Cooper bartholomew is de.., p.1
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       Cooper Bartholomew Is Dead, p.1

           Rebecca James
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Cooper Bartholomew Is Dead

  Also by Rebecca James

  Beautiful Malice

  Sweet Damage

  First published in 2014

  Copyright © Rebecca James 2014

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The Australian Copyright Act 1968 (the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or ten per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to the Copyright Agency (Australia) under the Act.

  Allen & Unwin

  83 Alexander Street

  Crows Nest NSW 2065


  Phone: (61 2) 8425 0100



  A Cataloguing-in-Publication entry is available from the National Library of Australia

  ISBN 978 1 74331 923 9

  eISBN 978 1 74343 697 4

  Cover design by Lisa White

  Cover photos by Vladimir Servan / Getty Images (friends by bonfire) and FabioFilzi / iStockphotos (sky)

  Text design by Lisa White

  Typeset by Midland Typesetters, Australia

  To Oscar
















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  I never imagined I would die like this.

  The fall from the cliff is sudden and shocking, the plunge towards the earth terrifying. There’s no pain when I hit the ground. Pain is there to warn you when something is wrong, there’s no point to it when nothing is right.

  I’m briefly aware of certain things – the impossible twisted angles of my arms and legs. Blood pooling beneath my head.

  I think of Mum.

  And Libby . . . Her warmth, her eyes, her body. Thoughts that would make me smile if I was able, memories that would make me fight for life if I could.

  It hurts like hell to imagine her pain and confusion.

  Then I remember how I got here in the first place, the combination of events that led to this. The secrets and the lies.

  I’m filled with a futile desire to do something. Find Libby. Tell her the truth.



  I’m asleep, dreaming, when someone knocks on my bedroom door. In my drowsy confusion I assume that it’s Cooper, but it’s my mother who pushes the door open and comes to sit on the edge of my bed. I blink, rub my eyes, and notice with a shock that Mum’s eyes are full of tears.

  I sit up, immediately awake.

  ‘What is it? What’s wrong?’

  ‘Oh, Libby, darling,’ she says.

  I wait, heart pounding. I can’t imagine what has made her look so devastated.

  ‘Oh, sweetheart, I’m so sorry,’ she says, taking my hand. ‘It’s Cooper. He’s gone. He’s gone. Last night he . . . He’s dead.’

  Cooper? Dead?

  I push my blankets off and stand up. I find my phone and check the screen. There are two new messages from Cooper. I was so exhausted last night I went to bed early and must have fallen asleep immediately. I hadn’t heard a thing

  He sent the first message at eleven.

  Still awake? Can I come over? x

  The second came an hour later, just before midnight.

  Libs? You there?

  I try to call him but it goes straight to voicemail. I toss my phone on the bed.

  ‘I’m going to see him,’ I say. ‘Find out what’s going on.’

  Mum stands up and puts her hands on my shoulders. She speaks slowly, her voice breaking. I watch her with a fascinated detachment.

  ‘You can’t. Cooper is gone. He’s dead, sweetheart. You can’t speak to him.’

  ‘Let me go,’ I say, pulling away. I go to the mirror and pull my hair back from my face and lift it into a ponytail. I’m about to take my pyjamas off when I see my mother’s reflection in the mirror. I notice the very careful way she’s watching me, the sad look in her eyes, and the meaning of her words finally sinks in.

  ‘No,’ I say. Just that. My legs feel suddenly boneless, too weak to keep me up. I sink to the floor and put my head in my hands. It takes a few moments before I understand that the noise I can hear – a low animal moan, a dreadful wail of despair – is coming from me.

  Mum sits on the floor beside me, wraps her arm around my back, pulls my head against her shoulder. We sit there, rocking, for a very long time.



  He’s eating breakfast when the landline rings. In the quiet of the kitchen the noise seems harsh, overly loud, insistent, and he knows that it’s going to be bad news. It’s too early for social calls. His father is at work and his mother’s in the shower, so he puts his spoon down, walks reluctantly to the side table.

  He picks up the phone. Toby Richardson tells him in a broken voice that Cooper is dead.

  ‘Some surfer found him this morning down on the rocks. They’re saying it was suicide. My mum was working up at the hospital when they brought him in. They’re actually saying he jumped off Bradley’s Edge.’ Toby sounds suddenly outraged, angry. ‘Like, deliberately.’

