A Story of Now: Chapter 33

Nina passes around the bag of leftover muffins Robbie brought from work. “How is everyone doing? Y’all freaking out?”

Claire groans and leans back on her hands in the grass. “I never want to see my French group again after this exam. Bunch of freaking uptight nut jobs.” She spent her entire morning watching as they argued about the way one guy pronounced a word. As the other two argued around him, he sat there, bright red, and too weak to stick up for himself. Claire stared out the window and waited for it to end.

They’re sitting on the university lawn, surrounded by anxious students hunched over their books and clutching flashcards and coffee. They’ve all met up for a sly hour, to perform a small farewell of sorts before they march off into their different exams and final assessments. Except for Nina, of course, who claims she’s about to march into total social abandonment for the next week or two.

Claire rolls onto her side on the shady stretch of grass and looks at Mia. She’s staring intently at a sheath of photocopies covered in different coloured highlighter marks and notes in lead pencil.

“Hey, Mia?” she calls and grins slyly. “How are you doing?”

Mia shakes her head. “I have no idea.”

Claire smirks. Good to see nothing has changed since she left Mia’s place. Claire looks over at Pete. He grins and nods as if he knows exactly what she’s thinking.

Claire hasn’t seen Mia since she left to go home on Wednesday morning. It’s Sunday now, the last day before the two-week exam period starts. Claire is first up, with her French group conversation exam tomorrow, and then her solo one the day after. Victorian Novels is in the second week. Mia has her first three clustered at the end of the week, and Robbie’s essay is due on Tuesday. Claire spent her lunch going over it in the café with him. Just as she expected, it’s a good essay. His points are clear, and he backed them up. His work just needed some shuffling and a proper conclusion—easy fixes.

“Hey, when’s your final exhibition, Robbie?” Nina asks.

“The weekend exams finish. Then a friend from class is having a party after. She lives right near the gallery. We should all go and celebrate being finished.”

“Not quite over for us,” Pete says. “Mia and I have our postgrad interviews the week after.”

Mia holds out her hand, palm extended in his general direction. “You wouldn’t believe how much I don’t want to think about that right now.”

Pete laughs. “Sorry.”

Robbie smirks, takes the lid off his coffee cup, and drains the last drops of it onto the grass. He flattens the cup in his hand and sighs. “God, I wish we were all rich and could go away on some exotic, totally debauched holiday when this is all over.”

“Oh, that sounds amazing,” Nina says and sighs. “I don’t even have exams, but I’m doing shifts for everyone who does have them.”

“It would be good.” Claire rolls onto her stomach and yawns. All she wants after exams is to lie around and not do a thing. And she’d really love to do it someplace far from her mother.

“We could do something,” Nina says. “Go away somewhere. Camping, maybe?”

“Camping?” Claire wrinkles her nose. That does not sound relaxing.

“But it would be cheap.”

Robbie shakes his head violently. “I’m terrified of snakes.”

Claire holds up her hands. “Who isn’t terrified of snakes?”

“That guy in that documentary who loved them,” Nina says. “And he ended up getting poisoned by one.”

“See?” Robbie flops back onto the grass. “Not going camping.”

“A friend of mine found one in his tent once, when he was camping by the coast,” Nina adds.

“What if you rented, like, a cabin, something sturdier than a tent, that snakes can’t get in?” Pete suggests.

“That’d be better than camping,” Robbie concedes.

“Uh-huh,” Claire chimes in, although she doesn’t even know if she likes camping since she’s never done it. She’s willing to bet she doesn’t, though. All her nature time has been spent at the holiday house, where there is the great outdoors, but there is also a hot shower and all the necessary white goods when she’s ready to leave it behind. “Oh my God.” She sits up. Of course. The holiday house.

“What?” Nina asks, breaking a muffin in half. She holds out the other half to Claire.

Claire absently takes it. She pulls out a chunk of chocolate chip and pops it in her mouth, mulling over the idea. She wonders how likely it would be for her parents to let them have it. “We could go up to the lake.”

“We could,” Robbie says slowly. “If we knew what the hell you were talking about.”

“My family has a holiday house.”

“Really?” Robbie raises his eyebrows. “Well, aren’t you the landed gentry, missy?”

Claire ignores him, breaks off another piece of muffin, and stuffs it in her mouth. “I’d have to see when my parents are using it, but if they aren’t they might let us if we promise not to break anything. They let Cam have it a couple of years ago for a birthday trip.”

“Awesome.” Nina claps her hands. “Can I pretty please come even though I didn’t do exams?”

“Of course, stupid.”

Nina grins and raises her fist in the air. “Yes!”

“And can I bring Eli?” Robbie asks.

Claire shrugs. “Sure.”

She looks over at Mia. “Hey, Mia?”

“What?” she says absently as she pushes up her glasses and continues to stare at the page in her lap.

“Did you actually listen to any of that?”

She looks up, blinking. “Um, no.” She smiles apologetically.

“Listen, space cadet.” Robbie throws a piece of muffin at her. “We’re going to see if Claire’s parents will let her use their holiday house after we’ve finished school. Up for a post-traumatic holiday?”

Mia nods. She turns to Pete. “Definitely. We could go up after our interviews?”

“Oh hey.” Pete raises his hands and blushes slightly. “I’m not sure I’m invited.”

Mia looks over at Claire.

“Of course you are,” Claire tells him. “You should come.” And she means it too. She likes Pete. He’s nice, and he’s chilled and not annoying.

“Thanks.” He smiles at her and turns back to Mia. “I could drive us up after.”

“So, what?” Robbie says as he counts them off. “Us five and Eli?”

Claire nods. “That’s probably enough, though. My parents are more likely to say yes if it’s just a small group.”

“Oh my God, yes!” Robbie sighs dramatically. “Light at the end of the tunnel! This is going to be amazing.”

“Amazing,” Nina chimes in and flops down next to Robbie on the grass.

It will be, Claire thinks, chewing her lip, as long as she can get her parents to agree.


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