Cooper bartholomew is de.., p.13
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       Cooper Bartholomew Is Dead, p.13

           Rebecca James
 
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  ‘Want a drink? Another tea?’

  Cooper sat up too. He looked at me, straightened the collar of my shirt, smiled tenderly. His voice seemed a lot deeper than it had been a moment ago. ‘Sure.’

  I went to the kitchen, switched on the kettle, collected mugs. Mum called out from the study.

  ‘You making another cuppa? Can I have one, too?’

  I got a third mug, made tea, and took Mum’s into her study.

  ‘Thanks,’ she said, barely looking up from her desk.

  ‘Did you really have to do that before?’ I asked.

  ‘Do what?’

  ‘Interrogate him like that.’

  ‘I wasn’t interrogating him at all,’ she protested. ‘I was making conversation. Asking questions. It’s how you get to know somebody.’

  ‘Right,’ I said. ‘Sure.’

  ‘And you know what? I think he seems rather nice.’ She gave me a conspiratorial smile and lowered her voice to a whisper. ‘He certainly is very good-looking.’

  I shook my head in disbelief. I collected our drinks from the kitchen and went back to my room, shutting my door very firmly behind me.

  41

  SEBASTiAN

  Sebastian didn’t like hanging out at Claire and Bree’s flat. It was a totally disgusting dump. Even the stairwell, with its stained carpet and dirty brown walls, made him want to take a shower. The flat itself was just as bad. The carpet was grey and threadbare. The kitchen tiny and dated. The second-hand sofas grimy and uncomfortable.

  When he arrived that evening and found the place filthy and full of smoke, and Claire already half-pissed, his low mood plunged even further.

  Claire grabbed the bottle he’d brought with him and took it to the kitchen. She poured them two large vodkas, with ice, no lemonade. He sipped from the glass, hoping it had been washed properly, and perched on the sofa.

  Claire settled on the floor.

  ‘Is that all you brought? Where’s the speed?’

  ‘Didn’t have any left,’ he lied. He’d thought about it, had even gone to his box of supplies to grab a bagful, but he’d changed his mind. He wasn’t in the mood for anything huge.

  ‘Heard from Cooper?’ she asked.

  ‘Yep. Spoke to him yesterday.’

  ‘And?’

  ‘He’s going to a party at Ripple Beach tonight. With Libby. And her friends.’

  ‘So it’s serious? Cooper and Libby, I mean.’

  He nodded.

  ‘Shit.’

  She sculled her drink, took a cigarette from the packet on the coffee table and lit up. Her hands shook. When she looked at him her eyes were brimming with tears.

  ‘I can’t stand it,’ she said.

  He shrugged. He couldn’t stand it either, but there wasn’t much they could do.

  Claire sat in silence for a while, smoking and drinking, staring at nothing. He could see that she was working hard not to cry. He resisted the urge to complain and wave the smoke away, but the air very quickly got thick, so he jumped up and opened the window.

  ‘Sorry,’ she said, not sounding it. She ground out her cigarette, finished off her drink. She stood up. ‘I know what we should do.’

  ‘What?’

  ‘Go to the beach party.’

  ‘We can’t. We weren’t invited.’

  ‘So? We can just pretend we were out walking.’

  ‘That’s a highly unlikely scenario,’ he said. ‘You and me on the beach on a Saturday night.’

  ‘They won’t know.’

  ‘Cooper will.’

  ‘So what? What’s he going to do about it?’

  She had a point.

  Claire stood up. ‘That’s it. All decided. Come on. We can’t sit around here all night like two miserable losers.’

  Sebastian drove, Claire fixed her make-up in the mirror. While they were driving, the drinks really kicked in, and by the time they were searching for a park Claire was slurring. As she stepped out of the car she stumbled, righting herself against the bonnet.

  ‘Wooo!’ she said, laughing. ‘Whoopsie. Come on. Let’s go this way.’ She rushed off towards a well-worn path that led through the dunes. Sebastian followed. From the top of the dunes they could see the fire on the northern side of the beach, silhouettes of people around it.

  Claire clapped her hands together and bounced on the spot. ‘Oh, this is going to be fun.’ She continued towards the beach, and Sebastian wondered if she’d forgotten that they hadn’t actually been invited. She wasn’t going to be met with a warm welcome. Fun wasn’t exactly the word he would use. He caught up, asked her to wait.

