Claire rests her forehead on the kitchen bench and waits for the welcoming beep that signals coffee is imminent. Sighing against the counter, she wraps her arms around her head in an attempt to block out the incessant chatter coming from the other side of the room. Her mother hasn’t stopped talking for the last fifteen minutes since Claire stupidly sat here to wait for the coffee machine’s next move.
She prattles about a colleague she’s locked into a power struggle with. Claire is sketchy on the details, mostly because she only listens attentively enough to be able to grunt or nod if a response is called for. She will not commit so much that she has to open her eyes or lift her head or do anything that will bring her any closer to actually being in this one-sided conversation. Not until there is a coffee mug in her hand and coherence is once again her friend. For now, she closes her eyes and waits it out like a patient prisoner.
Her mother is still closing in on the point when Claire registers another set of footsteps moving so slowly it has to be Cam. He’s been limping around the house like an old man, still hunched by his injuries and the painful burden of being upright.
“Good morning, sweetheart,” Christine sings. “Coffee?”
Claire frowns. Of course Cam gets sunshine and an offer of coffee. She was greeted with a comment about the raggedy T-shirt she’s wearing.
“Honey, why don’t you just throw that thing away?” Christine asked the minute Claire walked into the kitchen. “It’s so ugly.”
Claire ignored her and made straight for the machine. Her mother simply does not understand the luxury that is the perfectly worn-in T-shirt. Nor does she get that it doesn’t matter what Claire wears to bed if she’s not sharing that bed with someone. Of course, even though it’s a Sunday morning, her mother is already immaculately coiffed, ready for anything from the sudden work call to an impromptu garden party.
Claire lifts her head a fraction. Cam’s hair is wet, and a towel hangs around his neck. She grins at him. “Hey, pops, what’s new?”
“What do you think?” He glares at her. “Nothing is new, Claire. Nothing. I’ve been lying around. I had a shower. That will probably be the main event of my day.”
“Don’t forget physio this afternoon,” their mother adds.
Cam rolls his eyes. “Oh yay. I get to leave the house.”
Claire snickers. Cam is starting to get a serious case of cabin fever. She would too if she had to hang around this house all day.
“And I just got a good look at that leg wound in the shower.” He pulls a face. “Are you guys aware that I have a hole the size of the Grand Canyon in my thigh?”
“Yes, I’m well aware, Cam,” their mother says briskly as she stands in front of the machine, ready to grab the jug the moment it’s ready. “But I would think, considering you got out of that accident fairly lightly, you could live with one bad scar.”
Cam gives her a petulant look and plays with the fresh bandage over the wound. Then he turns to Claire and gives her a sly grin. “Wanna see?”
“Ew, no.” Claire grimaces. “You know, I caught the nurses cleaning out that cavern a bunch of times. It was revolting.” She goes over to the cupboard, pulls a clutch of mugs from the shelf, and puts them on the bench in front of her mother. Anything she can do to speed up the process of caffeination.
“One more. Moira will be here soon,” Christine tells her.
Claire nods and turns back to the cupboard, smiling. She forgot Moi was in town again.
“The doctor told me the scar will be significant.” Cam hangs air quotes around “significant.” “What does that mean? How big will it be?”
Their mother pulls the milk from the fridge. “Just be pleased with the fact he said it hasn’t damaged much muscle tissue.”
Claire sits back down. “Are you upset because bikini season is coming, and the beauty of your pasty white leg will be marred?”
“Scars are cool.” Claire kicks her socked feet against the legs of the stool. “Besides, you know, you’re alive, so stop being so precious about a little dent in your leg. At least it’s not in your head.”
“Yes, you should just be grateful to have come out of this okay and that you will be able to go back to work at all,” Christine adds.
“Alright, you two stop picking on me.” Cam folds his arms over his chest. “I’m an invalid.”
“Okay.” Claire grins. “If you stop being such a pussy.”
“Claire!” Her mother shoots her a disapproving look. “Watch your mouth.”
Cam turns and gives Claire one of those trademark annoying grins he gets when he wins a point against her and then takes the coffee Christine slides in front of him.
