A Story of Now: Chapter 43

Uh-huh. Morning hurts.

Claire pulls the sheet up around her head to block out the insistent light. It doesn’t help much, though. The bright sun easily pierces the white cotton and beams doggedly at her eyelids. She woke in that very unsweet spot that is late morning when the sun makes a pass straight through the trees by the lake and hits the sleeping porch at full, early-summer throttle. Usually when they come to stay, she’d be up and out of bed well before this moment of torture. But not today. Not after last night.

All she can hear of the world outside is the distant motor of a boat and the busy, argumentative strains of magpie song from the trees nearby. She feels the makings of a solid hangover in the thrumming ache just above her eyes and the queasy bass notes in her stomach. She eases herself onto her back, drapes her arm over her eyes, and frowns. It would help if the curtains were closed, but she clearly forgot to do that in her drunken lurch toward bed last night.

Last night.

At the very thought, she pulls in a breath, holds it for a moment, and then lets it out in a fitful sigh. Last night was all over the messy place. In just a few hours, she managed to run the gamut of moods. First it was fun and easy, then it was hopeful, and then it was kind of hot and revelatory. And then, somehow it was depressing and uncomfortable.

Claire cannot figure it out. What made Mia veer so dramatically from being that messy, funny, and flirtatious version of herself in the pantry to this closed-off stranger sitting at the other end of the table, who looked anywhere but at the person she just kissed, a person she seemed to enjoy kissing.

Claire does not get it.

It’s the inconsistency that throws her the most. In most other ways, Mia always seems so steady, so composed, and so sure of herself. Except during exam time. Claire didn’t think Mia did flighty. But maybe she does. Maybe it’s just like last time when she ran. Only this time she has nowhere to run.

Claire stretches her bare legs out against the sheets and sighs. That’s the most pressing problem of now—what will Mia be like today?

And how is Claire supposed to behave? Is she supposed to pretend it was nothing, like last time? Is that the cue she should take from Mia’s withdrawal last night? With a hangover already determined to render her fragile, Claire doesn’t know how she’s going to perform if she’s greeted with the same confounding silent treatment.

In fact, faced with that potential, she doesn’t want to do this day at all.

She rolls onto her side, opens her eyes, and measures the assault of light on her hangover. Nope, it definitely does not feel great to be awake today. She contemplates the idea of staying in bed, of curling under the sheet, and sleeping until this day is gone. But somehow she knows it won’t fly with the others. They’ll come for her eventually.

She peels herself from the bed.

* * *

It’s apparent from the moment Claire stumbles back into the house that Mia is going to pretend it didn’t happen. She and Robbie are already in the kitchen, trying to wrangle the coffee machine into producing coffee. They look as shabby as Claire feels.

“Hey.” Claire feels a slight flush in her cheeks as she sits down at the bench.

“Hey.” Robbie leans over and peers behind the machine to play with cords. “How does this thing work?”

Mia gives Claire a brief, bland smile and looks back at what Robbie is doing.

Claire feels a small wave of sickness. She’s not sure if it’s more closely related to Mia’s obtuse reaction to her presence or to her actual hangover. Either way, it doesn’t feel good.

“I feel gross.” She shuts her eyes and places her hands flat against the cool kitchen counter in the hope it will steady the turbulent, seasick feeling.

Robbie nods. “So do I. And I need coffee. So pretty please get up and make this thing work, damn it.”

“I don’t know how it works.” Claire presses her fingers to her temples and stares helplessly at him.

“What? It’s your coffee machine. How do you not know how to work it?”

Claire holds up her hands. “It’s my parents’ coffee machine, not mine. Dad wakes so early that by the time I get up, there’s always coffee ready. And Eli made it yesterday.”

Robbie clicks his fingers. “Of course! Eli knows how to use it. We need Eli. I’m going to wake him.” He stalks out of the room.

And the minute he exits, Mia mutters something about a shower and makes her own rapid departure.

Claire sighs into her hands. So this is how it’s going to be.

And that’s exactly what it’s like all day. Mia keeps a purposeful distance from her, quietly ensuring that they are never alone in the same space together. And it makes Claire feel awful. She knows Mia would never deliberately be mean. Claire’s pretty sure she doesn’t even know how to be mean. Mia does, it seems, know how to stay out of the way if she wants. And she knows how to stick to Robbie’s side, or to Pete’s, so Claire can’t get near her. Not that Claire knows what she would do with her.

So, helpless to do anything else, she does what Mia’s behaviour asks of her and spends what’s left of the morning on the deck with her book. Then in the afternoon, when the day becomes hot, she goes out to swim in the lake alone. She turns languid meditative laps between the diving platform and the rocks and tries to empty her mind of all these busy, painful thoughts. It doesn’t work, of course, but the cool undemanding flow of the water around her makes her feel a little better.


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