Matthew carried the heavy box marked ‘kitchen / office’ into their new house. His kids Claire and Eric were both running around, exploring and excited because they’d have their own rooms here. They charged up the stairs and continued to bicker good naturedly about who would get which room. Finally, his wife Sarah solved the issue by having them draw straws, so it was Claire to the left and Eric to the right. Claire immediately started unpacking her things, while Eric kept running around trying to see everything at once.
After being in the house for a week Matthew told the kids to stop running up and down the stairs, they were too loud. Claire ran up the stairs again later that day. Matthew was about to tell her to slow down when she stopped suddenly ¾ of the way up, and then finished going up on tiptoe. He watched her look carefully into her brother’s room across the hall before she went into her own room and closed the door. Claire never needed to be reminded about not running up the stairs again.
At the fall parent/teacher conference her parents heard mostly wonderful things about Claire. She was smart, a hard worker, and inventive. But, her teacher said, occasionally she was too loud. Matthew was surprised, he said they never had to tell her to use her inside voice or quiet down at home. The teacher said she must be getting all of her loud out at school, and asked them to talk to Claire about it.
Matthew told Sarah he’d take care of it, and started watching Claire more closely. He realized that she never talked above a conversational tone downstairs, and never talked above a whisper on the stairs or in her room. She didn’t go into her brother’s room at all. It was unusual he supposed, but it didn’t seem worth asking her about while she was still adjusting to a new school and worried about making friends. Matthew told her that her teacher had asked that she be quieter at school; Claire promised to be more careful.
That Christmas Eric got a new Xbox and was allowed to hook it up to an old TV in his room. He kept the sound turned up while he smashed cars and killed things, yelping over the sounds of the games. Matthew and Sarah just shook their heads at the noise, and decided that after winter break he’d have to keep the volume down. Matthew was worried when Claire started to look drawn and pale, he didn’t want her to get sick. He built a fort for her on the couch in the living room to watch videos for the afternoon, and noticed her flinch when her brother ran up the stairs to play his games some more.
A few nights after the holiday, there was a thumping and screaming from the center of the house. Sarah turned on the lights to find Eric tangled at the bottom of the stairs, crying. He said he got up to get a glass of water and he fell. Matthew looked up at Claire standing behind the railing as she looked down at all of them. Claire glanced into her brother’s room across the landing and made what he thought was a soothing gesture. Then she came down the stairs to join the rest of the family.
Eric’s leg was broken, and would need a cast. With the crutches he wouldn’t be able to get up and down the stairs so it was decided to swap his bedroom with the office downstairs. Matthew was in the office, deciding where to begin when Claire came in. She asked if she could move too, into her brother’s room and her current room could be the office instead. When Matthew asked her why she said it would be safer. Matthew pressed, but his daughter didn’t want to explain any more than that. He decided that shifting one extra room around wouldn’t be too much more work, so they spent a weekend moving furniture and redecorating, and Eric came home to his new downstairs bedroom.
After the broken leg things fell into a routine. Years passed. Matthew enjoyed hearing the kids yell and holler outside as they played. Claire was always quiet inside though, and barely spoke in her own bedroom at all.
One night, Matthew had to get something from the office after everyone was asleep, and at the top of the stairs he heard a murmur coming from Claire’s room. He moved to the door and could hear her saying “don’t cry, shhhh, it’s okay, don’t cry”. He pushed the door open to look in and realized that she was talking in her sleep.
Claire kept her room upstairs on the right all through high school. When she got her first boyfriend Matthew was ready for a battle over the rule that boyfriends weren’t allowed in bedrooms, but Claire just smiled and said okay. They hung out mostly on the back porch. She had friends over regularly, but they always stayed downstairs, watching movies or playing board games. Claire was on the debate team, and they won many awards for her careful and well thought out arguments. She was known for never raising her voice, forcing everyone else to be quiet to hear her.
Claire got accepted to a college a few hours away from home. Moving onto campus was a big occasion and both Matthew and Sarah were a little choked up. Claire was her usual calm self; she walked in to her dorm room, introduced herself to her new roommate, and immediately plugged in her clock radio, turning it on. As Matthew brought the last box in he tried to figure out what was so different about his daughter here. She seemed a little nervous, but more relaxed, looser somehow. He realized that she hadn’t ever listened to music in her room at home, and thought having some background noise suited her.
A week after bringing Claire to college, Matthew was up late finishing a presentation for work. He was in his office working, and when he began to print the document he flinched at the sound of the printer starting up. He laughed to himself; apparently years of Claire being so quiet upstairs had rubbed off. He thought of his daughter fondly and walked across the hall to her room. He sat on her bed and looked at the things that were hers, but not favored enough to be taken to college. He started to wish her a good night and sweet dreams out loud, thinking that being in her room would help it carry to where she was sleeping now. But Matthew only got the first word out. His chest felt heavy and he knew the silence Claire had wrapped the room in had to be maintained. He left and once he was over the threshold turned back. He whispered “good night, sleep well” to the room, and pulled the door closed.
***This is my entry for week 20 of LJ Idol. We're down to 51 participants so everyone is good, go here to read other takes on the topic 'whisper'.***