Cooper bartholomew is de.., p.14
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       Cooper Bartholomew Is Dead, p.14

           Rebecca James
 
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‘One.’ Atticus counted on his fingers. ‘It’s getting cold and your bum must be sopping wet because you’re sitting in wet sand. Two, just stop and think how good it would be to be tucked up in your warm bed right now. And three, think about how much it would suck to sit out here alone all night.’

  Eventually Claire nodded and let us pull her up. We walked back over the dunes in silence. The carpark was so brightly lit after the dark of the beach it was almost blinding. In the light I noticed how pale Claire’s face was, how drawn and unhappy she looked.

  ‘Atticus,’ she said out of the blue. ‘Atticus! You have the same name as the guy in that book. To Kill a Mockingbird.’

  ‘Atticus Finch. Yes.’

  ‘Oh my god, I loved that book. Loved it.’ Claire stopped walking and stared at him. ‘And I remember you now.’

  ‘Yes. Well.’ Atticus cleared his throat. ‘Actually, I was hoping you wouldn’t.’

  ‘You were in my art class in Year 8. You used to do all those freaky paintings.’

  ‘Yup.’

  ‘And you and that other boy, what was his name? Rhys?’

  ‘Rhys Tucker.’

  ‘Yes! You two read my art essay out loud to the entire class that time. You were totally taking the piss. It was horrible.’

  ‘It was not one of my most enlightened moments,’ Atticus said.

  I glanced at Atticus and he gave me a wry smile. I was surprised at the connection. I had no idea they even knew each other. I wasn’t surprised that Claire had never told me the story – we’d stopped being friends in Year 8. I was surprised, though, that Atticus had never mentioned it. I’d talked about Claire several times over the years, but Atticus had never let on that he knew her. He’d never mentioned any kind of personal connection.

  ‘It was awful,’ Claire said. ‘You were trying to humiliate me. It was cruel.’

  ‘I am truly and deeply ashamed,’ Atticus said, bowing his head.

  ‘And here you are pretending to be a nice person. Hiding your true identity behind all this gentlemanly behaviour.’ Claire put her hands on her hips. Her voice was serious, but she looked amused.

  ‘Absolutely,’ he said.

  ‘Well, I’m not actually sure how I feel about letting you give me a lift home.’

  ‘I don’t blame you.’

  ‘Did you ever consider the trauma you were inflicting?’ she said. ‘The psychological damage?’

  ‘I didn’t.’

  ‘Well, then, just take a good look at me now.’ She gestured towards herself. ‘All the evidence you need.’

  Atticus laughed loudly. He looked at Claire with a delighted expression on his face. ‘I take full responsibility. I’ll accompany you to meetings. Anything you need.’

  ‘You might have to.’

  ‘Ah, okay,’ I interrupted. ‘I’m going to head back. I’ll see you guys later.’

  Atticus said goodnight absentmindedly. Claire ignored me, not even bothering to take her eyes from Atticus’s face.

  As I walked back down to the fire I thought about Claire. She was far more sensitive than she liked to admit. Over the years it had suited me to dismiss her as a vacuous party-girl, a heartless bitch, yet that wasn’t the full story. I hadn’t exactly been perfect myself.

  Suddenly I could remember some of the things I’d liked about her. The way she’d made me laugh, her self-deprecating sense of humour, the way she’d get so passionate about things. I could almost remember why I’d been friends with her in the first place.

  44

  CLAiRE

  She cried most of the way home. She didn’t even bother trying to be quiet about it. She cried because she was frustrated, because Cooper hated her, because he was going out with Libby. Because sometimes life sucked.

  She was also crying with regret. She knew she’d made a fool of herself at the beach, knew she would suffer for it in the morning. She’d wake up and be consumed with self-loathing. She’d spend the next few days feeling sorry and humiliated.

  Atticus handed her a tissue and she took it gratefully, blew her nose. When she’d finished she took a deep and shaky breath.

  ‘It’s so not fair,’ she said.

  ‘Hmmm,’ Atticus replied. ‘From my keen powers of observation and amazing senses of deduction I’m guessing this has something to do with Cooper?’

  ‘I just can’t believe he’s going out with that bitch.’

