Home > In a Dark, Dark Wood(13)

In a Dark, Dark Wood(13)
Author: Ruth Ware


WHILE I HAD been in the shower, the hen night had started in earnest.

In the living room, Tom and Clare had plugged in someone’s iPhone and were dancing round the living room to Billy Idol, while Melanie laughed at them from the sofa.

In the kitchen, which was hot as hell from the overworked oven, I could see someone shovelling industrial quantities of pizza onto boards and dumping various tubs of dip into bowls. For a disorienting minute I thought it was Clare – they were wearing the same grey jeans and silver vest that Clare had been wearing next door. Then she stood up and wiped the hair off her forehead and I saw it was Flo. She was wearing exactly the same clothes as Clare.

Before I could pick that apart any further, my thoughts were interrupted by a strong smell of charring. ‘Is something burning?’ I asked.

‘Oh my God! The pittas!’ Flo shrieked. ‘Lee, can you rescue them before they set the alarm off?’

I ran across the rapidly smoke-filling kitchen and grabbed the pitta breads from the toaster, before dumping them in the sink. Then I set about wrestling with the door at the far end of the kitchen. It was locked, and there was a trick to the handle, but finally I managed to fling it wide open. Freezing air gusted in, and I saw to my surprise that the puddles on the lawn were frosting over.

‘I’ve looked in the wine rack and I can’t find any tequila.’ Nina’s voice came from the doorway, and then, ‘Bloody hell, it’s freezing! Shut the door, you mentalist!’

‘The pittas were burning,’ I said mildly, but I swung the door shut. At least the temperature in the room was closer to normal now.

‘It’s not in the cellar?’ Flo straightened up, brushing sweaty hair out of her eyes. Her face was scarlet from the heat. ‘Blast. Where on earth could it be?’

‘You tried the fridge?’ Nina asked. Flo nodded.

‘Freezer?’ I asked. She clapped a hand to her forehead.

‘Freezer! Of course – I remember now, thinking it’d be better if we wanted frozen margaritas. Ugh, I’m such an idiot.’

‘Amen!’ Nina mouthed at me, as she bent and opened the freezer under the counter. ‘Here it is.’ Her voice came slightly muffled by the whirr of the freezer fan. She straightened up, a frosted bottle in her hand, and scooped up two limes from the fruit bowl. ‘Nora, grab a board and a knife. Oh, and the salt shaker. Flo, did you say there were shot glasses through there?’

‘Yup, behind that mirrored door at the end of the living room. But do you think we should start with shots? Wouldn’t it be more sensible to start with a cooler first – like mojitos maybe?’

‘Screw sensible,’ Nina said as she left the kitchen, and then, under her breath to me as we crossed the hall, ‘I need something as strong as possible to get me through this.’

As we entered the living room, Clare and Tom turned, and Clare gave a whoop and danced over to take the bottle from Nina’s hand, and the knife from mine. She shimmied back to the coffee table, her top scattering motes of light around the dimly-lit room as she banged them both down on the glass with a crack.

‘Tequila slammers! I haven’t done these since my twenty-first. I think it’s taken this long for the hangover to wear off.’

Nina let the limes bounce onto the table alongside the rest, and then turned to hunt in the cupboard for glasses while Clare knelt on the rug and started slicing.

‘Hen first!’ Melanie said, and Clare grinned. We all watched as she shook a pinch of salt into the hollow of her wrist, and picked up a chunk of lime. Nina filled a shot glass to the teetering brim, and pushed it into her hand. Clare licked her wrist, gulped the shot, and bit hard into the lime, her eyes squeezed shut. Then she spat it out onto the rug and slammed the shot glass down on the table top, shuddering and laughing at the same time.

‘Jesus! Oh my God, my eyes are watering. My mascara’ll be halfway down my face if I have any more.’

‘Lady,’ Nina said sternly, ‘we are just getting started. Le— I mean, Nora next.’

