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Authors: O'Beirne, Emily

Astory of now (page 6)

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“No problem, take your time.” He disappears behind the machine.

“Should I have any idea what he was talking about?” Claire asks.

“He was just talking about the coffee.”

“So, you like, actually make the stuff? That’s like top of the café pecking order, right? What do they call you people again?”

“A barista—if you want to be a giant wanker.” Mia rolls her eyes. “And some people really are when it comes to coffee.”

“It is Melbourne. We are known for being a city of coffee snobs.”

“Yeah but some people,” Mia looks around as if she’s afraid hipster boy might hear, “act as though making a decent latte is the highest form of art. It’s not.” She rests her chin on her hand and frowns. “It’s just basic science, compensation between pressure, heat, and volume. That’s all.”

“Wow, Mia. Just…wow.” Claire giggles. “That was an awesomely nerdy way of asserting your superiority.”

Mia laughs and climbs off her stool. “I like to have both a heightened sense of superiorityandinferiority at any given time. Keeps me balanced. I better get back to work.” But she just stands there as if she’s reluctant to leave her break just yet. “What are you doing today?”

Claire sighs. “I’m going to lunch at my aunt’s. Which basically means three hours, give or take, of watching her and my mother argue.”

“The whole time?”

“Yeah, pretty much, if you include the parts when they pretend they’re not arguing. We might get anywhere between ten minutes to half an hour of peace at the start, but then it will be game on for sure.”

“What do they fight about?”

“Anything. Everything.” Claire sighs. “Well, after much workshopping, my brother and I have decided it’s basically all part of one big meta-fight over who is the better daughter, sister, mother, and human in general.”

“Wow, that sounds—”

“So, how many names has she called you?” Robbie stops behind Mia and leans his chin on her shoulder.

“None, actually, that I can remember.” Mia frowns, reaches up, and pats his cheek. “Oh no, I lied—she called me a nerd. But it was kind of justified.”

“Shush. Don’t tell her she’s right,” Robbie says to Mia and winks at Claire. “I suspect it only feeds her.” He strides away.

“He’s so charming.”

“Yeah, no wonder you two get along so well.” Mia picks up Claire’s empty coffee cup and saucer.

“Excuse me?” Claire cocks an eyebrow at her.

“You two are kind of alike.”

“Shouldn’t you be going back to work?” Claire says pointedly.

“Yes, yes, I should. See you. Have fun at your aunt’s,” she tells her, a parting return shot.

“Oh, now that’s just mean.” Claire groans. She checks her phone. Yep, it’s time.

CHAPTER 8

It’s as if they’re caught in a bizarre staring triangle. Claire wants to laugh, but she’s pretty sure now is not the time.

Her mother stands behind her chair, staring at Leo with her hands on her hips, nostrils flaring. Leo, however, focuses on Claire. Well, Claire’s hair to be exact. He picks up the brittle strands, runs them between his fingers, and then drops them again. Claire simply leans back in the seat, arms folded across her chest. She stares at both of them via the mirror and waits.

“So, can you do something?” her mother asks as she taps her boot against the floor. Claire fights the urge to roll her eyes. Why does her mother have to be such a drama queen?

Leo doesn’t answer straight away. He examines her hair closely, his lips pursed and his brow furrowed.

Claire watches him as a way to avoid looking at her hair. She’d never admit it to her mother, but it looks awful. Really awful. Yesterday, she had her regular hair, the long light-brown, almost-but-not-quite-blonde hair, hanging down past her shoulders the way it has since she was a small girl. Today, she has a hot mess of bleach-damaged blonde pretending to be hair. And it’s not a consistent blonde either. It runs a rainbow of shades, from white to straw yellow. There are even some parts where the bleach missed and her old hair shows through. Not to mention, it’s taken on a strange new frizziness. It’snotpretty.

“Why, Claire? Why?” her mother asks wearily for the eighteenth time this afternoon.

“I don’t know.” Claire shrugs for the eighteenth time this afternoon and stares mutinously at the mirror. “Because blondes have more fun?” she suggests because she knows it will irritate her mother.

It does. Christine lets out a huff and turns sideways. She closes her eyes for a moment as if she can’t even bear to look at her.