  ‘By bitch you mean my very dear friend Libby?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘Well, first of all, she’s not a bitch, but for now we might just have to agree to disagree on that. And secondly, what’s so great about Cooper anyway? I don’t get it. I can see that he’s good-looking, but I’m assuming there must be something else?’

  ‘He’s just nice. He’s just really nice to be with.’ She sighed. ‘I can’t explain it. And anyway, that’s not even why I’m upset, or only part of it. I’m upset because I wanted to talk to him. I had something important to tell him. But he wouldn’t even listen to me.’

  ‘Right. Okay. So, this important thing you want to tell him . . . I’m not asking what it is, but is it bad? Is it going to make him miserable?’

  ‘Well, it’s not going to make him happy, that’s for sure.’ She sighed, wiped her cheeks, stared out the car window. ‘But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t know.’

  ‘And why do you want to tell him? Are you trying to make him feel bad?’

  ‘No. I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe I just think he should know.’

  ‘Fair enough.’

  They were in her area now. It was much darker here than in the better parts of town because most of the street lamps were broken, smashed by drunk teenagers.

  ‘That’s me.’ She pointed to the grey block of flats. ‘You can just stop across that driveway.’

  Atticus pulled in. ‘You right to get upstairs? Do you want me to walk you to your door?’ He looked around in an exaggeratedly scared way as if he expected to see a man with a gun at his window. ‘This isn’t the most savoury part of town.’

  ‘I know. Not exactly the Hills, is it? But don’t worry. I’m used to it. In fact, I’m probably one of the most unsavoury people around.’

  ‘I doubt it,’ he said. ‘I doubt it very much.’

  She turned to look at him. He had been too thin at school. Too thin and too tall in a kind of freakish, praying-mantis way. But he’d grown into himself and filled out since then. If his hair was a bit longer he might actually be cute.

  ‘You know, that really did suck, what you did in art,’ she said.

  ‘I know. And I’m sorry. I was hoping you’d forgotten. I was hoping you’d forgotten me actually. I prefer to disassociate from my past self. I’m so much cooler now.’

  ‘I remember you perfectly. You were always so tall. You were practically a giant. And, god, now I remember, you used to wear that black hat all the time. What was it? A beret?’

  He laughed. ‘I have been known to be a bit pretentious at times.’

  ‘I always thought you were gay.’ She squinted at him. ‘Are you?’

  ‘No.’ He shook his head. ‘I most certainly am not. I’m as hot-bloodedly heterosexual as they get. Why would you think I was gay?’

  ‘The way you talk. And that weird black hat. And your art and stuff. It all just added up to gay.’

  ‘Well, then, you’re obviously not very good at addition.’

  ‘True.’ Claire sighed. ‘But then I’m not really very good at anything. Except getting drunk or high and making a fool of myself. I’m good at that.’

  ‘It’s a real talent.’

  She snorted.

  ‘Actually, I bet I could list several other things you’re good at.’

  ‘Yeah?’

  ‘You’re good at conversations. You were pretty good at art too, if I remember right. And netball. You were the team captain, weren’t you? And you’re good at waitressing.’

  She looked at him curiously. ‘How do you know all this stuff?’

&nbs
p; ‘We went to school together, remember?’

  ‘But the waitressing?’

  He tapped the side of his nose. ‘I have my ways.’

  ‘Okay,’ she said. She was smiling now. Somehow Atticus had pulled off the impossible. He’d made her feel better, he’d made the anxious squeeze in her chest loosen a little, if only for a moment. ‘Well, I should go.’ She pushed her door open. ‘Thanks for the lift.’

  ‘Good luck with everything. I hope it all works out. You know. The nasty secret and all.’

  She was suddenly too tired to care very much. She needed to get upstairs and climb into bed. She needed to close her eyes and sleep. Sink into oblivion. Forget everything. At least until morning.

  ‘I’ll wait here and watch you,’ he said. ‘Make sure no baddies attack you before you get inside.’

  She thought he was just taking the piss, but his headlights shone behind her the whole way, lighting her path. It wasn’t until she was safely inside that he pulled out and drove away.

