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OMG THANK YOU SO MUCH! I needed this for a project and i didnt even need to sign up to download!
05 November 2020 (20:03)
Great twist, good and PERFECT MURDER MYSTERY.
08 April 2021 (06:39)
THE GUEST LIST Lucy Foley Copyright Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk First published in Great Britain by HarperCollinsPublishers 2020 Copyright © Lost and Found Books Ltd 2020 Jacket design by Claire Ward © HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 2020 Jacket images © John Race/Arcangel Images (island), Shutterstock.com (lighthouse) Lucy Foley asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library. This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins. Source ISBN: 9780008297169 Ebook Edition © February 2020 ISBN: 9780008297183 Version: 2019-12-24 Dedication For Kate and Robbie, the most supportive siblings a girl could hope for … Luckily nothing like the ones in this book! Contents Cover Title Page Copyright Dedication Now: The wedding night The day before: Aoife: The Wedding Planner Hannah: The Plus-One Jules: The Bride Johnno: The Best Man Olivia: The Bridesmaid Jules: The Bride Hannah: The Plus-One Olivia: The Bridesmaid Aoife: The Wedding Planner Now: The wedding night The day before: Hannah: The Plus-One Now: The wedding night The day before: Jules: The Bride Johnno: The Best Man H; annah: The Plus-One Now: The wedding night The day before: Olivia: The Bridesmaid Johnno: The Best Man Jules: The Bride Aoife: The Wedding Planner The wedding day: Hannah: The Plus-One Aoife: The Wedding Planner Now: The wedding night Earlier that day: Jules: The Bride Now: The wedding night Earlier that day: Olivia: The Bridesmaid Aoife: The Wedding Planner Johnno: The Best Man Jules: The Bride Hannah: The Plus-One Johnno: The Best Man Aoife: The Wedding Planner Olivia: The Bridesmaid Jules: The Bride Johnno: The Best Man Hannah: The Plus-One Aoife: The Wedding Planner Now: The wedding night Earlier that day: Jules: The Bride Olivia: The Bridesmaid Hannah: The Plus-One Johnno: The Best Man Hannah: The Plus-One Johnno: The Best Man Aoife: The Wedding Planner Jules: The Bride Hannah: The Plus-One Now: The wedding night Earlier that day: Olivia: The Bridesmaid Jules: The Bride Olivia: The Bridesmaid Now: The wedding night Several hours earlier: Hannah: The Plus-One Now: The wedding night Earlier: Aoife: The Wedding Planner Jules: The Bride Olivia: The Bridesmaid Now: The wedding night Earlier: Will: The Groom Hannah: The Plus-One Olivia: The Bridesmaid Jules: The Bride Johnno: The Best Man Aoife: The Wedding Planner Will: The Groom Now: The wedding night Earlier: Will: The Groom Now: Johnno: The Best Man Aoife: The Wedding Planner Epilogue Several hours later: Olivia: The Bridesmaid The next day: Hannah: The Plus-One Keep Reading … Acknowledgements About the Author Also by Lucy Foley About the Publisher NOW The wedding night The lights go out. In an instant, everything is in darkness. The band stop their playing. Inside the marquee the wedding guests squeal and clutch at one another. The light from the candles on the tables only adds to the confusion, sends shadows racing up the canvas walls. It’s impossible to see where anyone is or hear what anyone is saying: above the guests’ voices the wind rises in a frenzy. Outside a storm is raging. It shrieks around them, it batters the marquee. At each assault the whole structure seems to flex and shudder with a loud groaning of metal; the guests cower in alarm. The doors have come free from their ties and flap at the entrance. The flames of the paraffin torches that illuminate the doorway snicker. It feels personal, this storm. It feels as though it has saved all its fury for them. This isn’t the first time the electrics have shorted. But last time the lights snapped back on again within minutes. The guests returned to their dancing, their drinking, their pill-popping, their screwing, their eating, their laughing … and forgot it ever happened. How long has it been now? In the dark it’s difficult to tell. A few minutes? Fifteen? Twenty? They’re beginning to feel afraid. This darkness feels somehow ominous, intent. As though anything could be happening beneath its cover. Finally, the bulbs flicker back on. Whoops and cheers from the guests. They’re embarrassed now about how the lights find them: crouched as though ready to fend off an attack. They laugh it off. They almost manage to convince themselves that they weren’t frightened. The scene illuminated in the marquee’s three adjoining tents should be one of celebration, but it looks more like one of devastation. In the main dining section, clots of wine spatter the laminate floor, a crimson stain spreads across white linen. Bottles of champagne cluster on every surface, testament to an evening of toasts and celebrations. A forlorn pair of silver sandals peeks from beneath a tablecloth. The Irish band begin to play again in the dance tent – a rousing ditty to restore the spirit of celebration. Many of the guests hurry in that direction, eager for some light relief. If you were to look closely at where they step you might see the marks where one barefoot guest has trodden in broken glass and left bloody footprints across the laminate, drying to a rusty stain. No one notices. Other guests drift and gather in the corners of the main tent, nebulous as leftover cigarette smoke. Loath to stay, but also loath to step outside the sanctuary of the marquee while the storm still rages. And no one can leave the island. Not yet. The boats can’t come until the wind dies down. In the centre of everything stands the huge cake. It has appeared whole and perfect before them for most of the day, its train of sugar foliage glittering beneath the lights. But only minutes before the lights went out the guests gathered around to watch its ceremonial disembowelling. Now the deep red sponge gapes from within. Then from outside comes a new sound. You might almost mistake it for the wind. But it rises in pitch and volume until it is unmistakable. The guests freeze. They stare at one another. They are suddenly afraid again. More so than they were when the lights went out. They all know what they are hearing. It is a scream of terror. The day before AOIFE The Wedding Planner Nearly all of the wedding party are here now. Things are about to crank into another gear: there’s the rehearsal dinner this evening, with the chosen guests, so the wedding really begins tonight. I’ve put the champagne on ice ready for the pre-dinner drinks. It’s vintage Bollinger: eight bottles of it, plus the wine for dinner and a couple of crates of Guinness – all as per the bride’s instructions. It is not for me to comment, but it seems rather a lot. They’re all adults, though. I’m sure they know how to restrain themselves. Or maybe not. That best man seems a bit of a liability – all of the ushers do, to be honest. And the bridesmaid – the bride’s half-sister – I’ve seen her on her solitary wanderings of the island, hunched over and walking fast like she’s trying to outpace something. You learn all the insider secrets, doing this sort of work. You see the things no one else is privileged to see. All the gossip that the guests would kill to have. As a wedding planner you can’t afford to miss anything. You have to be alert to every detail, all the smaller eddies beneath the surface. If I didn’t pay attention, one of those currents could grow into a huge riptide, destroying all my careful planning. And here’s another thing I’ve learned – sometimes the smallest currents are the strongest. I move through the Folly’s downstairs rooms, lighting the blocks of turf in the grates, so they can get a good smoulder on for this evening. Freddy and I have started cutting and drying our own turf from the bog, as has been done for centuries past. The smoky, earthy smell of the turf fires will add to the sense of local atmosphere. The guests should like that. It may be midsummer but it gets cool at night on the island. The Folly’s old stone walls keep the warmth out and aren’t so good at holding it in. Today has been surprisingly warm, at least by the standards of these parts, but the same’s not looking likely for tomorrow. The end of the weather forecast I caught on the radio mentioned wind. We get the brunt of all the weather here; often the storms are much worse than they end up being on the mainland, as if they’ve exhausted themselves on us. It’s still sunny out but this afternoon the needle on the old barometer in the hallway swung from FAIR to CHANGEABLE. I’ve taken it down. I don’t want the bride to see it. Though I’m not sure that she is the sort to panic. More the sort to get angry and look for someone to blame. And I know just who would be in the firing line. ‘Freddy,’ I call into the kitchen, ‘will you be starting on the dinner soon?’ ‘Yeah,’ he calls back, ‘got it all under control.’ Tonight they’ll eat a fish stew based on a traditional Connemara fisherman’s chowder: smoked fish, lots of cream. I ate it the first time I ever visited this place, when there were still people here. This evening’s will be a more refined take on the usual recipe, as this is a refined group we have staying. Or at least I suppose they like to think of themselves as such. We’ll see what happens when the drink hits them. ‘Then we’ll be needing to start prepping the canapés for tomorrow,’ I call, running through the list in my head. ‘I’m on it.’ ‘And the cake: we’ll be wanting to assemble that in good time.’ The cake is quite something to behold. It should be. I know how much it cost. The bride didn’t bat an eyelid at the expense. I believe she’s used to having the best of everything. Four tiers of deep red velvet sponge, encased in immaculate white icing and strewn with sugar greenery, to match the foliage in the chapel and the marquee. Extremely fragile and made according to the bride’s exact specifications, it travelled all the way here from a very exclusive cake-makers in Dublin: it was no small effort getting it across the water in one piece. Tomorrow, of course, it will be destroyed. But it’s all about the moment, a wedding. All about the day. It’s not really about the marriage at all, in spite of what everyone says. See, mine is a profession in which you orchestrate happiness. It is why I became a wedding planner. Life is messy. We all know this. Terrible things happen, I learned that while I was still a child. But no matter what happens, life is only a series of days. You can’t control more than a single day. But you can control one of them. Twenty-four hours can be curated. A wedding day is a neat little parcel of time in which I can create something whole and perfect to be cherished for a lifetime, a pearl from a broken necklace. Freddy emerges from the kitchen in his stained butcher’s apron. ‘How are you feeling?’ I shrug. ‘A little nervous, to be honest.’ ‘You’ve got this, love. Think how many times you’ve done this.’ ‘But this is different. Because of who it is—’ It was a real coup, getting Will Slater and Julia Keegan to hold their wedding here. I worked as an event planner in Dublin, before. Setting up here was all my idea, restoring the island’s crumbling, half-ruined folly into an elegant ten-bedroom property with a dining room, drawing room and kitchen. Freddy and I live here permanently but use only a tiny fraction of the space when it’s just the two of us. ‘Shush.’ Freddy steps forward and enfolds me in a hug. I feel myself stiffening at first. I’m so focused on my to-do list that it feels like a diversion we don’t have time for. Then I allow myself to relax into the embrace, to appreciate his comforting, familiar warmth. Freddy is a good hugger. He’s what you might call ‘cuddly’. He likes his food – it’s his job. He ran a restaurant in Dublin before we moved here. ‘It’s all going to work out fine,’ he says. ‘I promise. It will all be perfect.’ He kisses the top of my head. I’ve had a great deal of experience in this business. But then I’ve never worked on an event I’ve been so invested in. And the bride is very particular – which, to be fair to her, probably goes with the territory of what she does, running her own magazine. Someone else might have been run a little ragged by her requests. But I’ve enjoyed it. I like a challenge. Anyway. That’s enough about me. This weekend is about the happy couple, after all. The bride and groom haven’t been together for very long, by all accounts. Seeing as our bedroom is in the Folly too, with all the others, we could hear them last night. ‘Jesus,’ Freddy said as we lay in bed. ‘I can’t listen to this.’ I knew what he meant. Strange how when someone is in the throes of pleasure it can sound like pain. They seem very much in love, but a cynic might say that’s why they can’t seem to keep their hands off each other. Very much in lust might be a more accurate description. Freddy and I have been together for the best part of two decades and even now there are things I keep from him and, I’m sure, vice versa. Makes you wonder how much they know about each other, those two. Whether they really know all of each other’s dark secrets. HANNAH The Plus-One The waves rise in front of us, white-capped. On land it’s a beautiful summer’s day, but it’s pretty rough out here. A few minutes ago we left the safety of the mainland harbour and as we did the water seemed to darken in colour and the waves grew by several feet. It’s the evening before the wedding and we’re on our way to the island. As ‘special guests’, we’re staying there tonight. I’m looking forward to it. At least – I think I am. I need a bit of a distraction at the moment, anyway. ‘Hold on!’ A shout from the captain’s cabin, behind us. Mattie, the man’s called. Before we have time to think the little boat launches off one wave and straight into the crest of another. Water sprays up over us in a huge arc. ‘Christ!’ Charlie shouts and I see that he’s got soaked on one side. Miraculously I’m only a little damp. ‘Would you be a bit wet up there?’ Mattie calls. I’m laughing but I’m having to force it a bit because it was pretty frightening. The boat’s motion, somehow back and forth and side to side all at once, has my stomach turning somersaults. ‘Oof,’ I say, feeling the nausea sinking through me. The thought of the cream tea we ate before we got on the boat suddenly makes me want to hurl. Charlie looks at me, puts a hand on my knee and gives a squeeze. ‘Oh God. It’s started already?’ I always get terrible motion sickness. Anything sickness really; when I was pregnant it was the worst. ‘Mm hmm. I’ve taken a couple of pills, but they’ve hardly taken the edge off.’ ‘Look,’ Charlie says quickly, ‘I’ll read about the place, take your mind off it.’ He scrolls through his phone. He’s got a guidebook downloaded; ever the teacher, my husband. The boat lurches again and the iPhone nearly jumps out of his grasp. He swears, grips it with both hands; we can’t afford to replace it. ‘There’s not that much here,’ he says, a bit apologetically, once he’s managed to load the page. ‘Loads on Connemara, yeah, but on the island itself – I suppose it’s so small …’ He stares at the screen as though willing it to deliver. ‘Oh, here, I’ve found a bit.’ He clears his throat, then starts to read in what I think is probably the voice he uses in his lessons. ‘Inis an Amplóra, or Cormorant Island, in the English translation, is two miles from one end to the other, longer than it is wide. The island is formed of a lump of granite emerging majestically from the Atlantic, several miles off the Connemara coastline. A large bog comprised of peat, or “turf” as it is called locally, covers much of its surface. The best, indeed the only, way to see the island is from a private boat. The channel between the mainland and the island can get particularly choppy—’ ‘They’re right about that,’ I mutter, clutching the side as we seesaw over another wave and slam down again. My stomach turns over again. ‘I can tell you more than all that,’ Mattie calls from his cabin. I hadn’t realised he could overhear us from there. ‘You won’t be getting much about Inis an Amplóra from a guidebook.’ Charlie and I shuffle nearer to the cabin so we can hear. He’s got a lovely rich accent, does Mattie. ‘First people that settled the place,’ he tells us, ‘far as it’s known, were a religious sect, persecuted by some on the mainland.’ ‘Oh yes,’ Charlie says, looking at his guide. ‘I think I saw a bit about that—’ ‘You can’t get everything from that thing,’ Mattie says, frowning and clearly unimpressed by the interruption. ‘I’ve lived here all my life, see – and my people have been here for centuries. I can tell you more than your man on the internet.’ ‘Sorry,’ Charlie says, flushing. ‘Anyway,’ Mattie says. ‘Twenty years or so ago the archaeologists found them. All together in the turf bog they were, side by side, packed in tight.’ Something tells me that he is enjoying himself. ‘Perfectly preserved, it’s said, because there’s no air down in there. It was a massacre. They’d all been hacked to death.’ ‘Oh,’ Charlie says, with a glance at me, ‘I’m not sure—’ It’s too late, the idea is in my head now: long-buried corpses emerging from black earth. I try not to think about it but the image keeps reasserting itself like a glitch in a video. The swoop of nausea that comes as we ride over the next wave is almost a relief, requiring all my focus. ‘And there’s no one living there now?’ Charlie asks brightly, trying for a change of conversation. ‘Other than the new owners?’ ‘No,’ Mattie says. ‘Nothing but ghosts.’ Charlie taps his screen. ‘It says here the island was inhabited until the nineties, when the last few people decided to return to the mainland in favour of running water, electricity and modern life.’ ‘Oh that’s what it says there, is it?’ Mattie sounds amused. ‘Why?’ I ask, managing to find my voice. ‘Was there some other reason they left?’ Mattie seems to be about to speak. Then his face changes. ‘Look out for yourselves!’ he roars. Charlie and I manage to grab the rail seconds before the bottom seems to drop out of everything and we are sent plunging down the side of one wave, then smashed into the side of another. Jesus. You’re meant to find a fixed point with motion-sickness. I train my gaze on the island. It has been in view the whole way from the mainland, a bluish smudge on the horizon, shaped like a flattened anvil. Jules wouldn’t pick anywhere less than stunning, but I can’t help feeling that the dark shape of it seems to hunch and glower, in contrast to the bright day. ‘Pretty stunning, isn’t it?’ Charlie says. ‘Mm,’ I say noncommittally. ‘Well, let’s hope there’s running water and electricity there these days. I’m going to need a nice bath after this.’ Charlie grins. ‘Knowing Jules, if they hadn’t plumbed and wired the place before, they’ll have done so by now. You know what she’s like. She’s so efficient.’ I’m sure Charlie didn’t mean it, but it feels like a comparison. I’m not the world’s most efficient. I can’t seem to enter a room without making a mess and since we’ve had the kids our house is a permanent tip. When we – rarely – have people round I end up throwing stuff in cupboards and cramming them closed, so that it feels like the whole place is holding its breath, trying not to explode. When we first went round for dinner at Jules’s elegant Victorian house in Islington it was like something out of a magazine; like something out of her magazine – an online one called The Download. I kept thinking she might try and tidy me away somewhere, aware of how I stuck out like a sore thumb with my inch of dark roots and high street clothes. I found myself trying to smooth out my accent even, soften my Mancunian vowels. We couldn’t be more different, Jules and I. The two most important women in my husband’s life. I lean over the rail, taking deep breaths of the sea air. ‘I read a good bit in that article,’ Charlie says, ‘about the island. Apparently it’s got white sand beaches, which are famous in this part of Ireland. And the colour of the sand means the water in the coves turns a beautiful turquoise colour.’ ‘Oh,’ I say. ‘Well that sounds better than a peat bog.’ ‘Yep,’ Charlie says. ‘Maybe we’ll have a chance to go swimming.’ He smiles at me. I look at the water, which is more of a chilly slate green than turquoise, and shiver. But I swim off the beach in Brighton, and that’s the English Channel, isn’t it? Still. There it feels so much tamer than this wild, brutal sea. ‘This weekend will be a good distraction, won’t it?’ Charlie says. ‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘I hope so.’ This will be the closest we’ll have had to a holiday for a long time. And I really need one right now. ‘I can’t work out why Jules would choose a random island off the coast of Ireland,’ I add. It seems particularly her to choose somewhere so exclusive that her guests might actually drown trying to get there. ‘It’s not like she couldn’t have afforded to hold it anywhere she wanted.’ Charlie frowns. He doesn’t like to talk about money, it embarrasses him. It’s one of the reasons I love him. Except sometimes, just sometimes, I can’t help wondering what it would be like to have a tiny bit more. We agonised over the gift list and had a bit of an argument about it. Our max is normally fifty quid, but Charlie insisted that we had to do more, because he and Jules go back so far. As everything listed was from Liberty’s, the £150 we finally agreed to only bought us a rather ordinary-looking ceramic bowl. There was a scented candle on there for £200. ‘You know Jules,’ Charlie says now, as the boat makes another swoop downwards before hitting something that feels much harder than mere water, bouncing up again with a few sideways spasms for good measure. ‘She likes to do things differently. And it could be to do with her dad being Irish.’ ‘But I thought she doesn’t get on with her dad?’ ‘It’s more complicated than that. He was never really around and he’s a bit of a dick, but I think she’s always kind of idolised him. That’s why she wanted me to give her sailing lessons all those years ago. He had this yacht, and she wanted him to be proud of her.’ It’s difficult to imagine Jules in the inferior position of wanting to make someone proud. I know her dad’s a big deal property developer, a self-made man. As the daughter of a train driver and a nurse who grew up constantly strapped for cash, I’m fascinated by – and a little bit suspicious of – people who have made loads of money. To me they’re like another species altogether, a breed of sleek and dangerous big cats. ‘Or maybe Will chose it,’ I say. ‘It seems very him, very outward bound.’ I feel a little leap of excitement in my stomach at the thought of meeting someone so famous. It’s hard to think of Jules’s fiancé as a completely real person. I’ve been catching up on the show in secret. It’s pretty good, though it’s hard to be objective. I’ve been fascinated by the idea of Jules being with this man … touching him, kissing him, sleeping with him. About to get married to him. The basic premise of the show, Survive the Night, is that Will gets left somewhere, tied up and blindfolded, in the middle of the night. A forest, say, or the middle of an Arctic tundra, with nothing but the clothes he’s wearing and maybe a knife in his belt. He then has to free himself and make his way to a rendezvous point using his wits and navigational skills alone. There’s lots of high drama: in one episode he has to cross a waterfall in the dark; in another he’s stalked by wolves. At times you’ll suddenly remember that the camera crew is there watching him, filming him. If it were really all that bad, surely they’d step in to help? But they certainly do a good job of making you feel the danger. At my mention of Will, Charlie’s face has darkened. ‘I still don’t get why she’s marrying him after such a short time,’ he says. ‘I suppose that’s what Jules is like. When she’s made up her mind, she acts quickly. But you mark my words, Han: he’s hiding something. I don’t think he’s everything he pretends to be.’ This is why I’ve been so secretive about watching the show. I know Charlie wouldn’t like it. At times I can’t help feeling that his dislike of Will seems a little like jealousy. I really hope it’s not jealousy. Because what would that mean? It could also be to do with Will’s stag do. Charlie went, which seemed all wrong, as he’s Jules’s friend. He came home from the weekend in Sweden a bit out of sorts. Every time I even alluded to it he’d go all weird and stiff. So I shrugged it off. He came back in one piece, didn’t he? The sea seems to have got even rougher. The old fishing boat is pitching and rolling now in all directions at once, like one of those rodeo-bull machines, like it’s trying to throw us overboard. ‘Is it really safe to keep going?’ I call to Mattie. ‘Yep!’ he calls back, over the crash of the spray, the shriek of the wind. ‘This is a good day, as they go. Not far to Inis an Amplóra now.’ I can feel wet hanks of hair stuck to my forehead, while the rest of it seems to have lifted into a huge tangled cloud around my head. I can only imagine how I’ll look to Jules and Will and the rest of them, when we finally arrive. ‘Cormorant!’ Charlie shouts, pointing. He’s trying to distract me from my nausea, I know. I feel like one of the children being taken to the doctor’s for an injection. But I follow his finger to a sleek dark head, emerging from the waves like the periscope of a miniature submarine. Then it swoops down beneath the surface, a swift black streak. Imagine feeling so at home in such hostile conditions. ‘I saw something in the article specifically about cormorants,’ Charlie says. He picks up his phone again. ‘Ah, here. They’re particularly common along this stretch of coast, apparently.’ He puts on his schoolteacher voice: ‘“the cormorant is a bird much maligned in local folklore.” Oh dear. “Historically, the bird has been represented as a symbol of greed, bad luck and evil.”’ We both watch as the cormorant emerges from the water again. There’s a tiny fish in its sharp beak, a brief flash of silver, before the bird opens its gullet and swallows the thing whole. My stomach flips. I feel as though it’s me that has swallowed the fish, quick and slippery, swimming about in my belly. And as the boat begins to list in the other direction, I lurch to the side and throw up my cream tea. JULES The Bride I’m standing in front of the mirror in our room, the biggest and most elegant of the Folly’s ten bedrooms, naturally. From here I only need to turn my head a fraction to look out through the windows towards the sea. The weather today is perfect, the sun shimmering off the waves so brightly you can hardly look at it. It bloody well better stay like this for tomorrow. Our room is on the western side of the building and this is the westernmost island off this part of the coast, so there is nothing, and no one, for thousands of miles between me and the Americas. I like the drama of that. The Folly itself is a beautifully restored fifteenth-century building, treading the line between luxury and timelessness, grandeur and comfort: antique rugs on the flagstone floors, claw-footed baths, fireplaces lit with smouldering peat. It’s large enough to fit all our guests, yet small enough to feel intimate. It’s perfect. Everything is going to be perfect. Don’t think about the note, Jules. I will not think about the note. Fuck. Fuck. I don’t know why it’s got to me so much. I have never been a worrier, the sort of person who wakes up at three in the morning, fretting. Not until recently anyway. The note was delivered through our letter box three weeks ago. It told me not to marry Will. To call it off. Somehow the idea of it has gained this dark power over me. Whenever I think about it, it gives me a sour feeling in the pit of my stomach. A feeling like dread. Which is ridiculous. I wouldn’t normally give a second thought to this sort of thing. I look back at the mirror. I’m currently wearing the dress. The dress. I thought it important to try it on one last time, the eve of my wedding, to double-check. I had a fitting last week but I never leave anything to chance. As expected, it’s perfect. Heavy cream silk that looks as though it has been poured over me, the corsetry within creating the quintessential hourglass. No lace or other fripperies, that’s not me. The nap of the silk is so fine it can only be handled with special white gloves which, obviously, I’m wearing now. It cost an absolute bomb. It was worth it. I’m not interested in fashion for its own sake, but I respect the power of clothes, in creating the right optics. I knew immediately that this dress was a queenmaker. By the end of the evening the dress will probably be filthy, even I can’t mitigate that. But I will have it shortened to just below the knee and dyed a darker colour. I am nothing if not practical. I have always, always got a plan; have done ever since I was little. I move over to where I have the table plan pinned to the wall. Will says I’m like a general hanging his campaign maps. But it is important, isn’t it? The seating can pretty much make or break the guests’ enjoyment of a wedding. I know I’ll have it perfect by this evening. It’s all in the planning: that’s how I took The Download from a blog to a fully fledged online magazine with a staff of thirty in a couple of years. Most of the guests will come over tomorrow for the wedding, then return to their hotels on the mainland – I enjoyed putting ‘boats at midnight’ on the invites in place of the usual ‘carriages’. But our most important invitees will stay on the island tonight and tomorrow, in the Folly with us. It’s a rather exclusive guest list. Will had to choose the favourites among his ushers, as he has so many. Not so difficult for me as I’ve only got one bridesmaid – my half-sister Olivia. I don’t have many female friends. I don’t have time for gossip. And groups of women together remind me too much of the bitchy clique of girls at my school who never accepted me as their own. It was a surprise to see so many women on the hen do – but then they were largely my employees from The Download – who organised it as a not entirely welcome surprise – or the partners of Will’s mates. My closest friend is male: Charlie. In effect, this weekend, he’ll be my best man. Charlie and Hannah are on their way over now, the last of tonight’s guests to arrive. It will be so good to see Charlie. It feels like a long time since we hung out as adults, without his kids there. Back in the day we used to see each other all the time – even after he’d got together with Hannah. He always made time for me. But when he had kids it felt like he moved into that other realm: one in which a late night means 11 p.m., and every outing without kids has to be carefully orchestrated. It was only then that I started to miss having him to myself. ‘You look stunning.’ ‘Oh!’ I jump, then spot him in the mirror: Will. He’s leaning in the doorway, watching me. ‘Will!’ I hiss. ‘I’m in my dress! Get out! You’re not supposed to see—’ He doesn’t move. ‘Aren’t I allowed to have a preview? And I’ve seen it, now.’ He begins to walk towards me. ‘No point crying over spilled silk. You look – Jesus – I can’t wait to see you coming up the aisle in that.’ He moves to stand behind me, taking a hold of my bare shoulders. I should be livid. I am. Yet I can feel my outrage sputtering. Because his hands are on me now, moving from my shoulders down my arms, and I feel that first shiver of longing. I remind myself, too, that I’m far from superstitious about the groom seeing the wedding dress beforehand – I’ve never believed in that sort of thing. ‘You shouldn’t be here,’ I say, crossly. But already it sounds a little half-hearted. ‘Look at us,’ he says as our eyes meet in the mirror, as he traces a finger down the side of my cheek. ‘Don’t we look good together?’ And he’s right, we do. Me so dark-haired and pale, him so fair and tanned. We make the most attractive couple in any room. I’m not going to pretend it’s not part of the thrill, imagining how we might appear to the outside world – and to our guests tomorrow. I think of the girls at school who once teased me for being a chubby swot (I was a late bloomer) and think: Look who’s having the last laugh. He bites into the exposed skin of my shoulder. A pluck of lust low in my belly, a snapped elastic band. With it goes the last of my resistance. ‘You nearly done with that?’ He’s looking over my shoulder at the table plan. ‘I haven’t quite worked out where I’m putting everyone,’ I say. There’s a silence as he inspects it, his breath warm on the side of my neck, curling along my collarbone. I can smell the aftershave he’s wearing, too: cedar and moss. ‘Did we invite Piers?’ he asks mildly. ‘I don’t remember him being on the list.’ I somehow manage not to roll my eyes. I did all of the invitations. I refined the list, chose the stationers, collated all the addresses, bought the stamps, posted every last one. Will was away a lot, shooting the new series. Every so often, he’d throw out a name, someone he’d forgotten to mention. I suppose he did check through the list at the end pretty carefully, saying he wanted to make sure we hadn’t missed anyone. Piers was a later addition. ‘He wasn’t on the list,’ I admit. ‘But I saw his wife at those drinks at the Groucho. She asked about the wedding and it seemed total madness not to invite them. I mean, why wouldn’t we?’ Piers is the producer of Will’s show. He’s a nice guy and he and Will have always seemed to get along well. I didn’t have to think twice about extending the invitation. ‘Fine,’ Will says. ‘Yes, of course that makes sense.’ But there’s an edge to his voice. For some reason it has bothered him. ‘Look, darling,’ I say, curling one arm around his neck. ‘I thought you’d be delighted to have them here. They certainly seemed pleased to be asked.’ ‘I don’t mind,’ he says, carefully. ‘It was a surprise, that’s all.’ He moves his hands to my waist. ‘I don’t mind in the least. In fact, it’s a good surprise. It will be nice to have them.’ ‘OK. Right, so I’m going to put husbands and wives next to each other. Does that work?’ ‘The eternal dilemma,’ he says, mock-profoundly. ‘God, I know … but people do really care about that sort of thing.’ ‘Well,’ he says, ‘if you and I were guests I know where I’d want to be sitting.’ ‘Oh yes?’ ‘Right opposite you, so I could do this.’ His hand reaches down and rucks up the fabric of the silk skirt, climbing beneath. ‘Will,’ I say, ‘the silk—’ His fingers have found the lace edge of my knickers. ‘Will!’ I say, half-annoyed, ‘what on earth are you—’ Then his fingers have slipped inside my knickers and have begun to move against me and I don’t particularly care about the silk any more. My head falls against his chest. This is not like me at all. I am not the sort of person who gets engaged only a few months into knowing someone … or married only a few months after that. But I would argue that it isn’t rash, or impulsive, as I think some suspect. If anything, it’s the opposite. It’s knowing your own mind, knowing what you want and acting upon it. ‘We could do it right now,’ Will says, his voice a warm murmur against my neck. ‘We’ve got time, haven’t we?’ I try to answer – no – but as his fingers continue their work it turns into a long, drawn-out groan. With every other partner I’ve got bored in a matter of weeks, the sex has rather too quickly become pedestrian, a chore. With Will I feel like I am never quite sated – even when, in the baser sense, I am more sated than I have been with any other lover. It isn’t just about him being so beautiful – which he is, of course, objectively so. This insatiability is far deeper than that. I’m aware of a feeling of wanting to possess him. Of each sexual act being an attempt at a possession that is never quite achieved, some essential part of him always evading my reach, slipping beneath the surface. Is it to do with his fame? The fact that once you attain celebrity you become, in a sense, publicly owned? Or is it something else, something fundamental about him? Secret and unknowable, hidden from view? This thought, inevitably, has me thinking about the note. I will not think about the note. Will’s fingers continue their work. ‘Will,’ I say, half-heartedly, ‘anyone might come in.’ ‘Isn’t that the thrill of it?’ he whispers. Yes, yes I suppose it is. Will has definitely broadened my sexual horizons. He’s introduced me to sex in public places. We’ve done it in a night-time park, in the back row of a near-empty cinema. When I remember this I am amazed at myself: I cannot believe that it was me who did these things. Julia Keegan does not break the law. He’s also the only man I have ever allowed to film me in the nude – once, even during sex itself. I only agreed to this once we were engaged, naturally. I’m not a fucking idiot. But it’s Will’s thing and, since we’ve started doing it, though I don’t exactly like it – it represents a loss of control, and in every other relationship I have been the one in control – at the same time it is somehow intoxicating, this loss. I hear him unbuckle his belt and just the sound of it sends a charge through me. He pushes me forward, towards the dressing table – a little roughly. I grip the table. I feel the tip of him poised there, about to enter me. ‘Hello hello? Anybody in there?’ The door creaks open. Shit. Will pulls away from me, I hear him scrabbling with his jeans, his belt. I feel my skirt fall. I almost can’t bear to turn. He stands there, lounging in the doorway: Johnno, Will’s best man. How much did he see? Everything? I feel the heat rising into my cheeks and I’m furious with myself. I’m furious with him. I never blush. ‘Sorry, chaps,’ Johnno says. ‘Was I interrupting?’ Is that a smirk? ‘Oh—’ he catches sight of what I’m wearing. ‘Is that …? Isn’t that meant to be bad luck?’ I’d like to pick up a heavy object and hurl it at him, scream at him to get out. But I am on best behaviour. ‘Oh for God’s sake!’ I say instead, and I hope my tone asks: Do I look like the sort of cretin who would believe something like that? I raise my eyebrow at him, cross my arms. I am past master at the raised eyebrow game – I use it at work to fantastic effect. I dare him to say another word. For all Johnno’s bravado, I think he’s a little scared of me. People are, generally, scared of me. ‘We were going through the table plan,’ I tell him. ‘So you interrupted that.’ ‘Well,’ he says. ‘I’ve been such a bellend …’ I can see that he’s a little cowed. Good. ‘I’ve just realised I’ve forgotten something pretty important.’ I feel my heart begin to beat faster. Not the rings. I told Will not to trust him with the rings until the last minute. If he’s forgotten the rings I cannot be held responsible for my actions. ‘It’s my suit,’ Johnno says. ‘I had it all ready to go, in the liner … and then, at the last minute … well, I dunno what happened. All I can say is, it must be hanging on my door in Blighty.’ I look away from them both as they leave the room. Concentrate hard on not saying anything I’ll regret. I have to keep a handle on my temper this weekend. Mine has been known to get the better of me. I’m not proud of the fact, but I have never found myself able to completely control it, though I’m getting better. Rage is not a good look on a bride. I don’t get why Will is friends with Johnno, why he hasn’t cut him out of his life by now. It’s definitely not the witty conversation that keeps him hanging in there. The guy’s harmless, I suppose … at least, I assume he’s harmless. But they’re so different. Will is so driven, so successful, so smart in the way he presents himself. Johnno is a slob. One of life’s dropouts. When we collected him from the local train station on the mainland he stank of weed and looked like he’d been sleeping rough. I expected him to at least get a shave and a haircut before he came out here. It’s not too much to ask that your groomsman doesn’t look like a caveman, is it? Later I’ll send Will over to his room with a razor. Will’s too good to him. He even, apparently, got Johnno a screen test for Survive the Night which, of course, didn’t come to anything. When I asked Will why he sticks with Johnno, he put it down to simple ‘history’. ‘We don’t have much in common, these days,’ he said. ‘But we go back a long way.’ But Will can be fairly ruthless. To be honest, that was probably one of the things that attracted me to him when we first met, one of the things I immediately recognised we had in common. As much as his golden looks, his winning smile, the thing that drew me was the ambition I could smell coming off him, beneath his charm. So this is what worries me. Why would Will keep a friend like Johnno around simply because of a shared past? Unless that past has some sort of hold over him. JOHNNO The Best Man Will climbs out of the trapdoor carrying a pack of Guinness. We’re up on the Folly’s battlements, looking through the gaps in the stonework. The ground’s a long way down and some of the stones up here are pretty loose. If you didn’t have a good head for heights it would do a number on you. From here you can see all the way to the mainland. I feel like a king up here, with the sun on my face. Will breaks a can out of the case. ‘Here you go.’ ‘Ah, the good stuff. Thanks, mate. And sorry I walked in on you back there.’ I give him a wink. ‘Thought you were meant to save it for after marriage, though?’ Will raises his eyebrows, all innocence. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. Jules and I were going through the table plan.’ ‘Oh yeah? That’s what they call it now? Honest though,’ I say, ‘I’m sorry about the suit, mate. I feel like such a tool for forgetting.’ I want him to know I feel bad – that I’m serious about being a good best man to him. I really am, I want to do him proud. ‘Not an issue,’ Will says. ‘Not sure my spare’s going to fit, but you’re welcome to it.’ ‘You’re sure Jules is going to be all right about it? She didn’t look all that happy.’ ‘Yeah,’ Will waves a hand. ‘She’ll be fine.’ Which I guess means she probably isn’t fine, but he’ll work on it. ‘OK. Thanks, mate.’ He takes a swig of his Guinness, leans against the stone wall behind us. Then he seems to remember something. ‘Oh. By the way, you haven’t seen Olivia, have you? Jules’s half-sister? She keeps disappearing. She’s a little—’ He makes a gesture: ‘cuckoo’, that’s what it means, but ‘fragile’ is what he says. I met Olivia earlier. She’s tall and dark-haired, with a big, sulky mouth and legs that go up to her armpits. ‘Shame,’ I say. ‘’Cause … well, don’t tell me you haven’t noticed?’ ‘Johnno, she’s nineteen, for Christ’s sake,’ Will says. ‘Don’t be disgusting. Besides, she also happens to be my fiancée’s sister.’ ‘Nineteen, so she’s legal, then,’ I say, looking to wind him up. ‘It’s tradition, isn’t it? The best man has the pick of the bridesmaids. And there’s only one, so it’s not like I have all that much choice …’ Will twists his mouth like he’s tasted something disgusting. ‘I don’t think that rule applies when they’re fifteen years younger than you, you idiot,’ he says. He’s acting all prim now, but he’s always had an eye for the ladies. They’ve always had an eye for him in return, lucky bastard. ‘She’s off-limits, all right? Get that through your thick skull.’ He knocks my head with his knuckles. I don’t like the ‘thick skull’ bit. I’m not necessarily the brightest penny in the till. But I don’t like being treated like a moron, either. Will knows that. It was one of the things that always got my back up at school. I laugh it off, though. I know he didn’t mean it. ‘Look,’ he says. ‘I can’t have you blundering around making passes at my teenage sister-in-law. Jules would kill me. She’d kill you, too.’ ‘All right, all right,’ I say. ‘Besides,’ he says, lowering his voice, ‘there’s also the fact that she’s, you know …’ he makes that cuckoo gesture again. ‘She must get it from Jules’s mum. Thank God Jules missed out on any of those genes. Anyway, hands off, all right?’ ‘Fine, fine …’ I take a swig of my Guinness and do a big belch. ‘You had a chance to do much climbing lately?’ Will asks me, obviously trying to change the subject. ‘Nah,’ I say. ‘Not really. That’s why I’ve got this.’ I pat my gut. ‘Hard to find time when you’re not being paid for it, like you are.’ The funny thing is, it was always me who was more into that stuff. All the outward-bound stuff. Until recently, it’s what I did for a living too, working at an adventure centre in the Lake District. ‘Yeah. I guess so,’ Will says. ‘It’s funny – it’s not quite as much fun as it looks, really.’ ‘I doubt that, mate,’ I say. ‘You get to do the best thing on earth for a living.’ ‘Well – you know … but it’s not that authentic; a lot of smoke and mirrors …’ I’d bet anything he uses a stuntman to do the harder stuff. Will has never liked getting his hands that dirty. He claims he did a lot of training for the show, but still. ‘Then there’s all the hair and makeup,’ he says, ‘which seems ridiculous when you’re shooting a programme about survival.’ ‘Bet you love all that,’ I say with a wink. ‘Can’t fool me.’ He’s always been a bit vain. I say it with affection, obviously, but I enjoy getting him riled. He’s a good-looking bloke and he knows it. You can tell all the clothes he’s wearing today, even the jeans, are good stuff, expensive. Maybe it’s Jules’s influence: she’s a stylish lady herself and you can imagine her marching him into a shop. But you can’t imagine him minding much either. ‘So,’ I say, clapping him on the shoulder. ‘You ready to be a married man?’ He grins, nods. ‘I am. What can I say? I’m head over heels.’ I was surprised when Will told me he was getting married, I’m not going to lie. I’ve always thought of him as a lad about town. No woman can resist that golden boy charm. On the stag he told me about some of the dates he went on, before Jules. ‘I mean, in a way it was crazy good. I’ve never had so much action with so many different women as when I joined those apps, not even at uni. I had to get myself tested every couple of weeks. But there were some crazy ones out there, some clingy ones, you know? I don’t have time for all that any more. And then Jules came along. And she was … perfect. She’s so sure of herself, of what she wants from life. We’re the same.’ I bet the house in Islington didn’t hurt either, I didn’t say. The loaded dad. I don’t dare rib him about it – people get weird talking about money. But if there’s one thing Will has always liked, maybe even more than the ladies, it’s money. Maybe it’s a thing from childhood, never having quite as much as anyone else at our school. I get that. He was there because his dad was headmaster, while I got in on a sports scholarship. My family aren’t posh at all. I was spotted playing rugby at a school tournament in Croydon when I was eleven and they approached my dad. That sort of thing actually happened at Trevs: it was that important to them to field a good team. A voice comes from down below us. ‘Hey hey hey!’ What’s going on up here?’ ‘Boys!’ Will says. ‘Come up and join us! More the merrier!’ Bollocks. I was quite enjoying it being just Will and me. They’re climbing up out of the trapdoor – the four ushers. I shift over to make room, giving each a nod as they appear: Femi, then Angus, Duncan, Peter. ‘Fuck me, it’s high up here,’ Femi says, peering over the edge. Duncan grabs hold of Angus’s shoulders and pretends to give him a shove. ‘Whoa, saved you!’ Angus lets out a high-pitched squeal and we all laugh. ‘Don’t!’ he says angrily, recovering himself. ‘Jesus – that’s fucking dangerous.’ He’s clinging on to the stone as though for dear life, inching his way along to sit down next to us. Angus was always a bit wet for our group, but got social credit for arriving in his dad’s chopper at the start of term. Will hands out the cans of Guinness I’d been eyeing up for seconds. ‘Thanks, mate,’ Femi says. He looks at the can. ‘When in Rome, hey?’ Pete nods to the drop beneath us. ‘Think you might have to have a few of these to forget about that, Angus mate.’ ‘Yeah but you don’t want to drink too many,’ Duncan says. ‘Or you won’t care enough about it.’ ‘Oh shut it,’ Angus says crossly, colouring. But he’s still pretty pale and I get the impression he’s doing everything he can not to look over the edge. ‘I’ve got gear with me this weekend,’ Pete says in an undertone, ‘that would make you think you could jump off and fucking fly.’ ‘Leopards don’t change their spots, eh, Pete?’ Femi says. ‘Raiding your mum’s pill cabinet – I remember that kit bag of yours rattling when you came back after exeat.’ ‘Yeah,’ Angus says. ‘We all owe her a thank you.’ ‘I’d thank her,’ Duncan says. ‘Always remember your mum being a bit of a MILF, Pete.’ ‘You better share the love tomorrow, mate,’ Femi says. Pete winks at him. ‘You know me. Always do well by my boys.’ ‘How about now?’ I ask. I suddenly feel I need a hit to blur the edges and the weed I smoked earlier has worn off. ‘I like your attitude, J-dog,’ Pete says. ‘But you gotta pace yourself.’ ‘You better behave yourselves tomorrow,’ Will says, mock-sternly. ‘I don’t want my groomsmen showing me up.’ ‘We’ll behave, mate,’ Pete says, throwing an arm around his shoulder. ‘Just want to make sure our boy’s wedding is an occasion to remember.’ Will’s always been the centre of everything, the anchor of the group, all of us revolving round him. Good at sport, good enough grades – with a bit of extra help here and there. Everyone liked him. And I guess it seemed effortless, as though he didn’t work for anything. If you didn’t know him like I did, that is. We all sit and drink in silence for a few moments in the sun. ‘This is like being back at Trevs,’ Angus says, ever the historian. ‘Remember how we used to smuggle beers into the school? Climb up on to the roof of the sports hall to drink them?’ ‘Yeah,’ Duncan says. ‘Seem to remember you shitting yourself then, too.’ Angus scowls. ‘Fuck off.’ ‘Johnno smuggled them in really,’ Femi says, ‘from that offie in the village.’ ‘Yeah,’ Duncan says, ‘because he was a tall, ugly, hairy bastard, even at fifteen, weren’t you, mate?’ He leans over, punches me on the shoulder. ‘And we drank them warm from the can,’ Angus says, ‘’cause we didn’t have any way to cool them down. Best thing I’ve ever drunk in my life, probably – even now, when we could all drink, you know, chilled fucking Dom every day of the week if we wanted to.’ ‘You mean like we did a few months ago,’ Duncan says. ‘At the RAC.’ ‘When was this?’ I ask. ‘Ah,’ Will says. ‘Sorry, Johnno. I knew it would be too far for you to come, you being in Cumbria and everything.’ ‘Oh,’ I say. ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’ I think of them having a nice old champagne lunch together at the Royal Automobile Club, one of those posh members-only places. Right. I take a big long swig of my Guinness. I could really do with some more weed. ‘It was the kick of it,’ Femi says, ‘back at school, at Trevs. That’s what it was. Knowing we could get caught.’ ‘Jesus,’ Will says. ‘Do we really have to talk about Trevs? It’s bad enough that I have to hear my dad talking about the place.’ He says it with a grin, but I can see he’s got this slightly pinched look, as if his Guinness has gone down the wrong way. I always felt sorry for Will having a dad like his. No wonder he felt he had to prove himself. I know he’d prefer to forget his whole time at that place. I would too. ‘Those years at school seemed so grim at the time,’ Angus says, ‘but now, looking back – and Christ knows what this says about me – I think in some ways they feel like the most important of my life. I mean, I definitely wouldn’t send my own kids there – no offence to your dad, Will – but it wasn’t all bad. Was it?’ ‘I dunno,’ Femi says doubtfully. ‘I got singled out a lot by the teachers. Fucking racists.’ He says it in an offhand way but I know it wasn’t always easy for him, being one of the only black kids there. ‘I loved it,’ Duncan says, and when the rest of us look at him, he adds: ‘honest! Now I look back on it I realise how important it was, you know? Wouldn’t have had it any other way. It bonded us.’ ‘Anyway,’ says Will, ‘back to the present. I’d say things are pretty good now for all of us, wouldn’t you?’ They’re definitely good for him. The other blokes have done all right for themselves too. Femi’s a surgeon, Angus works for his dad’s development firm, Duncan’s a venture capitalist – whatever that means – and Pete’s in advertising, which probably doesn’t help his coke habit. ‘So what are you up to these days, Johnno?’ Pete asks, turning to me. ‘You were doing that climbing instructor stuff right?’ I nod. ‘The adventure centre,’ I say. ‘Not just climbing. Bushcraft, building camps—’ ‘Yeah,’ Duncan says, cutting me off, ‘you know, I was thinking of a team-bonding day – was going to talk to you about it. Cut me some mates’ rates?’ ‘I’d love to,’ I say, thinking someone as minted as Duncan doesn’t need to ask for mates’ rates. ‘But I’m not doing it any more.’ ‘Oh?’ ‘Nah. I’ve set up a whisky business. It’ll be coming out pretty soon. Maybe in the next six months or so.’ ‘And you’ve got stockists?’ Angus asks. He sounds rather put out. I suppose it doesn’t fit with his image of big, stupid Johnno. I’ve somehow managed to avoid the boring office job and come out on top. ‘I have,’ I say, nodding. ‘I have.’ ‘Waitrose?’ Duncan asks. ‘Sainsbury’s?’ ‘And the rest.’ ‘There’s a lot of competition out there,’ Angus says. ‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘Lots of big old names, celebrity brands – even that UFC fighter, Connor MacGregor. But we wanted to go for a more, I dunno, artisanal feel. Like those new gins.’ ‘We’re lucky enough to be serving it tomorrow,’ Will says. ‘Johnno brought a case with him. We’ll have to give it a try this evening, too. What’s the name again? I know it’s a good one.’ ‘Hellraiser,’ I say. I’m quite proud of the name, actually. Different to those fusty old brands. And a little annoyed Will’s forgotten – it’s only on the labels of the bottles I gave him yesterday. But the bloke’s getting married tomorrow. He’s got other stuff on his mind. ‘Who’d have thought it?’ Femi says. ‘All of us, respectable adults. And having come out of that place? Again, no offence to your dad, Will. But it was like somewhere from another century. We’re lucky we got out alive – four boys left every term, as I recall.’ I couldn’t ever have left. My folks were so excited when I got the rugby scholarship, that I got to go to a posh school – a boarding school. All the opportunities it would give me, or so they thought. ‘Yeah,’ Pete says. ‘Remember there was that boy who drank ethanol from the Science department because he was dared to – they had to rush him to hospital? Then there were always the kids who had nervous breakdowns—’ ‘Oh shit,’ Duncan says, excitedly, ‘and there was that little weedy kid, the one who died. Only the strong survived!’ He grins round at us all. ‘The ones who raised hell, am I right, boys? All back together this weekend!’ ‘Yeah,’ Femi says. ‘But look at this.’ He leans over and points to the patch where he’s going a bit thin on top. ‘We’re getting old and boring now, aren’t we?’ ‘Speak for yourself, mate!’ Duncan says. ‘I reckon we could still fire things up if the occasion demanded it.’ ‘Not at my wedding you won’t,’ Will says, but he’s smiling. ‘Especially at your wedding we will,’ Duncan says. ‘Thought you’d be the first to get married, mate,’ Femi says to Will. ‘Being such a hit with the ladies.’ ‘And I thought you never would,’ Angus says, sucking up like always, ‘too much of a hit with them. Why settle?’ ‘Do you remember that girl you shagged?’ Pete asks. ‘From the local comp? That topless Polaroid you had of her? Jesus.’ ‘One for the wank bank,’ Angus says. ‘Still think about that photo sometimes.’ ‘Yeah, because you never get any action yourself,’ Duncan says. Will winks. ‘Anyway. Seeing as we’re all together again – even if we’re old and boring, as you so charmingly put it, Femi – I think that deserves a toast.’ ‘I’ll drink to that,’ Duncan says, raising his can. ‘Me too,’ says Pete. ‘To the survivors,’ Will says. ‘The survivors!’ We echo him. And just for a moment, when I look at the others, they look different, younger. It’s like the sun has gilded them. You can’t see Femi’s bald spot from this angle, or Angus’s paunch, and Pete looks less like he only goes out at night. And, if possible, even Will looks better, brighter. I have this sudden sense that we’re back there, sitting on that sports hall roof and nothing bad has happened yet. I’d give a fair amount to return to that time. ‘Right,’ Will says, draining the dregs of his Guinness. ‘I better get downstairs. Charlie and Hannah will be arriving soon. Jules wants a welcoming party on the jetty.’ I suppose once everyone’s here the weekend will kick off in earnest. But I wish for a moment we could go back to just Will and me, shooting the breeze, like we were before the others arrived. I haven’t seen all that much of Will recently. Yet he’s the person who knows more about me than anyone in the world, really. And I know the most about him. OLIVIA The Bridesmaid My room used to be a maid’s quarters, apparently. I worked out pretty quickly that I’m directly below Jules and Will’s room. Last night I could hear everything. I did try not to, obviously. But it was like the harder I tried, the more I heard every tiny sound, every groan and gasp. Almost as if they wanted to be heard. They did it this morning too, but at least then I could get out, escape the Folly. We’re all under instructions not to go walking around the island after dark. But if it happens again this evening there’s no way I’m going to stay here. I’d prefer to take my chances with the peat bog and the cliffs. I toggle my phone on to Airplane mode and off again, to see if anything happens to the little NO SIGNAL message, but it does fuck all. I doubt I have any new messages. I’ve sort of lost contact with all my mates. It’s not like we’ve fallen out. It’s more that I’ve left their world since I dropped out of uni. They sent me messages at first: Hope you’re OK babes Call if you need to chat Livs See you soon, yeah? We miss you! What happened???? Suddenly I feel like I can’t breathe. I reach for the bedside table. The razor blade is there: so small, but so sharp. I pull down my jeans and press the razor’s edge to my inner thigh, up near my knickers, drag it into my flesh until the blood wells. The colour’s such a dark red against the blue-white skin there. It’s not a very big cut; I’ve made bigger. But the sting of it focuses everything to a point, to the metal entering my flesh, so that for a moment nothing else exists. I breathe a little easier. Maybe I’ll do one more— There’s a knock on my door. I drop the blade, fumbling to get my jeans closed. ‘Who is it?’ I call. ‘Me,’ Jules says, pushing the door open before I tell her she can come in, which is so Jules. Thank God I reacted quickly. ‘I need to see you in your bridesmaid dress,’ she says. ‘We’ve got a bit of time before Hannah and Charlie arrive. Johnno’s forgotten his bloody suit so I want to make sure that at least one member of the wedding party looks good.’ ‘I’ve already tried it on,’ I say. ‘It definitely fits.’ Lie. I have no idea whether it fits or not. I was meant to come to the shop to try it on. But I found an excuse every time Jules tried to get me there: eventually she gave up and bought it, on condition I tried it on and told her it fitted straight away. I told her it did but I couldn’t make myself put it on. It’s been in its big stiff cardboard box since Jules had it delivered. ‘You may have tried it on,’ Jules says, ‘but I want to see it.’ She smiles at me, suddenly, like she’s just remembered to do so. ‘You can do it in our bedroom, if you like.’ She says it as if she’s offering some amazing privilege. ‘No thanks,’ I say. ‘I’d prefer to stay here—’ ‘Come on,’ she says. ‘We’ve got a nice big mirror.’ I realise it isn’t optional. I go to the wardrobe and lift out the big duck-egg blue box. Jules’s mouth tightens. I know she’s pissed off I haven’t hung it up yet. Growing up with Jules sometimes felt like having a second mother, or one who was like other mums – bossy, strict, all that stuff. Mum was never really like that, but Jules was. I follow her up to their bedroom. Even though Jules is super tidy and even though there’s a window open to let the fresh air in, it smells of bodies in here, and men’s aftershave and, I think (I don’t want to think), of sex. It feels wrong being in here, in their private space. Jules closes the door and turns to me with her arms folded. ‘Go on then,’ she says. I don’t feel like I have much choice. Jules is good at making you feel that. I strip down to my underwear, keeping my legs pressed together in case my thigh’s still bleeding. If Jules sees I’ll have to tell her I’ve got my period. My skin prickles into goosebumps in the slight breeze coming through the window. I can feel her watching me; I wish she’d give me a bit of privacy. ‘You’ve lost weight,’ she says critically. Her tone is caring, but it doesn’t quite ring true. I know she’s probably jealous. Once, when she got drunk, she went on about how kids had got at her at school for being ‘chubby’. She’s always making comments about my weight, like she doesn’t know I’ve always been skinny, ever since I was a little girl. But it’s possible to hate your body when you’re thin, too. To feel like it’s kept secrets from you. To feel like it’s let you down. Jules is right, though. I have lost weight. I can only wear my smallest jeans at the moment, and even they slip down off my hips. I haven’t been trying to lose weight or anything. But that feeling of emptiness I get when I don’t eat as much … it matches how I feel. It seems right. Jules is taking the dress out of the box. ‘Olivia!’ she says crossly. ‘Has this been in here the whole time? Look at these creases! This silk’s so delicate … I thought you’d look after it a bit better.’ She sounds as though she’s talking to a child. I guess she thinks she is. But I’m not a child any more. ‘Sorry,’ I say. ‘I forgot.’ Lie. ‘Well. Thank goodness I’ve brought a steamer. It’ll take ages to get all of these out, though. You’ll have to do that later. But for now just try it on.’ She has me put out my arms, like a child, while she shrugs the dress down over my head. As she does I spot an inch-long, bright pink mark on the inside of her wrist. It’s a burn, I think. It looks sore and I wonder how she did it: Jules is so careful, she’s never normally clumsy enough to burn herself. But before I can get a better look she has taken hold of my upper arms and is steering me towards the mirror so both of us can look at me in the dress. It’s a blush pink colour, which I would never wear, because it makes me look even paler. The same colour, almost, as the swanky manicure Jules made me get in London last week. Jules wasn’t happy with the state of my nails: she told the manicurist to ‘do the best you can with them’. When I look at my hands now it makes me want to laugh: the prissy princess pink shimmer of the polish next to my bitten down, bleeding cuticles. Jules steps back, her arms folded and eyes narrowed. ‘It’s quite loose. God, I’m sure this was the smallest size they had. For Christ’s sake, Olivia. I wish you’d told me it didn’t fit properly – I would have had it taken in. But …’ she frowns, moving around me in a slow circle. I feel that breeze through the door again, and shiver. ‘I don’t know, maybe it works a little loose. I suppose it’s a look, of sorts.’ I study myself in the mirror. The shape of the dress itself isn’t too offensive: a slip, bias cut, quite nineties. Something I might even have worn if it was another colour. Jules isn’t wrong; it doesn’t look terrible. But you can see my black pants and my nipples through the fabric. ‘Don’t worry,’ Jules says, as though she’s read my mind. ‘I’ve got a stick-on bra for you. And I’ve bought you a nude thong – I knew you wouldn’t have one yourself.’ Great. That will make me feel a lot less fucking naked. It’s weird, standing together in front of the mirror, Jules behind me, both of us looking at my reflection. There are obvious differences between us. We’re totally different shapes, for one, and I have a slimmer nose – Mum’s nose – while Jules has better hair, thick and shiny. But when we’re together like this I can see that we’re more similar than people might think. The shape of our faces is the same, like Mum’s. You can see we’re sisters, or nearly. I wonder if Jules is seeing it too: the similarity between us. Her expression is all odd and pinched-looking. ‘Oh, Olivia,’ she says. And then – I see it happen, in the mirror in front of us, before I actually feel it – she reaches out and takes my hand in hers. I freeze. It’s so unlike Jules: she is not big on physical contact, or affection. ‘Look,’ she says, ‘I know we haven’t always got along. But I am proud to have you as my bridesmaid. You do know that – don’t you?’ ‘Yes,’ I say. It comes out as a bit of a croak. Jules gives my hand a squeeze, which for her is like a full-blown hug. ‘Mum says you broke up with that guy? You know, Olivia, at your age it can feel like the end of the world. But then later you meet someone who you really click with and you understand the difference. It’s like Will and me—’ ‘I’m fine,’ I say. ‘It’s fine.’ Lie. I do not want to talk about any of this with anyone. Jules least of all. She’s the last person who would understand if I told her I can’t remember why I ever bothered to put make-up on, or nice underwear, or buy new clothes, or go and get my hair cut. It seems like someone else did all those things. Suddenly I feel really weird. Sort of faint and sick. I sway a bit, and Jules catches me, her hands gripping my upper arms hard. ‘I’m fine,’ I say, before she can even ask what’s wrong. I bend down and unfasten the over-fancy grey silk courts Jules has chosen for me, with their jewelled buckles, which takes ages because my hands have become all clumsy and stupid. Then I reach up and drag the dress over my head, so hard that Jules gives a little gasp, like she thinks it might tear. I didn’t use her pillow. ‘Olivia!’ she says. ‘What on earth has gotten into you?’ ‘Sorry,’ I say. But I only mouth the words, no actual sound comes out. ‘Look,’ she says. ‘Just for these few days I’d like you to try and make a bit of an effort. OK? This is my wedding, Livvy. I’ve tried so hard to make it perfect. I bought this dress for you – I’d like you to wear it because I want you there, as my bridesmaid. That means something to me. It should mean something to you, too. Doesn’t it?’ I nod. ‘Yeah. Yeah, it does.’ And then, because she seems to be waiting for me to go on, I add, ‘I’m OK. I don’t know what … what that was before. I’m fine now.’ Lie. JULES The Bride I push open the door to my mother’s room into a cloud of Shalimar perfume and, possibly, cigarette smoke. She better not have been smoking in here. Mum is sitting at the mirror in her silk kimono, busy outlining her lips in her signature carmine. ‘Goodness, that’s a murderous expression. What do you want, darling?’ Darling. The strange cruelty of that word. I keep my tone calm, reasonable. I am being my best self, today. ‘Olivia is going to behave herself tomorrow, isn’t she?’ My mother gives a weary sigh. Takes a sip of the drink she’s got next to her. It looks suspiciously like a martini. Great, so she’s already on the strong stuff. ‘I made her my bridesmaid,’ I say. ‘I could have picked from twenty other people.’ Not quite true. ‘But she’s acting as though it’s this big drag. I’ve hardly asked her to do anything. She didn’t come to the hen do even though there was a room free in the villa for her. It did look odd—’ ‘I could have come instead, darling.’ I stare at her. It would never have occurred to me that she might have wanted to come. Besides, no bloody way was I ever going to invite my mother to the hen do. It would, inevitably, have morphed into the Araminta Jones show. ‘Look,’ I say. ‘None of that really matters. It’s in the past now, I suppose. But is she at least going to try and look happy for me?’ ‘She’s had a difficult time,’ Mum says. ‘You mean because her boyfriend broke up with her or whatever it was? They were only going out for a few months according to what I’ve seen on Instagram. Clearly a romance of epic proportions!’ A note of petulance has crept in, despite my best intentions. My mother is now concentrating on the more precise work of outlining her Cupid’s bow. ‘But, darling,’ she says, once she has finished, ‘when you think about it, you and the gorgeous Will haven’t been together all that long, have you?’ ‘That’s rather different,’ I say, nettled. ‘Olivia’s nineteen. She’s still a teenager. Love is what teenagers think has happened when actually they’re just stuffed full of hormones. I thought I was in love when I was about her age.’ I think of Charlie at eighteen: the deep biscuit-tan, the white line sometimes visible beneath his board-shorts. It occurs to me that my mother never knew – or cared to know – about my adolescent affairs of the heart. She was too busy with her own love life. Thank God; I’m not sure any teenager wants that kind of scrutiny. And yet I can’t help but feel that this all proves she and Olivia are much closer than we ever were. ‘When your father left me,’ Mum says, ‘you have to remember that I was about the same age. I had a newborn baby—’ ‘I know, Mum,’ I say, as patiently as I can. I’ve heard more times than I ever needed to about how my birth ended what definitely, probably, maybe would have been a highly successful career for my mother. ‘Do you know what it was like for me?’ she asks. Ah, here it comes: the same old script. ‘Trying to have a career and a tiny baby? Trying to make a living, to make something of myself? Just so I could put food on the table?’ You didn’t have to continue trying to get acting jobs, I think. If you’d really wanted to put food on the table that probably wasn’t the most sensible way to do it. We didn’t have to spend your tiny income on an apartment off Shaftesbury Avenue in Zone One and not be able to afford to eat as a result. It’s not my fault you made some bad decisions when you were a teenager and got yourself knocked up. As usual, I don’t say any of this. ‘We were talking about Olivia,’ I say, instead. ‘Well,’ Mum says, ‘let’s just say that there was a little more to Olivia’s experience than a bad break-up.’ She examines the glossy finish of her nails – carmine, too, as though her fingers have been dipped in blood. Of course, I think. This is Olivia, so it had to be special and different in some way. Careful, Jules. Don’t be bitter. Best behaviour. ‘What, then?’ I ask. ‘What else was there?’ ‘It’s not my place to say.’ This is surprisingly discreet, coming from my mother. ‘And besides,’ she says, ‘Olivia’s like me in that – an empath. We can’t simply … smother our feelings and put a brave face on it like some people can.’ I know that in a sense this is true. I know that Olivia does feel things deeply, too deeply, that she does take them to heart. She’s a dreamer. She was always coming home from school with playground scrapes, and bruises from bumping into things. She’s a nail-biter, a hair-splitter, an over-thinker. She’s ‘fragile’. But she’s also spoiled. And I can’t help sensing implied criticism in Mum’s reference to ‘some people’. Just because the rest of us don’t wear our hearts on our sleeves, just because we have found a way of managing our feelings – it doesn’t mean they’re not there. Breathe, Jules. I think of how Olivia looked so oddly at me when I told her I was happy to have her as my bridesmaid. I couldn’t help feeling a small pang as, trying on the dress, she slipped out of her clothes and revealed her slender, stretch-mark-free body. I know she felt me staring. She is definitely too thin and too pale. And yet she looked undeniably gorgeous. Like one of those nineties heroin-chic models: Kate Moss lounging in a bedsit with a string of fairy lights behind her. Looking at her, I was caught between those two emotions I always seem to feel when it comes to Olivia: a deep, almost painful tenderness, and a shameful, secret envy. I suppose I haven’t always been as warm towards her as I might. Now she’s older, she’s wised up a little – and of late, since the engagement party especially, she has been noticeably cool. But when Olivia was younger she used to trail around after me like an adoring puppy. I got quite used to her displays of unrequited affection. Even as I envied her. Mum turns around on her chair now. Her face is suddenly very sombre, uncharacteristically so. ‘Look. She’s had a difficult time, Jules. You can’t possibly begin to know the half of it. That poor kid has been through a lot.’ The poor kid. I feel it, at that. I thought I’d be immune to it by now. I’m ashamed to find that I am not: the little dart of envy, under my ribs. I take a deep breath. Remind myself that here I am, getting married. If Will and I have kids their childhood will be nothing like mine was – Mum with her string of boyfriends, all actors, always ‘on the verge of a big break’. Someone finding me a place to sleep on the coats at all the inevitable Soho afterparties, because I was six years old and all my classmates would have been tucked up hours before. Mum turns back to the mirror. She squints at herself, pushes her hair one way, then the other, twists it up behind her head. ‘Got to look good for the new arrivals,’ she says. ‘Aren’t they handsome, all of Will’s friends?’ Oh Christ. Olivia doesn’t know how good she had it, how lucky she was. To her it was all normal. When her dad, Rob, was around, Mum became this proper mother figure: cooked meals, insisted on bed by eight, there was a playroom full of toys. Mum eventually got bored of playing happy families. But not before Olivia had had a whole, contented childhood. Not before I had begun half hating that little girl with everything she didn’t even know she had. I’m itching with the need to break something. I pick up the Cire Trudon candle on the dressing table, heft it in my hand, imagine how it would feel to watch it splinter to smithereens. I don’t do this any more – I’ve got it under control. I definitely wouldn’t want Will to see this side of me. But around my family I find myself regressing, letting all the old pettiness and envy and hurt come rushing back until I am teenage Jules, plotting to get away. I must be bigger than this. I have forged my own path. I have built it all on my own, something stable and powerful. And this weekend is a statement of that. My victory march. Through the window I hear the sound of a boat’s engine guttering. It must be Charlie arriving. Charlie will make me feel better. I put the candle back down. HANNAH The Plus-One By the time we finally reach the stiller waters of the island’s inlet I’ve been sick three times and I’m soaked and cold to the bone, feeling as wrung-out as an old dish cloth and clinging to Charlie like he’s a human life raft. I’m not sure how I’m going to walk off the boat as my legs feel like they’ve got no bones left. I wonder if Charlie’s embarrassed to be turning up with me in the state I’m in. He always gets a bit funny around Jules. My mum would call it ‘putting on airs’. ‘Oh look,’ Charlie says, ‘see those beaches over there? The sand really is white.’ I can see the way the sea turns an astonishing aquamarine colour in the shallows, the light bouncing off the waves. At one end the land shears away in dramatic cliffs and giant stacks that have become separated from the rest. At the other end is an improbably small castle, right out on a promontory, perched over a few shelves of rocks and the crashing sea below. ‘Look at that castle,’ I say. ‘I think that’s the Folly,’ Charlie says. ‘That’s what Jules called it, anyway.’ ‘Trust posh people to have a special name for it.’ Charlie ignores me. ‘We’ll be staying in there. It should be fun. And it’ll be a nice distraction, won’t it? I know this month’s always tough.’ ‘Yeah,’ I nod. Charlie squeezes my hand. We both fall silent for a moment. ‘And, you know,’ he says, suddenly, ‘being without the kids for a change. Being adults again.’ I shoot him a look. Is there a touch of wistfulness in his tone? It’s true that we haven’t done very much recently other than keep two small people alive. I even feel, sometimes, that Charlie’s a bit jealous of how much love and attention I lavish on the kids. ‘Remember those days in the beginning,’ Charlie said an hour ago, as we drove through the beautiful countryside of Connemara, admiring the red heather and the dark peaks, ‘when we’d get on a train with a tent and go camping somewhere wild for the weekend? God, that seems a long time ago.’ We’d spend whole weekends having sex back then, surfacing only to eat or go for walks. We always seemed to have some spare cash. Yeah, our lives are rich now in another way, but I know what Charlie’s getting at. We were the first in our group of friends to have kids – I got pregnant with Ben before we got married. Even though I wouldn’t change any of it, I’ve wondered whether we missed out on a couple more years of carefree fun. There’s another self that I sometimes feel I lost along the way. The girl who always stayed for one more drink, who loved a dance. I miss her, sometimes. Charlie’s right. We’ve needed a weekend away, the two of us. I only wish that our first proper escape in ages didn’t have to be at the glamorous wedding of Charlie’s slightly terrifying friend. I don’t want to think too hard about when the last time we had sex was, because I know the answer will be too depressing. A while, anyway. In honour of this weekend I’ve had my first bikini wax in … Jesus, quite a long time, anyway, if you don’t count those little boxes of DIY strips mainly left unused in the bathroom cupboard. Sometimes, since the kids, it’s as though we’re more like colleagues, or partners in a small, somewhat shaky start-up that we have to devote all our attention to, rather than lovers. Lovers. When was the last time we thought of ourselves as that? ‘Crap,’ I say, to distract myself from this line of thought, ‘look at that marquee! It’s enormous.’ It’s so big it looks like a tented city rather than a single structure. If anyone were going to have a really fancy marquee, it would be Jules. The rest of the island looks, if possible, even more hostile than it did from far away. It seems incredible that this forbidding place is going to accommodate us for the next few days. As we get closer I can see a cluster of small, dark dwellings behind the Folly. And on the crest of a hill rising up beyond the marquee is a bristle of dark shapes. At first I think they’re people; an army of figures awaiting our arrival. Only they seem oddly, impossibly still. As we draw closer I realise that the strange, upright forms seem to be grave markers. And what looked like large bulbous heads are crosses, Celtic ones, the round circle enclosing the even-sided cross. ‘There they are!’ Charlie says. He gives a wave. I see the cluster of figures on the jetty now, waving. I comb my fingers through my hair, although I know from long experience that I’m probably making it more wild. I wish I had a bottle of water to swig from to help the sour taste in my mouth. As we draw closer, I can make them all out a little better. I see Jules, and even from this distance, I can see that she looks immaculate: the only person who could wear all white in a place like this and not immediately stain her clothes. Near Jules and Will stand two women who I can only assume must be Jules’s family – the glossy dark hair gives them away. ‘There’s Jules’s mum,’ Charlie says, pointing to the elder woman. ‘Wow,’ I say. She’s not what I expected at all. She wears black skinny jeans and little cat-eye black glasses pushed back on to a glossy dark bob. She doesn’t look old enough to have a thirty-something daughter. ‘Yeah, she had Jules pretty young,’ Charlie says, as if reading my mind. ‘And that must be – Jesus Christ! I suppose that must be Olivia. Jules’s little half-sister.’ ‘She doesn’t look so little now,’ I say. She’s taller than both Jules and her mum; a totally different shape to Jules, who’s all curves. She’s very striking-looking, beautiful, even, and her skin is pale pale pale in the way that only really looks good with black hair, like hers. Her legs in her jeans look as though they’ve been drawn with two long thin lines of charcoal. God, I’d kill for legs like that. ‘I can’t believe how much older she is,’ Charlie says. He’s half-whispering now, we’re close enough that they might hear us. He sounds a bit freaked out. ‘Is she the one who used to have a crush on you?’ I ask, dredging this fact up from some half-remembered conversation with Jules. ‘Yes,’ he says, with a rueful grin. ‘God, Jules used to tease me about it. It was pretty embarrassing. Funny, but embarrassing, too. She used to find excuses to come and talk to me and lounge around in that disturbingly provocative way thirteen-year-olds can.’ I look at the gorgeous creature on the jetty and think – I bet he wouldn’t be so embarrassed now. Mattie is suddenly busying himself around us, putting out fenders on one side, readying a rope. Charlie steps forward: ‘Let me help—’ Mattie waves him away, which I suspect Charlie’s a little offended by. ‘Chuck it here!’ Will strides up the jetty towards us. On TV, he’s good-looking. In the flesh, he’s … well, he’s pretty breathtaking. ‘Let me help you!’ he calls to Mattie. Mattie throws him a rope and Will catches it expertly in mid-air, revealing a slice of muscular stomach beneath his Aran knit jumper. I wonder if I’m imagining Charlie bristling next to me. Boats are his thing: he was a sailing instructor in his youth. But everything outdoorsy, it seems, is Will’s thing. ‘Welcome, you two!’ He grins and reaches out a hand to me. ‘Need a lift?’ I don’t really, but I take it anyway. He grabs me under my armpit and lifts me over the side of the boat as though I’m as light as a child. I catch a gust of some subtle, masculine scent – moss and pine – and realise with dismay how I must smell in return, like vomit and seaweed. He has it in real life, I can tell already, that charm, that magnetism. In one of the articles I read about him, while watching the show – because obviously I had to start googling everything I could find about him – the journalist joked that she basically just watched it because she couldn’t tear her eyes away from Will. Lots of people became outraged, claimed it was objectification, that if the same piece had been written by a man the journalist would have been roasted alive. But I bet the show’s PR team opened the champagne. If I’m honest, I can see what she meant. There are lots of shots of Will stripped to the waist, or grunting his way up a rock face, always looking incredibly attractive. But it’s more than that. He has a particular way of talking to the camera, an intimacy, so that you feel you might be lying next to him in the temporary shelter he’s built out of branches and tree-bark, blinking in the light of his head torch. It’s the feeling of a companionable solitude, that it’s just you and him in the wilderness. It’s a seduction. Charlie reaches out a hand to Will. ‘Oh, what the hell?’ Will says, ignoring it to envelop Charlie in a big hug. I can see the tension in Charlie’s back from here. ‘Will,’ Charlie says, with a curt nod, stepping away immediately. It’s borderline rude when Will’s being so welcoming. ‘Charlie!’ Jules is coming forward now, reaching out her arms. ‘It’s been so long. God, I’ve missed you.’ Jules, the other woman in Charlie’s life. The most significant woman in his life – until I came along. They hug for a long time. At last we follow Jules and Will up towards the Folly. Will tells us it was originally built as a coastal defence, then converted by some wealthy Irishman into a holiday home a century ago: a place to retreat to for a few days, entertain friends. But if you didn’t know you could almost believe it was medieval. There’s a small turret and in amongst the bigger windows are tiny ones: ‘false arrow-slits’, Charlie says – he’s quite into castles. As we make our way there we see a chapel, or what remains of a chapel, hidden behind the Folly. The roof seems to be completely gone, leaving only the walls and five tall pillars – what might once have been the spires – reaching for sky. The windows are gaping empty holes in the stone and the whole front of it must have fallen away. ‘That’s where the ceremony will take place tomorrow,’ Jules says. ‘It’s beautiful,’ I say. ‘So romantic.’ All the right things. And I suppose it is beautiful, in a stark way. Charlie and I got married in the local registry office. Definitely not beautiful: a poky municipal room, a bit scuffed and cramped. Jules was there too, of course, looking rather out of place in her designer outfit. The whole thing was over in what felt like twenty minutes, we met the next couple coming in on our way out. But I wouldn’t have wanted to get married in a place like the chapel. It is beautiful, yes, but there’s definitely something tragic about its beauty, even slightly macabre. It stands out against the sky like a twisted, long-fingered hand, reaching up from the ground. There’s a haunted look about it. I watch Will and Jules as we follow them. I would never have had Jules down as a very tactile person but her hands are all over him, it’s as if she can’t not touch him. You can tell they are having sex. A lot of it. It’s hard to watch as her hand slides into the back pocket of his jeans, or up beneath the fabric of his T-shirt. I bet Charlie’s noticed, too. I won’t mention it, though. That would only draw attention to the lack of sex we’re having. We used to have really good, adventurous sex. But these days we’re so knackered all the time. And I find myself wondering whether, since kids, I feel different to Charlie, or whether he fancies me as much now my boobs are not the same boobs they were before breastfeeding, now I have all this strange slack skin on my belly. I know I shouldn’t ask, because my body has performed a miracle; two, in fact. And yet it is important for a couple to still desire each other, isn’t it? Jules has never really had a lasting relationship in all the time Charlie and I have been together. I always sensed she didn’t have time for anything serious, so focused was she on The Download. Charlie liked predicting how long they would last: ‘Three months, tops.’ Or, ‘This one’s already past its expiry date, if you ask me.’ And he was always the one she called when she did break up with them. Part of me wonders how he feels now, seeing her settled at last. I’d guess not entirely happy. My suspicions about the two of them threaten to surface. I push them back down. As we near the building a big cackle of laughter erupts from somewhere above. I glance up and see a group of men on top of the Folly’s battlements, looking down at us. There’s a mocking note to the laughter and I’m suddenly very aware of the state of my clothes and hair. I’m convinced that we’re the butt of their joke. OLIVIA The Bridesmaid Seeing Charlie again reminds me of how I used to moon about after him. It was only a few years ago, really, but I was a kid then. It’s embarrassing, thinking of the girl I used to be. But it also makes me kind of sad. I’m looking for somewhere to hide from them all. I take the track past the ruined houses, left over from when people used to live on this island. Jules told me that the islanders abandoned their homes because they found it easier to live on the mainland, that they wanted electricity and stuff. I get that. Just the fact of being stuck here would drive you mental. Even if you managed to get a boat to the mainland you’d still be a million miles away from anywhere. Your nearest, I don’t know, H&M, say, would be hundreds of miles away. I’ve always felt like Mum and I lived out in the sticks, but now I’m just grateful that we don’t live on an island in the middle of the Atlantic. So, yeah, I can see why you’d want to leave. But looking at these deserted houses with their empty windows and tumbledown appearance, it’s hard not to feel like bad things happened here. Yesterday, I saw something on one of the beaches; it was bigger than the rest of the rocks, grey but smoother, softer-looking somehow. I went to get a closer look. It was a dead seal. A baby, I think, because it was so small. I crept a bit closer and then I got a shock. On the other side, which had been hidden from me before, the seal’s body was all open, dark red, spilling out. I can’t get the image of it out of my head. Since then this place has made me think of death. It only takes me a few minutes to get down to the cave, which is marked on a map of the island in the Folly. The Whispering Cave, it’s called. It’s like a long wound in the ground – open at both ends. You could fall into it without realising it was there because the opening is hidden by all this long grass. When I came across it yesterday I nearly did fall in. I would have broken my neck. That would ruin Jules’s perfect wedding, wouldn’t it? The thought almost makes me smile. I climb down into the cave, down the rocks at the side that resemble a flight of steps. All the noise in my head dials down a notch and I start to breathe easier, even if there is a weird smell in this place – like sulphur, and maybe also of things rotting. It could be coming from the seaweed, lying all around in here in big dark ropes. Or maybe the stink’s coming from the walls, which are spotted with yellow lichen. In front of me is a tiny shingled beach, and the sea beyond. I sit down on a rock. It’s damp, but then this whole place is damp. I could feel it on my clothes when I dressed this morning, like they’d been washed and hadn’t quite dried. If I lick my lips I can taste salt on my skin. I think about staying here for a long time, even overnight. I could hide here until after the ceremony is over, until it’s all done and dusted. Jules would be livid, of course. Although … maybe she’d pretend to be angry, but actually she’d be secretly relieved. I don’t think she really wants me at her wedding at all. I think she resents me because Mum gets on better with me and because I have a dad who wants to see me at least occasionally. I know I’m being a bitch. Jules does do nice stuff for me, sometimes, like when she let me stay in her flat in London last summer. And when I remember that I feel bad, like there’s a nasty taste in my mouth. I take out my phone. Because of the rubbish signal here my Instagram is stuck with one photo at the top. Of course it would be Ellie’s latest post. It’s like they’re mocking me. The comments underneath: You GUYS! OMG sooooo cute. mum + dad #mood so can we assume its official now, yeh? *winks* It hurts, still. A pain at the centre of my chest. I look at their smug, smiling faces, and part of me wants to lob my phone as hard as I can at the wall of the cave. But that wouldn’t sort my problems out. They’re all right here with me. I hear a noise in the cave – footsteps – and almost drop my phone in shock. ‘Who’s there?’ I say. My voice sounds small and scared. I really hope it’s not the best man, Johnno. I caught him looking at me earlier. I stand up and start to clamber out of the cave, keeping close to the wall, which is covered with thousands of tiny rough barnacles that graze my fingertips. Finally I put my head around the wall of rock. ‘Oh Jesus!’ The figure stumbles backwards and puts a hand to her chest. It’s Charlie’s wife. ‘Christ! You gave me a right shock. I didn’t think anyone was down here.’ She’s got a nice accent, Northern. ‘You’re Olivia, aren’t you? I’m Hannah, I’m married to Charlie.’ ‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘I got that. Hi.’ ‘What are you doing down here?’ She does a quick glance over her shoulder, like she’s checking there’s no one listening. ‘Looking for a place to hide? Me too.’ I decide I like her a little bit for that. ‘Oh,’ she says, ‘that probably sounded bad, didn’t it? I just – I guess Charlie and Jules will catch up better if I’m not around. You know, they have all this history and it doesn’t include me.’ She sounds a bit fed up. History. I’m like 90 per cent sure Charlie and Jules have screwed at some point in the past. I wonder if Hannah’s ever thought about that. Hannah sits down on a shelf of rock. I sit, too, because I was here first. I really wish she’d take the hint and leave me alone. I take my pack of cigarettes out of my pocket and tip one out. I wait to see if Hannah’s going to say anything. She doesn’t. So I go one step further, to test her, I suppose, and offer her one, along with my lighter. She screws up her face. ‘I shouldn’t,’ she says. Then she sighs. ‘But why not? We had such a mental crossing over here – I’ve got the shakes now.’ She holds up a hand to show me. She lights up, takes a deep drag and gives another big sigh. I can see she’s gone a bit dizzy. ‘Wow. That’s gone straight to my head. Haven’t had one for so long. Gave up when I got pregnant. But I smoked a lot in my clubbing days.’ She gives me a look. ‘Yeah, I know – you’re thinking that must have been a million years ago. Certainly feels like it.’ I feel a bit guilty, because I had thought it. But looking at her more closely I can see that she has four piercings in one ear and there’s a tattoo on the inside of her wrist, half hidden by her sleeve. Maybe there’s another side to her. She takes another big drag. ‘God that’s good. I thought when I gave them up that I’d eventually go off the taste, or wouldn’t miss them any more.’ She gives a big, deep laugh. ‘Yeah. Didn’t happen.’ She blows out four perfect rings of smoke. I’m kind of impressed, despite myself. Callum used to try that but he never got the hang of it. ‘So you’re at uni, right?’ she asks. ‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘Whereabouts?’ ‘Exeter.’ ‘That’s a good one, isn’t it?’ ‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘I suppose so.’ ‘I didn’t go,’ Hannah says. ‘No one in my family went to uni,’ she coughs, ‘except for my sister, Alice.’ I don’t know what to say to that. I don’t really know anyone who didn’t go to uni. Even Mum went to acting school. ‘Alice was always the clever one,’ Hannah goes on. ‘I used to be the wild one, if you can believe it. We both went to this crummy school but Alice came out of there with amazing grades.’ She taps ash from her cigarette. ‘Sorry, I know I’m banging on. She’s on my mind a lot at the moment.’ Her face has changed, I notice. But I don’t feel like I can ask her about it, seeing as we’re total strangers. ‘Anyway,’ Hannah says. ‘You like Exeter?’ ‘I’m not there any more,’ I say. ‘I dropped out.’ I don’t know what made me say it. It would have been so much easier to play along, pretend I was still there. But I suddenly felt like I didn’t want to lie to her. Hannah frowns. ‘Oh yeah? You weren’t enjoying it then?’ ‘No,’ I say. ‘I guess … I had this boyfriend. And he broke up with me.’ Wow, that sounds pathetic. ‘He must have been a real shit,’ Hannah says, ‘if you left uni because of him.’ When I think about everything that happened in the last year my mind goes hot, and blank, and I can’t think about it properly or sort it all out in my head. None of it makes sense, especially now, trying to piece it all together. I can’t explain it, I think, without telling her everything. So I shrug and say, ‘Well, I guess he was my first proper boyfriend.’ Proper as in more than someone to hook up with at house parties. But I don’t say this to Hannah. ‘And you loved him,’ she says. She doesn’t say it like a question, so I don’t feel I have to answer. All the same, I nod my head. ‘Yeah,’ I say. My voice comes out very small and cracked. I didn’t believe in love at first sight until I saw Callum, across the bar at Fresher’s Week, this boy with black curls and beautiful blue eyes. He gave me a sort of slow smile and it was like I knew him. Like we had always meant to come together, to find each other. Callum said he loved me first. I was too scared of making an arse of myself. But eventually I felt like I had to say it too, like it was bursting out of me. When he broke up with me, he told me that he would love me forever. But that’s total crap. If you love someone, really, you don’t do anything to hurt them. ‘I didn’t leave just because he broke up with me,’ I say, quickly. ‘It was …’ I take a big drag on my cigarette. My hand’s trembling. ‘I guess if Callum hadn’t broken up with me, none of the rest would have happened.’ ‘None of the rest?’ Hannah asks. She’s sitting forward, interested. I don’t answer. I’m trying to think of a way to go on, but I can’t find the right words. She doesn’t push me. So there’s a long silence, both of us sitting there and smoking. Then: ‘Shit!’ Hannah says. ‘Is it me or has it got quite a lot darker while we’ve been sitting here?’ ‘I think the sun’s started to set,’ I say. We can’t see it from here as we’re not facing in the right direction, but you can make out the pink glow in the sky. ‘Oh dear,’ Hannah says. ‘We should probably make our way back to the Folly. Charlie hates being late for anything. He’s such a teacher. I reckon I can hide for another ten minutes but—’ She’s stubbing out her cigarette now. ‘You go,’ I say. ‘It’s fine. It’s not important.’ She squints at me. ‘It kind of sounded like it was.’ ‘No,’ I say. ‘Honestly.’ I can’t believe how close I came to telling her about it all. I haven’t told anyone the other stuff. Not even any of my mates. It’s a relief, really. If I’d told her, there’d be no taking it back. It would be out there in the world: what I’ve done. AOIFE The Wedding Planner Seven o’clock. The table is laid for dinner in the dining room. Freddy’s got supper covered, which means it’s a free half hour. I decide to pay a visit to the graveyard. The flowers need refreshing and tomorrow we’ll be run off our feet. When I step outside the sun is just beginning to go down, spilling fire upon the water. It tinges pink the mist that has begun to gather over the bog, that shields its secrets. This is my favourite hour. The ushers are sitting up on the battlements: I hear their voices floating down as I leave the Folly – louder and slightly more slurred than earlier, the work of the Guinness, I’ll bet. ‘Got to send them off with a bang.’ ‘Yeah, we should do something. Would only be traditional …’ I’m half tempted to stay and listen, to check they aren’t plotting mayhem on my watch. But it sounds harmless. And I’ve only got this brief window of time to myself. The island looks at its most starkly beautiful this evening, lit up by the glow of the dying sun. But perhaps it will never seem quite so beautiful to me as I remember from those trips we took here when I was a child. The four of us, my family, here to stay for the summer holidays. Nowhere on earth could possibly live up to those halcyon days. But that’s nostalgia for you, the tyranny of those memories of childhood that feel so golden, so perfect. There is a whispering in the graveyard when I get there, the beginnings of a breeze stirring between the stones. A harbinger of tomorrow’s weather, maybe. Sometimes, when the wind is really up, it seems to carry from here the echoes of women from centuries past performing the caoineadh, their keening for the dead. The graves here are unusually close together, because true dry land is in short supply on the island. Even then, at the outer edges the bog has begun to nibble away at it, swallowing several of the graves until only the top few inches remain. Some of the stones have moved closer still, leaning in toward one another as though sharing a secret. The names, the ones that remain visible, are common to Connemara: Joyce, Foley, Kelly, Conneely. It’s a strange thing when you consider that the dead on this island far outnumber the living, even now that some of the guests have arrived. Tomorrow will redress the balance. There is a great deal of local superstition about the island. When Freddy and I bought the Folly a year or so ago, there was no other bidder. The islanders were always mistrusted, seen as a species apart. I know the mainlanders view Freddy and me as outsiders. Me the townie ‘Jackeen’ from Dublin and Freddy the Englishman, a couple who don’t know better, who have probably bitten off more than we can chew. Who don’t know about Inis an Amplóra’s dark history, its ghosts. Actually, I know this place better than they think. It is more familiar to me in some ways than any other place I have known in my life. And I’m not worried about it being haunted. I have my own ghosts. I carry them with me wherever I go. ‘I miss you,’ I say, as I cr