A Story of Now: Chapter 34


Claire decides to send a message rather than call. She doesn’t want to bother Mia if she’s studying. She texts, So, how did it go? First two down…

The moment she puts her phone back down on the bed, it starts ringing. She looks at the name, smiles, and answers it. “Hey.”

“Hi!” Mia sounds breathless, as though she’s in a hurry.

“So?”

“Okay, I think I answered everything. I just don’t know how well.”

“Oh, you killed it.” Claire pushes her book off her lap, slides down the bed, and lies against the pillows.

“I doubt it,” Mia mumbles. “And now I feel really bad. You already had two exams, and I didn’t message you or call.”

“So what? Let’s be real here, Mia. I do okay, and the result is I pass French and my group doesn’t hate me. You do well, and you get into medicine or forensics. So, you know, I’m not exactly offended, okay?”

“Still,” she mutters.

“Seriously, I don’t care. Besides, you’ve probably been too busy rocking back and forth in a corner to think about anything else.”

“Oh shut up,” Mia says. But she laughs. “I think even Blue is a bit dark at me because I haven’t been taking him for his usual walks this week.”

“Are you going to be completely catatonic by the end of next week?”

“Possibly. You might want to call and check in every now and then.”

Claire can hear the smile in Mia’s voice, so she teases, “Make sure you get over it before we go away. There’s no attic to lock you in at the holiday house.”

“I’ll do my best. Have you asked your parents yet?”

“Not yet. It’s all about timing, Mia. Oh yeah, and actually laying eyes on them. Where are you going right now, anyway? You sound like you’re running a marathon.”

“Going to meet Pete at the library. Last-minute anatomy session.”

“You know, that sounds vaguely dirty when you say it like that. Geek dirty, but still kinda dirty.”

Mia laughs. “It’s really, really not.”

“I know. Anyway,” Claire sighs, “I better get back to it. I’m working nights at the bar this weekend, so I’ll only have the days to study.”

“When is your last exam?”

“Tuesday morning.”

“I’ll call you after.”

“You don’t have to. Really.”

“So?” Mia tells her. “I’ll still call you.”

“Whatever, Mia. Remember to breathe.” She hangs up before Mia can answer.

* * *

It actually feels good to be back at the bar.

Even if it’s not her idea of a perfect Friday, it beats the hell out of another night in her room, trapped in endless study. Or there’s the option of watching Cam fall asleep on the sofa while they take in whatever crappy movie she let him pick just because he’s an invalid.

It feels good to be doing something mindlessly physical, too, after the mental slog of revision. She studied so much her brain is resisting all new knowledge. It’s nice just to be out in the world again, even if it is only the shambolic, drunken little world of the bar. For once, the customers aren’t annoying her much, and Nina is slavishly grateful for her company after a week without her friends.

“Hey, there.”

The voice comes out of nowhere, but it’s familiar.

Claire looks up from the beer tap. It’s him, Guitar Boy, from the drunken night of the borrowed bed. He leans against the bar, his arms folded on the surface, smiling. His light-brown hair is wavier than she remembers, but that grin and those cheekbones are the same. “If it isn’t the girl who used my bed and then never answered my calls.”

“Uh, yeah, sorry, busy.” She puts the beer in front of the girl who ordered it and takes her money. The girl smiles as she hands her the note, a smile that says she’s been listening and wonders how the hell Claire’s going to get out of this. Claire ignores her and returns her change.

“Yeah, right.” He takes his arms from the bar. “Busy.”

She is about to shrug and walk away, whatever-ing it, but then she turns back. He doesn’t really deserve that kind of brush off. He was kind of cool on that awful hungover morning. Especially considering she apparently invited herself into his bed and then told him not to touch her the minute she got in it. Not her classiest behaviour, that’s for sure.

“Seriously, sorry,” she tells him. “Things have been crazy.”

He nods, still smiling as if she doesn’t have to explain. She can’t tell, though, if it means she doesn’t have to explain because he doesn’t care, or because he doesn’t want to hear excuses.

Either way, she’s up for a little torture.

But before she can say anything, Nina comes over and puts two beers in front of him. Her eyes flick between the two of them, clearly curious why Claire is giving a customer the time of day.

She waits for Nina to walk away before she continues. “Like I said, sorry. I’ve had exams and stuff. Oh yeah, and my brother nearly died in a car crash.”

His eyes widen. “Whoa. That’s awful. Sorry.”

“He’s fine now. I just wanted to make you feel bad.”

“It worked.” He sips his beer and then puts it down with a frown. “Hey, how come I have to feel bad, anyway? You’re the one who didn’t call.”

Claire shrugs. She’s bored of the conversation now. “How’s your guitar practise? Still a two-chord wonder?”

He laughs and holds up three fingers. “I got to three before my friend took his guitar back.”

“Impressive.”

He picks up the beers and smiles at her. “Anyway, I better get back.” He nods in the direction of the booth, where a lone girl is sitting, staring at her phone.

Claire looks over at her, raises her eyebrows, and nods. “Yeah, you better.”

Nina is on her quickly. “Who was that guy?” she asks in a break between customers.

“A guy.”

“Do you know him?”

“Kind of. Maybe. No.”

“Thanks for clearing that up. He’s hot.”

“I know.” Claire starts to clean a section of the bar, ignoring Nina’s curiosity.

“God, you’re annoying.”

“What? Because I won’t tell you every single thing that goes through my head?” Claire asks. “That’s your thing, not mine.”

“Yeah, definitely not your thing. Blood from a stone, Claire, blood from a stone.” She shakes her head. “You know, I’ve never had a friend who plays hard to get before.”

Claire laughs and throws the cloth in the sink before walking away. She probably would have told Nina about him eventually. But now that she knows how much it tortures her, it’s more fun not to.

The next time he comes to the bar, Claire serves him.

“Just a pint, please, and two shots of…what?” He scratches his head.

Claire raises her eyebrows and hands as if the answer is completely obvious. “Tequila.”

He laughs. “Tequila then.”

After she pours the drinks, he pays for them and pockets the change. Then he pushes one of the shot glasses toward her, smiles, and holds up his own. She doesn’t take it, though. Instead, she looks over at his table. There are three girls sitting there now, all hunched over the original girl’s phone.

“Uh, shouldn’t you be drinking with your harem over there?”

“My little sister and her twit friends?” He raises his glass higher. “I think not. She’s a one-pint screamer.” He leans in closer. “Are you going to make me do this alone?”

She purses her lips and glances around. No Andrew to be seen. And it would be rude to make him drink alone. She touches her glass to his, meets his eyes for a split second, and downs it.


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