Claire grabs hers, shoots him a death stare, and takes as big a mouthful as the heat will allow. She wishes she could go back to sleep for another eight hours. Her ass is still dragging from the party the other night. When she and Nina finally woke up yesterday, it was early afternoon. Then they had to go to work. And the bar was crazy. Some people were having a triple twenty-first birthday party, and the place was packed until closing. Claire decided to go home afterward. She craved the comfort of her own bed and decent sleep. Of course, that went south when her mother decided to start up the vacuum in the hallway at some ridiculous hour.
At least it’s holidays now, and she can sleep whenever she wants. If her mother doesn’t get in the way. Claire smiles about the glorious stretch of time in front of her when her parents will be at work, and she can sleep as long as she likes and do whatever she wants with her time. Sweet, sweet holidays.
Cam elbows her. “So, when are you going up to the lake?”
“Thursday.” She almost whispers it. She’s miraculously gotten this far without a conversation about this trip with her mother, and she doesn’t want to have one now.
But of course, no dice. Her mother has an ability to hear everything uttered within a fifty-meter radius of her.
“Yes, this little trip to the holiday house.” Christine turns from the coffee machine and folds her hands on the counter. “Tell me, just who are you taking up there?”
Claire sighs. How does her mother manage to make everything sound like an accusation?
Cam turns and gives her the briefest flash of a knowing smile.
“Just some friends. Robbie, Mia, Nina…” She trails off.
Her mother frowns between sips of her coffee. “I know of this Nina girl. She’s the one who doesn’t go to school and just works in the bar.”
Claire sets her jaw and tries to ignore the inevitable, rising tide of frustration.
“But who are these other people? I’ve never heard of the others. I assumed you were going with Michelle and Kate and that other short girl, what’s her name?”
Claire shakes her head. Typical. Her mother has known Kerry for years and she never remembers her name. “Kerry. No, I’m going with some friends from school.”
“From your course?” Christine taps her fingers against the bench top. She can never sit entirely still when she’s on an interrogation roll.
“No.” Claire stares out the window and wishes Moi would hurry up and get here and distract her mother from this line of questioning. Why can’t she just mind her own business?
“I’ve met Robbie.” Cam jumps in. “He’s the photographer kid who took that picture of you, right?”
“What picture of you?” Christine looks between them, suspicious, as though they have been keeping a big secret from her.
“He took a photo of me. And it was in his exhibition.”
“What kind of photo?”
Claire sighs, louder this time. “A portrait, Mum. What did you think it was going to be? A nude?”
Christine gives her another don’t-test-me look.
“It was a really cool picture, Mum,” Cam tells her. “He sold it, too, didn’t he?”
Christine feigns hurt. “I wish you would have told us about it. We might have liked to see it.”
“Sorry,” Claire mutters, more to shut her up than anything. She almost told them about it in a brief moment of pride. But she knew they wouldn’t come and see it. They wouldn’t have spared the time.
“And what about this other person? Maya?”
“Mia,” Claire says quietly.
“Oh, and I’ve met Mia, too, haven’t I? With Vito that day?” Cam turns to Claire and winks. “The med student, right?” He dangles it like bait in front of their mother.
“Medicine?” Christine sounds instantly impressed.
Claire rolls her eyes. Her mother is so damn predictable. But at least it makes it somewhat possible to play her sometimes. “She just finished biomed, and she’s waiting to see if she gets into medicine.”
“Hmm.” Christine purses her lips and reaches up to straighten her already perfect ponytail.
Well, that shut her up. Claire smiles into her coffee. She realises her mother still doesn’t know anything about Mia—she doesn’t even know she stayed with Mia and her family for those few days before they returned from Canberra. Claire didn’t tell them, and they were so preoccupied with Cam on their return, they didn’t ask.
“Mia seems nice. Normal too. Two arms, two legs,” Cam reassures Christine. “Robbie’s cool too. Don’t worry, Mum. I don’t think Claire is taking a band of weirdos up to destroy the place.”
“Well, okay.” Christine frowns. “But you had better leave it in the state you found it, young lady. The living room rug never looked quite the same after Cam had that party there.”
“That wasn’t me—” Cam starts to protest, but the doorbell rings and Christine is off her stool like a shot to answer it.
Claire takes in a deep breath and raises her arms in the air, triumphant. The interrogation is over and she’s good to go. She turns to Cam. “Thank you,” she tells him, grudgingly.
“I figure I owe you for all those hospital hours you put in.”
“Hell yes, you do.”