Home > In a Dark, Dark Wood(14)

In a Dark, Dark Wood(14)
Author: Ruth Ware

But before she could speak, Flo clapped her hands and said, ‘Don’t hold back guys! Pizza time!’

Nina took a plate and helped herself to pizza. I did too. The meat pizzas were covered in cheap pepperoni that was leaking a chemical-smelling red oil all over the board, but after my run I was hungry. I took a piece of pepperoni, and a piece of spinach and mushroom, and then loaded up my plate with the charred pitta and houmous.

‘Guys, use napkins if you need to, I don’t want to get oil on the rug,’ Flo said, hovering around as the others began to dig in. ‘Oh, and make sure you leave the veggie slices for Tom, please?’

‘Flops,’ Clare put a hand on her shoulder, ‘I’m sure it’s fine. There’s no way Tom can eat all those slices. Plus there’s more in the freezer if we run out.’

‘I know,’ Flo said. Her face was red and she pushed her hair impatiently back into its clip. There was pizza sauce on her silver top. ‘But it’s a matter of principle. If people want the veggie option they should order it. I’ve got no patience with people who hog the veggie meals just because they don’t fancy the meat choice. It just means the veggie guests go without!’

‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘Look, I took a piece of the mushroom. Do you want me to put it back?’

‘Well, no,’ Flo said irritably. ‘It’s probably got pepperoni all over it now.’

For a second I thought about pointing out that there was already pepperoni oil over the whole lot, and that maybe if she was that bothered she should have put them on separate boards, but instead I bit my tongue.

‘It’s fine,’ Tom said. He’d stacked up his plate with three pieces of mushroom pizza and a big dollop of houmous. ‘This’ll do me, honestly. If I eat any more Gary’ll have me doing pull-ups from here to Christmas.’

‘Who’s Gary?’ Flo said. She took a piece of pepperoni and sat on the sofa. ‘I thought your other half was called Bruce?’

‘Gary’s my personal trainer.’ Tom looked down at his washboard stomach rather complacently. ‘He has an uphill job, poor love.’

‘You have a personal trainer?’ Flo looked deeply impressed.

‘Darling, anyone who’s anyone has a personal trainer.’

‘I don’t,’ Nina said flatly. She stuffed a slice of pizza into her mouth and spoke around it, her voice muffled. ‘I jus’ go to the gym and work out. I don’t need some tool yelling at me while I do it. Well—’ she did a heroic swallow ‘—I do, that’s what I’ve got my iPod for. But I like to be able to put the tool on shuffle if the refrain gets monotonous.’

‘Come on!’ Tom was laughing. ‘I can’t be the only one here, surely! Nora, what about you? You don’t look like you suffer from writer’s arse.’

‘Me?’ I looked up from my pizza, startled at being suddenly in the headlight beam of everyone’s attention. ‘No! I don’t even have a gym membership, I just run. The only tools I have yelling at me are the kids in Victoria Park.’

‘Clare, then?’ Tom pleaded. ‘Melanie? Come on! Someone back me up here. It’s a perfectly normal thing!’

‘I have a trainer,’ Clare admitted. ‘But—’ she held up her hand as Tom started to crow —’ only because I needed to lose a few pounds to get into my wedding dress!’

‘I never understand why people do that.’ Nina took another bite of pizza. There was pepperoni oil dribbling down her chin and she caught it with her tongue before continuing. ‘Buy a dress two sizes too small, I mean. After all, presumably the dude proposed to you when you were a lard-arse.’

‘Scuse me!’ Clare had started laughing, but there was something a bit brittle about her tone. ‘I was not a lard-arse! And it wasn’t about James, although he has a trainer too, I might add. It was about me wanting to look my best on the day.’

‘So only thin people look good?’

‘That’s not what I said!’

‘Well, you said “your best” equals you minus two dress sizes—’

‘Minus a few pounds,’ Clare put in hotly. ‘You said two dress sizes. Anyway, you can talk! You’re skinny as a rake!’

‘By accident,’ Nina said loftily, ‘not design. I’m not size-ist. Ask Jess.’

‘Oh for crying out loud.’ Clare put her plate down on the table. ‘Look, I happen to think that I personally look better nearer a size ten than a size twelve. OK? It’s nothing to do with anyone else.’

‘Nina,’ Flo said warningly. But Nina was in full flow, nodding earnestly and playing up to Tom’s snickered laughter behind his hand, and Melanie’s half-hidden smirk.

‘Yeah, I get it,’ she was saying. ‘It’s nothing to do with ridiculous Western idealisation of anorexic models and the constant portrayal of stick-thin waifs in the media. In fact—’

‘Nina!’ Flo said again, more angrily this time. She stood up, banging her plate down, and Nina looked up, startled, mid-sentence.

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘You heard me. I don’t know what your problem is, but leave it, OK? This is Clare’s night, and I will not have you picking a fight.’

‘Who’s picking fights? I’m not the one throwing plates around,’ Nina said coolly. ‘What a shame, when you were so keen to take care of your aunt’s things.’

We all followed the direction of her gaze, and saw the crack across the plate Flo had smacked onto the coffee table. For a second I had the image of a goaded bull, about to charge.

‘Look!’ Flo said furiously, and the room went quite still, pizza slices suspended in mid-air, glasses half-sipped, waiting for the explosion to happen.

‘It’s OK,’ Clare said into the tense pause. She put her hand out, pulling Flo back to sit beside her and laughing. ‘Honestly. It’s just Nina’s sense of humour. You’ll get used to her. She’s not having a go at me. Much.’

‘Yeah,’ Nina said. She nodded, completely straight-faced. ‘I’m sorry. I just think the cripplingly unrealistic body expectations of women are hilarious.’

Flo looked at Nina for a long moment, and then back at Clare, her face uncertain. Then she gave a short laugh. It was not terribly convincing.

‘Come on,’ Tom broke into the silence that followed. ‘This party is not nearly drunk and disorderly enough for my liking. Who’s up for the next shot?’ He looked around the group, and his eye fell on me. A wicked grin spread across his tanned face. ‘Nora, you’re looking far too sober. You never did have that pre-dinner shot.’

I groaned. But Nina was nodding vigorously and pushing the full shot-glass at me, and Tom was holding out the lime wedge and salt shaker. There was nothing for it. Best just to get it over with, like medicine.

Tom shook the salt into the crook of my wrist, and I licked it off, grabbed the shot from Nina and gulped it back, and then snatched the chunk of lime from Tom’s hand. The juice exploded between my teeth, even as the tequila ran hot down the inside of my gullet. I waited for a moment, gasping and gritting my teeth against the taste, and then a familiar warmth began to spread through my capillaries, something loosening at the edge of my vision, a certain blunting of reality.

Perhaps this weekend would be a whole lot better slightly drunk.

I realised they were all looking at me, waiting for something. The shot-glass was still in my hand. ‘Done!’ I banged it down onto the table, and dropped the lime peel onto my empty plate. ‘Who’s next?’

‘Make it a royale?’ Tom enquired, archly. He held up the white bag.

Clare nudged me in the ribs. ‘Come on, for old time’s sake, yeah? Remember our first line?’

I did, though I was pretty sure it hadn’t been coke. Ground-up aspirin more like, and I hadn’t really wanted to do it even then. I’d just followed Clare, sheep-like, afraid of being left behind.

‘We’ll do it together,’ Clare told him. ‘Cut one for Nina too; she partakes, don’t you, doctor?’

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