Confessions After Dark
Lying on his back, staring at the ceiling, Owen was desperately trying to get his mind to turn off. To give him some peace. To just let him sleep.
It wasn't working.
Instead, his mind was whirling, still trying to come to grips with what Maisie had shared at dinner the previous evening. Trying to believe Claire's comments that nothing had happened; that there was nothing to be concerned about. It's not that he thought she was lying. Clearly, she was still there and in front of them and she didn't have any new scars from their time apart. That, he knew, he would've noticed.
But he just couldn't keep his imagination from running wild on him. From throwing out all sorts of possibilities about what could have happened, or, even worse, what still could. She remained the most recognizable person for the DPG, after all. Sure, she wasn't in the news quite as much, not now that the sanctuary had been open for over a year and a half.
While the news still frequently covered the dinosaurs, they weren't as big a topic as they use to be. Instead, they generally seemed to get covered when something happened at the sanctuary, usually a dinosaur getting injured, or, more recently, laying some eggs. These articles, while they would mention the DPG since it was the source of the information, would rarely talk much about Claire or any of the members specifically, except to quote them. They no longer felt the need to remind people in every article that the DPG was founded by Claire Dearing — yes, that Claire Dearing — and its purpose and mandate. It was finally becoming just a known quantity.
Rolling onto his side, Owen looked over at Claire who was sleeping peacefully, curled onto her side facing him, one arm tucked under her pillow, the other resting on the bed. Well, she definitely had no concerns about the messages. Maybe she really was right, and there was nothing to be worried about. That he was overreacting.
It was just… she said that they'd had to call the police before. There had been messages that had made them concerned enough to seek outside help. He knew they must have happened years ago now, before Lockwood, before Maisie.
Before he'd even realized he was doing it, he had his hand on Claire's shoulder, shaking her awake, as he whispered her name.
"Owen?" Claire asked, her voice sleepy, her eyes fluttering open.
"Sorry," Owen kept his voice low, already feeling guilty about his actions.
"Did something happen?" Claire eyes widened and she moved to sit up. "Maisie?"
"Everything's fine," Owen said, pushing gently on her shoulder, keeping her down. "Maisie's asleep."
"Why'd you wake me?" Claire asked, her gaze focusing on his, and Owen just sighed, flopping back onto his back. When he didn't reply, he felt her move closer, cuddling into his side, one hand resting on his chest, absently running in soothing circles.
"I… I can't sleep," Owen finally offered up.
"And you wanted company?" Claire asked, propping herself up on her elbow, and looking down at him with a raised eyebrow. He turned his head slightly to look at her, giving a weak shrug.
"I wanted–" Owen cut himself off, groaning, rubbing a hand down his face. "I just can't get my mind to shut up. I can't stop thinking." He looked over at her again, unsurprised to find she was now looking down at him in concern. "Are you sure nothing ever happened?"
"Happened?" Claire asked, clearly not following his question. "What do you mean?"
"The messages. The harassment," Owen clarified. "You said you've had to go to the police."
"We did," Claire nodded slowly. "Once. A couple of years ago."
"Why?" Owen asked before he could talk himself out of it. He winced, already regretting it.
"Do you really want to know?" Claire questioned. "It's over and done with. You can't change it or fix it or anything."
"Would I… want to fix it?" Owen said hesitantly, his mind now racing with horrible thoughts. Not all scars were physical, after all. Something he knew all too well.
"Owen…" Claire started, before she let out a sigh. She shifted again, tucking herself into his side, resting her head on his shoulder now. Owen wrapped his arms around her, pulling her closer to him. "We started getting a lot of messages by this one account. Not all that odd, not at first. We have a lot of regulars, who always comment. Back then, we were still trying to get people to take us seriously, so we'd make an effort to try to respond to as many as we could." Claire paused, and Owen started running one of his hands up and down her back. "We don't always manage, it's hard to keep track, after all. And it depended on who was around and what was going on. But slowly, we started to notice this account would get… upset, if they didn't get a response. Then they started ping ponging between belittling others one day, and the next acting like they were affiliated with us, like they were one of us."
