Home > The Lying Game(8)

The Lying Game(8)
Author: Ruth Ware

‘I don’t know. I doubt it, I mean can you imagine the mayhem if everyone was milling around picking mates? I think we’ll just get assigned someone.’

I nodded again. I’d read the prospectus carefully on this point, as I was used to privacy at home and had been dismayed that Salten didn’t offer girls their own room until the sixth form. Fourth and fifth years shared with one other girl. At least it wasn’t dormitories, like the years below.

We fell into silence after that, Fatima reading a Stephen King novel, and me looking out of the window at the salt marshes flashing past, the wide expanses of water, the heaped dykes and snaking ditches, and then the sand dunes that flanked the coast road, feeling the minibus buffeted by the wind off the sea.

We slowed as we approached a bend in the coast road, and I saw Miss Rourke indicate, and then we turned sharply into the long white-pebbled drive that led up to the school.

It’s funny, now that Salten House is so graven on my memory, to remember there was a time when it was strange to me, but that day I sat, quite silent in the minibus, as we wound our way up the drive in the wake of a Mercedes and Bentley up ahead, just taking it all in.

There was the wide, white facade, eye-hurtingly bright against the blue of the sky, just as I had seen on the cover of the brochure, its severity only underlined by the regimented gleaming squares of windows that dotted the building at precisely regular intervals, and the black shapes of fire escapes crawling up the sides and twining the towers like industrial ivy. There were the hockey pitches and tennis courts, stretching away into the distance, and the miles of paddock, petering away into the salt marshes behind the school.

As we drew closer, I saw that the black front doors were open wide, and my overwhelming impression was of a bevy of girls of all shapes and sizes running hither and thither, screaming at each other, hugging parents, high-fiving friends, greeting teachers.

The minibus stopped and Miss Rourke handed Fatima and me over to another teacher she introduced as Miss Farquharson-Jim (or possibly, Miss Farquharson, Gym). Thea and Kate melted into the crowd and Fatima and I found ourselves subsumed into the shrieking mass of girls checking lists on the noticeboard and exclaiming over placements and teams, depositing trunks and cases, comparing the contents of tuck boxes and new haircuts.

‘It’s quite unusual for us to have two new girls in the fifth,’ Miss Farquharson was saying, her voice rising effortlessly over the clamour as she led the way into a tall panelled hallway with a curving staircase. ‘Normally we try to mix and match new girls with old hands, but for various reasons we’ve ended up putting you both together.’ She consulted her list. ‘You’re in … Tower 2B. Connie –’ She grabbed a younger girl bashing another over the head with a badminton racket. ‘Connie, could you show Fatima and Isa to Tower 2B? Take them past the buttery so they know where to come for lunch afterwards. Girls, lunch is at 1 p.m. sharp. There will be a bell but it only gives you five minutes’ warning so I suggest you start off as soon as you hear it as it’s quite a walk from the towers. Connie will show you where to go.’

Fatima and I both nodded, a little dazed by the sheer volume of the echoing voices, and lugged our cases after the departing Connie, who was already disappearing into the throng.

‘You can’t normally use the main entrance,’ she said over her shoulder as we followed her, weaving and threading through groups of girls, and ducking down a passageway at the back of the hall. ‘Only on the first day of each term, and if you’re an Hon.’

‘An Hon?’ I echoed.

‘On the Honour roll. It means heads of house … heads of teams … prefects … that sort of thing. You’ll know if you get there. If in doubt, don’t use that door. It’s annoying because it’s the quickest way back from the beach and the hockey pitches, but it’s not worth the telling-off.’ She ducked without warning through another doorway and pointed up a long stone-flagged corridor. ‘That’s the buttery, up the end there. They don’t open the doors until one but don’t be late, it’s a scrum to get a place. Are you really in Tower 2?’

There seemed no answer to this, but Fatima spoke for both of us.

‘That’s what the woman said.’

‘Lucky you,’ Connie said enviously. ‘The towers are the best rooms, everyone knows that.’ She didn’t elaborate on why, just pushed on a door in the panelling and began power-walking up a flight of narrow dark stairs hidden behind. I was panting, trying to keep up, and Fatima’s case was banging with every step. ‘Come on,’ Connie said impatiently. ‘I promised Letitia I’d meet her before lunch and I won’t have time at this rate.’

I nodded again, rather grimly this time, and pulled my case up another flight and along a landing.

At last we were at a door that said Tower 2 and Connie stopped.

‘Do you mind if I leave you here? You can’t go wrong, just head up and there’s only two rooms, A and B. You’re B.’

‘No probs,’ Fatima said rather faintly, and Connie disappeared without further discussion, like a rabbit going to ground, leaving Fatima and me rather breathless and nonplussed.

‘Well, that was confusing,’ Fatima said, after she’d gone. ‘Fuck knows how we’ll find our way back to the butlery.’

‘Buttery, I think it was,’ I said automatically, and then bit my lip, but Fatima didn’t seem to have noticed, or at any rate, she hadn’t taken offence at the correction.

‘Shall we?’ she said, opening the door to the tower. I nodded, and she stood back and made a mock bow. ‘After you …’

I looked inside. Another staircase, this time a spiral one, dis-appeared upwards, and I sighed, and grasped the handle of my case more firmly. I was going to be very fit, if breakfast entailed the reverse of this every day.

The first door we passed turned out to be a bathroom – sinks, two toilet stalls and what looked like a bath cubicle – and we pushed on upwards. At the second landing there was another door. This one simply said ‘B’ on it. I looked down at Fatima, on the spiral stairs below me, and raised an eyebrow.

‘What do you think?’

‘Go for it,’ Fatima said cheerfully, and I knocked. No sound came from within, and I pushed cautiously at the door, and entered.

Inside was a surprisingly nice room, fitted into the curving wall of the tower. Two windows looked out, north to the marshes and west over the miles of playing fields and the coastal road, and I realised we must be in the rear left-hand corner of the building. Below us smaller outbuildings were scattered, some of which I recognised from the prospectus – the science wing, the physical education block. Under each window was a narrow metal-framed bed, made up with plain white sheets and a red blanket over each foot. There was a wooden bedside locker, and between the two windows, two longer lockers, not quite wide enough to be described as wardrobes. I. Wilde, said a printed label on one of the lockers. F. Qureshy said the other.

‘At least we can’t fight over beds,’ Fatima said. She heaved her case up onto the one next to the locker marked with her name. ‘Very organised.’

I was just studying the pack on the desk by the door, promin-ent on which was the ‘Student–School contract – to be signed by all girls and handed in to Miss Weatherby’, when an impossibly jarring, jangling sound rang out, echoing horribly loudly in the corridor outside.

Fatima jumped, visibly as startled as I was, and turned to me.

‘What the fuck was that? Don’t tell me we’re going to get that every time there’s a meal?’

‘I guess so.’ I found my heart was beating rapidly with the shock of the noise. ‘Bloody hell. Do you think we’ll get used to it?’

‘Probably not, but I guess we’d better start back, hadn’t we? I doubt we’re going to find that butter place in five minutes.’

I nodded, and opened the door to the corridor to try to retrace our steps. Hearing footsteps from above, I looked up, hoping we might be able to follow these strangers to the dinner hall.

But the legs that I saw descending the stone spiral stairs were long, very long, and unmistakably familiar. In fact I had watched those legs being swathed in distinctly non-regulation stockings just a few hours earlier.

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