Actually, Claire did it because Nina was dying her streaks at the apartment yesterday and asked if she could experiment with Claire’s hair. And Claire was bored and hungover and pre-menstrually frustrated enough with the epic sameness that is her life to say yes on a whim. Annoying her mother is a pleasant, surprise side effect.

Christine doesn’t like the new look one bit. Exactly ten minutes passed between her laying eyes on Claire’s newly bleached tresses and making an appointment with her own hairdresser to fix the “appalling, cheap mess.” Two hours later, Claire was at the salon being presented to Leo, a middle-aged, rounded man with perfect, bleached hair.

“Leo,” Christine asks again, eyes still closed. “What can you do? It’s a mess, isn’t it?”

Leo continues to inspect Claire’s hair. “We have options here,” he tells her through the mirror. “The problem is how much the bleach damaged it. We can cut it back, dye it, and start again. Maybe a new pixie do or something?”

Claire looks at him wide-eyed and shakes her head. She does not want to loseallher hair for this dumb mistake. “Or?” she asks.

“We dye it properly, treat the hell out of it, try to get it back to some semblance of healthy looking, and give it less of a cut.”

“I don’t really care, just make her look like a child I raised,” Christine says impatiently. “Whatever it costs.”

Leo turns to her mother and takes her arm. “Christine, hon, don’t worry, I’ll take care of it. I’ve always taken care of you, haven’t I?”

“Yes, but then I’ve never done anything like that…that atrocity.” Christine jabs a maroon fingernail in Claire’s direction.

Claire shakes her head. Someone would think she shaved a swear word into her head or something the way her mother is acting.

“No, of course you haven’t.” Leo soothes as he places a hand on her shoulder. “But I’m sure you did something foolish when you were young. We all did. Listen, this is going to take a couple of hours. Why don’t you go run some errands or go get a relaxing massage? We’ll call you when it’s done. No point you being made to hang around here.”

Claire stares hopefully at her mother’s reflection as she considers this option. Eventually, Christine turns to her and wags her finger again. “I’m going to do some shopping. Call me when you’re done. And you do as Leo advises, okay? We know what happens whenyoumake decisions about your appearance.” She gives Leo a wave and heads for the door.

He waves back, smiling widely as she stalks out of the salon, and then turns back to Claire. He rolls his eyes and lets out a sigh.

Claire’s eyes widen. She wasn’t expectingthat. She thought Leo was her mum’s obedient hair lapdog, especially after the way he has been tut-tutting over her hair.

“Sorry.” He places his hands on her shoulders. “I couldn’t think straight with her breathing down my neck.”

“Welcome to my life.”

“Okay.” He places one hand on his hip. “So what do you want, Claire?”

She sucks in a deep breath and lets out a voluptuous sigh. “Not to have done this to my hair?”

“Well, that’s a given. But you know, Oprah or someone said a crisis can be an opportunity in disguise. So, if you’ve been feeling like a change, now is your moment to go big. With supervision this time, of course,” he adds hurriedly.

Claire chews on her lip. Of course she feels like a change. That’s what got her in this mess in the first place. She just doesn’t know what she wants to change to.

“And if you’re not sure where to go, I have an idea for you.”

“What?”

He trots over to the coffee table at the front of the salon and hunts through the pile of magazines in the centre until he finds the one he’s looking for. He flicks through the pages as he walks back. “Here.” He holds the open magazine in front of her. “This would be fantastic on you.”

It’s a picture of a model with a longish bob that falls halfway between her jaw and her shoulders. Her hair is dyed a deep reddish brown, and her fringe is cut in a straight line over her eyebrows. Claire likes the fierce look instantly.

“You could definitely carry that dark colour—but no darker, probably.” Leo scrutinises her via the mirror again, still holding the magazine in front of her. “And that warm colour would be fabulous with those blue eyes of yours.”

She stares at it longer, even though she has already pretty much decided. She wants to look likethat—sleek and dramatic.

“My mum is probablynotgoing to like it,” she says warily.

Leo gives her a conspiratorial grin. “Show me a haircut that womanhasliked, sweetheart, and I’ll show you the unicorn eating grass in our backyard. It’s your hair. Will you like it?”

