The End of the Beginning
One year. It had been one year since Claire had approached him on his lot and asked if she could buy him a beer. One year since the volcano on Nublar had erupted. One year since they'd stowed away on a boat while Zia did field surgery on Blue. One year since the dinosaur auction at Lockwood Estate. One year since they'd been chased by the Indoraptor. And one year since he'd met Maisie.
He'd hoped that the anniversary was just going to slide by. That he'd be able to pretend that the end of June no longer had new significance in his life. That he'd be able to just get through the day like any other.
This past Christmas had been the third anniversary of Jurassic World. The previous one, he'd been on his own, having split from Claire not long before, and he'd still been drowning his sorrows and frustration and anger and every other negative feeling and so the whole holiday season had swept by before he'd had a chance to really pay attention to the dates. It had felt good to miss that anniversary. It had been a bit of good luck that Maisie had been in their lives, as they were too busy focused on making sure she had a good holiday that it had again, mostly escaped his awareness. He knew that Claire had done a few things with the DPG, as the dinosaurs being back in everyone's lives had upped the interest in the Jurassic World anniversary, but he'd been able to stay well away from it all.
First anniversaries, however, especially of tragic events (even if the people who died weren't really people anyone felt any sympathy towards), always seemed to be gleefully anticipated by media networks. Owen had watched Claire get more and more stressed out over the course of the last month. He knew that she was working hard to run interference, to keep the media focused on the DPG and away from him and Maisie. And that part of that interference generally meant sacrificing herself, taking interview requests and then skillfully deflecting questions.
He felt guilty that he wasn't being more supportive. And that it was a burden he was willfully letting her carry on her own. He pushed himself instead to be everything Claire could need around the house. That she wouldn't have to shoulder anything extra when she'd arrive home in the evenings, exhausted by her day. It didn't feel like enough. But at least it was more than nothing.
The school year ended a couple of weeks before the actual anniversary, thankfully. It meant that Maisie hadn't had to deal with the constant chatter around it from her classmates. And, even more, it meant that he hadn't had to deal with it and the inevitable questions from parents at drop off and pickup, and even the occasional teacher.
Now though, it was just over a week behind them and July fourth was just a couple of days away. They were planning on getting away to the cabin for the holiday, taking a four day weekend. He was looking forward to spending those days cut off from the world. No TV, no news, no internet, no dinosaurs. Just the three of them.
There was another anniversary that none of them had acknowledged. It had been a year since Maisie had been placed under their care; since they had signed the paperwork that made them her legal guardians. He wasn't exactly sure why no one had brought it up. It certainly had been on his mind. And he'd caught Claire looking at some photos of their past year, and so he knew it had been on hers, too.
Owen thought it was because both Claire and him didn't know what Maisie was thinking, and were nervous that her thoughts weren't inline with theirs. While it had been a year, and while she seemed to have settled into her life with them, there were days where it felt like she saw them just as guardians, as a temporary stop in her life, while it worked to right itself. Like her grandfather would show up one day and take her home and tell her it had all been a dream.
He didn't know what to do. Over the past few months, he'd had several conversations with Claire on the topic, but they were both at a loss as to how to move forward. Whether they should be saying something, or just continuing on the path they were on. So far, they'd chosen to stick with the status quo. After all, it wasn't like things were bad. He knew, even if they remained her temporary guardians, that both he and Claire saw Maisie as their daughter, and as a part of their family. That they didn't actually need anything more. It didn't stop him from wanting it. Even if it made him feel guilty.
Owen was startled out of his thoughts as he felt a hand brush across his back when Claire walked by him in the kitchen, reaching for a couple of wine glasses.
"Yeah," Owen replied after a moment, taking the wine bottle and corkscrew from her, quickly opening the bottle and handing it back. He did a quick check of the oven, before pulling out the casserole and moving it over to the table that had already been set. Claire followed behind him with their glasses, and he double backed to grab the salad.
"Maisie!" Owen shouted up the stairs, "Dinner." There was only a brief moment of silence before he heard her.
The dinner started off just like any other, the three of them loading up their plates and Claire pushing the salad towards Maisie with a stern look until she'd put some on her plate. They chatted about their upcoming trip to the cabin and what they wanted to do. It took Owen a while to realize that Maisie was being quieter than normal. She definitely wasn't shy, and was usually the most vocal at the table, easily filling in any silence.
"Something up?" Owen asked Maisie during a lull, as he scooped another serving on to his plate.