  NOW

  45

  LiBBy

  I call Sebastian straight after breakfast. He seems happy enough to hear from me, his voice warm, and when I tell him I want to talk he invites me over.

  ‘Can I come now?’

  ‘Why not? Come down to the side door when you get here.’

  When I arrive he takes me straight through his room and into the living area. He gestures towards a stool, slips behind the bar.

  ‘Want a drink?’

  I ask for water. He gets himself a juice and puts my glass on a napkin on the counter. He doesn’t come and sit next to me like I expect him to. Instead, he stays behind the bar and leans back against the fridges behind him. It’s an odd way to behave, and I feel like he’s keeping the bar as some kind of barrier between us. A line over which I’m not welcome to cross.

  ‘I was thinking about Cooper last night,’ I start. ‘I couldn’t sleep.’

  He nods. ‘Such a shock. I mean, Cooper. Gone.’

  ‘I even got up and googled suicide.’

  ‘You did?’

  ‘I don’t understand. I don’t understand any of it.’

  ‘Maybe we’re not meant to understand,’ he says gently. ‘Maybe Cooper didn’t understand it himself. Depression is a mental illness. It’s not necessarily logical.’

  ‘But that’s the thing. I don’t think he was depressed.’

  He looks down at his glass, swirls the liquid around. He frowns. ‘What do you mean?’

  ‘I think he was the opposite of depressed. He was happy. He loved his job. He and I . . . well, we were in love.’

  ‘I’m sure you were.’

  ‘People who are in love don’t kill themselves.’

  He clears his throat, gives me a thin smile. ‘Look. Libby. I know this is hard. I know it sucks and I know exactly how much it hurts. He was my best friend, I miss him like hell. But there’s no point to this. No point in denial.’

  ‘It’s not denial. I just can’t believe nobody’s questioning this. I can’t believe everyone is just accepting that Cooper ran up there and jumped off a cliff.’

  ‘Youth suicide, Libby, it’s practically an epidemic. You heard what the minister said. And Cooper could get pretty down.’

  ‘Everyone gets down.’

  ‘But Cooper wallowed. Felt sorry for himself. Maybe you didn’t get to see that side of him. You didn’t know him all that long.’

  ‘I knew him well enough,’ I snap. ‘And obviously I had a lot more faith in him than you ever did. He didn’t wallow.’

  Sebastian flinches. He turns away and pours himself more juice. When he turns back his eyes are wet, his jaw working with the effort to control himself. ‘We might have different ways of dealing with this,’ he says. ‘And we might have completely different viewpoints, but don’t you bloody well think I’m not suffering. Don’t think I don’t miss him.’

  ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.’ I sigh, lean forward. ‘But Seb, please just listen, please just think for a minute. The website said suicidal people are withdrawn and anti-social. It said they’re apathetic, uninterested in the future. Cooper wasn’t like that. Not at all. Not in the least.’

  ‘Actually, you know what, Libby? Things look a bit different from my perspective,’ he says. ‘I hadn’t seen Cooper for a while when he died. I can’t even remember exactly when I last saw him. We weren’t hanging out like we used to. He might not have seemed withdrawn to you, but he’d been withdrawing from some of his oldest friends for a while.’

  ‘But that wasn’t withdrawal,’ I protested. ‘Not in the way they mean it on the website. Not in the depressed sense. That was just change. People do that. They grow away from people. Friendships evolve.’

  ‘I could be offended by that.’ He looks upset, angry.

  ‘I’m not trying to be hurtful, Sebastian, honestly. I don’t want to compete with you. We both loved him, I know that. I just want to work out what happened.’

  He is quiet for a minute, staring down at his glass. When he looks up there’s a strange, anxious look in his eyes.

  ‘You haven’t spoken to Claire about this, have you?’

  ‘No. Why would I? I don’t want to speak to Claire.’

  ‘Okay. Well, if you want my opinion, I think you should leave all this stuff alone,’ he says mildly. ‘It’s not going to do you or anyone else any good.’

  ‘I’m not trying to do myself good. I’m not trying to do anyone any good. I don’t care, don’t you see?’ I slap the counter in frustration. ‘I’m not trying to make myself feel better. I only want to find out what happened to Cooper.’

