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The dinner table was silent, filled with the absence of those who had already left. The large dining room felt empty after the large number of guests had dwindled down to a select four. Clara fidgeted uncomfortably in her chair, unsure where to look within the awkwardness of the silence. She could feel her brother fuming although he sat at the opposite end of the long, wooden table. Her mom was seated just few chairs away from him, and  filled with a silent rage that scared Clara. Clara’s best friend, the fourth and final member at the table, was a girl with a mane of wild red hair, an onslaught of freckles, and demonic eyes. She twisted her face into a smile over-flowing with cruel, despisable glee. Neither she nor Clara particularly liked each other very much. “Best Friend” was simply a formality.

The friend watched as dangerous discontentment wrapped itself around Clara’s heart, and overwhelming surges of anger took hold of both Clara’s mom and brother. She laughed inside with ecstasy. This was what she lived for.

Clara’s mom was furious, but cautious. Even at a moment of great emotional turmoil, she was only ever calculating.

Clara’s brother scowled. He was sick of the small problems which slowly manifested into large, vicious conflicts that consumed his life. He was tired of always being blamed for not being responsible, reliable, for not living up to the expectations placed on him by his family. His patience for them was burning down to the last straw. He was done with all of them.

The combination of this awkward quartet was strange, and the music they made more so. The dampness and dim lighting of the setting held no qualms in improving the mood. The sun had still been up as the unusual ensemble, in its full including up to forty-five people, had gathered for a dinner meal, and no one had been notably smart enough to realize that a setting sun was an invitation for later darkness. Mainly, none had been in a sound enough state of mind to care.

They had folded into the house with hushed voices and downcast eyes, as if they were unworthy to gaze upon the rich, exuberant finery which surrounded them. Dark shadows cut across their faces creating unnatural and harsh jagged lines.The occasional shrill laughter, unnatural in its volume, could be heard every now and then, attempting and not succeeding to ease the discomfort within the room. The guests had slowly migrated from the doorway to the living room, and eventually into the dining hall surrounded by crimson wall paper lined with gold.

Just as the harsh darkness began to infiltrate the room, the clear ringing of glass pulled a natural silence over the crowd.  Clara’s mother stood at the end of the long table that was situated in the center of the dining room. People moved with a thrilling confidence to take their seats, finally understanding what to do. Clara’s mother’s body was filled with regal poise, her head tilted at an elegant angle. Her short black curls framed her face, and the deep purple of her dress made her eyes shine brighter. She was neither a small nor large woman, but there was power within her stance.

“Welcome, friends, family members both new and old,” Clara’s mother’s voice swelled into the halls, and the guests leaned towards her as  though to absorb each vibration that left her throat. “We are thrilled that you were able to make it, to share the wealth and fortune bestowed upon our Claridge family. We are positively delightedly, because today, I can finally say with pride, that our eldest son has at last agreed to take over the family business. He will now, as of next year, be president of our extraordinary company”

The guests erupted with warm applause. After that announcement, a change seemed to overtake the mood of the house. The guests feasted and dined in finery. Laughter turned welcoming and light-hearted, and the previous atmosphere of somber anticipation had evaporated.  

Clara’s brother, on the other hand, seethed. He had handled his complete shock at the announcement with both self-composure and dignity. He had thanked his mother with what sounded to be genuine delight. He conversed with other guests  as though this was the happiest, most proud moment his life. He acted as though he had  known such a declaration was in the process of being made. He made it appear to the general public that he was extremely honored to be presented with such a wonderful opportunity.  

But Clara knew differently. Knew that when he smiled, his mouth was pulled tight in furious, violent anger. An anger which was capable of erupting at any moment, if it hadn’t been for the amazing amount of self-control her brother wielded. Clara knew that just the night before he and Clara’s mother had shouted at each other, raising their voices to unnatural volumes. Clara knew that her brother had specifically rejected their mother’s request offer of taking over the family business. Clara knew that they had yelled at each other for hours on end. Their mother increasingly insistent for him to accept  the position, and her brother increasingly stubborn for such an outcome to ever take place.  Clara knew of her brother’s desire to carve his own path, find his own calling, his own future. But Clara also knew of her mother’s desires. That she simply wanted her son’s future to be safe and secure. She didn’t want him to struggle with the problems poverty brought. These fears Clara’s mother had cultivated were a result of her own childhood experiences. Clara heard both sides of the story, she saw them both for what they were. Clara had listened from her room upstairs as her family had raged in the rooms below. Clara had listened and cried herself to sleep once more.

At last, the guests filed out, leaving that sad, pitiful quartet alone. Clara stayed because she knew of nowhere else to go. Clara’s best friend remained because she reveled in conflict and drama. Clara’s brother and mother remained because they were both equally determined to be right. And because despite their problems, it was both of their homes and they did love each other.

There are just things you don’t say, Clara thought and a pain echoed from deep within her heart. The basis of her being.She loved them all. Just because one person is wrong doesn’t make the other person right. They can both be right. One more so than the other, and that person still more wrong at the same time. Clara gathered her belongings and left, pushing out her seat at the dinner table as she got to her feet. She made eye contact with her “friend” as she rose, a person who would never really be her friend. The friend looked at her with knowing eyes, knowing that when Clara left she wouldn’t be coming back. A real friend would have told her not to go. But she didn’t say anything, and that was more kindness than Clara could have asked for. She was a silent shadow no one could missed. She let them talk, with raised voices and cruel words they spewed out which both of them didn’t mean. She left quietly among all their sound, which raged and crashed like the ocean. She loved them, with a desperate forlorn ache. But she left them, because they didn’t love her enough to try to change.

And Clara’s best friend found utmost delight in the pain deeply ingrained within all their hearts. She was the reason the seeds were planted after all. The seed of fear in the heart of the mother. The seed of the desire to be great in the heart of the brother. And lastly and most importantly the seed of discontent in the heart of young Clara. She laughed quietly to herself, for she knew things that they would not until it was too late. Soon, the rash brother and fearful mother would come to a bitter and reluctant conclusion on both sides, but a conclusion none the less. The brother would win, desires for greatness always did. Slowly they would turn to Clara, their own special light, and they would find to their surprise that her light was a shadow, and no matter how hard they looked they wouldn’t find her.

And they would only ever know regret, realizing that anything that had come before was meaningless. But you never knew what you lost until it is too late. The dinner table would forever remain empty.

The friend only laughed.

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