"Up?" Maisie repeated, appearing startled by the question. "Nothing's up," she immediately denied, although not at all convincingly, and Owen saw Claire straighten in her chair and knew that Maisie's reaction had piqued her interest too.
"You're quieter than normal," Owen commented, trying to keep it casual, even if he was now worried that he'd missed something.
"It's…" Maisie looked down at her plate, trying to stab a cherry tomato with her fork, but it kept rolling away. After a moment, she put down her fork and looked up at them. Owen had been frozen in his spot, and he knew that Claire was too, wondering what she was about to say. "You know… well, I mean… last summer…" Maisie stumbled, clearly struggling to get out what was on her mind.
"Hey, kiddo," Owen reached a hand out, lightly grasping Maisie's until she looked at him. "You can tell us anything, you know that. Or ask us anything."
"I know," Maisie nodded. She took a deep breath, and Owen found he was doing the same, as he waited for her to say what was on her mind. "Are you… do you still want to adopt me?"
x x x
"That really happened, right?" Owen asked, standing by the kitchen window watching as Maisie was dribbling a soccer ball through the backyard. When he didn't get a response, he turned around, eyes searching out Claire. "I'm not dreaming, am I?"
"Not unless we're sharing the same dream," Claire said, her voice soft, like she didn't want to wake them up, if they were, in fact, dreaming. She moved over to stand beside him, both turning their gazes back to the backyard.
"You know, I never really thought this day would come," Owen admitted.
"Me neither," Claire agreed.
They lapsed into silence, content to just watch Maisie. After a few minutes, Maisie noticed them watching and waved. They both waved back, before retreating away from the window and continuing to clean up from dinner.
"Is it bad that I feel kind of relieved?" Owen asked, pausing by the fridge where he'd started putting away the leftovers.
"Relieved?" Claire repeated, sounding surprised by the word. "Why relieved?"
"I've wanted this for, well, months now," Owen said, closing the fridge door and leaning against it. "But it feels like, by admitting that, I'm saying that what we have now isn't enough. That if Maisie never asked to be adopted, that I'd always feel like I was missing out on something, something more. Like I'm saying we aren't a family, yet."
"Oh," Claire looked pensive, and she stopped loading the dishwasher, mirroring Owen's pose as she leaned against the counter. "I want it, too, you know. I like the idea of it all being official. Of being able to fill out a form and answer the relationship question as 'parent' instead of 'guardian.' Of knowing that the system can't decide tomorrow that they think she'd be better off with someone else."
"She wouldn't be," Owen said immediately. "Better with someone else," he clarified when Claire looked a bit confused.
"Yeah," Claire said, her gaze darting over her shoulder to glance out the window at Maisie. "Most days I know that." She looked back at Owen, giving a brief shrug. "Other days…"
"I know what you mean," Owen nodded. "You know…" he trailed off. He'd never told her about what had happened when he'd volunteered at the school, and she'd never pushed.
"What?" Claire questioned when he didn't continue.
"A couple months ago, at the sports day I was volunteering at," Owen started and Claire nodded. "One of Maisie's friends asked why she called me Owen."
"What did she say?"
"That that was my name," Owen chuckled slightly, if a bit bitterly. "But the friend, I don't remember who it was, then said 'but he's your dad' and–" Owen cut off, looking down and away from Claire.
"Let me guess," Claire said, "Maisie said you're not her dad."
"Yeah," Owen nodded, still staring at the ground. "And I know she's right. I know that. But…"
"Still hurts," Claire agreed.
Owen was startled when he felt Claire's hands on his arms, and he looked up, his gaze meeting hers. She'd moved over to stand directly in front of him and she tugged on him slightly until he took a step away from the fridge, and she could slide her arms around him, pulling him into a hug.
"I didn't realize how much I wanted it," Owen murmured, letting his head rest against hers, his own arms wrapping around her. "To be called Dad. Not until that moment."
"I want it, too," Claire admitted. "Never thought I would. Never thought I'd want a child. But I can't imagine life without her, now. I don't want to."
"I wonder what changed her mind," Owen said. "Why now?"
"Maybe it's finally sinking in, that this is permanent," Claire shrugged. "Not us, necessarily. But that she really can't go home again. That this is her home, if she wants it. It has been just over a year."
"Maybe," Owen said, his arms tightening around her. Not that it mattered, really, what Maisie's reasoning was.
"I'm really glad she wants it," Owen added a minute later.