opening of the dinosaur sanctuary.
The older Claire got, the faster time seemed to move. And while there were days that she wished it would all just slow down, she was also happy to be into their second year – both as a family and with the DPG running the sanctuary. Firsts could be good and all, but they were exhausting when they seem to happen every other day.
She was also really looking forward to the celebration that the DPG had planned. She had even managed to make herself back off and not be directly involved with most of the details. She was proud of herself for delegating; even if it made her a bit anxious. But, her actual responsibilities at the DPG, combined with being a parent and all the tasks that were involved in that, meant she could no longer work 24/7. Even if Owen would disagree and say that she still did.
While the DPG had partnered with the government on the sanctuary, and also had numerous investors, they had decided against turning it into a big gala. There had been a lot of back and forth in that decision, knowing that it could be a good opportunity for fundraising. Claire knew that when you put on a gala, and spent money in that form, many of the smaller donors felt not needed. She was trying to maintain the DPG as being about protecting the dinosaurs for everyone, not just the wealthy. They had decided instead to have a small event, with invitations focused on those who worked and volunteered directly for the DPG, along with significant others.
The other main decision that they'd gone back and forth on was whether the event should be family friendly. While Claire felt a little guilty about it, she was happy that the final decision was to make it an adult-only event. She knew Maisie would've enjoyed going if it was more family friendly, but she was also just looking forward to a night out, where she could forget about being a parent for a few hours. Where she and Owen could finally have some time to just be them and not "Maisie's guardians."
With the date scheduled well in advance, she'd made sure to add it to the kitchen calendar and to arrange a sleepover for Maisie. She'd even bought an outfit just for that night. It felt a bit bittersweet doing so, as it dredged up memories of being back at Jurassic World, where picking out outfits for special events was a common activity that she'd really enjoyed. Since then, she rarely participated in any events where it made sense. When leading rallies and protests and even many of the PR events as the head of the DPG, she usually wore a DPG branded t-shirt and jeans.
Owen wasn't big on dressing up himself, so the two of them had never fallen into a routine of fancy nights out at restaurants or events. In fact, things always seemed to go better when their dates didn't involve any other people. It was something that they'd partially gravitated towards post Jurassic World, when going out often meant interacting with the media. But it was also something they had kept up, even once the media died down, enjoying the chance to just be them, no other expectations in place.
Maisie's entrance into their lives really just meant that their date nights became less frequent, replaced by family nights. On the occasions they managed to get a Maisie-free evening or night, the idea of going out amongst others wasn't usually appealing. They'd tried going to a movie once, and found themselves afterwards talking about how much Maisie would've liked it. They hadn't meant to choose a movie that would appeal to Maisie. They'd actually just picked their standard choice – checking out the latest superhero movie to hit the market. It had been one of those moments where they realized they really were parents – thinking about and putting Maisie first, and wanting her to be involved in their activities.
But, that didn't mean they didn't want (or need) time without her.
The "high" from feeling like a real parent had been quickly squashed, only days later, when Claire had been recounting it with Karen. She'd thought Karen would congratulate her – welcome her to the parenting "club," tell her that she really was one of them now. Instead, Karen had shaken her head and and chastised her. "Don't become me and Scott," Karen had said, "where you end up together only for your kids. They grow up. They leave home. There has to be more to your relationship than that. You'll end up resenting each other. And you may end up regretting Maisie. No one wins when it all falls apart." Claire had been skeptical, saying it wasn't like that. That she and Owen had been through so much, they knew not to take each other for granted. That their marriage was strong. Karen had just nodded, but Claire knew she wasn't in agreement, before the conversation had moved onto other topics.
While Claire had pulled herself back from being involved in all the planning details, she still needed (wanted) to be at the event early to make sure it was all setup. She knew she wouldn't be able to relax if she didn't confirm it herself. As it was happening on a Friday evening, she'd brought her outfit with her to work that morning. She had reminded Maisie and Owen of the event at breakfast, making sure that Maisie had a bag packed for her sleepover and informing Owen that his suit was hanging up in the closet and she'd see him at seven. They had both nodded to her as they sat at the kitchen table eating breakfast, watching as she whirled in and out of the room, trying to make sure she didn't forget anything on her way out the door.
