Clara walked down the front steps, feeling sticks and leaves crunch under her feet as she reached the ground. Her hair drifted in the slight breeze as she walked up the path to her job.
Six months ago, Clara had almost plunged to her death off an airship. Now, she lived in what could only be described as a safe-haven, a paradise, a place where she could breathe fresh air and not worry every month about whether her family was going to be turned out onto the streets.
"Good morning, Clara." Clara's supervisor, Marianna, greeted her as she walked through the back door.
"Good morning, Marianna. Anything you need me to get started on right away this morning?"
"Can you bring Ms. Damaris her breakfast, please? She's in her office." Marianna tapped an already prepared tray of steaming food and coffee. "And then get started cleaning and preparing the sitting room for visitors. Ms. Damaris will have people over later today."
Clara nodded. "Of course." She carefully picked up the tray and left the kitchen. Fortunately, this house only had one flight of stairs that Clara had to ascend between the kitchen and Ms. Damaris's office.
Ms. Damaris was the head of the upper school in the small town, and life of the entire community revolved around that school. Local children went to the lower school until they were 18, but students came from all over to attend the upper school, studying medicine, government, or engineering.
"Good morning, Ms. Damaris," Clara said politely as she walked through the office door.
Ms. Damaris looked up only briefly. "You can put it there." She pointed to a small table right beside the door. "Thank you, Clara."
Clara did as she asked and left without another word. Ms. Damaris wasn't an unfriendly person by any means, but she also wasn't a particularly warm person. Clara found it best to just do her own work and let Ms. Damaris get on with hers.
Clara then headed back downstairs to the sitting room and make sure everything was ready for guests. Lunch followed, and the Clara spent the afternoon serving tea and dessert to Ms. Damaris and her guests.
By four in the afternoon, Clara was leaving the house and going back to her own home. A different set of staff took care of dinner and evening tasks. As much as Clara did miss working for Araminta at times, not having to work 12-hour days allowed her to spend time with her family and left her with more energy. It was something Clara had never experienced before.
Clara lived in the building with several other families, but they all had their own space. Clara lived in a quarter with four rooms and they had their own bathroom and small kitchen. Two of the rooms were for sleeping. She and Ezra shared one; the twins and Emme, the other.
They still mostly ate rations, but they did have a little bit of extra money that they used to buy their own food. Clara tried to make something different for dinner at least twice a month.
"Clara, you're back!" Amyeliana greeted her as she pushed open the door into her quarter.
The twins and Emme sat around the table, papers and pencils spread out in front of them. They went to school for five hours every day, and while they didn't have any work assigned to them in the evening, the three of them would work together to get better at their studies.
Clara knew the three of them enjoyed school, but that didn't mean it was easy. They were all behind compared to the other students their age; Emme less so because she was still young, but they all had catching up to do. And it was obvious they weren't from here.
But Clara didn't have to worry. She knew her three siblings were strong enough to deal with anything the school could throw at them.
"How was school today?" she asked them, sitting down at the table.
A chorus of 'goods' answered her question.
"My teacher taught us about animals today," Emme said. "She said she was impressed about everything I knew about sea creatures."
Clara smiled at her. "I bet she was."
Emme was doing so much better. After only two months of being in their new home, the doctors said that her lungs were starting to heal. They expected her to make a full recovery.
Clara got up as the door opened and closed once again. Ezra shrugged off his coat as he came into the quarter.
As expected, Ezra had tried to outright refuse to move when Clara first brought Harrison's proposal to him. But the moment Clara brought up how it could benefit Emme, all of his arguments crumbled.
Ezra had their ration boxes tucked under his arm and he set them down on the counter. "Want to eat outside?" he asked her.
Clara glanced at the other three, working diligently at the table. "Yes, that sounds nice," she agreed. "And they won't even notice we're gone."
They each grabbed a box and headed back out and down the stairs again. They sat together, staring out at the trees and buildings in front of them.
And even though they were still on rations, the rations here were better.
"How was work?" Clara asked him.
Ezra nodded. "It was good," he said. "I'm starting to do some calls by myself, now."
Ezra worked in an apprenticeship, learning how to fix and do maintenance on all types of power sources. Mechanical gears, electric, wind, it didn't matter. He was learning all of it.
"That's good to hear," Clara said. "You still enjoy it, right?"
"More than any factory job I've ever had."
He seemed happier, too. He recovered from his ordeal in the Tower and Bridge factory, at least physically. And he didn't come home looking beaten down anymore.
"And you're still alright with living here?" Clara asked him that question probably once a month.