She stares at the image. “I’ll like it.”

“Are you game?”

Claire nods.Why the hell not?“I’m game.”

CHAPTER 9

Claire doesn’t recognise the small, green, hire car parked behind her mother’s in the driveway. In fact, all she really registers is the annoying fact that the blue car means her mother is home.

She sighs, turns off the ignition and drops her head against the headrest. She needs a minute to prepare herself for a Sunday morning dose of her mother. She is not in the mood. Not today.

Last night was another crappy night. At work it was so busy they had to scramble to get through the shift even with Andrew’s help. Then afterward, they went to a party hosted by one of Josh’s friends. Claire didn’t want to go, but Nina begged, and because she needed her couch for the night, Claire caved. The party wasn’t bad, no worse than many she’s gone to lately, but it wasn’t great either.

After the party, though, everything went to hell. Drunk and exhausted, Nina crawled straight into bed the minute they got back to the flat. But Josh didn’t. In fact, he went from his usual silent act to being all friendly and insisting he was too awake to go to bed and that they should watch a film. Next thing Claire knew, he opened a beer and settled onto the other end of the couch, remote in hand. Claire didn’t feel as if she could refuse because it was more his apartment than hers. But she definitely did her best to let him know she was not into the idea at all.

Instead of being the mute, grunting freak he usually is around her, he got all chatty and friendly and tried to make conversation. She’s not sure if it was the booze that unlocked his jaw, but it was incredibly annoying. First, it was just generic chitchat about school, about sport, about anything. And no matter how much Claire, taken hostage by this sudden social assault, tried to freeze him out, he talked and talked and talked while she covetously eyed the blankets folded up in the corner.

Then to make things worse, he suddenly moved into disturbing, over-share territory. He talked about Nina and how he was tired of being in a long-term relationship and how he and Nina probably weren’t right for each other. To top it off, he threw her meaningful looks between these confessions, looks that confirmed that what Claire thoughtmightbe happening wasdefinitelyhappening. Claire ended the situation right then and there.

Claire stares at her parents’ brick, suburban house. It’s impossible for her to fathom his level of stupidity. He has exactly the right combination of mammoth ego and lack of brainpower to actually believe she’d be into him. And he took it as fact that she would go behind a friend’s back for the opportunity. It’s as mind-boggling as Josh is repugnant.

She reaches for her bag on the passenger seat floor and shakes her head. The thing that Claire can’t figure out is how many girls must’ve given this guy the right amount of ego strokes for his head to get this outsized.

Both grossed and freaked out, she considered getting up immediately and driving home, but she knew she drank way too much at the party. Instead, she let loose thebitchkriegon him in the loudest, most threatening whisper she could muster. She told him he was a creep, and that, given his complete absence of brains and charm, he should consider himself lucky to have landed someone like Nina, let alone managed to keep her. Then she graciously informed him that, if he shut the hell up and went to bed right that moment, she’d consider not telling Nina. That was the last she saw of him.

When she woke on the couch this morning to that grossly uncomfortable memory, she got up as quickly as possible and got the hell out of there before anyone else surfaced.

She didn’t want to see Nina, either, because now she has to decide whether to tell her about it. Not just that he’d come on to her but about the way he talked about Nina, about their relationship. How can she tell a friend something like that and still stay friends?

She sighs, clutching her keys in her hand. Why the hell hasn’t Nina figured this out for herself already? She pushes the car door open, climbs out, and drags her feet up the driveway. She shoves open the front door and lets it fall shut behind her. No point being quiet at this time of morning. Her parents are both well and truly up by now.

She tosses her bag on the couch and heads straight for the coffee. Not even the voices coming from the kitchen—one of them definitely her mother’s—is going to stand between her and caffeine right now.

The minute she sees Claire in the doorway, Moira is out of her seat like a shot, hurrying over and enfolding her in a tight hug.

“Hello,” she croons, stepping back and appraising Claire, her bright-green eyes affectionately lit. “How’s my girl? You look well.”

“So do you.” Claire smiles widely. If she’d known Moira was in Melbourne, she would have come inside faster.

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