Claire doesn’t recognise the small, green, hire car parked behind her mother’s in the driveway. In fact, all she really registers is the annoying fact that the blue car means her mother is home.
She sighs, turns off the ignition and drops her head against the headrest. She needs a minute to prepare herself for a Sunday morning dose of her mother. She is not in the mood. Not today.
Last night was another crappy night. At work it was so busy they had to scramble to get through the shift even with Andrew’s help. Then afterward, they went to a party hosted by one of Josh’s friends. Claire didn’t want to go, but Nina begged, and because she needed her couch for the night, Claire caved. The party wasn’t bad, no worse than many she’s gone to lately, but it wasn’t great either.
After the party, though, everything went to hell. Drunk and exhausted, Nina crawled straight into bed the minute they got back to the flat. But Josh didn’t. In fact, he went from his usual silent act to being all friendly and insisting he was too awake to go to bed and that they should watch a film. Next thing Claire knew, he opened a beer and settled onto the other end of the couch, remote in hand. Claire didn’t feel as if she could refuse because it was more his apartment than hers. But she definitely did her best to let him know she was not into the idea at all.
Instead of being the mute, grunting freak he usually is around her, he got all chatty and friendly and tried to make conversation. She’s not sure if it was the booze that unlocked his jaw, but it was incredibly annoying. First, it was just generic chitchat about school, about sport, about anything. And no matter how much Claire, taken hostage by this sudden social assault, tried to freeze him out, he talked and talked and talked while she covetously eyed the blankets folded up in the corner.
Then to make things worse, he suddenly moved into disturbing, over-share territory. He talked about Nina and how he was tired of being in a long-term relationship and how he and Nina probably weren’t right for each other. To top it off, he threw her meaningful looks between these confessions, looks that confirmed that what Claire thought might be happening was definitely happening. Claire ended the situation right then and there.
Claire stares at her parents’ brick, suburban house. It’s impossible for her to fathom his level of stupidity. He has exactly the right combination of mammoth ego and lack of brainpower to actually believe she’d be into him. And he took it as fact that she would go behind a friend’s back for the opportunity. It’s as mind-boggling as Josh is repugnant.
She reaches for her bag on the passenger seat floor and shakes her head. The thing that Claire can’t figure out is how many girls must’ve given this guy the right amount of ego strokes for his head to get this outsized.
Both grossed and freaked out, she considered getting up immediately and driving home, but she knew she drank way too much at the party. Instead, she let loose the bitchkrieg on him in the loudest, most threatening whisper she could muster. She told him he was a creep, and that, given his complete absence of brains and charm, he should consider himself lucky to have landed someone like Nina, let alone managed to keep her. Then she graciously informed him that, if he shut the hell up and went to bed right that moment, she’d consider not telling Nina. That was the last she saw of him.
When she woke on the couch this morning to that grossly uncomfortable memory, she got up as quickly as possible and got the hell out of there before anyone else surfaced.
She didn’t want to see Nina, either, because now she has to decide whether to tell her about it. Not just that he’d come on to her but about the way he talked about Nina, about their relationship. How can she tell a friend something like that and still stay friends?
She sighs, clutching her keys in her hand. Why the hell hasn’t Nina figured this out for herself already? She pushes the car door open, climbs out, and drags her feet up the driveway. She shoves open the front door and lets it fall shut behind her. No point being quiet at this time of morning. Her parents are both well and truly up by now.
She tosses her bag on the couch and heads straight for the coffee. Not even the voices coming from the kitchen—one of them definitely her mother’s—is going to stand between her and caffeine right now.
The minute she sees Claire in the doorway, Moira is out of her seat like a shot, hurrying over and enfolding her in a tight hug.
“Hello,” she croons, stepping back and appraising Claire, her bright-green eyes affectionately lit. “How’s my girl? You look well.”
“So do you.” Claire smiles widely. If she’d known Moira was in Melbourne, she would have come inside faster.
And her mother’s best friend does look good, a little rounder, maybe. She hasn’t aged like Christine has of late, gathering lines around her eyes and mouth. Moira’s hair is still that rich red, shot through with only a little grey.
“And would you look at that hair?” Moira runs a hand over Claire’s sleek new bob. “It’s fantastic.”
“You should have seen it when she first had it done.” Christine taps her fingernails against the coffee machine. “It was awful.”
Claire gives her mother a look. Even though it’s the weekend, Christine, of course, looks immaculate, dressed in crisp jeans and light blue shirt with her blonde hair tied in a pert ponytail. All she needs is a sweater thrown over her shoulders, and she’d be perfect for the part of soccer mum.
Moira ignores Christine’s comment. She presses a hand against Claire’s cheek, smiling warmly at her. “Still as beautiful as ever.” She climbs back onto her stool. “Oh, why didn’t I have a daughter?” She sighs and shakes her head. “All those boys.”