"Yes, Clara, of course I am," Ezra said, exasperated. "You need to stop asking me that."
"I know, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Clara relented. "I just, I know it's not perfect."
Despite the obvious upgrade, living in the town could seem almost eerie at times. There was only one road in and out, and a set of guard posts lined the perimeter. Officials kept very close watch on who came in and out. Newcomers had to have express permission to enter, and they could only get that through the officials in charge. Clara and her family were able to obtain that thanks to Harrison and Benjamin. But for most, it was essentially impossible.
Much like airships, any open jobs were either filled internally or by someone on the outside who already had a connection in the town. So even if people from the city, Clara's former neighbors, were somehow able to make the trip to the town, they would almost definitely be stopped at the entrance.
"No, it's not," Ezra agreed. "And honestly, I don't think I'll stay here forever. I don't think I can stay here forever. But it's what our family needs right now." He took a deep breath and swallowed hard. "It's what I need right now." He shook his head. "I don't think I could get myself back into a factory, not even now, Clara. Even just thinking about it makes me want to throw up. And at least here I'm learning something useful. I'm not just doing the same motion for ten hours a day."
Clara nodded. "I know what you mean. I don't think I'm destined to stay here for the rest of my life, either. It just feels wrong."
Ezra nodded. "I feel that, too."
Clara knew how lucky she was to be here. But she didn't intend on spending the rest of her life turning her back on everyone else who hadn't been so lucky.
"Right." Ezra closed his now empty ration box. "I'm going back inside, but something tells me you're going to want to go greet that ship." He pointed to the sky just as Clara heard the hum of an airship descending.
Clara felt a smile grow on her face. "I'll see you later," she said, handing him her empty ration box.
"Say hello for me."
Clara had to stop herself from running down the path to the airship landing. She hadn't seen Harrison in weeks, and she missed him more and more every day.
Technically, Harrison did live in the town. He had his own house about a three-minute walk from where Clara lived. But he spent so much time working with Benjamin that he wasn't around very often. Clara was proud of him; apparently by working in conjunction with factory workers on earth, they were making small improvements to the conditions. Even so, she missed him.
Clara waited impatiently as the airship made its descent and the doors opened. Several people got off, but Harrison was one of the first. He always was.
"Hello, Clara." He swept her up in his arms, spinning her around a few times before putting her down.
Clara hugged him back, burying her face in his neck. "I'm glad you're back."
"Me too." They set off into town, hand in hand, heading for Harrison's house. He always made a point to spend time with her siblings when he was around, but usually his first night back they reserved for each other.
"How have things been here?" he asked.
"Nothing's changed," Clara said. "No excitement."
"Good," Harrison said. "You need calm."
"I suppose. Oh, although you should know, Emme's teacher was very impressed with her today by her extensive knowledge of sea animals."
Harrison grinned. "I'm glad that book got put to such good use."
Harrison's house was smaller than most, but Clara thought it was absolutely lovely. The sun was setting as they entered, casting shadows across the sitting room.
"I really have missed you." As soon as the door shut behind them, Harrison grabbed Clara's waist and pulled her into a kiss.
She smiled against his mouth. "Really?" she murmured in between kisses. "I never would have guessed."
Harrison pulled back. "Oh, is that how it's going to be?"
Clara responded by pulling him down, kissing him again.
"How are things going with Benjamin?" she asked. They had finally decided to go further into the house than just the entryway and sat together on the sofa.
"Fine," Harrison said. "It feels so slow moving, but he says that's just how these things go. And we're making small gains, so it's better than nothing."
"I'm proud of you, for what you're doing."
"You say that every time," he teased.
"Well, I am," Clara replied stoutly.
"It's better than what I used to do," Harrison agreed. "Which was sit around my airship doing nothing."
"Do you ever miss the ship?"
He shook his head. "Not at all. The staff, sometimes. But Cadence works for Benjamin now, so I still get to see her." When Harrison sold the airship, the staff were given the option to stay if they wanted, but Cadence was in desperate need of a change.
"Besides," Harrison continued, "why would I?" He tucked a piece of Clara's hair behind her ear. "I have everything I could ever want."
"Oh, do you?" Clara asked cheekily. She grabbed his collar and pulled him toward her. Clara laid back as they kissed, Harrison on top of her. Her hands ran along his back, his shoulders, in his hair. He ran his soft fingers along the nape of her neck and down her arm, his other hand gripping a section of her skirt.
Clara felt a familiar warmth spreading through her body as Harrison lightly peppered kisses down her neck.
No, life here wasn't perfect, and was never going to be. But right here with Harrison, it was just about as perfect as it could get.