Chapter Two

“You can’t do it,” Laura pronounced. “It’s not right, Hera. You can’t keep trooping off to the Law Palace to do stuff you hate.” She was spread out across all three seats of one of the hideous orange couches in the common room, basking in the sun. Somehow that didn’t make her any easier to argue with.

“It’s what I came here to do,” I protested. “I can’t just chuck it in cause it’s a bit tough. My parents would be really mad.”

Laura stretched, and pushed a hand through her satin hair. “Screw them. They had their go, now it’s yours. I mean, sure, they want you to use your fabulous brain – and it is a fabulous brain – and they want you to have a good job and not have to worry, but Jesus Hera, life is really fucking short. If you got run over by a truck tomorrow, would you really want your last thought to be about conveyancing?”

I shrugged, and drummed my nails against my coffee cup. I’d known Laura for a few weeks now; long enough to know she wouldn’t let something go once she’d sunk her teeth in. “Well, no, but… that’s not why… I want to make a difference. I want to help people.”

Laura snorted. “It’s not lawyers who do that, love. It’s people who have ideas. People who have words. People who make laws, not the people who use them. When did a lawyer ever really make a difference?”

“Ghandhi was a lawyer.”

Laura’s face went very still, as if something was resetting inside her head, and then she laughed. “Okay, yes, fair point. But look… if you could do anything, anything at all, what would it be? Just as a dream.”

I could feel my cheeks getting warm just from her making me think about it. “I’d be an actress. That’s what I really… I did some stuff at school, you know… but it’s not a job.”

Laura sat up, suddenly, all one fluid movement. “There you go. It’s still early in the year. Pop down to the registry on Monday, pull out of Law, and transfer to Performing Arts. Your parents can find out when your marks come out.”

“Laura, I can’t do that!”

“Yes you can. I’ll go with you. Oh look, Peter’s got the plans. Back in a minute.”

She slinked off across the room to where Peter had just come in, and they sat together at a table, heads bent over some large sheets of paper.

I slid over and leaned across to the table next to mine. Glen and Darren were playing Senet. They’d been trying to come up with some rules that didn’t suck. “Okay, I give up. You guys have known them for longer, you tell me. Why aren’t those two screwing?”

Richard glanced across the room at the others. “What, Tweedledum and Tweedle-D-Cup? Well, Peter’s got that girlfriend. Theoretically.”

“Oh, I’m sure Lynne’s real,” Glen said, without looking up. “It’s just that none of us have ever seen her or met her. But she’s almost certainly existent. Extant. Whatever. Anyway… they can’t. The world would end.”

Laura was fighting Peter for control of his pencil, laughing while she argued with him. “No, I don’t get it,” I said. “Look at them! They’re all over each other. And they’re…” I struggled to find adequate words for what I’d been trying to work out for the last few weeks. “They’re perfect.”

Glen gave up and leaned back, resting his hands on his stomach. This was his pontificating pose, and I was always pleased to provoke it. “That’s why. I mean, okay, let’s say they have sex. What happens then?”

“They do it again? Quite a lot? Occasionally having pizza delivered to the bed?”

Glen rolled his eyes at me. “After that. What happens? Do they get married and have a bunch of babies and buy a franchise and a station-wagon? Laura takes the kids to soccer and Peter gets lots of ties? No. The world ends. Anything that starts with them getting any closer ends with blood and screaming and people clinging to burning wreckage in the water. They’re the Battle of Actium waiting to happen, that’s what they are.”

Despite the rehearsal that had clearly gone into his speech, Glen had still impressed me. I could see what he meant. I could also see something else. “Elizabeth Taylor! That’s who Laura looks like, Elizabeth Taylor. Not in National Velvet though, god. No… as Cleopatra.”

“I think you’ll find,” Richard said with a lazy archness, “that Laura looks like Cleopatra. Are you absolutely sure you’re into boys, Hera? Because a lot of time and attention seems to be going into our glorious leader.”

I flushed, and shifted uncomfortably, but no-one seemed inclined to save me. I knew what this was about: despite some great face-time at parties, I wasn’t boinking anyone. Until I did, I was still open for speculation. I’ve never known a group of old women who liked gossiping as much as the Carter Club boys. “I like her,” I said levelly, “but not like that. Even if I was… I wouldn’t go there.”

“Really?” said Darren, looking up from packing away their game. “Because from what I hear from the girl fanciers – which is way more than I’d like, thanks guys – Laura is quite the… thing.”

“Well articulated there, Darren.” Richard hadn’t toned down the Arch in the slightest. He seemed to be in one of those moods. “That thesaurus is obviously paying off. Still, Hera, the man has a point. If you were to Half Time Change Sides, why not Laura? She’s very bangable.”

I searched desperately for something, anything I could safely say. “I don’t know. She’s just… She’s my friend.” She was, in fact, now my best friend. We’d just naturally started spending quite a lot of time together, and it was easy. My friends from before the Carter Club had just sort of melted away. “I’d like to stay friends.”

I had my head down, not looking at any of the boys, but I could feel the tension in the air that said they weren’t done yet. I needed a distraction.

