Read Astory of now Online

Authors: O'Beirne, Emily

Astory of now (page 49)

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Claire watches her stand frozen for a moment, arms outstretched before she dives under. She steps off the terrace and walks around to the shaded stretch of lawn under the birches. Leaning on the rim of the pool, she watches Mia kick out under the surface and reaches over and trails her fingers in the cool water.

Mia finally rises above the surface, pushes her hair out of her face, and smiles part bashfully, part triumphantly at Claire.

“Feel better?”

Mia bites her lip, grins again, and ducks straight back under the water without an answer. Claire turns away, flops down on the shaded grass, throws her arm over her face, and listens to the splashes as Mia continues to swim. She smiles. She doesn’t know quite why, but she feels much better now that Mia has made herself right at home.

Finally, she hears Mia climb out and footsteps pad across the grass, but then she hears nothing. She lifts her arm from her face and looks around for her. Mia is a few feet away, holding out the bottom of her top and wringing it out onto the grass.

“Come here,” Claire demands.

“I’ll drip all over you.”

Claire holds out her hand. “I don’t care.”

Mia comes over, takes her hand, and stands over her. She smiles as drops of water plunge from her hair and clothes and onto Claire. “I told you.”

Claire smiles. It’s actually hot enough that the water feels good. “And I told you I don’t care. Comehere.” She says it more sternly this time, squeezing Mia’s fingers.

Obedient, Mia complies. She steps over Claire and drops down so her knees are on either side of Claire’s legs.

Claire reaches up and traces her finger along Mia’s collarbone. She loves that spot, so angular and fine. “I’m glad you’re here.”

Mia leans in closer. “And I’m glad I’m here.”

“Good.” Claire blinks and wipes her face where a drop of water has landed.

Mia quickly sits back and shakes her hair out behind her. “Sorry.”

“Never mind.” Claire, impatient now, grabs Mia’s tank top and tugs her toward her. “Comehere.”

This time Mia more than complies. She leans right over Claire in a press of wet fabric and dripping hair against her skin. Claire flinches slightly and Mia laughs. “Not sorry,” she teases.

But Claire really doesn’t care because that’s when Mia kisses her, first chastely, in a languorous meeting of lips, but it slowly becomes fiercer, and it’s all she can focus on. Mia catches Claire’s bottom lip gently between her teeth, and then she slowly drops down to kisses her neck and chases the chilly splashes of water with trails of hot breath on her skin.

Claire inhales in a sudden, involuntary gasp, and reaches up and pulls Mia’s torso right down against her. One arm winds around Mia’s neck, the other pushes up the wet tank top and glides her hand across the water-cooled skin of her slender lower back. She urges Mia’s face up over hers again, pulls her down, and slides her tongue into her mouth.

The part of her that’s still capable of rational thought tells herself that doing this right here in the backyard, when she has no idea when and if anyone will be home, is probably not one of the soundest decisions she’s ever made. But the other part of her, the part that has waited this long to be able to do this with Mia, to touch her again, the part with zero self-discipline, is incapable of bringing this to an end.

But it doesn’t matter, because Mia does just that. She sits up, her expression suddenly disarmingly sober.

“What?” There is an instant, encore flicker of nerves in Claire’s belly.

“I’m sorry.” Mia holds a hand up in the air between them, brows furrowed. “I just…I want to tell you something…to talk to you, first.”

“Um, okay.” Claire wishes the plunging, ominous feeling would leave her stomach.

Mia climbs off her, lies on her back on the grass next to her, and tucks an arm under her head as if she needs some distance to say whatever it is she thinks she needs to say. Just when Claire starts to think this is going to be something bad, Mia reaches over, takes her hand, and pulls it over toward her on the grass. She weaves her fingers through Claire’s.

And Claire can breathe again.

“First, Iamreally sorry that I didn’t answer your calls or messages after the lake.” Mia turns her head slightly toward her as she speaks. “That was not great.”

Claire doesn’t answer. She can’t because she can’t say it’s okay. Because it wasn’t. And Mia already knows it wasn’t. Instead, she chews her lip, nods, and waits nervously for Mia to go on. She knows she needs to let Mia finally tell her about whatever it is that has been happening with her this last week or two.