  Sebastian leans against the wall for a moment, covers his mouth with the back of his hand. He looks out towards Mount Timbi and Bradley’s
Edge and an image of Cooper’s shattered body flashes into his mind: blood and bone, sharp rocks, torn flesh. Cooper’s broken, still face. He shivers, wrapping his arms around himself. For a moment he feels as though all the oxygen has been sucked from the atmosphere and replaced with something toxic. He swallows, chokes on nothing, gasps for air.

  ‘You okay? Seb? Mate?’

  He takes a breath, straightens up, pulls himself together.

  ‘I’m fine,’ he says. His voice is controlled, formal. ‘Thanks for letting me know.’

  ‘Hold on a minute. Don’t hang up. Seb . . .?’

  It’s clear that Toby wants to stay on the line, expects something from him. He’s assuming that they might comfort each other. Cry together. Talk it through.

  But Sebastian can’t, won’t. All he can do is say thank you again before he disconnects and drops the handset back into its base. In the safety of his bedroom, he closes the door, pulls the blinds down and lets himself cry. He feels broken, hollow, as though someone has blown a hole through his middle where his soul used to be.



  Claire is barely out of bed when Sebastian calls. His voice is thick – she can tell he’s been crying. She wonders if he’s taken something.

  Then he tells her – he says that Cooper was found at the bottom of Bradley’s Edge. Shock grips her in a vicious fist. Squeezes tight, making her stomach heave and her head spin. She collapses to the floor, dropping her phone and cracking her elbow on the coffee table. Bree rushes over to help. Tells Seb to call back later.

  ‘He’s dead,’ Claire says. ‘I can’t believe it. I can’t fucking believe it.’

  ‘Who?’ Bree crouches down beside her. ‘Claire? Who’s dead?’

  Claire tells her what she knows, and they sit for a while in shock. They hold hands and cry, stare at each other with wide, horrified eyes. After a while Bree gets up and makes coffee, and they drink in silence. The coffee tastes like mud, and if Claire had the energy she’d get up and make them something stronger, more soothing. But she’s too shattered to move.

  ‘You should go back to bed,’ Bree says. ‘You look like absolute shit.’

  Claire’s happy to be told what to do. She lets Bree lead her to her bedroom and waits passively as Bree pulls back the bedclothes. It’s a relief to sink into the musky comfort of doona, sheets and pillows.

  It’s only when Bree has left the room and she’s alone that Claire dares to let herself think, to allow her memories of last night to surface.

  She was so wasted that her mental images are hazy and unclear. She remembers the first part of the night – drinking vodka in the afternoon, listening to music, dancing drunkenly around the lounge room – but everything else is a blur.

  She looks across at the pile of discarded clothes in the corner of her room. Black boots, skinny jeans, her favourite sequinned top. She must have gone somewhere. Done something. She wouldn’t wear that top around the house. She closes her eyes, strains to remember, and is rewarded with a sudden clear flashback: at some stage of the night she’d called a cab, staggered down the staircase, waited outside.

  Where had she gone? Where?

  Sebastian’s. She sees herself knocking on his door. Going inside. The two of them drinking straight whisky. Claire hates whisky, but that didn’t stop her – she can taste the sour fire of it, recall the way it made her gasp. They shared a line of speed. Maybe two. They both got wasted.

  But there’s more. Something bad happened. Something that left her miserable and crying.

  She lies back and gazes at the ceiling as the next memory starts to form. It emerges slowly, fragmented and disjointed, like an old film cut up and reassembled out of order. But it’s enough to create a vague picture, more than enough to make her heart beat faster and her body sweat.

  She was in the car with Cooper. Both of them angry. A nasty fight. Tears and shouting. She remembers pushing him. Pushing him again. Pushing him hard.

  She starts crying, letting the tears slide down her temples, into her hairline.

  They fought. She pushed him.

  And now Cooper is dead.




  I was shopping with Sebastian, helping him get supplies for a party he was holding that night. I was there reluctantly. I could think of about a billion things I’d rather be doing with a free Saturday morning. Surfing or sleeping or just hanging out at home, or working on my table down at the shed. But Seb took his parties seriously, and he expected me to do the same.

  Seb put a lot of effort into providing what he thought of as just the right sort of food: fancy cheeses and breads, a variety of dips and spreads. He liked to mix cocktails with expensive liquor that nobody else had heard of, and serve imported beer.

  ‘Which one do you think is best?’ he asked me, holding up two different wheels of cheese.

  ‘Don’t know.’ I shrugged. ‘Does it matter?’

  He sighed, dumped both cheeses in the trolley, took his wallet out of his back pocket, pulled out two hundred-dollar notes. ‘Go to the bottle shop for me? Get two bottles of Cointreau and two bottles of tequila. The good stuff. Gold. The best they’ve got.’

