Claire is a month away from her 29th birthday and she's home in Boston, visiting her parents for a few days while she waits for her things to arrive from Detroit. She's found a place to live in the tiny lakeside town of Tuttle, Maine but she can't do much without furniture and the last time she checked the truck carrying most of her material life was slowly crossing the great (not really) state of New York, with an estimated arrival time of three days from now. She's not exactly sure when the distance from New York to Maine became a three day drive, but she thinks the truck might actually be a horse-drawn carriage instead.
"I'm bored," Claire says while sitting on the couch next to her father. When Harry chooses to ignore his eldest child and instead buries his head even deeper into his newspaper, Claire throws something at him. And edge of the newspaper curls down of its own volition.
"Ah, Claire," Harry says, glaring at her over the top rims of his glasses, "I didn't see you there. You were being so quiet, so well behaved."
"I'm bored," she repeats with a small smile at her father's sarcasm.
"We live in one of the most interesting cities in the world and you're bored." He straightens the newspaper and continues reading. "I know for a fact you haven't explored this entire city. Take my Metro card and go adventuring."
"I've never been to the South End," Claire says, actually considering it. The newspaper edge curls down once more, only this time Harry's hand has helped it.
"Planning on joining the Irish mob, are you?" he asks.
Claire shrugs. "I've done stranger things," she says. Her father's smile is somewhat cryptic and not for the first time Claire thinks he knows and understands more than he's letting on.
Harry closes the newspaper and folds it up, sets it aside, and stands.
"Dad?" Claire asks, confused.
"I'm not letting you wander around the South End by yourself, Claire," he says. "You're a gorgeous red head and the freckles on your face might as well be a map of Ireland. They'll kidnap you for sure."
She laughs and gets up from the couch. They step into the mudroom, just off the front hallway to the house, and begin pulling on winter gear. It's early February and the city's just dug itself out from under a Nor'easter that left an Arctic gale in its wake. Any exposed skin is likely to either freeze and fall off or stick to something.
"There's a record shop down there I've been meaning check out," Harry says, pulling on his parka. "Can't remember where I heard about it*, but supposedly it's the premiere seller of punk and rock vinyl in the city."
"I'm not giving you grandpa's RCA," Claire says with a smile.
Harry opens the door and they cringe at the blast of cold air. "Well, then," he says as they step outside. "I'll just have to survive the apocalypse and steal it when you're not looking."
* * *
It's late when they finally make it down Massachusetts Avenue. Harry insisted on driving, even though he knew there would be rush hour traffic, and so instead of taking fifteen minutes by T, it's taken them an hour by car. The record store doesn't look like much from the outside - in fact, it looks like an old garage from the outside, complete with two large bay doors and a faded sign painted onto the brick above them proclaiming the space to be Paddy's Auto Repair.
A bell above the door rings as they walk inside and the two men at the center register of the store look up at them, one with a vacant expression and the other with something in between disgust and hopefulness. Harry and Claire are the only people in the shop.
"Are you getting ready to close up?" Claire asks, taking her hat off. She can practically feel her hair getting bigger in the warm store.
The younger man, wearing a Rogue Brewery t-shirt and dark jeans, steps down from the register and makes his way across the store to where they're standing. His expression no longer resembles a sour lemon; in fact, he appears to be smiling.
"It's just a slow night." He holds out his hand. "I'm Jack Hardcourt, the owner."
Claire pulls her mitten off and takes his hand. It's warm and slightly calloused. "Claire Rogers." She points over her shoulder to where Harry is already flipping through albums. "That's my dad, Harry. He's a Pink Floyd fan," she says.
"45s only, though," Harry says, looking up from the records to smile at Claire. He looks at Jack, takes stock of the unshaven jaw, dark jeans and obnoxious t-shirt. As a father, he's unimpressed; as a beer drinker, he's appreciative. "Nice to meet you, Jack," he says and immediately goes back to sorting through the records.
"So, Claire, anything I can help you find?" He smiles fully at her and she takes a minute to notice the difference in his face. The smile makes him look younger, smarter somehow, and definitely more attractive.
"Hendrix," she says. "'Are You Experienced?'"
"Depends on what we're talking about," Jack says and Claire feels the blush all the way down to her toes.
"The album, on a 45," she says and he smiles.
"Ah, well, that I can absolutely help you with." He leads her away from her oblivious father** and they weave their way through the sales racks of records to a black bookshelf near the back of the store. "If it came out before 1978 it's back here," he says.
Claire stares at the wall of music and feels overwhelmed. "It's incredible," she says. She turns and smiles at him. "You have an amazing job," she says.
He shrugs. "I'm sure yours is pretty amazing."
"I'm a librarian...sometimes a prophet."
He laughs at this. "A prophet librarian?" he asks. She grins, shrugs. "I've met stranger people in the universe." He points over his shoulder towards the older guy at the cash register. "Like him." The clerk is staring off into space and twirling the fringe on his suede vest. "He used to be a business man, until he was introduced to the late sixties and forgot all about his MBA."