"Were they?" Owen asked, his voice tight, his grip on her tightening unconsciously.
"No," Claire replied immediately. "We tried to get them to back off. To tell them to stop. They didn't like that. We blocked them, but they reappeared with a new account hours later. They weren't even trying to hide it. They were pissed that we had blocked them. We reported the account, but it was determined that they 'didn't violate the terms of service.'" Owen could hear the frustration in her voice. "Those terms of service are a joke. They can use them to ban one person and approve the next over the same thing. Anyway, our actions, no surprise just made this person madder. We weren't all that concerned, not at first. More and more people were interacting with us, and it became easy enough to ignore them. To just let them fade away. We thought that would be enough."
"Wait, how did this end up at the police?" Owen was confused. He didn't understand how most of the social media networks worked in the first place, but this wasn't making him more inclined to learn more.
"We weren't interacting with them, but some of our other regulars started bringing them to our attention," Claire said. "This person started to bad-mouth us, but that we could shrug off. But then they started to say things a bit more personal. Things that didn't really make sense that they should know. Not easily, anyway. Comments like how they hoped we'd enjoyed our Caveman Coffee today or that they didn't like a top I was wearing. Things they could only know if they were there, somehow."
"I thought you said it wasn't one of you." Owen asked, alarm in his voice.
"It wasn't," Claire repeated. "That's what made it concerning."
"And that's when you went to the police?"
"Eventually, yeah," Claire said, nodding.
"Eventually… why not right away?"
"It didn't seem like enough at first. It was concerning, but it was also comments about things that we did pretty regularly. We always get Caveman Coffee. And we realized I'd been on the news the day the comment about my shirt happened."
"So what finally tipped it?" Again, Owen wasn't sure he actually wanted to know, but, well, he'd gone this far.
"The frequency of the comments started to increase. While the main account had him blocked, Franklin was using his personal one to keep tabs. I didn't know this at first, but it was a good thing he did. His comments started to get more specific, and then he made one that implied he knew where I lived. Sort of cryptic if you didn't know, but if you knew… well, it definitely felt clear. At that point, Franklin came to me, and we agreed that we thought we needed to take it up another level." Claire shrugged, her hand drawing patterns on his chest, refusing to look at him. "And so we did."
Owen waited for her to continue, but she didn't say anything else. "And?" he questioned. "What happened next? Did they find him? Is he in jail? What?"
"You'd be surprised, horrified actually, how common it is for people to go through stuff like this," Claire said, letting out a sigh. "The digital age has made it so much easier for people to stalk from afar."
"Yeah," Claire nodded. "Turns out the guy was halfway across the country. There was never any real danger. Just a guy with really good googling and analytical skills. The police showing up at his place scared him. He hasn't bothered us since."
"He didn't go to jail?" Owen could feel anger coursing through him.
"What for? He never did anything in the end," Claire said. "It's tough to do much in these cases. The most we could've done was maybe get a restraining order against him, but he was never going to be nearby. It wasn't worth the hassle."
Owen let out a slow breath, not really sure what to think about everything he'd just heard. Claire didn't say anything, and he ran his hand up and down her arm, trying to process his thoughts. Finally, pulling her closer, he said, "I wish I'd known. That I could've been there for you. I hate that you went through that alone."
"I wasn't alone," Claire said, looking up at him. "Franklin knew. And Zia."
"But not me," he said, his voice low. "I should've been there. If I had known..."
"Owen, we were broken up," she protested. "We both needed that time."
"I don't care," he disagreed. "If you had come to me, if you had told me, I would've been there."
"Well, you were, sort of," Claire admitted after a moment.
"Um, I'm pretty sure I'd remember if you had told me about this before," Owen said, a frown on his face. "This isn't the sort of thing I'd forget."
"Do you remember," she started, pushing up a bit again, so she could look him in the eye. "A few months before the whole Lockwood thing, when I came out to your lot?"