  ‘Let’s go back,’ he said. ‘This is a dumb idea.’

  ‘What’s a dumb idea?’

  ‘Crashing the party. Come on. We can go back to my place.’

  ‘No way.’ She shook her head, laughing wildly. ‘No way. I’m going down there.’ She pointed to the fire. ‘And anyway we’re not crashing. You can’t crash public property. The beach belongs to everyone.’

  ‘Cooper won’t want us there. And Libby certainly won’t. Come on, Claire. Let’s go.’

  She laughed again. ‘I don’t fucking care, Sebastian. I really don’t care.’

  He tried to stop her, but she broke into an uneven run. He called after her, suddenly furious and fed up. He yelled at her to stop being an idiot, told her she was going to make a fool of herself, but she only ran faster.

  42

  COOPER

  Libby and her friends knew how to do parties the right way.

  There was a bonfire in the middle of the beach. Picnic blankets and rugs were spread around it and people sat in small groups. There was beer, wine, vodka and chips. Sausages and bread for later. No fancy food or cocktails, nothing pretentious or expensive.

  Someone had brought down their music dock and something mellow was playing. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves without posing or showing off. The girls weren’t checking each other out. The boys weren’t trying to be cool. Everyone seemed happy, and they weren’t afraid to show it.

  Libby and I sat on a blanket near the fire. We drank sweet wine out of plastic cups. Libby told me about an essay she was working on for uni. Something about popularity and high school. I only half-listened. I watched the firelight flicker over her face, making her lips stand out against her pale skin, making her eyes shine. I couldn’t stop thinking of what we’d been doing in her bedroom earlier. I couldn’t wait until we were alone and could do it again.

  Her friend Cate arrived and joined us. She gave both of us a hug, making me feel welcome, as though she’d expected that I’d be there. She’d just come from the cafe where she worked and launched straight into a story about a rude customer.

  ‘My mum reckons everyone should work in retail or waitressing at least once in their life,’ Libby said. ‘Because it teaches you so much about humanity.’

  Cate nodded enthusiastically. ‘It does, doesn’t it? I’m glad you told me that. Now I feel better about the crappy pay I’m getting. At least I’m learning something.’

  From most people it would have been a sarcastic comment, but Cate seemed completely genuine.

  ‘Hey, look.’ Cate jumped up and waved towards the dunes. ‘It’s Atticus and Hari. It has to be Atticus. Nobody else is that tall.’

  ‘He came,’ said Libby. ‘That’s fantastic.’

  People got up to give Atticus a hug, patted him on the back. When he had a beer in hand he came over and sat with us.

  ‘Hey,’ he said, looking at me over the top of his bottle. ‘Cooper.’

  His expression wasn’t exactly friendly, but it wasn’t hostile either. ‘How are you going, Atticus?’ I asked.

  ‘Good. You?’

  ‘Yeah, things are pretty good. Really good, actually.’

  ‘We always knew you’d get better,’ Hari said. ‘You’re just too weird to die. Heaven wouldn’t know what to do with you. And we’d never be able to find anyone to replace you.’

  Atticus laughed, spl
uttering into his beer. He thumped Hari playfully on the arm. ‘That’s offensive,’ he said. ‘And I was never intending to die.’

  Hari turned to me then and started firing questions. For such a tiny person she was oddly intimidating. I felt like I was being tested. She asked me about my job and my ambitions, and I told her about the shed, my plans to start my own business. It was more or less the same spiel I’d given Libby’s mother, only this time I’d been drinking wine and it came out easier, with a bit more passion.

  Libby took my hand and squeezed, shuffled closer.

  ‘That actually sounds pretty cool,’ Hari said. She smiled and it transformed her face. I didn’t think I’d seen her smile before. ‘And I know exactly what you mean about timber having a soul. It’s so true. We have this bench seat at home. It was made out of these old Dutch ships, apparently. Some of the first ones to go to Indonesia. Dad reckons it’s haunted by all the people who died on the voyages.’

  I didn’t know about timber being haunted and I was pretty sure I’d never actually used the word soul, but I nodded and agreed with her anyway.