Mia tightens her grip on Claire’s hand slightly. “I didn’t really explain it to you the other night. But I really don’t know why I didn’t call you. Because I really, really like you, and I think I probably really, really liked you from the moment I first met you even if I didn’t realise it at first.” She turns to look at Claire, her lips pressed together, her expression timid. “Well, maybe that’s exactly why I reacted like I did to everything. Because Ireallylike you.”

Claire stares right back at her. “Oh, so youdo.” She’s snarky, unable to help herself despite the tide of warmth that surges through her at these words. “Sometimes you don’t act like it.”

“Of course I like you.” Mia rolls over onto her side, rests her cheek on her upper arm, and stares at Claire. “You’re incredible.” She is wide-eyed and emphatic as she speaks. “You’re feisty and sweet and brutally honest, sometimes all at the same time. And you’re so smart and beautiful, and you make me laugh, and you have—”

“Okay, okay!” Claire grumbles. She turns over on the grass and hides her face against Mia’s arm, mostly to hide how ridiculously, incredibly good this flood of declarations is making her feel. Wow, when Mia finally decides to let someone know something, shereallylikes her to know.

“And I’m sorry I’ve been so weird,” Mia whispers. Then she’s silent for a moment. “I guess I just wasn’t completely sure I wasallowedto like you, and…well…like you as much as I do. Claire?”

Claire, wrought shy still, keeps her face pressed against Mia’s arm. “Mm?”

“I didn’t mean it at all, that night, that I thought you were trashy or not worth it or anything even remotely close to that. I just didn’t think you and I, in the way I wanted you and I to be, was an option. At the time, I thought that we were just supposed to be friends, and that the drunken kissing thing was just that, drunken kissing, for you, and that you just wanted to know why it was happening. So I pretended it was the same for me. But really, kissing you when I was drunk was the only time I was brave enough to do anything about it.” She’s quiet for a moment. “I don’t know. When I’m scared about something, sometimes the only way I know how to do anything is to just barrel in. But I don’t always have the courage to follow through.” She reaches out and plays with Claire’s hair for a minute, clearly gathering her thoughts. “And I wasn’t sure if you were seeing that guy from the party, but I didn’t want to ask about it either in case it was obvious why I was asking.”

“I wasn’t,” Claire mumbles and turns to meet Mia’s gaze.

“And I guess…I really didn’t think you would seriously like a girl or someone like me. And besides,” Mia smiles weakly, “Robbie kept telling me, after I had that crush on that girl at work, not to fall for any more straight girls.”

“Someone like you?” Claire lifts her head, frowning, and pinches Mia’s arm. “You’re an idiot.”

Mia releases a great big sigh.

“And don’t listen to Robbie. He’s an idiot too.”

“Well, clearly I didn’t.” Mia grins. “Because then, you know that night at the lake? I was washing the dishes, and I was thinking about the night before, in the pantry, and that day and about us and how I should tell you how I feel about you—how I should have just told you the night before when you asked me what was happening with us. And the more I thought about it, I just got this feeling that maybe, justmaybe,there was a chance that the reason you were upset at me was because you might be into me, too, even just a little, and that you could like me too. I mean, youdidkiss me back.”

Claire smiles a bashful smile. “You noticed.”

Mia smiles back. “I noticed. Eventually.”

“So, in summary, you were kind of stupidandbrave.”

Mia raises a quizzical eyebrow.

“Brave enough to kiss me out of the blue but too stupid to register that I was kissing you back?”

Mia exhales a rueful sigh chased by a tiny acknowledging smile. “I guess.”

“Stupid in the nicest possible way, of course.”

Mia smiles and stares up at the trees above them. “So then I just thought, ‘Stuff it. I’m going to go find Claire, and I’m going to talk to her and see what happens.’” She bites her lip and takes in a deep breath. “But then instead of talking, I kissed you again. Becauseapparentlythat’s the only way I know how to communicate. I didn’t really think much beyond that, in case you didn’t realise.” She turns and looks at Claire. “But that was pretty much the bravest thing I’veeverdone.”

“And look, it worked out pretty well for you.”

