A Story of Now: Chapter 19

“Dude, that’s rough.” Cam shakes his head and wipes froth from his upper lip.

She spins her cup on its saucer and frowns. “Yup.”

“Have you spoken to her since?”

“Nope. Won’t answer my calls.”

He shakes his head. “Girls are weird.”

“That’s what I keep saying.”

That’s when his phone starts ringing. Again. He picks it up, turns a little from the table, and listens hard. His face shifts immediately to serious. As she waits for him to be done with his third work call during their brief coffee date, she turns and looks around the café. It is less busy than the first couple of times she’s been there, with just half the tables full. The waiters stand around the counter and chat instead of running around, frantic, like they usually do. And Mia is toiling away behind the machine, a small frown of concentration on her face as she works. She doesn’t seem to have noticed Claire is there.

“Crap, I’ve got to go. Sorry, sis.” Cam tucks his phone into his back pocket and pulls on his jacket. “Work.”

Claire nods, long resigned to these constant work interruptions. This is the story of her life, her family jumps ship every time work calls. “Great to see you for, what, twenty minutes?”

“I’m sorry.” He squeezes her shoulder. “And I’m sorry about what happened with your friend. That sucks. Anyway, thanks for showing me where the hipsters drink their coffee.” He grins. “I’ll see you later.”

She gives him a sarcastic wave. When she finishes her coffee, she makes her way to Mia. Claire waits a beat as Mia presses a lid onto a takeaway cup and passes it to a customer, and then she steps forward.

“Hey.” She leans against the counter and smiles.

Mia looks up, surprised. “Oh hey.” She’s clearly a little flustered by Claire’s sudden appearance.

“How are you?” Claire asks, slightly thrown by Mia’s reaction.

Mia flashes a glimmer of a smile and then returns to frowning over the coffee machine. “I’m okay.”

Claire wonders if she shouldn’t be bothering her at work. She pushes herself away from the counter, suddenly feeling awkward. “I was just going to see if you had a break coming, but you look a little busy. I’ll leave you to it.”

“Oh, no, it’s…um…yeah.” Mia pours milk into a shot of coffee and quickly glances at Claire, her eyebrows knitted. Then she takes a breath and smiles. “I might be able to in, like, ten minutes? But you probably don’t want to wait around,” she adds hurriedly.

“No, it’s totally fine. Come join me whenever.”

Claire returns to her seat. She still feels uncomfortable, as if she shouldn’t be here, but she’s committed now. She thumbs through a magazine left in the middle of the table and idly looks at pictures until Mia arrives with a coffee in her hands. A big coffee this time, Claire notes as Mia parks herself on the stool opposite Claire.

“I can only take ten minutes. The boss wants us to pack up early because it’s quiet, and she has a hair appointment she ‘simply can’t be late for.’” She rolls her eyes.

“That’s okay.” Claire closes the magazine and pushes it away. “Should I not talk to you while you’re working?

“What? No, of course it’s fine. I was just somewhere else when you came up.”

“Oh good. I wanted to say hi. Sorry I didn’t get back to you when you messaged the first time. It was a…weird week.”

“That’s okay.” Mia stares at her coffee. “I didn’t mean to bother you or anything. You’re probably busy with other stuff, I shouldn’t—”

“What?” Claire reaches over and prods her in the arm, surprised by Mia’s response. “No. You weren’t bothering me. Why would you think that? Like I said, it was just a weird week, and I really wasn’t fit for human consumption. I didn’t think anyone should have to put up with me.”

“Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, fine,” Claire fibs, because Mia heard enough about her personal dramas last time they saw each other. She doesn’t need to hear any more, especially on her break. “How was your week?”

“It was okay.”

Claire looks for something to talk about and comments, “It’s quiet.”

“Yes, thank God. It’s was busy all morning.”

“And how’s Pete? Not that I am being nosy,” she hurriedly adds as she remembers Mia’s slight caginess the last couple of times Claire brought him up. “I just mean, you know, he seems like a nice guy, and I’m wondering how he’s…” She trails off.

Mia smiles at her mini rant. “He’s okay, I think. I haven’t really seen him much lately.” She picks up her spoon and stirs slow circles into her coffee. “I ended it with him, actually.”

“What? Really?” Claire leans in, surprised. They seemed so easy and fun together at the opening. “How come—if you don’t mind me asking, of course.”

“I don’t know.” Mia shrugs. “It just didn’t feel right. I think I just want to be friends.”

“Fair enough. You know how you feel.”

Mia nods but doesn’t say anything.

“Did he take it okay?” Claire asks the question tentatively, not quite sure where to tread with Mia and her personal life.

“I think so. He made like it was okay, but it was kind of hard to tell.”

“Guys love to be all cool about this stuff, don’t they?”

“I guess.”

“Will you really still be friends?”

“I hope so.” Mia rests her cheek in her hand. “He’s one of the genuinely fun people in my course. I mean, everyone’s nice and stuff, but they can be kind of…socially limited.”

“He’ll be fine,” Claire says in an attempt to lighten Mia’s mood. “He’ll find some other hot science geek to hook up with and get over it, and then you and he can be friends. But don’t feel bad. It’s not like you did anything wrong.”

“I don’t know. Maybe I’m a horrible person. I should have figured it out before.”

“I don’t know you that well yet, but I bet you’re not a horrible person.” Claire pokes her in the arm again. “And I bet you weren’t horrible about it when you told him. Besides, it would be worse to keep pretending if you don’t feel it.”

“I guess.” Mia frowns for a minute as she plays idly with a knot on the wooden tabletop. She seems really low.

Claire leans forward. “Hey, are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Mia finally replies. She gives Claire a watery smile. “I’m just a bit…I don’t know. There’s this thing with Pete, then exams are coming, and I have a heap of work to do, and remember how I told you about Robbie’s disappearing acts?”

Claire nods.

“He’s doing one of those. I’m just feeling a little overwhelmed, I guess.”

Claire bites her lip and looks at her for a minute, not quite sure what to do with this slightly down, stressed version of Mia. This is the first time she’s seen her less than together. And while she feels bad for Mia because she’s clearly had a shitty week, part of her is a teensy, selfishly bit glad to see Mia isn’t always so upbeat and at ease.

“Hey, it’s okay, you know. You did the right thing with Pete. And I’ll bet you’ll kill your exams. There’s still a few weeks and then study break. Heaps of time.” She drops her hand on Mia’s wrist and squeezes it until Mia looks up at her. “Just breathe, okay?” she tells her, because that’s the only advice she knows to give.

Obediently, Mia takes in a big breath and lets it out, shimmying her shoulders as if shaking it off, and then gives Claire a near-perfect I’m okay smile. “Was that guy who was here before your brother by any chance?” she asks, changing the subject.

“Yup, that was the sibling. I thought I’d take him for a decent coffee. He’ll drinks crap all day and then complain about it. I thought I’d show him it isn’t that hard to find a decent one near his work.”

Mia glances at her watch. “Damn, I have to go back already.” She picks up her cup. “But thanks for coming and saying hi. And I’m sorry I’m such a mope.”

“You don’t have to say thanks or sorry. You heard all of my woes last week. It’s totally your turn.”

“Thanks for letting me have my turn. I’ll see you soon?”

“For sure. See you.”

Claire waves, glad to see her feeling even a teensy bit better as Mia heads back behind the counter for the rest of her shift. Maybe she’s not as shitty a friend as some people seem to think.


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