Read Astory of now Online

Authors: O'Beirne, Emily

Astory of now (page 8)

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Claire pulls a strand over her face and examines the new shade again. She’s not used to it herself. Though, she has to admit, she kind of loves it. She never thought she could have dark hair. And she never thought she could wear bangs, either. It’s so much more exotic than the boring long, straight hair she had all her life. Even better, her mother still doesn’t quite approve. She probably would have only been satisfied if Leo had returned it to exactly what it was before.

“You look like that girl from that movie.”

“That’s what everyone has been saying. Only no one can remember which girl from which movie.”

Mia tips her head to one side and stares at her. She laughs. “Neither can I. You know, itactuallylooks good,” she teases as if maybe it shouldn’t.

“Uh, well, thanks, Mia.” Claire throws a twig at her. “Do you have classes today? Or are you just hanging out on campus for fun?”

“Classes.” Mia checks her watch and stacks her books. “Soon, in fact.”

“What are you studying, anyway?”


“Really? Wow.” Claire raises her eyebrows and looks at the books again. She figured Mia was studious, what with doing her homework at the pub, but she didn’t expect anything as hard-core as that. “How do you even have a life?”

“I honestly don’t know.” Mia puts her glasses in their case and shoves them into her bag. “Actually, Idoknow. I don’t have a life,” she declares. “I live at home with my parents so I can afford to exist on one or two shifts a week at the café during the semesters. And I only go out on weekends.”

“Sounds kind of sad.”

“I love it, secretly. Well, except for the lack of social life. What about you? I didn’t realise you were studying here.”

“Arts. French and English lit.” Claire sits up because Mia looks as though she’s about to leave. “Just to keep my parents off my back while I figure out what I actually want to do. If I study, I can stay at home and I don’t have to pay rent.”

“Fair enough.”

“Are you going to be a surgeon, like onGrey’s Anatomy?”

“Not sure yet.” Mia shakes her head. “Medicine would be cool. I’d also love to do forensics. I have to decide.”

“Forensics is dead people, right?CSIstuff? Why would anyone want to work with corpses?”

“Why is it everyone references TV shows when they ask about it?” Mia ignores the last question and slides her books into her huge bag. “But yeah, kind of like that, but not at all.”

“Why are you studying medicine, then, if you’re going to work with dead bodies? Makes zero sense to me.”

“Because they have the same parts as live ones, dummy.”

Claire shrugs. Whatever. She’s newly impressed by this information. She wouldn’t have pictured Mia picking that for a career. She seems so…sunny. Doing something geeky like science, yes, that explains all the study. But forensics? That’s kind of creepy-cool.

“And I can’t do any of those things until I finish this degree. Then I’ll probably have to do another.”

“Wow. How long will you be studying?”

“Forever.” Mia plays with the silver chain around her neck, the same one with the long silver pendant she wore the night Claire first met her.

“Couldn’t you have done something easier?” Claire picks up a dead leaf and crushes it between her fingers. “I’ve heard undertaking is a good, reliable career. And you’d still get to be with the corpses.”

“That’sexactlywhat my dad said just last week.” Mia laughs as she does up the clasps on her bag.

“They aren’t doctors?” Claire wonders if Mia is also following a family tradition like she’s expected to.

“Nope, Dad does research—climate change stuff—and Mum teaches biology.”

“Oh.” Claire wrinkles her nose. “Wow, that’s quite a tradition of geekdom. You’re just one-upping them, I guess?”

“I suppose.” Mia doesn’t appear to be even slightly bothered by Claire’s teasing. “I don’t know. I love it.”

“You’d have to. I cannot even imagine what you people do for all those years at uni. I mean, do you really just cut up people and look at their insides all day?” She suddenly re-assesses. “Actually, that’d be kind of cool.”

“Sometimes.” Mia stands and brushes the grass off the back of her jeans. “No cutting people up today. It’s a lecture, but it’s a pretty awesome one. What are you doing now?”

“Uh, nothing? Being a hungover, futureless arts student until it’s time to go to my crappy job?”

“Come with me?” Mia grins, a challenge in her brown eyes.

Claire looks at her, eyebrow raised. “To a lecture?” Claire says it as if it’s a dirty word. She’s already suffered a lecture today in a language she can understand.

