A Story of Now: Chapter 10


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’s hot.” 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.

“Nope.”

“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?”

“No.”

“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.

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, it actually looks 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?”

“Biomedicine.”

“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, I do know. 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 on Grey’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? CSI stuff? 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’s exactly what 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?”

“Sure.”

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

“Your coffee?” 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.”


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