Cooper bartholomew is de.., p.2
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       Cooper Bartholomew Is Dead, p.2

           Rebecca James
 
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  LiBBy

  At the party that night, in a gap between conversations, I cradled a cup of lukewarm wine and stared into the fire, thinking about the encounter with Cooper. It had been humiliating. Not only had I been a complete klutz, he didn’t even remember me. Admittedly, Walloma High School was enormous and it was impossible to know everyone, but Cooper and I had been in the same year, and we’d graduated at the same time. We’d even done a three-day newsletter run together in Year 10, yet to him I was completely forgettable. To hide my embarrassment, I’d been deliberately cold.

  Cooper Bartholomew and his friends had always intimidated me. They’d always seemed impossibly cool, the epitome of sophistication and glamour. They were good-looking and confident. They always seemed to be having fun, even when they were at school, and somehow they made everyone and everything else seem tame and ordinary.

  Cooper was tall, broad-shouldered, athletic. He had brown hair, tanned skin and a big white smile. He was hot in what I considered a very traditional, American-jock kind of way. He was famous at school not only for his looks, but also for simply being part of the cool crowd. He didn’t excel at anything in particular, he wasn’t a school captain or a prefect or a sports star, yet everyone at school knew his name, everyone knew who he was.

  Though Cooper was famous in his own right, Sebastian Boccardo was the real centre of their crowd, like a big and powerful sun around which all the planets and stars orbited. He was good-looking too, but in a different way to Cooper. Sebastian was beautiful, long and lean and sinewy; striking, like an exotic bird. He had dark hair too, but where Cooper’s skin was tanned, Sebastian’s was pale, as though he avoided the sun. You could tell that he was filthy rich just by looking at him: the cut of his hair and the style of his clothes, the air of indifference and confidence that he wore like an invisible cloak of privilege. People said Sebastian was gay – and I didn’t know whether he was or not – but that didn’t stop girls from falling for him, or from watching him, or from talking about him in hushed, reverential tones.

  Sebastian held these wild parties in his big house in the Hills when his parents were out of town. People would gossip about what went on, make up stories and invent scandals, but we didn’t really know for sure. I was never invited, and nor were any of my friends.

  We existed on the opposite end of the spectrum: we were the uncool people, the studious, nerdy types. We were the ones who did what we were told and cared about our grades. We did well in exams and tried to please the teachers. Cooper and Sebastian and their friends barely even knew we were alive.

  Though Cooper and I hadn’t exactly become close during the time we were in charge of the newsletters, we’d spent half an hour each day walking around the school together. We’d talked a bit. He’d told me that he loved surfing, that his mum was a nurse. When he’d asked me what I was doing over the weekend and I answered that I was working on an essay, he’d laughed and said he should have known. It wasn’t a mean laugh, but I’d burned with embarrassment.

  I remembered these small details, so I found it insulting that he couldn’t remember my name. To me those three days had had some kind of impact. He’d seemed a little less cool, a little more human.

  Obviously I’d been wrong.

  That was the thing about people like Cooper. They were so noticeable to us, they loomed so large and bright on our social radars, and yet to them we were barely blips. We knew stuff about them, we talked about them and we watched them. We dreamed of being invited to their stupid parties. But they knew nothing about us – not our names, not even our faces. They were indifferent. They made us feel small and boring. They made us feel invisible.

  6

  COOPER

  I left Sebastian’s party just before ten. Recently, the whole scene had been starting to get me down. The parties had always been fun. An excuse to get together, get wasted, have a laugh. In Year 12, they’d felt like much-needed time away from study, from our parents, a chance to flex our grown-up muscles. But they’d evolved into something else, something bigger and fancier and more competitive. A contest to see who could wear the coolest clothes, get the most wasted, party the hardest.

  Claire was there that night, of course, trying the hardest of all. She was wearing a super-short dress and heels so high I was stunned she could walk. She looked like she belonged on a catwalk, not at a party with a bunch of people who were supposed to be her closest friends.

  Bree was stuck to her side, as usual, just as dressed up and, judging from the way they were laughing and wobbling around, just as wasted.

