Chapter Seventeen

Sitting in the sun in our common room, Laura pointed at something on the paper in front of her, put down the pencil, and leaned back. Next to her, Peter leaned forward and picked it up, half turning his head while he asked her a question.

“You’re right,” Glen said thoughtfully. We were watching from across the room, which wasn’t exactly unusual, but this was different. “I hadn’t really noticed, but you’re right.”

“I know,” I said, too worried to be defensive at his surprise. “What do you think happened? I can’t even remember when it started, but it’s been a while.”

“I don’t see it,” Richard complained. “Seriously, what the fuck are you two on about? You haven’t caught Hera’s wee obsession, have you Glen? We all going to stare moonily at Laura all day?”

The look Glen gave Richard then was uncharacteristically harsh. The comment was about par for Richard, and I could add ‘what set Glen off’ to the long list of things I didn’t understand. His voice was chillingly level, like Laura when she was really contemptuous. “That’s not really a conversation you want us to start having, is it Richard? Because some of us notice things.” He leaned back, the air of threat easing so quickly I wasn’t sure I’d felt it. “Like, for instance, Peter and Laura, who are right now doing something they’ve never done. Right in front of you. They’re not touching.”

The death-hate-fuck-you look on Richard’s face ebbed away as he watched again. “Well, they’re not touching right now, sure, but they were never glued together. How do you know…” I watched him try to work out how to say it, just like I had when I first brought it up with Glen. “That they’re never touching?”

“How do you prove a negative, you mean?” Glen said, rolling his pen across his fingers. It was a habit he had when he was thinking, walking coins or pens across the backs of his knuckles. It actually kind of annoyed me. “We can’t. I’m pretty sure now, though, that they’re not touching as much as they used to. And we’re waiting to see if they touch at all.”

“They look fine,” Richard insisted. “Look, she even just did that laughy hair-toss thing she does with him, like he’s the funniest guy in the world and she just couldn’t think of anything more delightful than sucking him off.”

“And you think Hera has issues.”

He snorted, and picked up his book again. “Of course not. I think you both have issues. Let me know when you get as bored with this as I am.”

 

We hadn’t really come to any definite conclusions a couple of months later. They both seemed perfectly fine. Laura hadn’t been quite her normal self the first few weeks of term, but I figured that was her getting over Samuel still. Peter was clearly worried about her. And maybe that was where the lack of their normal over-touching was coming from: he was giving her the space she needed to grieve. We were getting to a point, too, where some of us were doing post-grad, and actually putting the hours in. I had audition pieces to prepare and decisions to make.

And then one evening Laura walked into Happy Hour, sat down at our table, and said, “I’ve got something to tell you. You should probably all swallow and put down your glasses before I do.”

I looked around the table and saw nothing but good-humoured puzzlement. Peter didn’t have that complacent look he got when he knew what she was about to spring. Silence settled. She wouldn’t spill until she was good and ready.

After a moment, people started looking at me. I was her best girly-friend. It was my job to play straight man for her. “Okay, Laura. Tell us. Come on, what’s the big surprise?”

She looked straight forward, her clear blue eyes not looking at any one of us. Her expression was calm, so calm and smooth she reminded me of Isis. “I’m pregnant.”

The silence drew out. Even though I was staring at the table, I was acutely conscious of every other person there. Glen and Richard and Darren and Marianne and I, we were all, with a massive effort of will, not looking at Peter. The force with which we were not looking at Peter was quite palpable.

It got uncomfortable. I tried shooting a sideways glance at Glen, but I couldn’t see him without lifting my head and I didn’t want to draw attention. What the hell were any of us supposed to say? And I was her best girly-friend, it was my job… Oh fuck, what if Richard worked out what to say first? He had way more options than we did, what with being a cunt.

“Congrats.” It was Marianne. Gods knew which way this was going to go, but at least my neck muscles were working now. “What are you going to do, are you going to keep it?”

“Yes.” I looked up. She was still calm, still staring into space. The space was slightly to the left of Peter’s head. “I’m due in November. If I work really hard I can finish my Masters before the baby’s born.”

There was a fury of head-maths. She hadn’t said which end of November.

By looking oh so casually at Glen, I managed to get Peter’s face into my peripheral vision. If he’d just died he couldn’t have been any more expressionless. Glen himself gave me a warning look. I must have looked as miserable and over-wrought as I felt.

So I took a deep breath, and raised my glass to her. “Congratulations, Laura. You know we’ll all be here to help out all we can.”

“Speak for yourself,” Richard said drily, and we all laughed desperately.

Gradually, normal conversation resumed. Darren asked Peter about a tutorial he’d started giving, and after a couple of minutes, there was a babble of talk, enough that I could lean over to Laura and say, “Are you okay?”

She shrugged. Now that he was distracted, she was all about the looking at Peter. “I knew it was going to be awkward.” She smiled slightly. “Maybe not that awkward. Sweet Gods, normally I can’t shut you people up. Remind me to tell you all I’m pregnant the next time we’re about to go on stage.”

I took a deep breath. “Laura, you know I have to ask.”

“You really don’t.”

“Everyone’s going to start wondering soon.” Actually, that was a thought. Everyone? Or did one of us already know?

She bent, and picked up her bag. “You know what? I’m tired. I’ll leave you drinking people to it.”

