Ashes: Claire and Rachel

A few months after meeting Rebecca, Claire realizes that she is familiar with Rebecca’s aunt, Rachel, who’s active in the Unitarian Universalist church Claire attends, and who Rebecca constantly complains about. She didn’t make the connection right away, because Rebecca’s description of her aunt is so negative, Claire initially imagined a much older and less attractive person than the vibrant and energetic woman Rachel turns out to be, who seems much younger to Claire than her stated age. Claire does not know her well, but they do have mutual acquaintances, who always speak well of Rachel. She’s not in church every week, owing to her work as a nurse and counselor, and her many outside activities, but when she’s there, she’s almost always engaged with individuals and small groups. The few times they have interacted, usually when Claire has found herself in close proximity to Rachel, she’s gracious, greeting Claire with a warm smile, sometimes a pat on the shoulder. Rachel looks everyone square in the eyes, giving the feeling she’s there solely for the benefit of that single person. Their encounters are rarely more than a few seconds, though, and Claire is certain they mean more to her than to Rachel.

In addition to having a tough time reconciling the woman Rebecca describes with the actual person, Claire can’t understand why Rebecca has such an issue with her aunt in the first place. While Claire isn’t certain of Rachel’s sexuality — rumor has it that she, like Claire, claims to be celibate — other aspects of Rachel’s life sound like they’d most likely inspire admiration in her niece, rather than the raw animosity Rebecca displays. Claire has noted, on occasion, that Rachel sometimes shows up at church injured, with bruises, black eyes, and once, a couple of sore ribs and a noticeable limp. Claire learns these are from her activities with an organization called Journey From Night, which helps women escape the sex industry, and sometimes this involves Rachel openly confronting pimps and johns on the street, who don’t appreciate the exposure and react violently.

From what Rebecca has told Claire, the tension stems from the time Rebecca’s mother died, and Rachel took responsibility for Rebecca and her brother, Steven, though, specifically how that rankled Rebecca has never been clarified. As she gets to know Rebecca better, Claire begins to note that most of Rebecca’s anger seems to be confined to the time Rebecca returned from college, particularly after Rachel locked Rebecca out of the house, fueling her desire to replace her aunt as her brother Steven’s guardian. Rebecca won’t reveal to Claire why she left New York without finishing school, choosing instead to use the explanation as some sort of carrot to lure Claire into a physical relationship which doesn’t interest Claire.

As much as she finds Rebecca’s constant flirtations and innuendos tiresome, Claire worries about Rebecca, who seems very much out of control, and headed for a collapse, drinking heavily, smoking lots of dope, often passing out at the home of whichever of her friends she happens to be visiting, and on several occasions, when they’ve been out, Claire has let Rebecca sleep in her guest room, rather than allowing her to drive. In addition, Rebecca has chosen to surround herself with a cadre of “friends” who she mainly knew in high school, who do little more than encourage her bad behavior. Once Rebecca sets out to become her brother’s guardian, however, the intense focus she gives to the endeavor causes her to curb some of her bad habits. While she doesn’t stop drinking, she does curtail it considerably, and she stops spending so much time with her friends. Rebecca claims to have some sort of dirt on Rachel, which, she says will turn the tide in her case, but then, the whole thing fizzles out when Rachel steps aside and lets Rebecca be Steven’s guardian without contesting it. She leaves the family’s home, which allows Rebecca to move back in, and, consequently, Claire notes the level of vitriol Rebecca spews against her aunt subsides. Rebecca refuses to share the info with Claire, once again promising all the dirt, “when I get to know you better”.

It is not for want of effort on Rebecca’s part that she and Claire aren’t a couple. In fact, Rebecca’s overtures toward Claire become so insistent that Claire finally tells her to lay off or their friendship will end. This puts a stop to her more aggressive attempts, but still, the desire is there, as well as Rebecca’s favorite nickname for Claire, which is “Clarabella”. It’s something Claire’s faced most of the time she’s been in Atlanta. She was surprised, initially, to find women hitting on her almost as aggressively as men did. Adopting her tough CC Belmonte persona frightened a lot of the hetero men into leaving her alone, but only encouraged the women, who misread Claire’s intentions in presenting the front. The only people to fully embrace the persona and see it for the humous façade it’s intended to be, are gay men, who’ve always been at the core of Claire’s support system, dating back to when Lawrence Standridge and his partner Eli Parker helped her overcome the problems she left behind in Houston County when she came to Atlanta. Her refusal to engage either sex is met with a similar level of distain from both. The two most prevalent rumors Claire hears about herself in the clubs are that CC Belmonte is a lesbian, often initiated by hetero men, or that she’s a drag queen, usually spread by women.

Perhaps the only thing that truly keeps Claire close to Rebecca throughout all the attempts to expand their relationship is her writing. Always an avid reader, Claire finds Rebecca’s work for Creative Loafing and especially her blog The Frantic Feminist, fresh and compelling, with a take-no-prisoners style that’s open and brutally honest. Rebecca has stated she found her voice in New York, while working with a women’s group, and has since honed her craft even more. While her personal life slid into disarray, her writing became fiery and expressive. Claire often finds herself hanging on every word, and frequently encourages Rebecca to compile and publish her blog and other work.

Then two incidents occur that end Claire’s relationship with Rebecca, both occurring in November of 2005. The first is initiated by Rebecca, who lures Claire to her house under the pretense of “hanging out” when, in actuality, Rebecca has ulterior motives. She and Claire have been growing closer, Claire confiding more of her back story to Rebecca as she gains Claire’s trust, and, just as a certain deacon had done when Claire was still Christine, Rebecca totally misreads this as an indication that Claire is open to expanding their relationship. At the house, she plies Claire with wine, then makes an aggressive pass at her which Claire rebuffs. Claire’s annoyance at the attempt turns to outright anger when she learns that Rebecca has made a recording of the encounter on her computer and refuses to erase it when Claire insists. This prompts Claire to sever all ties with Rebecca, which she at first honors, but recently has ignored, cajoling Claire with all manner of communications, emails, voice messages, and videos.

Finally, late one morning in early December of 2005, Claire answers a knock at her door to be greeted by someone she never expected to see at her home, Rachel Lawson, who seems just as surprised to find that the friend her nephew sent her to meet is a familiar face from her church. Claire invites her in and once they’re seated on the couch, Rachel tells her, “Steven asked me to speak to you.”

“Steven?” Claire says. “Has something happened to Becky?”

“I’m afraid so,” Rachel says. “Rebecca was killed in a car accident November 29 on her way back from a festival in South Carolina.”

Despite their issues, Claire is still upset by the loss. Rachel consoles her and spends several hours with Claire, listening to her stories about Rebecca and offering comforting words. She offers to meet with Claire to help her work through her grief, and Claire readily agrees, visiting Rachel at her home, and talking to her more often at church. Over time, they become close friends.

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