‘You know …’ Tom said, as I knelt at the table, ‘if you want something a bit more upmarket, we could have tequila royales.’

‘Tequila royales?’ I watched as Nina overfilled the tiny glass, liquor splashing down and puddling on the glass tabletop. ‘What’s that? Champagne?’

‘Possibly. But not the way I make them.’ Tom dug in his trouser pocket and held up a little bag of white powder. ‘Something a bit more interesting than salt?’

Christ. I glanced up at the clock. Not even eight o’clock. At this rate we’d all be climbing the walls by midnight.

‘Coke?’ Melanie said. She folded her arms as she looked coolly across at Tom, and there was a note of distaste in her voice. ‘Really? We’re not students any more. Some of us are parents. I don’t think pumping and dumping’s going to sort that one out.’

‘So don’t do it,’ Tom said with a shrug, but there was an edge in his voice.

‘Grub’s up!’ The awkward pause was broken by Flo standing in the doorway, her arms trembling beneath the weight of a huge board covered with melting pizza. There was a bottle wedged under her arm. ‘Can someone clear the coffee table before I deposit this little lot all over my aunt’s rug?’

‘Tell you what,’ Clare said as she watched Nina and me make space on the table, then reached over and gave Tom a salty, citrussy kiss, ‘let’s save it for dessert.’

‘No problem,’ Tom said lightly. He pushed the packet back in his pocket. ‘I’ve no wish to force my rather expensive drugs on people who don’t appreciate them.’

Melanie gave a rather thin smile and took the bottle out from Flo’s arm as she slid the tray onto the table and stood up.

‘Hm. Talking of Champagne …’

‘Well! It is a special occasion,’ Flo said. She beamed, seemingly oblivious of the undercurrent of tension flowing between Melanie and Tom. ‘Pop the cork, Mels, and I’ll get the glasses.’

As Melanie peeled off the foil, Flo opened the mirrored cupboard and began rooting around. She came up, slightly flushed, clutching half a dozen flutes, just as there was a resounding ‘pop!’ and the cork flew through the air and bounced off the flat-screen TV.

‘Whoops!’ Melanie put a hand to her mouth. ‘Sorry, Flo.’

‘No worries,’ Flo said brightly, but she checked the TV screen surreptitiously as Melanie bent to pour out the Champagne, rubbing it with her sleeve as she cast a slightly harassed look over her shoulder.

We each took a glass and I tried to smile. I don’t actually like Champagne – it gives me a roaring headache and acid indigestion, and I don’t like fizzy drinks much full stop – but no one had given us the opportunity to refuse.

Flo held up her glass and turned to look round the little circle, catching all of our eyes, and then stopping, her gaze on Clare.

‘Here’s to a great hen weekend,’ she said. ‘A perfect hen weekend, for the best friend a girl could ever have. To my rock. To my BFF. To my heroine and my inspiration: Clare!’

‘And James,’ Clare said with a smile. ‘Otherwise I can’t drink. I’m not egotistical enough to toast myself.’

‘Oh,’ Flo said, after a slight check. ‘Well I mean, I just thought … shouldn’t this weekend be just about you? I thought the whole point was to forget about the groom for a bit. But of course, if you’d prefer. To Clare, and James.’

‘To Clare and James!’ everyone chorused, and drank.

I drank too, feeling the bubbles fizzing acidly in my throat, making it hard to swallow.

Clare and James. Clare and James. I still couldn’t believe it – couldn’t picture them together. Had he really changed so much in ten years?

I was still staring down into my glass when Nina nudged me in the ribs. ‘Come on, are you trying to read your fortune in the dregs of the Champagne? I don’t think it’ll work.’

‘Just thinking,’ I said with an attempt at a smile. Nina raised her eyebrows, and I thought for one stomach-churning moment that she was going to say something, one of her infamously blunt remarks that left you grazed and wincing.

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