Read Astory of now Online

Authors: O'Beirne, Emily

Astory of now (page 7)

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And her mother’s best friend does look good, a little rounder, maybe. She hasn’t aged like Christine has of late, gathering lines around her eyes and mouth. Moira’s hair is still that rich red, shot through with only a little grey.

“And would you look at that hair?” Moira runs a hand over Claire’s sleek new bob. “It’s fantastic.”

“You should have seen it when she first had it done.” Christine taps her fingernails against the coffee machine. “It wasawful.”

Claire gives her mother a look. Even though it’s the weekend, Christine, of course, looks immaculate, dressed in crisp jeans and light blue shirt with her blonde hair tied in a pert ponytail. All she needs is a sweater thrown over her shoulders, and she’d be perfect for the part of soccer mum.

Moira ignores Christine’s comment. She presses a hand against Claire’s cheek, smiling warmly at her. “Still as beautiful as ever.” She climbs back onto her stool. “Oh, why didn’t I have a daughter?” She sighs and shakes her head. “All those boys.”

“I don’t know, Moi.” Christine pulls a carton of milk from the refrigerator. “There was a few moments there when I’d have taken on all three of those boys over one fifteen-year-old girl.”

Moira smiles at her and turns back to Claire. “How’s your brother?”

Claire opens her mouth to tell her about Cam’s return from police training, but her mother interjects again. “He was staying here,” she says, busily opening and closing cupboards. “But we haven’t seen him much this week. The kids treat this place like it’s a hotel.”

Claire rolls her eyes, but Moira acts as though she didn’t even hear Christine and pats the stool next to her. “Sit with me a minute, sweetheart. Tell me what you’ve been up to.”

“Nothing much at all, I’m afraid,” Christine says.

“Oh, pipe down, you,” Moira chides. “I’m talking to Claire.”

Claire giggles as she sits on the stool and leans her arms on the counter. Thank God for Moi.

Moira takes the cup Christine slides over to her and heaps in a spoonful of sugar from the bowl. “Thanks, Chrissy. How are your studies, Claire?”

“Good,” Claire says as her mother puts a coffee in front of her.

“And your mum says you’re working in a pub in town?”

“Yep,” Claire glances at Christine. The less she says about it in front of her mother the better.

Just as Christine sits down with her own coffee, her phone rings. She frowns, abandons the cup, and snatches up her phone. With the phone to her ear, she walks out of the room, talking in that clipped, serious voice that tells Claire it’s work on the other end.

“Your mother told me about Brendan.”

Claire sighs.Really?Why did her mother have to talk about her business?

“Little dickhead.” Moira shakes her head and blows on her coffee.

Claire can’t help but laugh. She forgot about Moira’s mouth, always “colourful,” as her dad used to say. And that’s why Moira is one of Claire’s favourite people. Moira has a sense of both reality and comedy that Christine lacks. Claire has to admit that it feels good to hear someone call Brendan a dickhead even six months later.

“And let me guess, your ma is hounding you about dropping to part-time at uni?”

Claire nods. “I just couldn’t focus.”

“I know, hon.” Moira pats her hand. She stares out the sliding glass door into the thready morning sunlight. “Don’t worry about your mum. Just keep doing what you’re doing, which is fine.”

Claire nods, aware that Moira is thinking of one of her own boys. Sam, probably, who has “gone off the rails” in Adelaide, as her mother calls it. He lost it after his father’s accident, and he never got it back, apparently. The last time Claire saw him, a couple of years ago, he barely said a word, a complete stranger from the cute, bigmouthed ginger he used to be.

“So, what are you doing in Melbourne?” Claire asks. “Are the boys here too?”

“No. I’m here for work, to help set up the holiday program at the new community centre. The boys are back home with my mum.”

“How are they?” Claire thinks about the boys, who were like cousins when they were all younger, when Gary was still alive and they lived two streets away. They stayed at the holiday house together every summer. She misses them. But she misses Moira especially. She is the perfect antidote to her own mother.

“They’re fine,” Moira says simply.

“What are you and Mum doing today?” Claire changes the subject because clearly they are not fine, and Moi doesn’t want to talk about it.

“We’re going to the gallery and then to lunch. Want to come with us? Get some culture?”

