Rebecca James was born in Sydney in 1970. She spent her early twenties working as a waitress, her late twenties teaching English in Indonesia and Japan, and most of her thirties having babies and working as a kitchen designer. Her first novel, Beautiful Malice, was an international publishing sensation, selling in 52 countries. This was followed by Sweet Damage, published in Australia in 2013.
Rebecca now lives in Canberra with her partner and their four sons.
I never imagined I would die like this.
The fall from the cliff is sudden and shocking, the plunge towards the earth terrifying. There’s no pain when I hit the ground. Pain is there to warn you when something is wrong, there’s no point to it when nothing is right.
I’m briefly aware of certain things – the impossible twisted angles of my arms and legs. Blood pooling beneath my head.
I think of Mum.
And Libby . . . Her warmth, her eyes, her body. Thoughts that would make me smile if I was able, memories that would make me fight for life if I could.
It hurts like hell to imagine her pain and confusion.
Then I remember how I got here in the first place, the combination of events that led to this. The secrets and the lies.
I’m filled with a futile desire to do something. Find Libby. Tell her the truth.
I’m asleep, dreaming, when someone knocks on my bedroom door. In my drowsy confusion I assume that it’s Cooper, but it’s my mother who pushes the door open and comes to sit on the edge of my bed. I blink, rub my eyes, and notice with a shock that Mum’s eyes are full of tears.
I sit up, immediately awake.
‘What is it? What’s wrong?’
‘Oh, Libby, darling,’ she says.
I wait, heart pounding. I can’t imagine what has made her look so devastated.
‘Oh, sweetheart, I’m so sorry,’ she says, taking my hand. ‘It’s Cooper. He’s gone. He’s gone. Last night he . . . He’s dead.’
I push my blankets off and stand up. I find my phone and check the screen. There are two new messages from Cooper. I was so exhausted last night I went to bed early and must have fallen asleep immediately. I hadn’t heard a thing
He sent the first message at eleven.
Still awake? Can I come over? x
The second came an hour later, just before midnight.
Libs? You there?
I try to call him but it goes straight to voicemail. I toss my phone on the bed.
‘I’m going to see him,’ I say. ‘Find out what’s going on.’
Mum stands up and puts her hands on my shoulders. She speaks slowly, her voice breaking. I watch her with a fascinated detachment.
‘You can’t. Cooper is gone. He’s dead, sweetheart. You can’t speak to him.’
‘Let me go,’ I say, pulling away. I go to the mirror and pull my hair back from my face and lift it into a ponytail. I’m about to take my pyjamas off when I see my mother’s reflection in the mirror. I notice the very careful way she’s watching me, the sad look in her eyes, and the meaning of her words finally sinks in.
‘No,’ I say. Just that. My legs feel suddenly boneless, too weak to keep me up. I sink to the floor and put my head in my hands. It takes a few moments before I understand that the noise I can hear – a low animal moan, a dreadful wail of despair – is coming from me.
Mum sits on the floor beside me, wraps her arm around my back, pulls my head against her shoulder. We sit there, rocking, for a very long time.
He’s eating breakfast when the landline rings. In the quiet of the kitchen the noise seems harsh, overly loud, insistent, and he knows that it’s going to be bad news. It’s too early for social calls. His father is at work and his mother’s in the shower, so he puts his spoon down, walks reluctantly to the side table.
He picks up the phone. Toby Richardson tells him in a broken voice that Cooper is dead.
‘Some surfer found him this morning down on the rocks. They’re saying it was suicide. My mum was working up at the hospital when they brought him in. They’re actually saying he jumped off Bradley’s Edge.’ Toby sounds suddenly outraged, angry. ‘Like, deliberately.’
Sebastian leans against the wall for a moment, covers his mouth with the back of his hand. He looks out towards Mount Timbi and Bradley’s Edge and an image of Cooper’s shattered body flashes into his mind: blood and bone, sharp rocks, torn flesh. Cooper’s broken, still face. He shivers, wrapping his arms around himself. For a moment he feels as though all the oxygen has been sucked from the atmosphere and replaced with something toxic. He swallows, chokes on nothing, gasps for air.
‘You okay? Seb? Mate?’
He takes a breath, straightens up, pulls himself together.
‘I’m fine,’ he says. His voice is controlled, formal. ‘Thanks for letting me know.’
‘Hold on a minute. Don’t hang up. Seb . . .?’
It’s clear that Toby wants to stay on the line, expects something from him. He’s assuming that they might comfort each other. Cry together. Talk it through.
But Sebastian can’t, won’t. All he can do is say thank you again before he disconnects and drops the handset back into its base. In the safety of his bedroom, he closes the door, pulls the blinds down and lets himself cry. He feels broken, hollow, as though someone has blown a hole through his middle where his soul used to be.
Claire is barely out of bed when Sebastian calls. His voice is thick – she can tell he’s been crying. She wonders if he’s taken something.
Then he tells her – he says that Cooper was found at the bottom of Bradley’s Edge. Shock grips her in a vicious fist. Squeezes tight, making her stomach heave and her head spin. She collapses to the floor, dropping her phone and cracking her elbow on the coffee table. Bree rushes over to help. Tells Seb to call back later.
‘He’s dead,’ Claire says. ‘I can’t believe it. I can’t fucking believe it.’
‘Who?’ Bree crouches down beside her. ‘Claire? Who’s dead?’
Claire tells her what she knows, and they sit for a while in shock. They hold hands and cry, stare at each other with wide, horrified eyes. After a while Bree gets up and makes coffee, and they drink in silence. The coffee tastes like mud, and if Claire had the energy she’d get up and make them something stronger, more soothing. But she’s too shattered to move.
‘You should go back to bed,’ Bree says. ‘You look like absolute shit.’
Claire’s happy to be told what to do. She lets Bree lead her to her bedroom and waits passively as Bree pulls back the bedclothes. It’s a relief to sink into the musky comfort of doona, sheets and pillows.
It’s only when Bree has left the room and she’s alone that Claire dares to let herself think, to allow her memories of last night to surface.
She was so wasted that her mental images are hazy and unclear. She remembers the first part of the night – drinking vodka in the afternoon, listening to music, dancing drunkenly around the lounge room – but everything else is a blur.
She looks across at the pile of discarded clothes in the corner of her room. Black boots, skinny jeans, her favourite sequinned top. She must have gone somewhere. Done something. She wouldn’t wear that top around the house. She closes her eyes, strains to remember, and is rewarded with a sudden clear flashback: at some stage of the night she’d called a cab, staggered down the staircase, waited outside.
Where had she gone? Where?
Sebastian’s. She sees herself knocking on his door. Going inside. The two of them drinking straight whisky. Claire hates whisky, but that didn’t stop her – she can taste the sour fire of it, recall the way it made her gasp. They shared a line of speed. Maybe two. They both got wasted.
But there’s more. Something bad happened. Something that left her miserable and crying.
She lies back and gazes at the ceiling as the next memory starts to form. It emerges slowly, fragmented and disjointed, like an old film cut up and reassembled out of order. But it’s enough to create a vague picture, more than enough to make her heart beat faster and her body sweat.
She was in the car with Cooper. Both of them angry. A nasty fight. Tears and shouting. She remembers pushing him. Pushing him again. Pushing him hard.
She starts crying, letting the tears slide down her temples, into her hairline.
They fought. She pushed him.
And now Cooper is dead.
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