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Authors: O'Beirne, Emily

Astory of now

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Other Books by Emily O’Beirne

A Story of Now Series

A Story of Now (Book #1)

The Sum of These Things

(Book #2; Coming December 2015)

A Story of Now

by Emily O’Beirne

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements

Dedication

A Story of Now

About Emily O’Beirne

Other Books from Ylva Publishing

Coming from Ylva Publishing in 2015

Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank Astrid, Sheri, and Sandra at Ylva for their help and support. Thank you to those who read and offered their thoughts on the book in its earlier stages. Especially to Shannon, for her friendship, fun, and invaluable feedback along the way.

For all the girls who fell for a girl.CHAPTER 1

Claire has it down to an art. It starts at the entrance of her house, where she knows that, with a careful turn of the wrist and a firm grip, it will open without a sound. Then, with just the right amount of pressure from her shoulder, the thick wooden door will slink open and no one will hear her come home.

Silently, she kicks off her boots and picks them up. She takes a moment to adjust to the dark, then pads across the downstairs carpet.

She stops at the entry of the living room and listens carefully but hears only the hum of the refrigerator and a car as it passes slowly on her street. She bolts for the stairs but then pauses, one hand on the banister. Chocolate. She wants chocolate. No, scratch that. After that shift at work, she needs chocolate. She performs a quick sweep and grab of the pantry, stuffs the chocolate into her back pocket, and prepares to attack the stairs.

And this, right here, is the problem with the fact that she lives at home.

It’s bad enough that she’s still within the radius of her parents’ will and their many, many ideas about how she should be running this thing she loosely calls a life, but lately, her efforts to avoid them have made it even worse. Every single night is like this, a furtive exercise in getting inside, up the stairs, and to her bedroom without being seen or heard.

Even her father is gently offering solutions to get her out of her crappy job. A few times now, he has suggested she come and work as an admin at his office. What he can’t seem to get into his head is Claire has no plans toevermaster the spreadsheet—unless they magically help immunise babies in third-world countries or single-handedly defuse bombs or something. Then maybe, for the sake of humanity, she’ll consider it. But even thennothingwill induce her to learn to touch-type.

She freezes at a small sound coming from upstairs. As she clutches the banister and waits, she debates the merits of flight or fight, should the need arise. When she doesn’t hear anything else, she begins to breathe again. She sets her shoulders once more and tiptoes up the carpeted steps. The next part is critical—getting past her parents’ bedroom. She grasps her keys tightly so they don’t jingle and steps carefully on the very outside edge of the creaky step, second from the top. She can hear them talking from behind the closed bedroom door—well, she can hear her mother talking. Her father is probably doing what he always does—listening. Or, rather, pretending to listen.

Claire ducks into her room, shoves the door shut behind her, and congratulates herself on another successful mission. She flicks on the lamp, drops her bag on the floor, and flops onto her bed. Reluctantly, she picks up the paper left on her pillow and readies herself for her mother’s latest onslaught of “opportunity.”

This time, it’s a brochure for an information night at the law faculty. Claire sighs and rolls her eyes. This is one of the regulars. Every time a university schedules one of these nights, the notice appears like clockwork. Sometimes in her room, other times on the kitchen counter. As if Claire doesn’t know enough about lawyers already. Does she really need an information night?

Her mother has something for all the other days too. Nearly every night for the past month there has been something different—an advertisement for a job or a brochure about some sort of practical skills course that would make her more “rounded” and employable. Last week, she even found a list of handy buzzwords to use when writing a resume. After their last battleroyaleover her life choices, when Claire threatened to move out, her mother switched tactics. The brochures are her new, non-intrusive way of showing Claire all the options she could exercise, instead of studying for a flaky arts degree and working a crappy job. This is how her mother backs off. It won’t last, and it’s still annoying, but it’s definitely better than full-attack mode.

She tucks her hand under her head and idly reads the flier even though she has no intention of going. Of all the options her mother has presented, this is the one Claire is least likely to take up. Mostly because it’s the one her mother would most like her to pursue.

There’s a soft tap on her bedroom door.

Claire jumps, sighs, and frowns in a rapid chain of reactions, and then sets her jaw and hauls herself off the bed. Experience tells her it’s better to answer the door than to let her in, because once her mother is in, it’s next to impossible to get her out. The best technique is to open the door slightly, then lean out and block the entrance. That way, the exchange takes place in the hall, and her mother can’t invite herself in, sit down, and initiate a heartfelt conversation. If she makes it over the threshold, she’ll stay until Claire convincingly pretends to agree with whatever her mother wants this time.

She checks her watch and pulls open the door a fraction. “Mum, I’m kind of tir—”

But it’s not her mother. And it’s not her father either. It’s her stupid, beautiful brother grinning at her. She flings open the door, lets out a small whoop, and throws herself on him.

He staggers backward into the hallway, laughing.

“Hey!”

“Sssh!” He pushes her into her room, clearly not wanting their mother to hear any more than Claire does. “I taught you well. I nearly missed hearing you get home.”