She was out the door while I was still trying to remember the last time I’d seen her drink. How long had she known?

“What did you say to her, Hera?”

I gave Glen a hopeless look. “I didn’t ask. The thing. I didn’t ask it. Wait here.”

I ran out after Laura, and caught her half-way down the stairs, two heavy doors shut between us and the bars. “Laura! Laura, come on, it’s just me. Please. Tell me. Who’s the father?”

She looked up at me from a couple of steps down. Her skin was pale beside her dark hair, her weary beauty utterly out of place surrounded by easy-hose-down orange vinyl and safety glass. She spread her fingers wide over her perfectly flat abdomen, part of her attention turned inwards. Her remoteness was starting to scare me. She was my best friend, she was twenty-two, and she was having a baby. She didn’t seem to need me at all. “This baby… he’s got no father anywhere on this earth. Don’t ask me again, Hera. It’s the only answer I can give you. When he’s born… it won’t matter.”

She was really freaking me out now. “It’s a boy?”

She smiled. Women have probably smiled like that just before divorcing their husbands with extreme prejudice and an axe. “Oh Hera. Of course it’s a boy.”

 

“I just would have thought,” Richard said again, “that Laura was on the pill. That’s all I’m saying.”

I sighed, and let go of my side of Laura’s Isis costume. Marianne and I were trying to work out how to sew panels into the sides to allow for Laura’s now-burgeoning stomach. It was turning out to be more complicated than we’d expected. “You know this is one of the many things that’s none of your fucking business, right?”

He shrugged easily, and reached out to stroke Marianne’s leg. “Like that’s going to stop me.”

“She was,” Peter said quietly. His voice was like the ice on a winter puddle. “Of course she was.”

Okay then, we were Telling. Good to know. “That’s the scary thing. Laura was really careful. She always carried condoms as well. If it could happen to her…”

Marianne shifted the dress around and started unpicking a seam. “No impulse control, you need to be prepared in advance. Um… We’ll probably get a couple of months out of loosening the ties on the girdle, but after that… I dunno, we might have to lose it completely.”

“There must be art of Isis pregnant,” I replied, glad of the change of subject. “I’ll get Darren to have a look.”

“Willing to bet what it’s going to look like,” Richard said. “Her.”

Silence fell while we thought about it. Now she was starting to show, if anything Laura was even more beautiful. It was… unsettling. Worse for the boys – well, Richard, Peter and Glen, anyway – because the combination of pregnancy and stunning sexual attractiveness was Just Wrong. She glowed, and even more than usual she looked like she knew something private but really amusing, some delightful sexy secret.

There was some shifting in seats, and looks exchanged, and then Peter said, “Hera? When are you going to tell her?”

I did my absolute best Innocent Face. It was abysmal. “I… what? Tell who what?”

“Glen might have mentioned something about some kind of acting course?”

Fuck. I hadn’t, come to think of it, specifically told him not to. “I’m just thinking about it, really. I’m keeping my options open. I’ve been offered an audition for a private teacher in Auckland. It’s a hell of an opportunity, but I probably won’t get it, and even if I did… How can I leave her now?”

Marianne leaned over and took my hand. “She’s got all the rest of us. We’ll take care of her. If she even needs taking care of.”

I leaned back against the window. “I’m going to fucking kill Glen.”

“Only by shagging him to death,” Richard said. “How long’s it been now? This relationship you’re not having? Coming up on a year?”

I shut my eyes, but I still heard Peter’s sharp intake of breath. Yes. It was coming up on a year. I’d been trying to pretend I didn’t know, that I wasn’t really aware of it and it didn’t matter, but yes. It was nearly a year since Patrick.

 

When that night came, despite it being the middle of the week, the others must have decided not to pretend they didn’t know the date too, because they dragged me out to dinner and got me utterly shit-faced. Even if I hadn’t really wanted to be distracted, their raucous idiocy was inescapable. We had a fabulous time.

And afterwards, I told Laura about my plans.

“I mean, I’m just going to go up and try out. I may as well. It’s an amazing opportunity. She’s a brilliant teacher, best in the country. There’ll be loads of applicants, there’s no way I’ll get in, but David, Dr Romati, he thinks I should try.”

Laura glowed with happiness, throwing her arms around my shoulders and hugging me hard. “Shut up, darling, it’s wonderful! And you’re bound to get in, because so are you.”

“Laura, if I do get it, if everyone else gets bubonic plague or something… I’d have to move to Auckland. I mean, it’d be a sound move for me anyway, if I want to do television, but it wouldn’t be yet, unless I get this. I wouldn’t be here when you have the baby.”

She waved a hand in my face. “You are not to worry about that. Promise me. I’ll be fine. And it’s only Auckland, it’s not another planet. Well, not literally. We can write, and phone, and you can come down for holidays. You go for it, you hear me? Move to Auckland. Get a shitty apartment and a tacky property developer with a Merc. Complain about the humidity and the traffic. My son can get born just fine without you.”

Drunkenly, I leaned in and hugged her again. “I want to be here. With you. I love you, you know that.”

She tensed in my arms, just briefly, and when she straightened up there were tears on her face. “Oh honey, I’ll miss the fuck out of you. But this is what happens. Everyone leaves. And with this…” She rested her hand on her swollen stomach, and that familiar complacent look came over her face again. “Everything is going to change anyway.”