  ‘He jumped off a cliff. He was unhappy. End of bloody story.’

  ‘No. I don’t think it is.’

  We don’t speak for a moment – both of us are angry, bright-eyed, breathing quickly. When Sebastian finally speaks his voice is cold, unrelenting. ‘Look. You can think whatever you want. Whatever helps you sleep at night. But just do me a favour: don’t go saying this kind of stuff to Claire. She’s not taking this well. She doesn’t need to be stirred up.’

  ‘Fine,’ I said. ‘I won’t. I told you I have no interest in speaking to Claire.’

  ‘You can think whatever you want,’ he repeated, putting his glass down. ‘But to everyone else this is pretty much an open-and-shut case. There’s no question. The coroner didn’t even order an inquest. What happened to his father made it all too clear.’

  ‘What do you mean?’

  ‘Richard. Cooper’s father.’

  I frown, puzzled.

  ‘You do know what happened?’

  I shake my head. I have no idea what he’s talking about.

  Sebastian looks incredulous. ‘You don’t know?’

  ‘What? How he died? Cooper didn’t tell me.’

  ‘Jesus.’ He stares at me. ‘No wonder you’re so confused.’

  ‘Why? What happened?’

  He steps forward, puts his hand over mine. ‘Libby. Sorry. I really thought you knew.’

  ‘What?’

  ‘Richard killed himself. Twenty years ago. He jumped off Bradley’s Edge. And now Cooper’s done exactly the same thing.’

  THEN

  46

  SEBASTiAN

  Sebastian got a text from Cooper early Sunday morning.

  Hey. Saw Claire last night. She was raving about my mum. Didn’t make a lot of sense but she said I should ask you. Any idea what she was talking about?

  Bloody Claire and her big fat mouth. She was an idiot sometimes, particularly when she was drunk. Sebastian just wanted to forget what they’d seen on the video, and had spent the entire week trying to do just that. He’d worked at pushing the strange smiling image of Tessa from his mind every time it appeared. He didn’t even want to contemplate what it might mean. But of course Claire had to go and blab to Cooper – why hadn’t he anticipated this? It was so typical of Claire – stirring the pot, making trouble, getting involved in matters she knew nothing about.

 
He went straight up to the media room, closing the door behind him and locking it. Leonard was working in his office and Sebastian’s mother was in the garden, so neither of them were likely to walk in, but he couldn’t be careful enough. He found the tape and put it in the machine. He watched the strange scene, the volume turned low. He rewound it and watched it again.

  It was pretty clear that something had been going on. But how serious had it been? A full-blown affair? A harmless flirtation? It was impossible to know.

  After ejecting the tape he took it downstairs and outside. He crossed the deck and went to one of his mother’s garden beds. He could see her way down the back, trimming the rose bushes. He found a large rock, put the tape on the cobbled path, and slammed the rock into the video again and again until the tape was a crushed black mess. When he stood up, his mother was looking towards him, her hand shielding her eyes. She gave him a cheery wave and Sebastian waved back. If anyone, it was his mother he wanted to protect. She didn’t deserve the heartache, the humiliation. She didn’t deserve such a shit husband.

  He took the destroyed tape inside, wrapped it in newspaper, buried it deep in the rubbish bin.

  Hopefully Cooper would forget the whole thing, and that would be the end of it. Whatever had happened, it was a long time ago. And what significance did it have now anyway? Pretty much none as far as Sebastian could tell.

  He deleted the text from Cooper without responding and called Claire.

  ‘Are you alone?’ he asked.

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘What the hell did you tell Cooper last night?’

  She was silent for a long while. Eventually she answered in a small voice. ‘I don’t know, Seb. I can’t actually remember. I remember you driving us there. I remember coming home. I can’t remember what happened at the beach. Well, not much of it, anyway.’

  ‘Cooper just texted me. Asking what the deal is with Tessa.’

  ‘Oh. God. I’m so sorry,’ she said. He was glad to hear her sound genuinely contrite. ‘Can’t you just tell him I was pissed? That I was talking rubbish?’

  ‘Maybe. Problem is, I don’t know what you said.’

 
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