  Claire and Bree shared a flat, worked together, went everywhere together. They even looked similar. Bree was blonde and Claire brunette, but they both had long hair that hung dead straight to their waists. They had good bodies and wore clothes that showed them off. I’d never seen either of them looking less than immaculate. Before we broke up, I’d spent the night with Claire loads of times, yet I’d never seen her without her face covered in make-up.

  I’d been impressed by both of them back then, but now I wondered why they went to so much effort, what they were trying to prove.

  Seb’s downstairs living room was like something from a posh hotel: a fully stocked bar along one side of the room, couches and armchairs scattered artfully on the other; massive bi-fold doors which led out to a deck and pool, and beyond that a view to die for. I’d got used to it over the years, but it was so different from my house and the part of town I lived in, it was as if Sebastian and inhabited different worlds.

  I sat at the bar and had a beer and wondered how soon I’d be able to leave. Claire and Bree snuck up and took a stool on either side of me. I’d felt them watching me all night, following me with their eyes, waiting for an opportunity to pounce.

  ‘Having a good time, Cooper?’ Bree asked.

  ‘Certainly doesn’t look like it,’ Claire answered for me. Her eyelids were half closed, her voice a drawl. Whatever she was drinking or taking, she’d obviously already had enough.

  ‘I was having a good time,’ I said.

  ‘Don’t be like that,’ Claire replied. ‘Why do you have to be so mean?’

  Mean. It was an unreal question coming from Claire. She defined the word. I shook my head, stood up.

  ‘You’re not leaving, are you?’ Claire asked. ‘Why don’t you have another drink? One of those cocktails Seb was making before? Or another beer? Or a wine? You like red, don’t you?’

  ‘Nah. Can’t. I’m driving.’ I wished Claire would just give up, stop putting me in positions where I was forced to be rude, but before I started feeling too sorry for her I reminded myself what she’d done to me, how completely she’d fucked me over.

  I muttered a brisk goodbye and walked away. I looked around for Seb but couldn’t find him anywhere downstairs, so I went back upstairs and had a quick look. I didn’t find him so I left. On my way home, I drove past Ripple Beach. I’d forgotten about Libby Lawson and the party she’d mentioned, but I saw the flickering light of a bonfire on the beach and a crowd of people sitting around it and wondered if that was them.

  It looked as if they were having a good time, and I felt a flash of envy. Why couldn’t Seb’s parties be more like that? For a second I considered pulling over and joining them. But then I remembered Libby’s coldness at the bottle shop, the way she’d looked through me. I couldn’t be bothered anyway. They were probably a bunch of pretentious nerds – trying to outdo each other intellectually, impress one other with their understanding of obscure poetry or something. Different to one of Seb’s parties on the surface, but ultimately just the same. Competitive. Desperate.

  From a distance they looked happy enough. But appearances could be deceiving. From a distance Seb’s parties would have looked pretty good too. From a distance we all probably looked like we were enjoying ourselves.

  When I got home I opened and closed the front door as quietly as I could in case Mum was asleep. She worked night shift a few times a week and was pretty much chroni
cally tired.

  ‘You’re home early,’ she called from her bedroom.

  ‘Yeah.’ I stuck my head around the door. She was sitting up in bed reading a book, her bedside lamp bathing her in a puddle of light. Her hair peaked in messy spikes, her glasses were perched on the end of her nose. I’d seen her looking like this so many times that I reckoned it was the way I’d always remember her.

  ‘Hey.’

  ‘Hey yourself,’ she said. ‘What’s up?’

  ‘Nothing.’

  ‘You feeling okay?’

  ‘I’m fine.’

  ‘You sure? You don’t actually look all that well.’

  ‘I’m good, Mum. Just tired. No big deal.’

  ‘Okay.’ She nodded. She was about to say something else, but she paused, and smiled instead. ‘There’re some leftovers in the fridge if you’re hungry.’

  My mum always worried too much. If I was quieter than usual, if I wasn’t in the mood for a surf, if I did anything out of the ordinary, she’d always assume the worst. I think what happened to Dad had made her this way. She knew the worst could happen and sometimes did.

