Home > The Lying Game(11)

The Lying Game(11)
Author: Ruth Ware

‘Fuck you,’ Helen spat, and then all the girls jumped as a voice came from behind the little group. It was Miss Farquharson, Gym.

‘Everything quite all right here?’

Helen shot a look at Thea, and seemed to bite her tongue.

‘Yes, Miss Farquharson,’ she said, her voice sulky.

‘Thea? Kate?’

‘Yes, Miss Farquharson,’ Kate said.

‘Good. Look, there are two new girls hovering behind you looking for a space, and no one’s asked them to sit down. Fatima, Isa, make room for yourselves on the benches. Helen, do you need a seat?’

‘No, Miss Farquharson. Jess is saving me one.’

‘Then I suggest you go and take it.’ Miss Farquharson turned and was about to go, when she stopped, and her expression changed. She bent, and sniffed the air above Thea’s head. ‘Thea, what’s this I smell? Please don’t tell me you have been smoking on school property? Miss Weatherby made it very clear last term that if there were any further instances of this we’d be calling your father and discussing suspension.’

There was a long pause. I saw Thea’s fingers were gripping the table edge. She exchanged a look with Kate, and then opened her mouth – but to my own surprise, I found myself speaking first.

‘We were stuck in a smoking carriage, Miss Farquharson. On the train. There was a man there with a cigar – poor Thea was sitting next to him.’

‘It was disgusting,’ Fatima put in. ‘Like, really stinky. I felt sick even though I was by the window.’

Miss Farquharson turned to look at us, and I could see her appraising us both – me with my clear, girlish face and smile, and Fatima, her dark eyes innocent and guileless. I felt my fingers go nervously to my hair, and stopped myself, linking my fingers together behind my back, like a kind of restraint hold. Slowly, Miss Farquharson nodded.

‘How very unpleasant. Well, we’ll say nothing more, Thea. This time. Now sit down, girls. The prefects will start serving out in a moment.’

We sat down, and Miss Farquharson moved away.

‘Bloody hell,’ Thea whispered. She reached across the table to where I was sitting, and squeezed my hand, her fingers cold against mine and still shaking with spent nerves. ‘And … God, I don’t know what to say. Thank you!’

‘Seriously,’ Kate said. She shook her head, her expression a mix of relief and rueful admiration. The steely fury I’d seen in her expression as she faced up to Helen was gone, as if it had never existed. ‘Both of you pulled that off like pros.’

‘Welcome to the Lying Game,’ Thea said. She glanced at Kate. ‘Right?’

And Kate nodded.

‘Welcome to the Lying Game. Oh –’ her face broke into grin – ‘and ten points.’

IT DIDN’T TAKE Fatima and me long to find out why the tower was considered to have the best rooms – in fact we worked it out that very first evening. I had returned to our room after watching a film in the common room. Fatima was already there, lying on her bed, writing what looked like a letter on thin airmail paper, her mahogany hair hanging like dark curtains of silk on either side of her face.

She looked up as I came in and yawned, and I saw she was already in her pyjamas – a skimpy vest top and pink flannel shorts. The top rode up as she stretched, showing a strip of flat stomach.

‘Ready for bed?’ she asked, sitting up.

‘Definitely.’ I sat down on the mattress with a squeak of springs and pulled off my shoes. ‘God, I’m shattered. So many new faces …’

‘I know.’ Fatima shook back her hair and folded the letter into her bedside table. ‘I couldn’t face meeting more people after supper so I came back here. Was that awful of me?’

‘Don’t be silly. It’s probably what I should have done. I didn’t talk to anyone really anyway – it seemed to be mostly younger girls.’

‘What was the film?’

‘Clueless,’ I said, stifling a yawn of my own, and then I turned my back to start unbuttoning my shirt. I had imagined a cubicle, like in boarding-school stories, with curtains you could pull around, but it turned out that was only for the dormitories. Girls in bedrooms were expected just to give each other privacy when necessary.

I was in my pyjamas, and rummaging in my locker for my sponge bag, when a noise made me stop and look over my shoulder. It had sounded like a knock, but it hadn’t come from the door side of the room.

‘Was that you?’ I asked Fatima.

She shook her head.

‘I was about to ask the same thing. It sounded like it came from the window.’

The curtains were closed, and we both stood, listening, feeling oddly tense and foolish. I was just about to shrug it off with a laugh and a comment about Rapunzel, when the sound came again, louder this time, making us both squeak and then giggle nervously.

It had come, quite definitely this time, from the window closest to my bed and I strode across to it and pulled back the curtain.

I don’t know what I was expecting – but whatever it was, it was not what I saw: a pale face peering through the glass, surrounded by the darkness. For a minute, I just gaped, and then I remembered what I had seen from the minibus as it made its way up the drive: the black wiry tendrils of the fire escapes, twining up the sides of the building and round the towers, and I looked closer. It was Kate.

She grinned, and made a twisting motion with her wrist, and I realised that she wanted me to open the window.

The clasp was rusty and stiff, and I struggled for a moment, before it gave with a screech.

‘Well,’ Kate said. She waved a hand at a rickety black metal structure below her, silhouetted against the paler background of the sea. ‘What are you waiting for?’

I looked back at Fatima, who shrugged and nodded, and then, pulling the blanket off the foot of my bed, I clambered up onto the windowsill and out into the cool autumn darkness.

Outside, the night air was still and calm, and as Fatima and I followed Kate quietly up the shivering metal steps of the fire escape, I could hear the far-off crash of the waves against the shingle shore, and the screech of the gulls wheeling and calling out to sea.

Thea was waiting at the top of the fire escape as we rounded the last curve of the tower. She had on a T-shirt, and it barely skimmed her long, slim thighs.

‘Spread out that blanket,’ she said to me, and I flung it out across the wire mesh and sat down beside her.

‘So now you know,’ Kate said, with a conspiratorial smile. ‘You have our secret in your hands.’

‘And all we can offer in return for your silence,’ Thea drawled, ‘is this –’ she held up a bottle of Jack Daniel’s – ‘and these.’ And she held up a packet of Silk Cut. ‘Do you smoke?’ She tapped the packet and held it out towards us, a single cigarette poking from the top.

Fatima shook her head.

‘No. But I’ll have some of that.’ She nodded at the bourbon, and Kate passed her the bottle. Fatima took a long swig, shuddered, and then wiped her mouth with a grin.

‘Isa?’ Thea said, still holding out the cigarette.

I didn’t smoke. I had tried it once or twice at my school in London, and hadn’t enjoyed it. And more than that, I knew that my parents would hate me smoking, particularly my father, who had smoked himself as a younger man and had periodic relapses into self-hatred and cigars.

But here … here I was someone else … someone new.

Here I was not the conscientious schoolgirl who always got her homework in on time, and did the vacuuming before she went out with her friends.

Here I could be anyone I wanted. Here I could be someone completely different.

‘Thanks,’ I said. I took the cigarette from Thea’s outstretched packet and when Kate flicked her Bic lighter, I leaned in towards the flame-filled cup made by her hands, my hair falling across her honey-brown arm like a caress, and I took a cautious puff, blinking against the sting in my eyes, and hoping I wouldn’t choke.

‘Thanks for earlier,’ Thea said. ‘The smoking I mean. You … you really saved my bacon. I don’t know what would happen if I got expelled again. I seriously think Dad might get me locked up.’

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