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The Guest List / (by Lucy Foley, 2020) -

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The Guest List /   (by Lucy Foley, 2020) -

The Guest List / (by Lucy Foley, 2020) -

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: 238
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The Guest List / (by Lucy Foley, 2020) -
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2020
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Lucy Foley
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Jot Davies, Chloe Massey, Olivia Dowd, Aoife McMahon, Sarah Ovens, Rich Keeble
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,
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upper-intermediate
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10:09:46
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128 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

The Guest List / :

.doc (Word) lucy_foley_-_the_guest_list.doc [735.5 Kb] (c: 3) .
.pdf lucy_foley_-_the_guest_list.pdf [1.39 Mb] (c: 3) .
audiobook (MP3) .


: The Guest List

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( , ).


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 canap?s 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 Ampl?ra, 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 Ampl?ra 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 fianc? 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 Ampl?ra 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 halfhearted. _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 nearempty 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 fianc?e_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 offlimits, 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, stretchmark-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 halfwhispering 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 goodlooking. 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

  • Ratatouille /  (Disney, 2012)    Ratatouille /
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