“It really, really did. But then, I don’t know, I was so nervous and so freaked about it, I still just kept doubting it for some reason, doubting that this was something you would think is real too. And all the next day I just kept thinking, ‘Don’t get too excited, Mia, because this could just be some fun, holiday fling thing.’ And then the next night, your birthday night, I really, really wanted to talk to you about it, but I was too scared to.” She smiles sadly. “See? I told you, no courage for follow through.”

Claire takes her hand again and squeezes Mia’s fingers gently. She frowns. She would never have imagined Mia to be this unassured, this lacking in confidence. “For future reference, Mia, I don’t know much about how you lesbians roll, but I think it is pretty safe to say if a girl makes out with you and then she cries when you say you are only doing it because you are drunk, she likes you a bit more than a fling.”

Mia laughs. “Yeah, I figured that out eventually too.”

“What? Like, two days ago?”

Mia nods, smiling, but then her expression shifts slowly back to serious. “I was so convinced that even when you messaged me after we got back, I would tell myself, ‘Oh, it’s just Claire being nice, trying to make things normal again so we can still be friends.’”

Claire tugs at her hand. “But why didn’t you ever justaskme? I wish you’d answered my calls, talked to me, instead of deciding all this weird insecure stuff in your head. Based largely on nothing.”

“I don’t know.” Mia chews thoughtfully on her lip for a minute. “Too scared of the answer?” she finally suggests.

Claire sighs and looks at her. Stupid, beautiful, doubting Mia.

Mia rolls over onto her stomach and runs her fingers through the manicured, green grass. “I guess it was all so unexpected, and I thought maybe you were just—oh, I don’t know…” She draws in a deep breath and releases it slowly. “I’d always thought you were just into guys, and you’re so beautiful, and you could date anyone. Even up at the cottage I just couldn’t help feeling like any minute you were going to turn around and be like, ‘What the hell am I doing?’ I guess I thought it was better just to be your friend than to lose you completely by pushing for something you might not be into in the same way.”

Before she can stop herself, Claire sits up in the grass and punches Mia in the arm.

Mia winces and rubs her bicep. “Ouch. What?”

“Well, aside from being kind of pissed at the fact you think I am going to descend into some crazy gay panic, I really don’t get why you think that at all?”

“I know. I’m sorry.” Mia shakes her head fiercely and rolls over. “That’s the thing. I know it’s unfair because it’s not actually about you or aboutanythingyou have done or said. It’s just about me being weird, mostly because this is all new, and maybe because the one other time I really liked a girl, she was straight, and because maybe that has made me totally insecure. No.” She sighs. “I don’t even know if it’s that. I can’t really explain it.” She shakes her head again and presses her lips together, clearly on the verge of tears. “I’m sorry,” she mumbles.

Claire pulls her knees to her chest, wraps her arm around her legs, and stares down at Mia, contemplating what she’s telling her. Basically, she’s been freaking out. And part of it is that she’s been freaking out because she thinks Claire’s going to freak out. Which is really just Mia freaking out. And so she’s gathered up every single insecurity she could possibly have about them, about herself, and about Claire, and she’s stewed on them. And now she’s throwing them at her one by one.

But Claire is going to hold her ground, damn it. Because now, in a sudden, needed gift of clarity, she finally gets it. Mia has been so petrified that Claire doesn’t feel the same way that she tried to protect her heart at all costs even if it means talking herself out of something she wants.

It’s this realisation that stops Claire from being angry. Yes, what Mia is saying about her freak-out potential is kind of presumptuous and even a little insulting, but it’s not about what she thinks of Claire. It’s about everything she can possibly imagine that might go wrong, that could go wrong. All that’s really in their way is a random bundle of doubts that Claire needs to find some way to assuage. Because it looks as if Mia had no luck doing it on her own.

And now Mia lies there with tears in her eyes, looking like a sad, lost stray on the grass next to her. And if there’s one thing Claire can’t be angry at, it’s that, because it turns out she’s a sucker for a Mia-shaped stray.

Even though the fact amazes her, Claire knows she can handle what’s being thrown at her because now she finally knows for sure Mia’s in this as deep as she is. Because that’s all Claire has ever needed to know.

She’s trying to figure out how she can reassure her when Mia says, “And you know, maybe it’s actuallymehaving the gay panic.”

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