“Dude, you need a haircut.” She backs into the room and affectionately pulls at his floppy mane, grown unruly while he’s been gone.

“Trust you to get straight to the life-and-death stuff.” Cam chuckles and combs his hair with his fingers.

“Okay, so what are you doing back, and what are you doinghere?” She sits cross-legged on her bed and takes in the welcome sight of Cam, ridiculous hair and all. She hasn’t seen him for four weeks. They’ll be sick of each other within days, but right now, in this moment, it’s really good to see his face.

He parks himself on her chair and rubs his face, clearly exhausted. “Well, I’m back in Melbourne because the training is finished, and I am here because Elana is mad at me for going.”

“What? She’s madnow? But you’re back?”

“Oh.” He grins ruefully. “She was mad before I left. She was mad the whole time I was gone, and she’s mad now that I am back.” He sighs. “So, she kicked me out the minute I arrived.”

Claire shakes her head. Cam has a thing for difficult women, and this Elana girl is insane. Claire loves to tell him he’s looking for a replica of their mother. That was a favourite until Cam started telling Claire thatsheis just like their mother. It’s the perfect endgame for any argument, so she’s stopped mentioning it and so has he. Now that they both know the power of the just-like-Mum taunt, it has negated itself.

“How was training?”

“It was okay. A bit hairy sometimes, though,” is all he says, and that is all she asks. He’ll tell her when he’s ready.

“I’m glad it was okay.” She picks up the forgotten chocolate and tears it open.

“So am I.” He grabs a book from the pile on her desk and flicks through it. He holds it up. “This is not in English, Claire.”

“Well, freaking duh.” She pops a square into her mouth. “That’s the point.”

“What does onedowith a degree in French, anyway?”

“Oh shut up.” She puts another piece of chocolate in her mouth before she swallows the first. “Mum asks that at least once a week.”

“How is everything? Still working in that trashy bar?”

“Nope. Working in a different trashy bar.”

“Mum’s still playing career counsellor?”

“Andhow.” Claire holds up the flier, rolling her eyes. “Found this on my bed tonight.”

Cam laughs. “You’ve got to give it to her. She never gives up. No child left directionless with Christine Pearson.” He holds his hand out for the chocolate.

“Yeah. I need to move out.” She sighs and breaks off another hunk from the bar before she throws the rest to him.

He catches it with one hand. “Maybe youshouldgo. Not move out, but to the info night, I mean.”

“What?” Claire raises her eyebrows, mouth open. “Wait. Why?”

“I don’t know.” He breaks off a piece of chocolate and throws it back. “Because you might actually like it. I know you. Even though you act like a princess, you’re tough. You’re quick-witted and youlovearguing.”

“Shut up.” She shoots him an evil look and lies back on the bed. “And go away now. I am officially over your return and no longer happy you survived training.”

He laughs and gets up. “That’s got to be a record.” He pulls open her door. “Want to go for breakfast in the morning?”

“Yeah sure, but you’re paying.”

“I expected nothing less.”

A light flicks on in the hall behind him. Claire freezes. Before she can warn him, their mother appears in the doorway, her blonde hair pulled back in a headband, her face slick with night cream.

“Could you two please keep it down out here?” She sighs and puts her arm around Cam’s waist. In her best mumsy voice she adds, “Someof us have to work in the morning.” She smiles to soften the nag.

This is clearly a concession to Cam’s recent return. Any other night, there’d be no such smile. Instead, there’d be the classic ten-minute this-is-not-a-hotel speech.

“Sorry, Ma.” Cam wraps an arm around her shoulder. “I was just saying hi to the Claire-monster.”

Her mother turns to Claire, arms still around Cam’s waist. She’s so short she only reaches his shoulder. “Sweetheart, I didn’t realise you were home. How was your night?”

Claire shrugs. “Fine.”

“Were you out? I thought you were at work?”

“I was.” Claire frowns, wondering where she’s going with this. Her mother is always going somewhere with her comments.

Her mother looks her up and down, frowning right back. “You wearthatto work?”

“What?” Claire looks at her outfit, a simple black top and jeans.

“It’s a little grungy, isn’t it?”

Here we go. Claire clenches her jaw.

Cam catches her eye; his face is blank, but his eyes issue sympathy.

“Mum,” she drawls. “In case you haven’t noticed, I work in a boring uni pub, not some Southside yuppie bar. No dress code applies.”

Christine just stares at her.

It’s incredible. Just when she thinks her mother couldn’t look any more disapproving, she manages to kick it up a notch.

“Still, you could make a little effort,” Christine concludes briskly. “Then maybe you’d find a better job.”

Claire takes a slow breath and tells herself not to engage. There is no way she’s discussing this tonight. She wants to sleep sometime.

Cam steps in. “She looks great, Mum. Leave her alone.”

“Hmm.” Her mother taps her nails against the doorframe. “Right, I must get to bed. Keep it down, my babies.” She Jekyll-and-Hydes her way sweet again, smiling and patting Cam on the sternum before striding off down the hall.

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