Claire grew up in the desert. When her father remarried, she had no issues with the union. She figured that it wouldn't affect her in any real way, that is until, Terry, her new stepmother, said that they'd be moving to Minnesota.
Going from Arizona to Minnesota was jarring enough, in terms of measuring systems and regional culture, but Claire was especially shaken by the appearance of snow. She was excited because she'd never seen snow before in her life, but afraid because she had to walk to school every morning, regardless of the weather.
Her stepbrother, Prescott, guided her along the shortcuts through their town in Minnesota while they made their way to school. He turned to her, looking down since he was a tall, gangly teenager, and she was still a short, shrimpy middle-schooler.
"Make sure you watch out for black ice-AH!" he yelled as he hit a patch of black ice on their walk to school. Claire bit her tongue so that she didn't laugh at her new brother, and helped him up. They spent the rest of the walk in silence.
Prescott was many years older than she was. He was in his senior year of high school, while she had just started seventh grade. They would eventually part on one of the few main roads in town, she going south towards her junior high, and he going north towards his high school.
He applied for scholarships like a fiend while he was in his senior year of high school. Their parents told each child in their family that if they wanted to go to college, that they'd have to fend for themselves. Prescott took them at their word. They were not a wealthy family. He saved most of his money from his after school jobs and eventually won enough scholarships to pay for his Communications degree at a university out of state. He was in such a rush that he never said goodbye to Claire.
Despite being twelve-years-old, Claire recognized that her home was a toxic place to be. She tried hard not to fault Prescott for cutting off all contact. Yet, now there was no one to shepherd her through the long winter walks to school. She made sure to stay on gravel paths as much as she could, but eventually, she would have to walk like a penguin across long patches of ice. Nobody cared. Claire was alone.
One day, alone under the dark morning sky of a Midwestern winter, she decided she didn't want to keep making her trek to her junior high. Instead, she turned around in her path and made her way to one of the many ponds and lakes that were scattered around the Minnesota landscape.
She wasn't sure what she wanted to achieve. She only knew that she no longer wanted to keep going down the cold, lonely path only to come home to an indifferent household. Minnesota is full of many small lakes and ponds, one of which she encountered during her morning wandering.
Claire removed her backpack and took a deep breath. She remembered Prescott's mistake - he wasn't watching his step. She slowly placed one foot at a time on the frozen pond before her, and waddled slowly like a penguin to keep from slipping. She couldn't tell how thick the ice was, but she could tell that this was far preferable to spending another day at school pretending that her life wasn't shattered.
As she had that thought, the ice beneath her left foot began to crack. Claire panicked. She turned and ran back to her backpack on the shore, slipping and tripping, but somehow keeping her balance enough to not completely faceplant on the icy surface of the pond.
She put her backpack back on, and saw that there was a hole in the ice in the pond. She was right to have panicked. Walking out onto ice alone, she truly could have died. Prescott no longer walked with her. She ran away once and came back upon realizing she had nowhere to go, only to discover that her parents had no idea she had left.
She didn't know what to do with the tempest of emotions in her heart and lungs as she marched to school. She only knew that, no matter what, one day, she was going to leave that godforsaken town. Eventually, she did. But she would never forget that morning between herself, and the fragility of the frozen pond.