Home > In a Dark, Dark Wood(15)

In a Dark, Dark Wood(15)
Author: Ruth Ware

‘You know doctors,’ Nina said with a dry smile. ‘Notorious self-medicators.’

Tom knelt at the corner of the glass coffee table with his credit card and the bag of powder, and we all watched as he ceremoniously poured and chopped and separated the powder into four neat lines. Then he looked up and raised his eyebrows enquiringly. ‘I’m assuming Mel pump-n-dump Cho, will not be joining us, but what about you, Florence hostess-with-the-mostess Clay?’

I looked across at Flo. Her face was very pink, as if she’d drunk considerably more than the one glass of Champagne I’d seen in her hand.

‘Guys,’ she said stiffly, ‘I’m … I’m not very happy with this. I mean, it’s my aunt’s house. What if—’

‘Oh Flops!’ Clare gave her a kiss and put her hand over her mouth, stopping her protests. ‘Don’t be ridiculous. Don’t have any if you don’t want to, but I really don’t think your aunt’s going to rock up here with her sniffer dogs and start taking names.’

Flo shook her head, and pulled herself out of Clare’s arm to start clearing plates. Melanie got up too.

‘I’ll help you,’ she said pointedly.

‘All the more for those who do!’ Tom said with slightly aggressive cheerfulness. He rolled up a ten-pound note and snorted up his line, wiping his nose and rubbing the grains on his gums. ‘Clare?’

Clare knelt and did the same with a practised swiftness that made me wonder how often she did this. She stood up, swayed slightly, and then laughed. ‘Christ, I can’t be high already. Must be the tequila! Nina?’ She held out the tenner. Nina made a face.

‘Thanks but no thanks! Palm that snot-rag off on some unsuspecting shop assistant. I’ll use my own, thanks.’ She ripped a strip off the cover of the Vogue Living that was lying on the hearth, and snorted up the third line. I winced, looking at the butchered cover, and hoping Flo wouldn’t notice when she came back.

‘Nora?’

I sighed. It was true that I’d done my first line with Clare. It had also been one of my last. Don’t get me wrong, I smoked and drank and did various other drugs at college. But I never really enjoyed cocaine. It never did much for me.

Now I felt like an absurd caricature as I knelt awkwardly on the rug and let Nina vandalise Vogue Living a bit more. It felt like a scene from a bad horror movie – just before the slasher comes in and starts stabbing people. All we needed was a couple of kids making out in the pool-house to be the first victims.

I snorted up the line and stood up, feeling the blood rush away from my head, and my nose and the back of my mouth grow numb and strange.

I was too old for this. It was never really me, even back at school. I’d only gone along with Clare because I was too weak-willed to say no. I remembered, as if through a haze, James holding forth about the hypocrisy of it all: ‘They make me laugh, doing sponsored fasts for Oxfam and protesting about Nestlé, and then funnelling their pocket money off to Columbian drug barons. Tossers. Can’t they see the irony? Give me a nice bit of home-grown weed any day.’

I sank back on the sofa and shut my eyes, feeling the tequila, Champagne and coke mixing in my veins. All evening I had been trying to connect the boy I’d known with the Clare of today, and this only brought into sharp focus the strangeness of it all. Had he really changed that much? Did they sit in their London flat, snorting up, side by side, and did he think of what he’d said when he was sixteen and reflect on the irony of it, the irony that he was now one of those tossers he’d laughed at all those years ago?

The picture hurt, like an old half-healed wound griping unexpectedly.

‘Lee?’ I heard Clare’s voice as if through a haze, and opened my eyes reluctantly. ‘Lee! Come on – focus, girl! You’re not drunk already, are you?’

‘No, I’m not.’ I sat up, rubbing my face. I had to get through this. There was no way out now, except forwards. ‘I’m not nearly drunk enough, in fact. Where’s the tequila?’

9

‘I HAVE NEVER …’ Clare was sprawled across the sofa with her feet on Tom’s lap and the firelight playing off her hair. She was holding a shot-glass in one hand and a piece of lime in the other, balancing them as if weighing up her options. ‘I have never … joined the mile-high club.’

There was a silence around the circle and a burst of laughter from Flo. Then, very slowly, with a wry expression, Tom raised his shot-glass.

‘Cheers, darling!’ He downed it in one, then sucked the lime, making a face.

‘Oh you and Bruce!’ Clare said. Her voice hovered between a sneer and a laugh, but it was fairly good-natured. ‘You probably did it in first class!’

‘Business, but point taken.’ He refilled and looked around the circle. ‘What, seriously? Am I drinking alone?’

‘What?’ Melanie looked up from her phone. ‘Sorry, I had half a bar of reception then so I thought I’d try Bill, but it’s gone. Was it Truth or Dare?’

‘Neither, we’ve moved on,’ Tom said. His voice was slurred. He had certainly done a lot of weird shit in his time, and he was paying the price in this game. ‘We’re playing I Have Never. And I have joined the mile-high club.’

‘Oh, sorry.’ Melanie downed her shot absently and wiped her mouth. ‘There. Listen, Flo, could I use the landline again?’

‘No, no, no, no!’ Clare said, wagging her finger. ‘You don’t get off as easily as that.’

‘Certainly not!’ Flo said indignantly. ‘How and where, please, Mrs?’

‘On honeymoon with Bill. It was a night flight. I gave him a blowie in the loos. Does that count? I’ve drunk now anyway.’

‘Well technically he’s joined the mile-high club, not you, in that case,’ Tom said. He gave a slightly slow, leering wink. ‘But since you drank, we’ll count it. Onwards! Right. My turn. I have never … fuck, what have I never done? Oh I know, I’ve never tried water sports.’

There was a burst of laughter, and no one drank and Tom groaned.

‘What seriously?’

‘Water sports?’ Flo said uncertainly. Her glass was halfway in the air, but she looked around the circle, trying to work out what was funny. ‘What, like scuba diving and stuff? I’ve done sailing, does that count?’

‘No, sweetie,’ Clare said, and she bent over and whispered in Flo’s ear. As she did, Flo’s expression changed to one of shock and then disgusted amusement.

‘No way! How revolting!’

‘Come on,’ Tom said pleadingly. ‘Fess up for Uncle Tom, we’re all girls here, there’s nothing to be ashamed of.’ There was another silence, and Clare laughed.

‘Sorry, that’s what you get for coming away with squares like us. Come on, take it like a man.’

Tom downed his shot, refilled and then lay back on the sofa, his hand over his eyes. ‘Bloody hell, I’m paying for a mis-spent youth now. The room’s spinning.’

‘Your turn, Lee,’ Clare said from the sofa. Her face was flushed, and her golden hair straggled across her shoulders. ‘Spill.’

My stomach turned. This was the moment I’d been dreading. I’d spent the last round trying to grope my way past the fog of tequila and Champagne and rum and think what to say, but every memory seemed to bring me back to James. I thought of all the things I’d never done, never said. I shut my eyes and the room seemed to lurch and shift.

It was one thing to play this game with a roomful of friends, who already knew pretty much everything there was to say, but not this uneasy mix of strangers and old acquaintances. I have never … oh God, what could I say?

I never found out why he did it.

I never forgave him.

I never got over him.

‘Lee …’ Clare said in a sing-song voice. ‘Come on now, don’t make me embarrass you in the next round.’

There was a vile taste of tequila and coke at the back of my mouth. I couldn’t afford to drink again. If I did I’d be sick.

I never really knew him at all.

How could he be marrying Clare?

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