  I’d told him a million times that he was wasting his money. Nobody ever appreciated the good stuff – most people were either too inexperienced or too wasted to know or care. He could serve metho with a cherry on top and everyone would assume it was something good and swallow it happily. But Seb didn’t care about the expense. His parents were rich – as in serious, big-time loaded – and his mother always made sure he had as much cash as he wanted. He probably spent more on his parties than my mother spent on groceries in an entire year. But it was impossible to hate him for it. Sebastian Boccardo was the most generous person I’d ever known. He’d give you the shirt off his back if you asked for it.

  I went next door to the bottle shop. I found the Cointreau and looked around for the tequila. It was up on a high shelf, so I had to reach over my head to get it down. Some girl in a hurry bumped into me just as I grabbed the second bottle. It wasn’t a gentle bump but a crashing knock that pushed me off balance. The bottle slipped from my fingers and shattered noisily on the floor.

  ‘Jesus,’ I said. ‘Slow down.’

  ‘Oh, shit. I’m so sorry. I tripped over.’ The girl stepped closer to the mess of broken glass and spreading liquid. She was wearing sandals, her toes exposed.

  ‘Look out,’ I said, shortly. ‘You’ll cut your feet.’

  She took a step back and looked up at me for the first time, and that’s when I realised I knew her from school. She was tall, almost my height, masses of dark red hair around a pretty face. Big brown eyes, full lips. She would probably be hot if she didn’t look so angry.

  ‘You went to Walloma High, didn’t you?’

  She nodded.

  ‘I’m Cooper Bartholomew.’

  ‘I know,’ she said, her eyes scanning the shelves behind me. It was a deliberate brush-off, a definite snub.

  ‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘You’re—’

  ‘Libby,’ she snapped.

  I remembered her properly then. Libby Lawson. She’d been good friends with Claire at some stage. I couldn’t remember exactly what had happened between them, I just knew that Claire hated her.

  In Year 9 or 10, Libby and I had been given the job of delivering the class newsletter together. At the time, Claire had told me to watch my back because Libby might stab me when I wasn’t looking; she was a two-faced bitch, according to Claire. I didn’t take any notice – Claire was always falling out with people – and though I didn’t get to know Libby all that well, she seemed nice enough.

  I was about to remind Libby of the newsletter delivery, but she had her arms folded over her chest. Her body language was bizarrely hostile. For once it looked like maybe Claire was right. Libby was one of those people. A pretentious, stuck-up pain in the arse.

  I gestured towards the mess at our feet. ‘You should watch where you
re going. You have a duty of care to other people.’

  ‘You should hold on to things a bit tighter,’ she said, frowning more deeply. ‘You have a duty of care to other people too.’

  At that moment the manager of the shop hurried over and made a big deal of the mess on the floor. We both offered to help clean it up, but he refused, saying that we’d only end up cutting our fingers, make him liable for prosecution. He said we’d have to pay for the broken bottle and I told him I was happy to, but he raved on about it as if I’d argued with him. Libby and I stood there sheepishly while he cleaned up. I caught her eye and made a face. I swear the corners of her mouth turned up, but she looked away before it could turn into a smile.

  When the manager finished cleaning we followed him to the till, where he took my money with a sour look on his face.

  ‘See you later,’ I said to Libby when I’d paid. She nodded and I took my bag and left the shop.

  Before I’d gone far I heard her call out from behind me. ‘Hey. Wait a sec.’

  I stopped.

  ‘Let me give you some money.’ She held out a twenty-dollar note.

  ‘No. It’s fine.’

  ‘But I—’

  ‘Don’t worry. Seriously. It wasn’t my money anyway. I don’t need it.’

  She shrugged, put the note away. ‘Thanks,’ she said. ‘And I’m sorry about before. Crashing into you like that. You were right. I need to watch where I’m going. I’m a hazard.’

  ‘Forget it. Doesn’t matter.’ I looked at her box of wine. ‘So. Planning a big night?’

  ‘Just a small but elegant gathering at the beach.’


  She half-smiled then. ‘Probably not so elegant, really. A bonfire on Ripple Beach. Music. A bit of dancing and singing. Sausages and cheap wine. That kind of thing. Actually, it sounds the opposite of elegant now that I say it out loud. But it should be fun.’

  ‘Sounds awesome,’ I said, meaning it.

  We stood there awkwardly for a moment, neither of us knowing what to say.

  ‘Oh, well . . .’ She hesitated. ‘I’d better hurry. I’ll see you . . .’

  ‘Yeah,’ I answered. ‘See you round.’


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