There's a house across the street that no one lives in. It was on sale, once, back in his earliest childhood memories, before his father left and tore his small family apart.
Jim feels like he remembers someone buying the home, but… as far as he knows, no one ever has. And no one seems to bother tearing it down, either.
One time, he asked his mom if anyone lived there. She quirked an eyebrow and leaned over to him, and told him the previous owners left and packed up before he was even born.
Jim nodded and didn't ask anything else. But for a second, his mother looked… doubtful, like she wasn't sure of a single word that came out of her own mouth.
And thinking about the house was weird, too. He keeps expecting someone to wave out the second floor window, and when he's near the porch, there's this sense of wrong that comes to him just looking at it. He knows- remembers? Thinks? That there's supposed to be a small garden around it, crops and flowers that he could almost name. And there's that smell. An old-people-house smell, that Jim swears he's never experienced before yet somehow just knows.
He walked over to it and opened the door out of curiosity, once, but.
There was just nothing.
Jim Lake Junior is 15 years old when he meets Claire Nuñez. The two make fast friends in this odd "I knew you before I even met you" way that he can't even begin to describe. There's also this definitely-there budding attraction between the two of them, but he doesn't want to talk or think about it. Neither does Claire, maybe. There was that one time, but it stopped as soon as it started, and Jim got really sweaty. Reaaally sweaty.
God, we're idiots.
Whatever the two of them have, it's something special. Or flat out mutual stupidity. Like Romeo and Juliet. Buuut their story was a disaster and ended in the two committing accidental dual suicide (yikes), so, maybe it's like… Eh, Jim really isn't good with words. Claire is, though. She's always been a fan of poetics and prose. He remembers all the poems she's written and shared with him over the few months they've known each other.
She's also the daughter of the new councilwoman in town, which is slightly awkward, yeah, but the woman doesn't give him the evil eye whenever he bumps into her. But her dad's an entirely different story: just his mere presence sends shivers down Jim's spine, and he would rather keep away from that man as much as possible. At least she has a cute little brother that doesn't give him flak for being all-too-good friends with his sister.
But... the thing is. The thing is. The weirdness with that house extends to her, too.
He keeps feeling like someone should be nudging his side whenever he meets Claire in the school halls. There are times where someone else's name nearly stumbles out of his mouth instead of hers.
And even Claire has her own moments. She talks about tacos a lot for someone that doesn't really actually eat them that much. When she laughs at a joke, she turns her head to her side and gets confused, like someone's supposed to be there to provide (or provided) some sort of witty comment. And she has this thing for sweater-vests or the color orange - she just stares at them. For a weirdly long time. And whenever Jim asks why, she tells him that they remind her of… someone.
Jim never tells her, but he thinks he feels the same way.
What's stranger, though, is a conversation he had with her a few days ago.
They're just about to leave for school when Claire stops to gaze at the house, confusion etched in her features.
"I know you told me that no one's lived in that house for like, years, since you were a kid, but, uh. I swear someone does. Or has." She shrugs.
Jim glances at her and then to the creepy old thing. He's about to say 'no, never, gosh, Claire, aren't you supposed to be the smart one?' but a mysterious sensation crawls into him - the very same one that always comes when he looks at that house for too long.
He tries to shrug it off, but...
"Someone used to live here," Jim says, abruptly. But he feels disconnected from his own words. He doesn't even know where what he's saying is coming from. For all he knows, there's never been anyone. But. "I- she was an old woman. And her grandchild, maybe. I think. I don't really remember."
From the corner of his eye, Claire gives him an odd look. She walks up closer to him, bringing her bike with her.
"Really? I thought you said no one lived there." He can see a glint of curiosity in her eyes as she leans forward, and maybe, just a hint of... hope. A hope they share, somehow - he can sense it. And that makes him uncomfortable.
But Jim doesn't answer, not yet. Though, there are vague - ideas. In his head. A fact that he thinks he knows or maybe once knew, just sitting on the tip of his tongue. Like it was natural.
Like it was something he's known all his life.
"I don't know," he says quietly, mostly to his best friend and partly to himself. He gets on his bike and continues on to school, hoping she'll drop it. Fortunately, Claire follows closely behind, not asking any more.
He ignores the phantom trails in his memories that say otherwise to the things he knows, like the thought that there was once a boy he used to know.
It's probably nothing, anyway.
Jim forgets about the conversation and everything he said by the time they get to class. It would be pretty great if they don't talk about it ever again.
(Except they do, when Claire comes over at night a week later and drags him out of bed.)