"Yeah…" Owen said slowly. "When we had that big fight."
"Right," Claire nodded. "You never asked me why I came out that day."
"Wait, it was because of this?" he said, his jaw dropping. "That's when this happened?"
"Yup," Claire said.
"But… why? Why did you come see me? Why didn't you tell me?"
"Nothing happened," she reminded him. "What was there to tell?"
"Then why come out there? What was the point?" Owen looked down at her, trying to meet her eyes, but he was surprised when she looked away, her fingers on his chest drumming lightly against him. Nerves, he knew. "What are you not telling me?" His eyes went wide. "Did something else happen?"
"What? No! No," Claire shook her head. "I just… I didn't need to tell you. But… I wanted to see you."
"But, why?" Owen asked again, sure he wasn't getting the whole story, that something was still missing.
"I wanted to feel safe," Claire mumbled, and Owen wasn't quite sure he'd heard her.
"I wanted to feel safe, to be somewhere safe," Claire repeated, finally meeting his gaze. "Nothing happened. But the whole thing just made me realize… Normally work's my safe place. But, it wasn't then, it couldn't be, not with everything happening. And… and I missed you. I wanted to see you again. I wanted to feel–"
"–safe," Owen finished for her, but even as he said it, he was frowning. How was he supposed to take that? It was a good thing, right? Except, it sort of made him feel worse. Not only had he not been there, but when she'd sought him out, when she'd wanted comfort from him, instead he'd yelled at her.
"Hey," Claire pushed back up on her elbow, leaning over him, her hand coming up to cup his cheek, her thumb caressing him. "Please don't beat yourself up over this."
"Why shouldn't I?" he said bitterly. "I wasn't there for you when it happened. And when you came to me, all I did was start a big fight."
"It was two years ago, Owen," she protested. "I didn't tell you why I was there. We were broken up and I just showed up out of the blue. I don't even know what I was expecting to happen. If I had thought it through, I wouldn't have gone."
"Because..." Claire's gaze darted away, and he was surprised to see a flush start to rise up her cheeks. She took a deep breath before meeting his gaze head on, back in control. "Because for all I knew, you had a new girlfriend. I got most of the way to your lot before that thought kicked in and, well, I almost turned around."
"I don't really know how to respond to that," Owen said after a few moments passed. "I want to be glad that you came, but we fought, and, well… if it wasn't for Mills, I don't know when we'd have spoken again. But… a girlfriend, really? Did you really think that?"
"It's not like it's outside the realm of possibilities," Claire defended herself, pulling her hand away. Owen quickly reached up and grabbed it, lacing their fingers together and settling them on his chest, tugging her closer to him.
"Maybe," he acknowledged, "But I didn't." A thought crossed his mind, and again, he spoke a question he wasn't sure he actually wanted an answer to before he could stop himself. "Did you?"
"Did I what?"
"Date?" He hated that his voice came out pained. Why was he asking? It was two years ago and they were married now. It didn't matter.
"No," Claire said, giving his hand a squeeze. "My time was completely taken up by the DPG." She narrowed her eyes when he let out a relieved sigh. "Wait, what's that for? You're the one who was all 'so you're dating a dermatologist?' Remember that?"
Owen, at least, had the sense to look sheepish over that. Pulling her up, he dipped his head down to kiss her. "You have seen you, right?" he asked, before kissing her again. "And met you?" Another kiss. "Who wouldn't want to date you?" He met her gaze that was still looking at him sternly and gave her his most charming smile. "I've already admitted before that I was an ass that day."
"You did," Claire agreed. "And you were."
"Yeah, well..." Owen kissed her again, before moving to trail kisses along her jaw.
Pulling herself over him, one of Claire's hands trailed down his side, dipping below his shirt, the other bunching his sleeve in her grip, while Owen slid his hands down her back. Claire pulled back slightly, looking at him, her gaze serious. "You're my safe place, you know that, right?"
Owen nodded, reaching up and capturing her lips in a deep kiss, before saying, "And you're mine."