  7

  LiBBy

  On Monday afternoon I did my usual shift at the campus newsagency, serving behind the counter and managing the till. A relentless stream of students and teachers bought magazines and newspapers and Lotto tickets, birthday cards and packets of chewing gum. It wasn’t the most exciting job in the world – in fact, I swear time slowed while I was there – but it meant I had some cash of my own. I didn’t have to pay any board at home, but I was expected to pay for my social life.

  Not long after I started my shift, Cate turned up. She grinned at me as she walked in, went straight to the fridge, got herself a bottle of water. She brought it to the counter and handed me the money.

  ‘Can you meet us at the bar when you’ve finished here? Hari thought we should get together and work out what to do about Atticus.’

  ‘Good idea. About ten past?’

  Cate nodded, blew me a kiss, took her water and left.

  At five, I balanced the till while Julia, my boss, packed up. Then I walked across campus to the bar. It was early autumn and the scorching heat of the summer had been replaced with milder air. I enjoyed the walk. Little blades of sunlight cut through the trees, and gravel crunched under my shoes. Autumn had always been my favourite season.

  Walloma Uni was built in the seventies right on the edge of the city centre and spanned several blocks. The buildings themselves were square and functional, but someone had been smart enough to plant rows of deciduous trees, which had grown large and beautiful, making the university seem older and more established than it was. A lot of people in Walloma considered it the most beautiful part of town. Personally, I preferred the beaches, but the campus was a close runner-up.

  The bar was unusually crowded. Every seat and table was taken, and all the standing room was thick with students. I wondered if we should go somewhere else – I was tired and wanted to sit down – when I spotted Hari in a corner booth. She had her books out and was hunched over her laptop, typing away at something, completely immersed.

  ‘Hey.’ I took a seat beside her. ‘You scored us a table. Brilliant.’

  She held her palm up, continued working. After a moment she pressed a dramatic final key and closed the lid of her laptop, flashing a satisfied smile. ‘Done!’

  ‘Good,’ I said. ‘And hello.’

  She slid across the seat and planted a kiss on my cheek.

  ‘Sorry. Sorry. I’m a horrible person.’

  ‘What’s going on here? It’s packed.’

  ‘Oh, some big band from Sydney, apparently. The Grass? The Weeds? Something like that.’

  ‘The Greens.’

  ‘How do you know?’

  I pointed to the large poster on the wall next to us.

  ‘Right.’ She shrugged. ‘The Greens. Never heard of them. Anyway, why don’t I go and get us a drink?’

  I watched her push her way to the bar. People stared at her with puzzled looks on their faces, nudging each other as she went past. Hari was nineteen but looked more like twelve, and at first glance it was hard to tell whether she was female or male. She had close-cropped black hair and a slight, boyish body. She was asked for ID all the time, but it didn’t faze her. I think she enjoyed surprising people.

  Hari was short for Maharani. She was born in Sydney, but her parents were both from Indonesia. Hari was the most academically inclined of all of us. She was always reading, always thinking, always trying to rationalise and analyse. Her brain whizzed at a hundred miles an hour.

  Before Hari returned from the bar, Cate arrived. She slid into the booth seat opposite me and unwrapped a scarf from around her neck, releasing waves of honey-blonde hair over her shoulders. She smiled. Cate’s smile was enormous, the best thing about her. She had dimples in her cheeks and they were pretty much always on show.

  ‘Sorry I’m late,’ she said. She went to put her scarf in her bag, and dropped her phone. As she bent over to retrieve it she spilled the contents of her bag all over the floor. It was typical Cate. I laughed and helped her scoop everything up.

  ‘Wow,’ she said beaming. ‘It’s so crowded. The band must be good. How did you score the table?’

  ‘Hari.’

  ‘She’s already here?’

  Hari’s books were spread all over the table, her brightly coloured backpack clearly visible, but Cate never noticed things like that.

  ‘Getting drinks.’

  She peered towards the bar. ‘Bloody hell. Look at that. Do you think she’s been crushed to death?’

