Home > The Lying Game(4)

The Lying Game(4)
Author: Ruth Ware

‘Yes, but only because they thought you were a fucking weirdo. That doesn’t count!’

‘Is … is this a game?’ I said uncertainly.

There was a long pause.

Thea and Kate looked at each other, and I saw that wordless communication pass between them again, like an electric charge flowing from one to another, as if they were deciding how to answer. And then Kate smiled, a small, almost secretive smile, and leaned forward across the gap between the bench seats, so close that I could see the dark streaks in her grey-blue eyes.

‘It’s not a game,’ she said. ‘It’s the game. It’s the Lying Game.’

The Lying Game.

It comes back to me now as sharp and vivid as the smell of the sea, and the scream of gulls over the Reach, and I can’t believe that I had almost forgotten it – forgotten the tally sheet Kate kept above her bed, covered with cryptic marks for her complex scoring system. This much for a new victim. That much for complete belief. The extras awarded for elaborate detail, or managing to rehook someone who had almost called your bluff. I haven’t thought of it for so many years, but in a way, I’ve been playing it all this time.

I sigh, and look down at Freya’s peaceful face as she suckles, her complete absorption in the moment of it all. And I don’t know if I can do it. I don’t know if I can go back.

What has happened, to make Kate call us so suddenly and so urgently in the middle of the night?

I can only think of one thing … and I can’t bear to believe it.

It is just as the train is drawing into Salten that my phone beeps for the last time, and I draw it out, thinking it will be Kate confirming my lift. But it’s not. It’s Thea.

I’m coming.

THE PLATFORM AT Salten is almost empty. As the sound of the train dies away, the peace of the countryside rolls back in, and I can hear the noises of Salten in summer – crickets chirping, the sound of birds, the faraway noise of a combine harvester across the fields. Always before when I arrived here there would be the Salten House minibus waiting, with its navy and ice-blue livery. Now the car park is hot dust and emptiness, and there is no one here, not even Kate.

I wheel Freya down the platform towards the exit, my heavy bag weighing down one shoulder, and wondering what to do. Phone Kate? I should have confirmed the time with her. I’d been assuming she got my message, but what if her phone was out of charge? There’s no landline at the Mill anyway, no other number I can try.

I put the brake on the pram, and then pull out my phone to check for text messages and find out the time. I’m just tapping in my code when I hear the roar of an engine, funnelled by the sunken lanes, and I turn to see a car pulling into the station car park. I was expecting it to be the huge disreputable Land Rover Kate drove down to Fatima’s wedding seven years ago, with its long bench seats and Shadow sticking his head out of the window, tongue flapping. But it’s not. It’s a taxi. For a minute I’m not sure if it’s her, and then I see her, struggling with the rear passenger door, and my heart does a little flip-flop, and I’m no longer a Civil Service lawyer and a mother, I’m just a girl, running down the platform towards my friend.


She’s exactly the same. Same slim, bony wrists, same nut-brown hair and honey-coloured skin, her nose still tip-tilted and sprinkled with freckles. Her hair is longer now, held back in a rubber band, and there are lines in the fine skin around her eyes and mouth, but otherwise she is Kate, my Kate, and as we hug, I inhale, and her own particular scent of cigarettes and turpentine and soap is just as I remember. I hold her at arm’s length and find myself grinning, stupidly, in spite of everything.

‘Kate,’ I repeat, foolishly, and she pulls me into another hug, her face in my hair, squeezing me so I can feel her bones.

And then I hear a squawk and I remember who I am, the person I’ve become – and all that’s passed since Kate and I last met.

‘Kate,’ I say again, the sound of her name on my tongue so perfect, ‘Kate, come and meet my daughter.’

I pull back the sun shade, and pick up the wriggling cross little bundle, and hold her out.

Kate takes her, with an expression full of trepidation, and then her thin, mobile face breaks into a smile.

‘You’re beautiful,’ she says to Freya, and her voice is soft and husky just as I remember. ‘Just like your mum. She’s lovely, Isa.’

‘Isn’t she?’ I look at Freya, staring up, bemused, into Kate’s face, blue eyes fixed on blue eyes. She reaches out a chubby hand towards Kate’s hair, but then stops, mesmerised by some quality of the light. ‘She’s got Owen’s eyes,’ I say. I always longed for blue eyes as a child.

‘Come on,’ Kate says at last, speaking to Freya, not me. She takes Freya’s hand, her fingers stroking the silken baby pudge, the dimpled knuckles. ‘Let’s get going.’

‘What happened to your car?’ I say as we walk towards the taxi, Kate holding Freya, me pushing the pram, with the bag inside it.

‘Oh, it’s broken down again. I’ll get it fixed but I’ve got no money as usual.’

‘Oh, Kate.’

Oh, Kate, when are you going to get a proper job? I could ask. When are you going to sell the Mill, go somewhere people appreciate your work instead of relying on the dwindling supply of tourists who want to holiday in Salten? But I know the answer. Never. Kate will never leave the Tide Mill. Never leave Salten.

‘Back to the Mill, ladies?’ the taxi driver calls out his window, and Kate nods.

‘Thanks, Rick.’

‘I’ll sling the pram in the back for you,’ he says, getting out. ‘Folds, does it?’

‘Yes.’ I’m struggling with the clips again, and then I realise. ‘Damn, I forgot the car seat. I brought the cot attachment instead – I was thinking she could sleep in it.’

‘Ah, we won’t see no police down here,’ Rick says comfortably, pushing the boot shut on the folded pram. ‘’Cept Mary’s boy, and he’s not going to arrest one of my passengers.’

It wasn’t the police I was worried about, but the name snags at me, distracting me.

‘Mary’s boy?’ I look at Kate. ‘Not Mark Wren?’

‘The very same,’ Kate says, with a dry smile, so that her mouth creases at one side. ‘Sergeant Wren, now.’

‘I can’t believe he’s old enough!’

‘He’s only a couple of years younger than us,’ Kate points out, and I realise she’s right. Thirty is plenty old enough to be a policeman. But I can’t think of Mark Wren as a thirty-year-old man – I think of him as a fourteen-year-old kid with acne and a fluffy upper lip, stooping to try to hide his six-foot-two frame. I wonder if he still remembers us. If he remembers the Game.

‘Sorry,’ Kate says as we buckle in. ‘Hold her on your lap – I know it’s not ideal.’

‘I’ll drive careful,’ Rick says, as we bounce off out of the rutted car park and into the sunken lane. ‘And besides, it’s only a few miles.’

‘Less across the marsh,’ Kate says. She squeezes my hand and I know she’s thinking of all the times she and I made that trip, picking our way across the salt marsh to school and back. ‘But we couldn’t do that with the buggy.’

‘Hot for June, in’t it?’ Rick says conversationally as we round the corner, and the trees break into a flash of bright dappled sunlight, hot on my face. I blink, wondering if I packed my sunglasses.

‘Scorching,’ I say. ‘It wasn’t nearly so warm in London.’

‘So what brings you back then?’ Rick’s eyes meet mine in the mirror. ‘You was at school with Kate, that right?’

‘That’s right,’ I say. And then I stop. What did bring me back? A text? Three words? I meet Kate’s eyes and I know there’s nothing she can say now, not in front of Rick.

‘Isa’s come down for the reunion,’ Kate says unexpectedly. ‘At Salten House.’

I blink, and she gives my hand a warning clasp, but then we bump across the level crossing, the car shaking and bouncing over the rails, and I have to let go to hold Freya with both hands.

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