Smoothing down her dress, Claire checked her makeup again in the bathroom mirror, confirming that everything was perfect. Pulling out her phone, she checked it again for any missed messages. Besides a message a few hours ago confirming that Maisie had been dropped off, she hadn't heard from Owen. Not that she was surprised – in fact, she had been surprised to even get the update about Maisie, and was sure that it only happened because Maisie said something. Owen was not a fan of his phone, often commenting that it felt like a noose he had to wear. Checking her watch and seeing that it was nearing seven, she tucked her phone away in the small clutch she was carrying and headed back out to join the party.
When seven came and went, and Owen had yet to make an appearance, Claire didn't give it a second thought. Owen wasn't known for being punctual, and she knew that this type of event wasn't at the top of the list of things he liked doing. She had assumed he'd be late. She kept herself busy and occupied, making the rounds and chatting with all the DPG employees. It was really nice to see them all relaxed and to know, for once, that the DPG was in a good place, both financially and how it was viewed by the public. Everyone was definitely enjoying the chance to just let loose.
It was approaching eight when Zia pulled her aside. "Where's Owen?" Zia asked, surprised he wasn't glued to Claire's side.
"He hasn't arrived yet," Claire rolled her eyes, trying to play it off as a joke, and took a sip of her wine. "I told him seven, but you know him."
"Right," Zia nodded. "He'll probably be waltzing in through that door any moment now."
Claire nodded, her eyes darting towards the entrance, but the doors remained closed. Looking back at her friend, she asked why she'd been pulled aside.
"Oh," Zia smiled slyly, "new gossip." Claire listened with half an ear, most of her attention still drawn to the door, as Zia filled her in on the latest DPG drama. Apparently one of the interns asked two people to be his date and they had both said yes and he'd been trying to keep them separate all evening. Unsurprisingly, it hadn't worked.
Once Zia had been pulled away by her girlfriend Allison, Claire pulled out her phone, checking to see if there were any new messages. While yes, she had expected Owen to be late, she hadn't expected him to be this late, and was starting to get concerned. Had something happened? The last message from him was still the one about dropping Maisie off. She started to tap out a new message to him, before forgoing that and opting to phone instead. She moved away from the main party area, finding a quiet corner.
Four rings later she was listening to his voice mail pick up. She ended the call, knowing that he was unlikely to check that. She went back to texting him, sending simply "Where are you?"
Thirty minutes later, Claire had been sucked into a conversation debating one of their current fundraising strategies, when she felt an arm slip around her waist. She turned her head slightly to catch Owen's sheepish expression, as he murmured that he was sorry he was late into her ear.
Claire continued to nod along and participate in the conversation at hand, grateful for the distraction. She was torn between feeling relief that he was okay and pissed off that he was over an hour and a half late.
A few minutes later, she could feel Owen fidgeting at her side. The topic at hand was of no interest to him. Taking the last sip of her white wine, she handed him her empty wine glass and suggested he grab them a drink, which he eagerly nodded to, before hurrying off. It wasn't until she watched him walk away that Claire even realized what he was wearing – and it was not the suit she'd had dry cleaned. Well, it was part of the suit. He had on jeans, a button up shirt and the suit jacket. No tie. Looking down at her own dress again, Claire sighed. She supposed she should be thankful it wasn't board shorts or something else equally ridiculous. But, he managed to pull out the jacket, would it really have been too hard to put on the rest of the suit?
He was back only a couple of minutes later, a glass of red wine and a bottle of beer in his hands. She gave him a tight smile as she accepted the wine. It wasn't that she didn't like red wine, it was just not what she'd been drinking tonight.
A few minutes later, she was able to separate them away from the others, giving them a chance to finally talk.
"What happened?" Claire asked, as they moved away.
"What do you mean?" Owen swallowed the last of his beer, directing them back towards the bar.
"You're an hour and a half late," Claire hissed. "I was starting to get worried. You didn't respond to my text…"
"I didn't see any message," Owen shrugged, accepting a replacement beer from the bartender.
"And … jeans, Owen?" Claire looked him up and down, barely hiding her disgust.
"What's wrong with jeans?" Owen looked at what he was wearing, tugging on his suit jacket with one hand, and then back to her. "You know how much I hate suits."
"It's just one night," Claire started, a exasperated look crossing her face.