“You have no idea how little I want to do that with Mum.” Claire rests her chin on her hands. All she wants to do is go back to bed and maybe watch a movie.

Moira chuckles and nods.

“I am happy to see you, though.”

“Oh, it’s good to see you too.” Moi wraps an arm around Claire’s shoulder. “What are you going to do with your summer?”

“I don’t know really. Work. Save some money?” She has no idea what she’ll do this summer. All she knows is she cannot wait for it to come.

“They need a ton of help at the new centre if you find yourself at loose ends.”

Claire nods. “Okay.” She slowly traces the marbled pattern on the kitchen counter with her finger. “You know, Mum still wants me to transfer into law.”

“Of course she does.” Moira chuckles as she climbs off her stool and takes her cup to the sink. “The question is, do you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, it should be up to you.”

“I know.” She’s just about to ask Moira about her new job when her mother marches into the kitchen and picks up her abandoned coffee. She tips it into the sink.

“Shall we get going?” Christine asks briskly.

“Yes, we’d better,” Moira agrees.

Christine turns on Claire as she pulls out her sunglasses and puts them on her head. “And what are you going to do with your Sunday, young lady? I hope you won’t be lying around all day.”


“Oh, leave her alone, Chrissy.” Moira scoffs. “Stop nagging. She’s nineteen. She’s young. She can lie around on a Sunday if she wants to. All day. Let’s go.”

Christine doesn’t say a word. She just hooks her bag onto her shoulder and gives Moira a look. Claire grins. Moira is the only person in the world who can shut her mother up.

Moira comes around the counter and folds Claire into another tight hug. “Ignore your mother,” she says, loud enough for Christine to hear, and kisses her on the cheek. “It’s wonderful to see you.”


The hangover that set in upon waking made a swift mess of Claire’s day, and it’s only midday. It doesn’t help that it’s been a day sans caffeine. That’s never good. She has no idea how she even made it to uni on time.

That’s the beauty of nights spent on a sofa. Even if she were willing to skip class, it’s difficult to have a luxurious sleep-in on a lumpy, narrow couch. Even more difficult given that she woke to dry-mouthed, head-aching horror.

When she found out that Josh was away visiting his brother, Claire agreed to hang out with Nina, knowing there would be no awkward encounters at the end of the night. She hasn’t told Nina about what happened with Josh last week, and she probably won’t. Nina needs to figure it out for herself. Or maybe Claire doesn’t know how to bring it up. Either way, she’s said nothing, and she’s reasonably certain Josh hasn’t either.

So, last night she let Nina drag her out. Apparently, it’s perfectly normal to go out on a Monday night and get messy. How did it take her until second year to learn that?

And now she’s paying for the lesson.

Her first hour at uni is spent in a lecture. Fortunately, that means watching a documentary about the Industrial Revolution in Britain. The last part of class is spent listening to their crusty old lecturer explain that the term “Industrial Revolution” is a misnomer.Way to bury the lead. Claire smirks to herself, one eye held open in case he says something important.

She has French class straight after, and it’s not as easy to hide. She tries to maintain a low profile as she writes down everything, yet takes in nothing. When she’s asked a rapid-fire question in French, she becomes confused and gives the wrong answer completely. Cue red face. People snicker, and her teacher looks at her as if that’s all he expects of her anyway.

That’s all she expects of this teacher, too, though. Middle-aged and perennially bad tempered, he seems to exist in a constant state of unimpressed. And Claire is too disappointed in him to care. She has gone from being a star in her high school French class, to adequate in first year, to being barely tolerated in second year. To make it worse, her one friend in this class—a sleepy sounding, quietly hilarious exchange student from the States—went home because his semester-long visit was done. Now she’s on her own, and she can’t be bothered to try to impress this teacher. She’ll just do what she did last year, study like hell and ace the exams. Then it won’t matter what she does in class.

As soon as she’s released from the stuffy room, she makes a beeline for the student-run coffee cart in the courtyard. Again she asks herself why she thought it was a good idea to go out on a Monday? This is one time when she should have listened to her mother.