There was a newspaper on the table. Nothing strange about that, but this one, unusually, wasn’t folded open to the crossword. An inside page showed two prominent photos. One was of an older, besuited man holding up a hand to shield himself from the camera, red and distressed. The other was obviously a stock photo. Of Councillor Symes.

I could have read the article myself, but that wouldn’t have given me the necessary distraction. I did want to know, though, and without too much snarking and clever-dicking. “Darren? What’s happened?”

Darren looked where I was looking, then looked a bit shifty. “Scandal. One of our city councillors has decided to resign and spend more time with his family. On account of recently spending quite a lot of time with someone… not family. Sam Halligan. Merivale, very popular with the businesserati…”

“I’m really quite sure that’s not a word,” interrupted Richard. “It just doesn’t work. Glitterati, mediarati, wankerati, sure. But not that. Maybe it’s the s sounds. We’d need an English major to work that out, and Peter doesn’t count, not since he got so into dolphins.”

I made the effort to ignore him. “So what’s that got to do with our… with Counsellor Symes? Did Laura…” I had to stop there, because I had no idea how the sentence ended. What could Laura possibly have done?

Glen sort of unfolded and sat forward. “I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you, Hera. I don’t worry about it being me, either. Sometimes these things just happen. Sam Halligan was so right-wing nutjob he was bordering on Libertarian. There’s a very nice young woman lined up to replace him. Ex-Carter Club, actually. Funny how life takes these little turns. Best to just have another gin and not think about it.”

“Anyway,” Richard said firmly. “We were talking about you fucking Laura. Well, I was. I still am. Thinking about it as well. So, why aren’t you?”

Oh bugger.

It was then that Richard’s girlfriend Marianne wandered in, just too late to rescue me. She was just about a stereotypical hippie: long brown hair, long skirts, bare feet, lots of bangles, and a permanent sort of incensy smell from the clove cigarettes she smoked. I was still slightly nervous of her: she could be either intensly, unnervingly vivacious, or crushingly darkly low and vicious, and there was no way of telling in advance. I don’t know why, but Richard was the only one who could calm her down. I feel bad about it now. It wasn’t until after she died that we realised she was probably bi-polar.

And every time I saw her I remembered Laura saying that she was Nephthys and wondered, yet again and with growing annoyance, what the hell they were all hiding from me. What else they were hiding, besides what Glen had just flat-out refused to tell me. Mouse had been in a couple of weeks ago to measure up Glen, even though Laura had moved on and was now screwing some guy who worked in construction.

And Peter and Laura had plans. Literally.

Which it appeared they were finished with now, because they wandered over just after Marianne came in. The Carter Club had dozens of members at uni and many more who weren’t, but there was a sense that we were ‘all here’ now. I was just glad the ‘all’ seemed to include me. Peter took a seat, Laura sat in front of him on the floor, and he started rubbing her neck. The way his fingers moved across her skin was uncomfortably sensual.

Marianne settled in Richard’s lap, and flicked Laura’s shoulder with her fingers. “Soon? It needs to be soon.”

Without turning her head, Laura reached up and squeezed Marianne’s hand. “Very soon. Promise. Still things to do first.”

Marianne gave a short bark of laughter and flicked the back of Peter’s head, as if he and Laura were the same person. “Get them done, then. Jesus. Can’t wait forever.”

While Peter fixed his hair, Laura turned her attention to me, nudging me with her foot. “You coming tonight?”

I shifted uncomfortably. Deer, headlights; bug, pin; me, Laura. “To the party? Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Because you haven’t seemed very comfortable the last couple of times.”

I shrugged. I didn’t really want to have this conversation in public, but then Laura never seemed to be terribly aware of people she wasn’t talking directly to. Peter was still touching her and she’d pretty much forgotten even he was there. “I’m okay. It’s just… one of the guys…”

Laura sat up straight, Peter’s hands falling away from her shoulders. “Someone did something you didn’t want? Who was it? We’ll sort him. We don’t let that kind of thing happen, not in the Club. Just a kiss, some hands, I don’t care. If you don’t want it, it doesn’t happen. I promise. Tell me who it was and the little bastard’ll never come through our doors again.”

She meant it too; she was furious, and I didn’t want to get anybody into trouble. “Laura, it’s alright. I didn’t say anything. It just… y’know, it wasn’t very pleasant, that’s all.”

She stared at me for a long, bloody uncomfortable moment. Then she leaned back and half-lidded that scary gaze of hers, but she wasn’t fooling me, let alone anyone else. “Pleasant. You know, Hera, you’re right. I haven’t been taking very good care of you. Tonight, I’ll look after you. Show you around properly. Make sure you know where to go for ‘pleasant’. Some of our boys can be very pleasant indeed. Can’t you, boys? Of course, some of the others are total dipshits, but I can point those out too.”

“Oh Christ,” Darren said. “Not another one of these. We could still make a break for it.”

“Not now you’ve said it we can’t,” Richard replied, quite reasonably. “Besides, I totally want to see what happens. Anyway, it’s not like you’ll be in the firing line. Tonight, the girls like boys who like girls. Me, I’m going to get some more piss. We’re going to need it.”