"Owen!" They both turned to see Zia approaching them, Allison at her side. "You made it!"
"Zia, Ally," Owen smiled at them both in greeting. "You guys both look great."
"Thanks," Ally smiled back at him.
"You too," Zia nodded, giving him a look over before chuckling a little. "Couldn't handle the full suit?"
"Just not a fan of formal wear designed to choke you," Owen laughed along, tugging at his collar, although he'd left the top few buttons undone.
They didn't stay late, Claire's mood diminishing over the evening, and while Owen was friendly, it was clear to Claire that he really didn't want to be there. The cab ride back to their place was silent, both staring out their respective windows.
Claire was trying to figure out exactly when the night went off the rails, as the cab pulled into their driveway. Their first night alone in months, and yet instead of capitalizing on it, it felt like a gulf had opened between them, growing larger with each passing minute.
Climbing out of the cab on a sigh, she headed for their front door, letting herself in, not even paying attention as to whether Owen was behind her. She tugged off her heels and dropped her clutch onto the small table by the entrance, heading further into the house. Vaguely, she heard the door shut behind her and Owen turning the lock.
"Are you just going to ignore me?" Owen asked, following her into the kitchen, where she was filling the coffee machine.
Claire waited to respond until she'd turned the machine on, leaning back against the counter to face him. "What happened tonight?" She asked.
"What do you mean?" Owen was confused, and he leaned against the counter opposite her, mirroring her position.
"You were late. You didn't dress up. You clearly didn't want to be there…"
"I'm always late. I hate dressing up. And, yeah, so? It's not like it's my kind of thing," Owen shrugged, not seeing the big deal.
"One night, Owen, one night," Claire let her head fall, one hand rising to rub at her temple. She could feel the headache rising. "All I wanted was one night."
"What's that supposed to mean?" It was Owen's turn to look defensive, and he straightened up, no longer leaning against the counter.
"We rarely have any time together," Claire started.
"Right, and how is going to a party any different?"
"I don't get it." Claire pushed away from the counter, moving over to grab mugs from the cupboard and pull out the cream from the fridge. If she kept her hands busy, maybe he wouldn't notice that they were shaking. Maybe she'd be able to keep it together. "I thought after Lockwood… after Maisie and the Indoraptor and everything that went down there… I thought you finally saw the importance of the DPG."
"What does that have to do with tonight?" Owen tracked her movement through the kitchen.
"This was supposed to be my night," Claire started pouring cups of coffee, doctoring them just the way they each like, stirring in an ungodly amount of sugar into Owen's. "It's been one year since the sanctuary opened. And not only that," she slid his cup towards him, but didn't hand it over, "but the DPG is finally also financially stable. We can afford our employees. We are looking at growing and no longer have to rely primarily on volunteers. Tonight… tonight was supposed to be a celebration of all of that." She picked up her own mug, but didn't take a sip, just staring into the cup like it held all the answers she was looking for.
Owen didn't reply at first, taking a couple of steps over to her to grab his own mug, before moving back to his previous spot. Unlike Claire, he sipped at his coffee, debating his response. "I don't know what you want me to say."
"Say?" Claire raised an eyebrow. "It's not about what you say. It's about what you do."
"I didn't do anything,," Owen shrugged.
"Jesus, Owen," Claire set her mug down with a loud thump, coffee splashing over the rim. "You're not that dense."
"More fortune cookie wisdom?"
"What the hell is wrong with you tonight?" Claire turned her back on Owen, grabbing the empty coffee carafe and rinsing it in the sink. She didn't want him to see the tears that were threatening to fall.
"Why are you always trying to change me?" Owen shot back. "You know I hate this stuff. I've always hated it."
"Yeah, well being an adult means having to do things you hate," Claire replied, still not looking at him, hands braced against the counter. "You know," she grabbed the tea towel and wiped her hands, turning to face him, "you never even said I looked nice." She hung the towel back up, before smoothing her dress with her hands. Had it only been a few hours ago she'd be so happy to pull it on? Excited for the evening ahead?
"I what?" Owen looked a little whiplashed by the change of topic.
"Nevermind," Claire shook her head, grabbing her mug and heading out of the kitchen.
"Where are you going?" Owen watched as she left.
"I have work to do," Claire paused in the doorway to look back at him. "Might as well make this night not a total loss.