  ‘You poor thing,’ Libby said later, quietly. She rested her head on my shoulder. ‘You must be so over all these questions.’

  ‘Nah. It’s okay.’

  She turned her face towards mine and kissed me on the mouth. It was much more than just a friendly peck, and we kissed until I could feel everyone’s curious eyes upon us. It was obvious that Libby was making some kind of gesture, saying something to her friends about us. It didn’t matter exactly what she was trying to say. I just knew it was something I liked.

  At some time close to eleven, we cooked the sausages and ate them hot and burnt, wrapped in bread, covered with tomato sauce and half-burnt onions. They tasted spectacular. As I was finishing my second helping, I heard someone calling my name.

  ‘Cooper! Cooper!’

  I twisted around, peering into the dark. ‘Who is it?’

  ‘It’s me. Claire,’ a silhouette said. ‘I need to talk to you.’

  Libby frowned. ‘Claire?’

  I shook my head. Somehow it wasn’t even surprising.

  ‘I have no bloody idea.’ I gave Libby my cup. ‘Hold this for a sec? I’ll just go see what she wants. Try to get rid of her.’

  ‘Tell her she can come up here,’ Libby said. ‘She doesn’t have to lurk down there in the dark.’

  I found Claire standing near the water’s edge, so close her shoes must have been soaked. She looked drunk. I grabbed her arm and pulled her back up towards the dry sand.

  ‘What are you doing here?’

  ‘It’s a public beach. I was just out walking.’

  ‘Walking? Bit of a long way from home, isn’t it?’

  ‘Whatever. Who cares? I’m here.’ She plonked herself down on the sand, patted the spot next to her. ‘Sit down for a minute. Talk to me.’

  ‘Claire. This isn’t my party. You shouldn’t be here.’

  She looked up behind us, waved an arm towards the fire. ‘They don’t care. I just want to talk to you. It’s important.’

  I sighed and sat down next to her.

  ‘What is it?’

  She leaned against me, putting her head against my arm.

  I moved away. ‘Claire. Don’t.’

  ‘You’re so mean, Cooper. So mean and cold. I’m starting to think you’re completely heartless.’

  ‘Is this what you wanted to say? If so I’m going back up to the others.’

  ‘No . . .’ She shook her head. ‘Wait. I wanted to talk about that night. You know what I mean.’

  ‘There’s nothing to say.’

  ‘I regret it so much, you know? I regret it every day. And the worst thing is I just kissed him for something to do. I didn’t even like him. I liked you. It was just a mistake, Cooper. It was nothing. We could have worked it out. You should have given me a chance.’

  ‘Okay.’ I stood up. ‘I don’t want to have this discussion. I don’t even care.’

  ‘You don’t care?’ Her voice was suddenly high-pitched. ‘You don’t care, Cooper? Really?’

  ‘No. I don’t.’

  She started crying, covering her face with her hands.

  ‘Jesus, Claire. Stop crying.’

  ‘I can’t.’

  I crouched down next to her. ‘Have you taken something?’

  ‘No.’ She shook her head. ‘Just vodka.’

  ‘Come up next to the fire. I’ll get you something to eat.’

  She sniffed, wiped her face. ‘I wouldn’t go up there and hang out with that bunch of losers if you paid me.’

  ‘Well, I can’t just leave you here. I’ll call you a cab.’

  I got my phone from my pocket but she slapped it out of my hand onto the sand. ‘Trying to get rid of me, huh?’ she said. ‘Why? So you can hang out with those arseholes, that stupid bitch Libby?’

  My mobile was a little rectangular glow in the dark. I reached over to pick it up, wiped the sand off.

  ‘You know what, Claire?’ I said. ‘You have no right to act like this. No right to be angry. You’re the one who cheated, not me. When you act like this I can’t even remember what I ever saw in you. I can’t actually believe we ever went out.’

  ‘Fuck off, then,’ she said. ‘Just fuck off.’

  ‘Gladly.’

  I stood up and started back towards the fire, but the next thing I knew she’d caught up to me. She grabbed my arm, squeezing it.

  ‘You should try to be a bit more understanding, Cooper. You might be a bit more forgiving if you knew the truth.’