Claire knows that Jack doesn't believe her - half the people she talks to don't believe her, including some of the ones who really should - and she's okay with that. She's there to buy a record, not convert an atheist - which Claire knows he is because he is so obviously an atheist it makes her want to laugh.***
He pulls a record down from the top shelf and hands it to her. It's Jimi Hendrix and he's definitely experienced. She smiles and hugs it to her chest.
"What else?" he asks.
"Van Morrison. And maybe some Cream. Or Jethro Tull."
Jack looks at her, arm outstretched and poised to grasp a battered looking Van Morrison album. He looks a little dumbfounded.
"What?" she asks, suddenly self-conscious.
"A librarian with a love of classic rock," he says and she nods. "Will you marry me?" he asks and he almost sounds serious.
She tilts her head to the side and considers him. He definitely looks serious. She files it away for further analysis later on when she's home.
"Maybe later," she says. "For now, though, let's just listen to some music that won't make my ears bleed."
* * *
She's in the car with her father headed back to the house in the Back Bay. There are six albums in total in a very large paper bag in the back seat of Harry's old Volvo, a paper bag that bears the Hardcourt Records label and a very large phone number, handwritten in permanent marker just underneath it. Claire smiles, first at the bag then at her father.
"You seem awfully pleased with yourself," Harry says.
"Most of those are one-of-a-kind, dad," she says, "and Jack practically gave them to us."
"Jack is it?" he asks, struggling with an impish grin.
Claire shrugs. "He seemed nice," she says.
"You should check back in a couple weeks when you come down for your birthday," Harry says, turning onto Arlington. "See if he's gotten in any new vintage collections."
She'd never tell him, because he's her father and his ego would swell far too much, but there are times when Claire thinks Harry Rogers is the most wonderful human being in the world.
"We'll see," she says. Almost as an afterthought, she kisses her mittened hand and pats his cheek with it. "Thanks, dad."
He winks at her as he pulls into their driveway. "Anytime, kiddo. Anytime."
* * *
"That chick was groovy, Jack man," George says as they close up shop.
Jack rolls his eyes. "Indeed she was, George." He takes a moment to pray that the old man leaves it alone, but he's never been that lucky...which is why he's an atheist.
"You should take her out," George says. "I think she'd dig the Clary House."
"The Clary House is a pit where good food goes to die. It's fit only for the likes of you and me, my friend," Jack says as he pulls on his coat. His apartment is just above the store, but he has to go outside and up a fire escape to get to it and it's just cold enough and he's just that much of a wuss that he needs a jacket. He opens the front door and George steps out into the dark Boston night. "Do you need a cab?" Jack asks. He drives him crazy, but Jack often worries about the old stoner. Good help is hard enough to find; mediocre help is impossible.
"Naw, man. I rode my bike in." He points over his shoulder and Jack looks, expecting a Harley or a scooter. Instead, he sees a Schwinn three-speed that's an obnoxious orange. "The streets are pretty clear. Just gotta watch out for those icy spots is all." Jack nods, forces himself not to ask why George is riding a bike in the middle of winter. "I've got good vibes about that girl, Jack," George says in a moment of sure clarity - even his eyes look clear. "If she calls you, go for it."
At that moment, a man in a long duffel coat rides up on a battered road bike. He waves at George and George waves back. Jack can't be certain, because it's dark and the street lamps near the shop never throw off enough light, but the man's helmet looks almost like a halo above his golden head.
"What's up, my man?" George says.
"Gettin' my bike on, that's what," the man says with a lopsided grin. "You ready to roll?"
George pulls a helmet out of his backpack and straps it on, which alleviates some of Jack's worry. He grins at Jack. "That's my bike buddy," he says, unlocking the Schwinn. "Michael," he calls over his shoulder, "this is the Boss Man, Jack."
Michael stares at him for an odd second - during which Jack feels as though he's a book being opened and perused - before grinning and nodding. "I've heard good things, Boss Man Jack."****
Jack watches as the two men ride off down the street and he thinks that he must be more tired than he realized because for just a second, he thinks he sees wings hanging out the bottom of Michael's coat.
* Harry read about it on a $20 bill one day. Written next to Jefferson's bulbous head was the following: HARDCOURT RECORDS, FOR HARD ROCK PEOPLE. Little did Harry know that it was in Michael's handwriting. Archangels...they meddle.
** Fathers are never as oblivious as their daughters think they are. Case in point, Harry has already started a mental catalog of all the things wrong with Jack Hardcourt. He does, however, give the man a few credits because of his excellent taste in music and beer.
*** He's either an atheist or a domestic terrorist "against the establishment". She prefers to think he's far too handsome to be a terrorist, but she's been known to be wrong before. She did date a minion for awhile in college, afterall...
**** He has heard good things from George, but also from Porrima, one of the Roman seers. She keeps telling him about a man named Jack who will help Claire at a trying and difficult time. She failed to mention that he was also a record store owner, which makes Michael a whole lot more willing to accept the fact the guy's an atheist because he's an atheist with good taste in music.