  Just then Hari emerged from the crowd, holding our drinks. She might have been small but she was determined.

  We were all in second year. Cate was studying Arts like me. She wanted to be a high-school teacher. Hari was doing a double degree in international relations and law, and had ambitions to fix the world. Unlike Hari and Cate, I had no firm idea what I wanted to do with my degree. I was interested in philosophy, and hoped I’d be lucky enough to work out what I wanted to do along the way.

  Hari brought our drinks to the table. We settled in to talk about Atticus. His twentieth birthday was coming up and we wanted to organise something special. He’d been diagnosed with leukaemia eighteen months earlier and had recently finished his final round of chemo. It wasn’t only his birthday we wanted to celebrate, but his future, the end of his illness. We were positive that he’d gone into complete remission, and we were determined to find the perfect gift.

  8

  COOPER

  On Monday afternoon I went to the university to find Seb. I wanted to say sorry for bailing on his party and make sure he wasn’t too mad, so I knocked off work early, drove to the uni and found a park right next to his car. I knew he finished class around four and it was ten past already, so I got out and waited, leaning against the bonnet of Mum’s Mazda. She let me borrow it when she didn’t need it for work.

  The contrast between Seb’s shiny new car and my mum’s old piece of crap was dramatic, and I tried not to succumb to the familiar pang of jealousy. Seb drove a brand new VW. Red, sporty and fast – and all his.

  He came strolling towards me a few minutes after I arrived, but scowled when he saw me.

  ‘What are you doing here?’

  ‘Wanna get a beer?’

  Seb shrugged as if he couldn’t care less, but threw his books into the boot and locked the car. We walked in silence to the uni bar. Inside, it was uncomfortably packed and noisy.

  ‘Fuck.’ Seb frowned into the gloom. ‘It’s mad in here.’

  ‘We can go if you want.’

  But Seb shook his head and pushed his way to the bar. It took a while to get served, and when we had a beer each we looked for somewhere to sit. All the tables were taken – even the walls had people leaning against them. We stood awkwardly in the middle of the room.

  ‘Sorry about Saturday night,’ I said. ‘For bailing so early.’

/>   ‘What?’ Seb scowled. ‘I can’t bloody hear you.’

  ‘Doesn’t matter.’

  But he must have heard something, because a moment later he said, ‘Don’t you even bother saying goodbye anymore?’

  ‘I couldn’t find you.’

  ‘You always leave early these days,’ he said. ‘So why bloody apologise for it?’

  He was right. I’d been the first person to leave his parties for a while now. I was usually home before midnight, which was a pretty pathetic effort. It was partly because I wanted to avoid Claire, partly because I just didn’t want to be there.

  I tried to change the subject, jolly Seb out of his temper, but he stayed sullen. He kept shrugging, looking away. I wondered why he’d agreed to come for a drink in the first place.

  ‘This sucks,’ he said. ‘I can’t believe there’s not even a fucking chair available in this hole. Shows you how desperate the youth of Walloma must be.’

  I’d had enough of both his shit mood and the crowd and was about to suggest we leave when I saw Libby Lawson sitting at a booth with her friends. There were three of them at a table big enough for six.

  ‘Hey,’ I said to Seb. ‘Over there. We can sit with them.’

  9

  LiBBy

  When we’d finished our first drinks I braved the crush at the bar to get a second round. We were deeply immersed in making plans for Atticus’s birthday when Hari stopped talking and looked up. A shadow had fallen over the table, and when I turned around I was startled to see Cooper Bartholomew standing there. Sebastian Boccardo was beside him. They were holding glasses of beer.

  ‘Hey,’ Cooper said. ‘Libby. How are you?’

  I felt unexpectedly pleased to see him. I straightened up and smiled. ‘I’m fine. You?’

  ‘Yeah. Good. Hey, do you guys mind if we share your booth? If you don’t have anyone else coming? It’s so packed in here.’

  There was plenty of room at our table and it would have been rude to say no – we were going to have to share it with someone eventually. Hari collected her books and pushed them into her backpack. The three of us slid closer to each other, making space.

 
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