  ‘I already know the truth, Claire.’ I stopped walking, pulled my arm away. ‘You just told me. It was a mistake. Fine.’

  ‘I’m not talking about my mistake, Cooper. I’m not talking about me. I’m talking about Tessa. Your mum.’

  ‘What?’

  ‘It was, like, twenty years ago, but it still happened. You should look at your own family before you act so high and mighty. Your mum’s not as pure as you think, you know.’

  She’d really lost the plot. She wasn’t making any sense at all. ‘Yep,’ I said. ‘Whatever you reckon.’

  ‘I’m not kidding.’ She smiled venomously. ‘I know something very interesting about your mum.’

  There was no point arguing. She was obviously delirious. Delusional. I just needed to find a way to get her off the beach and into a cab. Send her home. ‘Okay, Claire,’ I said mildly. ‘Maybe you can tell me about this some other time? When you’re sober?’

  ‘I don’t need to be sober. I saw it with my own eyes. Your mum was a total slut. Ask Sebastian. He can show you. He’s got the proof.’

  ‘Is she okay?’ Libby asked once I’d made it back to the fire. I’d had to leave Claire before I got too angry and said or did something I’d regret. She was still out in the dark, walking back and forth along the sand.

  ‘Not really,’ I said. ‘She’s completely out of it. Saying some weird stuff.’

  ‘What kind of weird stuff?’

  ‘I don’t know. Something crazy about my mum.’ I shook my head. ‘Something about not being as pure as I think she is. A load of shit, really.’

  ‘Does she want to come up here?’ Cate asked. ‘Sit next to the fire?’

  ‘Nope. Apparently not.’

  ‘I think she’s actually talking to herself,’ Hari said. ‘What on earth is wrong with her?’

  ‘Drunk,’ I said.

  We all watched Claire in silence for a minute. We could hear her muttering to herself. She paced back and forth, stopping occasionally to kick at the sand in anger. For the first time since I’d known her I felt genuinely worried.

  Suddenly she looked up and saw us. She put her hands on her hips. ‘What are you staring at?’

  Atticus appeared beside me. ‘Is that Claire Forrester?’

  ‘Yep. The one and only.’

  ‘What’s going on?’

  ‘Too much to drink. She needs to go home and sleep it off.’

  ‘We s
hould call her a cab.’

  ‘Tried that. She threw my phone in the sand.’

  ‘I could go and talk to her.’

  ‘You could,’ I said. ‘Don’t know that you’ll have any luck, though.’

  Atticus took off towards Claire. The difference in their height was so enormous that he had to stoop to talk to her. Claire was hostile at first, kept her arms folded over her chest. Atticus persisted. We could hear his mellow voice echoing up the beach. Eventually they sat side by side in the sand.

  We turned away and left them to it. After a while Atticus reappeared by the fire. He collected his backpack from the tangle of blankets.

  ‘What did she say?’ Libby asked.

  ‘Various things,’ he said. ‘I’m going to give her a lift home.’

  ‘You don’t have to do that,’ Hari said, sounding annoyed. ‘Can’t we call her a cab? This is your first night out in ages.’

  ‘It’s okay,’ he said. ‘I’m tired. Ready to go anyway.’

  ‘Really?’

  He nodded. ‘Could someone just help me get her to the car?’

  ‘I will,’ I said.

  ‘Ah. Actually, maybe not. You’re not exactly her favourite person right now.’ He turned to Libby. ‘Would you mind?’

  Libby wasn’t exactly Claire’s favourite person either, and she’d probably cop an earful if she went anywhere near her, but she’d said okay and walked off with Abbicus before I got the chance to point this out.

  43

  LiBBy

  Claire was sitting on the sand, her head in her hands.

  I crouched down beside her. ‘Claire? Come on,’ I said. ‘Atticus is going to give you a lift home.’

  She looked up, blinking in surprise when she registered who I was. ‘Go away. I’m not going home. I’m staying right here.’

  ‘We already talked about this, remember?’ Atticus squatted down on the other side of her. ‘And you agreed that going home would be the wiser choice.’

  ‘I did?’

  ‘You did. Do I really need to remind you of the reasons?’

  Claire stared at him as though he was some kind of alien.

 
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