Crap.Instead of a pumping little coffee business, all she finds is an empty courtyard and a locked-up cart. There’s a sign, scrawled in black pen.Gone fishing, back tomorrow.Smart-asses. She sighs and turns in the other direction. Steeling herself for the longer walk, she cuts across the grassy quad and squints into the sunlight that she’s usually happy to see this time of year. It’s almost hot, and she’s already starting to sweat. If she’d looked out the window this morning, instead of just stumbling into the daylight, she might have dressed properly.

At first, when she hears her name being called, she thinks she’s imagined it. It’s not a stretch given the state of her brain after much tequila, four hours of sleep, and two classes. Then she hears it again. She scans the crowds of students scattered across the broad stretch of green grass, making the most of the spring sun. Mia waves at her, looking like a human island in the sea of her textbooks. Claire hasn’t seen her for a while. Nor Robbie. Not since the last time they came in for a drink after work, and Claire had been too busy to talk much that night.

Claire grimaces and veers from her trajectory to where Mia is sitting.

“Hi. I almost didn’t recognise—” Mia starts to say as Claire drops onto the ground next to her.

“I do not like today. Not at all.” Claire groans as she pulls at the sleeves of her sweater. “I’m hungover. The coffee place is closed. And it’shot.” She shields her eyes from the sun with her hand.

“Hello to you too.” Mia turns her face to the sun. “And what do you mean? It’s beautiful.” She’s wearing a tank top and jeans, her narrow shoulders already beginning to brown. If Claire did that, she’d burn in a minute. She shuffles back into the shade of a tree, yanks off her jumper, and immediately feels better.

“What are you doing?”

“What does it look like?” Mia waves her pen over the array of open books.

“Okay, smart-ass,” Claire grumbles. She’s about to ask for specifics when a lanky guy in shorts with an almost-cool haircut strolls up with two coffees in his hands.

“Thought you’d be here.” He offers Mia one of the coffees a little too eagerly. “I owe you one.”

Smooth, Claire thinks but doesn’t say.

“Thanks.” Mia is clearly a little surprised. She carefully takes the coffee.

The guy turns from confident to awkward in about two seconds flat, obviously not sure what to say now that he’s delivered the planned line and beverage. “Uh, okay, well…” He runs a nervous hand through his hair. “I’ll see you at lab later?”

“Yeah, see you.” Mia gives him a parting smile and puts the coffee on the grass next to her. She points at it. “And thanks again.”

Claire watches him stride away, quickly putting distance between himself and his backfired manoeuvre. “Cute. The move, not the guy, of course. Though he’s not bad, if you like them earnest.” She turns to Mia. “You were supposed to ask him to sit, you know.”

Mia just shrugs.

Claire covetously stares at the abandoned cup. “I’ll give you every cent I have for a sip of that coffee.”

“You can have it.” Mia passes it to her. “I just had one.”

“Seriously?” Claire raises one eyebrow. “You’re giving away caffeine?”

“Seriously. Just never tell Pete.”

“Done.” She clutches the coffee and takes a long, long drink. Lying down on the grass, she rests the cup next to her and throws one arm over her forehead to shield her eyes from the glare. “So, you with Mr. Coffee?”

“Nope. We hang out sometimes.”

“Oh, sleeping with him?” Claire grins, thinking Mia is being coy.


“What?” Claire frowns and lifts her arm from her face. “Then how did you get him to do that? Am I not seeing something here?”

“I don’t know. I bought him one a few weeks ago.” Mia screws up her face. “I guess he thought he’d pay me back.”

“Just out of the blue like that? Wow.” Claire shakes her head and appraises Mia’s angular, makeup-less face and her mess of dark, wavy hair. “I mean you’re hot and all, in a kind of casual, no-fuss way, but hot enough for unprompted beverage deliveries from a non-boyfriend? That’s impressive pull.”

Mia raises a warning eyebrow. “You want to give that coffee back?”


“Then shut it.”

Claire obediently shuts her mouth. For a minute, anyway. “He’s totally hot for you, though. You know that, right?” She smirks at Mia.

“I’m well aware of his interest, thanks.” Mia leans over and plucks at Claire’s hair. “You know, I nearly didn’t recognise you. I was looking at you thinking, ‘How do I know that girl?’ When did you change your hair?”

“A week ago.”

“And what prompted this radical makeover, if I may ask?”

“Well, Mia, I was running out of ways to disappoint my mother. And then it came to me.”

Mia laughs and drops Claire’s hair.

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