“I don’t know, Moi.” Christine pulls a carton of milk from the refrigerator. “There was a few moments there when I’d have taken on all three of those boys over one fifteen-year-old girl.”
Moira smiles at her and turns back to Claire. “How’s your brother?”
Claire opens her mouth to tell her about Cam’s return from police training, but her mother interjects again. “He was staying here,” she says, busily opening and closing cupboards. “But we haven’t seen him much this week. The kids treat this place like it’s a hotel.”
Claire rolls her eyes, but Moira acts as though she didn’t even hear Christine and pats the stool next to her. “Sit with me a minute, sweetheart. Tell me what you’ve been up to.”
“Nothing much at all, I’m afraid,” Christine says.
“Oh, pipe down, you,” Moira chides. “I’m talking to Claire.”
Claire giggles as she sits on the stool and leans her arms on the counter. Thank God for Moi.
Moira takes the cup Christine slides over to her and heaps in a spoonful of sugar from the bowl. “Thanks, Chrissy. How are your studies, Claire?”
“Good,” Claire says as her mother puts a coffee in front of her.
“And your mum says you’re working in a pub in town?”
“Yep,” Claire glances at Christine. The less she says about it in front of her mother the better.
Just as Christine sits down with her own coffee, her phone rings. She frowns, abandons the cup, and snatches up her phone. With the phone to her ear, she walks out of the room, talking in that clipped, serious voice that tells Claire it’s work on the other end.
“Your mother told me about Brendan.”
Claire sighs. Really? Why did her mother have to talk about her business?
“Little dickhead.” Moira shakes her head and blows on her coffee.
Claire can’t help but laugh. She forgot about Moira’s mouth, always “colourful,” as her dad used to say. And that’s why Moira is one of Claire’s favourite people. Moira has a sense of both reality and comedy that Christine lacks. Claire has to admit that it feels good to hear someone call Brendan a dickhead even six months later.
“And let me guess, your ma is hounding you about dropping to part-time at uni?”
Claire nods. “I just couldn’t focus.”
“I know, hon.” Moira pats her hand. She stares out the sliding glass door into the thready morning sunlight. “Don’t worry about your mum. Just keep doing what you’re doing, which is fine.”
Claire nods, aware that Moira is thinking of one of her own boys. Sam, probably, who has “gone off the rails” in Adelaide, as her mother calls it. He lost it after his father’s accident, and he never got it back, apparently. The last time Claire saw him, a couple of years ago, he barely said a word, a complete stranger from the cute, bigmouthed ginger he used to be.
“So, what are you doing in Melbourne?” Claire asks. “Are the boys here too?”
“No. I’m here for work, to help set up the holiday program at the new community centre. The boys are back home with my mum.”
“How are they?” Claire thinks about the boys, who were like cousins when they were all younger, when Gary was still alive and they lived two streets away. They stayed at the holiday house together every summer. She misses them. But she misses Moira especially. She is the perfect antidote to her own mother.
“They’re fine,” Moira says simply.
“What are you and Mum doing today?” Claire changes the subject because clearly they are not fine, and Moi doesn’t want to talk about it.
“We’re going to the gallery and then to lunch. Want to come with us? Get some culture?”
“You have no idea how little I want to do that with Mum.” Claire rests her chin on her hands. All she wants to do is go back to bed and maybe watch a movie.
Moira chuckles and nods.
“I am happy to see you, though.”
“Oh, it’s good to see you too.” Moi wraps an arm around Claire’s shoulder. “What are you going to do with your summer?”
“I don’t know really. Work. Save some money?” She has no idea what she’ll do this summer. All she knows is she cannot wait for it to come.
“They need a ton of help at the new centre if you find yourself at loose ends.”
Claire nods. “Okay.” She slowly traces the marbled pattern on the kitchen counter with her finger. “You know, Mum still wants me to transfer into law.”
“Of course she does.” Moira chuckles as she climbs off her stool and takes her cup to the sink. “The question is, do you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, it should be up to you.”
“I know.” She’s just about to ask Moira about her new job when her mother marches into the kitchen and picks up her abandoned coffee. She tips it into the sink.
“Shall we get going?” Christine asks briskly.
“Yes, we’d better,” Moira agrees.
Christine turns on Claire as she pulls out her sunglasses and puts them on her head. “And what are you going to do with your Sunday, young lady? I hope you won’t be lying around all day.”
“Oh, leave her alone, Chrissy.” Moira scoffs. “Stop nagging. She’s nineteen. She’s young. She can lie around on a Sunday if she wants to. All day. Let’s go.”
Christine doesn’t say a word. She just hooks her bag onto her shoulder and gives Moira a look. Claire grins. Moira is the only person in the world who can shut her mother up.
Moira comes around the counter and folds Claire into another tight hug. “Ignore your mother,” she says, loud enough for Christine to hear, and kisses her on the cheek. “It’s wonderful to see you.”