Afterwards, she thought that she should have guessed: Alex had been twitchy for days, restless with something she'd thought at the time was simply an expression of the energy which always filled him for a week or two after the last draft of his newest book had been submitted to his editor.
From sofa to desk to kitchen and back again, rising at insanely early hours of the morning: which had explained, at the time, why he was awake at seven on Saturday morning to poke his head around the bedroom door tell her that Trevor's social worker liaison had called, and that either she had to get down to this address, or it'd be the guys in white coats again.
Alex drove, but she was the first to get out of the car and march up the pathway herself: a pale and meandering line of stone which led through a garden that was a tangle of trees and wildflowers towards a sprawling Victorian bungalow. It had big bay windows and a porch painted blue and white, and Claire would have said that it was the absolute last place she would expect to find Trevor Hale squatting, except that she had long since given up all expectations when it came to Trevor, and nearly all her patience.
She had raised her hand to hammer on the front door, preparing her opening salvo of a full-throated "Trevor, there are laws against squatting!", when she noticed the rocking chairs. There were two of them, side by side, one of them covered with a big, patchwork quilt. She recognised the quilt; it was one her grandmother had made for her, oh, years ago, back when she was still a junior in high school. It was warm and soft and a little frayed, and sitting on top of it was a battered old volume of poems by Neruda.
Claire pivoted on her heel to see Alex walking up the path behind her, slowly, his hands stuck in the pockets of his jeans. "Trevor hasn't locked himself in the bathroom of this house, has he? There was no emergency social worker phone call." She narrowed her eyes at him, and was gratified to see the tips of his ears turn red, like they did on the occasions when she'd asked him to bring home bread and milk, or take out the trash, and he'd forgotten. "Alex," she said, trying to sound professional and expectant, though she's wearing sweatpants and a baseball cap, not a neatly tailored suit and sensible heels, "What did you do?"
He flashed an awkward grin at her, all dimples and bangs falling into his eyes, and pulled a hand out of one pocket. Dangling from his fingers are two Yale keys, tied together with a grubby bit of blue string. "I, uh. I bought you a house," he offered. "Happy Saturday?"
"Alex," she managed, blinking, because they'd discussed maybe one day trading up from the apartment, but— "Alex." Years of expensive, erudite education at UCLA and Northwestern and Oxford clearly weren't enough to give her words to speak to this, this—
He shrugged, shifting from foot to foot, and Claire would have bet good money that it was only an act of courage which was keeping Alex standing there in front of her, rather than bolting for the car. "I, uh. I saw it online, and I thought it looked like—like a place you might like. Three bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, a study just for you—you'll like that room, it's at the back, lots of bookcases and light and the view is—"
"You bought a house? This house. Without telling me."
"I had some money left over from the Pulitzer."
"The Pulitzer award is ten thousand dollars and a shiny medal, Alex. You're not going to tell me that a house like this would leave you with any change out of ten thousand dollars."
He winced. "Okay, so I had some money left over from the Pulitzer, and my novel advance. And maybe the money my dad left me."
"Oh my god," Claire said. She sat down heavily on the steps leading up to the porch. "You bought us a house?"
Alex sat down next to her, and she could sense him squirming inwardly before he pulled a sheaf of papers from the back pocket of his jeans and handed them to her. "No," he said softly, "for you." Claire looked down at the top page and saw her name alone, not his: Claire Du Mouy Allen in blocky, typed capitals.
"You are the most exasperating man I have ever known," she said, breathing out and feeling the force of her astonishment like a weight centred over her breastbone, something tangible and important.
He bit his lip. "If you want to sell it," he said, his words strangely uncertain for someone who made his living by them, "you can, I'll understand. If you don't like it, or you want something closer to the city centre, that's fine. You can pick out anything you want, anywhere, I'll—"
Claire shifted, moving to straddle his lap and cup his beloved face in her hands and kissed him until his chest was heaving against hers, his hands curled tight around her hips. The paper of the title deeds crackled between them, and Claire was pretty sure they must be giving their new neighbours a hell of a show—anyone with a penchant for watching the street from behind lace curtains seeing her body curved around his, his hands splayed big and broad against her back—but she was past caring. Alex had given her something just for the two of them: a house with a porch where they could sit to watch they world go by; a place where she could write and he could read to her; rooms full of light where they could rest their heads on the same pillow and wake up together in the morning.
"You got us a home," she smiled against his mouth, delighting in the feel of him solid against her, a foundation to build on. Here was love, she thought—between them, written on paper; beneath them, rising up from wood and earth.