“You’ll like this one. I promise.”

Claire tips her head, eyes narrowed, amazed she’s even considering it. “Is the lecture theatre comfy? Can I nap if I get bored?”


“Why not?” Claire surprises herself by climbing to her feet. “Can I bring my coffee?”

“Yourcoffee?” Mia raises her eyebrows. “You can bring anything.” She drags her heavy bag onto a shoulder and winces. “But hurry up.” She heads across the uni lawn in a direction Claire has never been. The straps of her bag dig into her narrow shoulders.

Claire follows. “See, Mia, here’s another reason to study a slacker degree,” she tells her, waving her lone textbook gleefully in the air as she struggles to keep up. “Look at what I have to carry.”

“Yeah, yeah.”


When they walk into the bright, modern lecture theatre, a thousand times removed from the dusty, uncomfortable one Claire was stuck in this morning, she follows Mia to a seat in a middle-back row. Mia tosses her bag on the seat next to her and throws her long legs over the back of the chair in front as if she’s staking out her territory. She whips out a notepad and barely stops scribbling for the whole hour.

Claire parks herself in the seat next to her and watches the other students trickle in. She treats the whole thing like an anthropological exercise. This is where all those ambitious, nerdy kids from her high school ended up, she realises. She recognises the type but not the faces. If she’d known they were potentially as fun as Mia under all that geekdom, she might have made more of an effort back then.

The lecture is strangely entertaining. Claire’s not sure if it’s the hangover or the random otherness of it all, but it doesn’t matter that she doesn’t understand any of it. The gross bits of video, the lecture slides, and the unnaturally excited man delivering the lecture make it kind of interesting.

When the video shows the first scalpel cut into flesh, Claire grimaces at Mia, completely grossed out. Mia grins right back and returns to her note taking. Later, when they start slicing into whatever they’ve removed from the body, Claire grabs the pen out of Mia’s hand and scrawls in the margin of her notebook.What the hell is that, anyway?

Mia grabs the pen back.Kidney.

Claire pulls a face and takes the pen again.That is freaking disgusting.

Mia smiles. Claire hands her the pen and sits back to watch the rest, enthralled. When the hour is up, they walk out of the lecture theatre, blinking into the sunshine.

“I have no idea what that dude was talking about, but that was weird and gross and kind of awesome.”

“Told you.”

“Does my kidney look like that?”

“Yep, probably. Both of them.” Then Mia tips her head to the side. “Well, maybe a little younger.”

Claire wrinkles her nose. The less she thinks about that one, the better. “What do you do now? Go cut one up yourself?”

“Nope.” Mia shakes her head. “I get free coffee from work, if the boss isn’t there, and then go to another class in an hour. Come? For a coffee I mean, not another class. I don’t think you’ll go unnoticed in the labs.” She squints at Claire. “One of the boys is likely to spot the odd girl out, even if we found you a white coat.”

“Coffee, yes.” Claire nods and follows Mia across the campus.

They go to her café and drink free lattes, and the remains of Claire’s hangover ebbs with the second round of caffeine.

Mia tells her about the first dissection she ever did, and Claire teaches her how to say “That’s the worse pick-up line I’ve ever heard” in French. Mia learns it quickly, but her accent is awful.

“Just curious, if you don’t really want to do anything with your French, what do you want to, you know, do later?”

“I really don’t know. Everything I think of doing, I see the endgame, the career, and I go meh.” Claire pushes away her empty coffee cup. “See, Mia, I have lots of potential, but I lack direction. I lack ambition.”

“Said all your teachers, right?”

“Oh, no, they didn’t really notice. Said my mother.”

“What does she want you to do?”

“Be a lawyer, like her. And my dad, and his dad,” Claire recites. “Oh yeah, and my uncle-in-law.Andmy brother’s godfather.”

“Wow, that’s some family line.”

“I know.” Claire rests her chin in her hands. “Hence why I kind of don’t want to be a lawyer.”

And Mia nods as if she gets it.

When the hour is done, they traipse out of the café.

“That was fun,” Mia tells her outside as she once again hauls her elephantine bag onto her shoulder. “Hey, are you coming to Robbie’s show next week?”

