"Cora?"

Mia, perched on the sun lounger next to me, waved her hand in front of my face. I blinked my way out of my reverie. She grinned at me. "Are you alright?"

I nodded, turning my face away, glad of the sunglasses that hid my all too readable eyes from her knowing ones. Misha had- in an effort to keep me happy, I was sure of it- had taken over my shift for the afternoon, leaving me free to spend the afternoon with Mia by the local pool. However, I hadn't gotten round to telling her about joining the band with Chris, and I was sure she wouldn't approve, so I wasn't so sure the afternoon with her was a welcome one.

"No, you're not," she frowned, her voice so full of concern that I felt inclined to face her. She cocked her head to one side. "What's wrong?" she asked quietly, her voice full of motherly affection. My heartstrings twanged; I couldn't hide this from her for much longer.

"Um…" I stalled, fiddling with the hair that had fallen in my eyes. Mia brushed it away impatiently.

"What aren't you telling me, Cora?" She asked, barely above a whisper. With a sigh, I took off my sunglasses and turned to face her properly. I sat up and looked her in the eye. She gasped. "Oh, god. You're pregnant, aren't you?"

"No!" I burst out, shaking my head. Mia's face was filled with relief- momentary relief, I was sure.

"Phew," she grinned. "So what is it?"

"Uh…"

"Hey, guys!"

We both jumped as Mark, loud as ever, shouted across the pool. He waved and grinned at us, and we returned the gestures. Mia waved a little half heartedly- you could almost see in her face that she resented the interruption and was already planning when to next attack me. I waved, too, with less enthusiasm than usual; I was sure that Mark was going to spill the beans, with much less tact than I would have done.

"Hey, Mark," I called as he approached.

"I called at the café, but Misha said you'd be here," he explained with an easy smile. "She said she'd given you the day off. Well, she owes you, after all."
"What for?" Mia wanted to know. Her eyes darted from my face to Mark's suspiciously.

"Uh, for… taking her shift when she had a date last week," I covered hastily, glaring at Mark. He looked a little confused.

"But I thought-"
"Who wants ice-cream?" I asked cheerily, jumping up. I took their orders and hurried away with a backwards glare at Mark- he winked at me, and I hoped with all faith that he would take the hint.

But this was Mark I was thinking about. Of course he couldn't take the hint.

"So, babe," Mark started once I had sat down again, handing them their ice-creams. "I was just wondering- maybe Mia could go with you tonight? Because I feel really guilty for leaving you-"

"What's this?" Mia wanted to know. Her voice was like thunder, and I winced.

"Um… the… dinner I was going to with my parents-"
"What?" Mark looked, yet again, confused. "But I thought you had the band rehearsal tonight. Did they cancel?"

I didn't answer- I stared, instead, at Mia. First, she frowned. Then, as it began to sink in, her eyes widened. Then, I watched as the narrowed again and came to rest on me.

"Not… Misha's band?"

"No," I said quickly.

"You mean yes," Mark laughed. As he finally noticed my glare the smile slid from his face. "I mean- um-"

"The band that you promised me you wouldn't join?" Mia hissed. I just nodded. I felt helpless, like a small mammal watching the cobra rise hypnotically before it, fixed to its place… "The band that CHRIS BLOODY GARNER IS IN?"

Only she didn't say bloody.

"Um," I said. "Yes?"

She shook her head. I glared at Mark, mouthing 'thanks a lot' at him. He had the grace to look ashamed of himself.

"Well, she had to find out," he protested. Mia turned on him instantly.

"And you!" She almost yelled, causing most of the parents and children around the pool to all pause and look at us curiously. "You knew! You let her!"

"Well, it's not all my fault," Mark began defensively. Mia glared at him, looking so much like my mother that I had to giggle. Big mistake.

"This. Is. Not. FUNNY!" She hissed, standing up on the last word. "You know what happens when you are around Chris Garner! This is going to end very, very badly!" She stalked off to sit at the other end of the pool. I watched her go, torn between going to make it up or to sit here with my body parts securely fixed together. I distracted myself by glaring- yet again- at Mark, who looked at me innocently.

"What?" He had the nerve to ask. "If you ask me, she needed to find out sooner rather than later…"
I just stared at him. He sighed, resignedly. "If you want me to go over there-"

"I think you've done enough," I snapped. He looked so hurt that I backtracked, fast. "Anyway, shouldn't you be getting ready for the big date? What are you guys seeing, anyway?"

That wiped the pained expression from his face quickly, replacing it with a dreamy one. "Seventeen Again."
I giggled. "That is so-"
"What? Gay?" Mark shot back, his voice automatically hardened from years of secondary school bullying. I felt an immediate surge of pity for my friend as I reached out to touch his arm.
"I was going to say cheesy, actually."

He sighed, smiling. "I know." With a backwards glance at Mia, sat the other side of the pool with her back turned very pointedly towards us, and got up. He didn't look too sorry to be leaving. "Good luck," he told me happily.

"Thanks," I muttered sarcastically. He blew me a kiss and fled.

With a sigh, I begrudgingly pushed myself up onto my feet and slowly started to pad my way over to Mia, taking as much time as I could. But the pool wasn't exactly huge, so I was by her side much too quickly.
"Mia?" I began meekly. She turned towards me, slow and deliberate. I gulped. "Um… I'm sorry I didn't tell you," I told her, the words coming out much faster than I intended. "But I knew you'd react… well, badly-"

"So why did you do it?" She demanded. "You know what will happen! He's dangerous, Cora. I know that much, even if you don't trust me enough to tell me what happened."
That stung. I winced, turning my face away so that she could not read the pain in it. Out of the corner of my eye I saw hers soften guiltily.

"Sorry," she murmured. I smiled forcedly at her. "I feel like your mum sometimes," she giggled. I joined in, happy that the row had ended. "And speaking of parents… what did your dad say?" I squirmed guiltily, and once again Mia proved that my face was an open book. "You haven't told him! You've got to!"

"I'll get around to it," I hastened to promise her. "I'm just… gonna wait for the right time."
"Well, just don't take too long," she warned me sternly. I nodded happily. "Anyway, who's this mystery guy Mark's meeting up with?"

As I spilled the gossip, happy at the change the conversation had taken, I started to worry. Now that I'd crossed that hurdle, I couldn't help but wonder- what did the next one entail? And was I really strong enough to handle it? Well, only four hours until I found out…

-x-

AN: I'd just like to take this opportunity to rectify a mistake I made in the last chapter: Mark's date is the day of Cora's practice, not the day that he meets Owen. Sorry about that… Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it and thank you to all my reviewers- particularly Ilinoit, who inspires me. Thank you! xx