“Don’t know.” Claire slides on her sunglasses. She doesn’t know anything about it. Besides, she doesn’t even know if Robbie really likes her that much, let alone if he would want her to come to something.

“It’s with a few other students from his photography class. They’re doing this group exhibition thing at a gallery near here. His stuff is amazing. Here.” She digs in the side pocket of her bag and pulls out a flier. “Here’s the invite. You and Nina should come.”

“Maybe.” Claire takes the paper and reads it. “But it’s on a Thursday, Mia. I thought you said you don’t go out on weeknights?”

“It’s for Robbie. I make exceptions for Robbie.” She rolls her eyes but smiles at the same time. “I make too many exceptions for Robbie.”

Claire checks her watch. It’s not that long until she has to get ready for work. “I better go. Uh, thanks for a strangely fun and educational afternoon.”

Mia grins, hand on hip. “So you want to switch to medicine now?”

“Not a chance.” Claire screws up her face. “I can barely commit to my two classes. If I had to go to a lab right now, I’d be pissed. See you.”

She gives Mia a wave and strolls off down the street in the direction of Nina’s apartment. Nina’s not even at the bar tonight, but she won’t mind if Claire shows up there to change before work. She hurries through the congested traffic, across the road, and down a small side street. It’s lined with listing trees, heavy with their burden of crimson bottlebrush flowers. Even though the afternoon is fading, the sun gives a kind of offhand, casual warmth. It’s as though it’s trying to convince people that they imagined the last rainy, dull months of Melbourne winter, that it’s always been like this.

All around her, people slow to a stroll as they soak in the gentle heat on their way home from work. A couple of passersby catch her eye and smile, a sudden generosity born of this turn in the weather. And Claire smiles back. Because why not? It turned out to be a pretty good day considering the start she had. It’s weird. She spent the afternoon with a virtual stranger and had more fun than she’s had with any of her friends, aside from Nina, in ages. That’s it, she decides. Nina doesn’t know it yet, but Claire’s going to make her go to this exhibition with her next week.

* * *

It’s near the end of her shift, and the bar has emptied out. Claire cleans the last of the glasses as she waits until it is time to lock the door. Andrew is in his office, pretending to count money or something. Really, he’s avoiding the work of closing up. Claire doesn’t mind though. His extra hands would mean listening to his boring stories. And she’s heard them all a gazillion times already.

Hearing the squeak of the door opening, she sighs, frowns, and looks up.

“Hello to you too” Robbie says, echoing Mia’s exact words of earlier.

Claire really needs to work on her greetings, it seems. “Sorry,” she mutters. “I thought it was more customers, and I’m about to close.”

He ignores her comment and lets out a whistle. “Ooh, I like the hair! It’s super hot.”

“Thanks.” She throws a glance at the office door before reaching for the tequila bottle. She grabs a couple of glasses, quickly pours two shots, and passes one to him.

They silently clink glasses and drink them down.Hair of the dog, Claire tells herself as the hot burn of the tequila recalls last night. She reaches into the tip jar, counts out enough to cover his, and throws the money in the register.

“Where’s Neen?” He rests his arms on the bar.

“Sick,” Claire says loudly as she glances at the office door and then whispers, “Working at another bar.”

Robbie nods. He pulls a clump of papers out of his pocket. “I just dropped in to give you guys an invite to my exhibition next week.” He holds one out.

Claire pulls out the one Mia gave her earlier and dangles it in front of him. “Snap,” she says.

“Where’d you get that?”


“Where’d you see her?”

“At uni.”

“Oh. God, I love that girl. So, will you come? Free drinks. Cheap, nasty champagne. But, like I said, free.”

“Shouldn’t your art be the selling point?” Claire puts their empty glasses into the last rack.

“Let’s not kid ourselves, woman. People come for the alcohol. Then they look at the photos and moan that they’d love to buy one. Of course, they can’t afford it because they can’t even afford decent alcohol.” He rolls his eyes. “Such is the story of my artistic life.”

Claire smiles sympathetically and picks up her polishing rag.

“Will you be there?”

“Sure.” Claire plays nonchalant, but secretly she is pleased that he cares if she comes or not.

Robbie slaps his hands on the bar. “Great. And you’ll tell Nina, yeah?”

“Of course.”

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