Prologue: The Fab Four
They had once been four.
Kate, May, Gemma, and Beth. The Fab Four, their parents called them, with an affectionate nod to the original Fab Four from Liverpool and a wry nod to the fact that their teenage daughters happened to agree that they really were, after all, pretty damn fab.
Four best friends, from their first days at infant school, through the wide-eyed years of junior school and the drama of high school and then on to university and their fledgling careers. Along the way there were fashion fads and music crazes, first kisses and last kisses, tears (lots) and laughter (even more). All of it added layer upon layer to their deepening and – it seemed – eternal friendship.
And then, without warning, it all changed.
Looking back, Kate could pinpoint the night she noticed – they all noticed – that it was going wrong. She had no idea at the time quite how wrong it was going, or how quickly, but she had known that something was not as it should have been.
When she fully understood what it was, however, it was too late.
Beth was already lost.
She had to get out of there.
There were many thoughts going round in her head – confusion, regret, shame – but that was the overriding one.
She needed to leave. That instant. Kate Armstrong wanted to be anywhere other than where she found herself.
Leaving, though, was complicated by the fact that the man whose bed she was in – what was his name? Rick? Mike? Mack? Shit, she couldn’t even remember that – was not there. His side of the bed was empty. Which meant that the option of sneaking out quietly was not available. He was up and about, somewhere in his Turkish holiday apartment, and she would have to face him before she could flee.
Unless there was a window. She knew that leaving that way was unorthodox, maybe even desperate, but she was desperate. He might think it was odd when he came in and she was gone, the window wide open, but she didn’t really care.
She sat up in the bed, making sure that the sheets were pulled up over her naked torso – God, she was naked, naked in a stranger’s bed – and looked around. Her vision was milky – the result of leaving in her contact lenses overnight – and her eyes itched, but she could see through a window that the apartment was not on the ground floor. There were branches of a tree of some kind she did not recognize right outside the window.
So that was that. She would have to face him. Rick or Mike or Mack.
It was Mike, she thought, details of the evening coming back to her. He was called Mike, and she’d met him in a nightclub. She was buying drinks for her friends, May and Gemma, at the bar when some perma-tanned Italian had sidled up behind her and put his arms around her waist, pressing the crotch of his white linen trousers into her bum. He’d muttered something unintelligible – or Italian, at any rate – into her ear and then she’d tried to wriggle free.
She’d managed to turn to face him and he grinned in what she assumed he thought was a charming way, then put his hand on her hip.
Which was when the guy – Mike – showed up.
Hi, he said. He put a hand on her shoulder and smiled. Sorry I’m late.
She had no idea who he was, but she knew what he was doing. He’d seen her struggling and had come over to help.
No problem, she said, as though she knew him well. I was getting some drinks. What are you having?
A beer. He looked at the Italian. Who’s your friend?
No one. We just met. She raised an eyebrow and gave her assailant a little wave. Arrivederci.
The Italian looked Mike over, took in his taut, muscular frame, then shrugged and walked away.
Thanks, she said. He was about to become a pain.
That’s OK. I was coming to get a beer and I noticed that you seemed uncomfortable. Anyway, I’ll let you get on with your evening.
Let me get you that beer, she said. By way of a thank you.
And then, somehow, she’d ended up here. Naked, drymouthed, head pounding.
She stared at the tree branches and tried to remember what had happened after that. The memories started to come back, memories of staggering into the apartment and kissing Mike by the door. Memories of him taking her hands and leading her into the bedroom. Memories of him undressing her.
She closed her eyes and groaned. This was not what she did. She did not go home with men she’d just met and have sex with them, however drunk she got.
But had they had sex? The seed of a memory formed, then coalesced into something firmer. Into her asking him if he had a condom.
Are you sure? he said. Sure you want to do this? We don’t have to.
She was sure. Then, at least, she was sure. Not now, though. Now she was sure only that she wished she’d said No, let’s wait or Maybe I should go. My friends will be missing me.
But he’d shaken his head, kissed her, and said I think you’ve had a bit too much to drink. Let’s see if you still feel the same way in the morning.
She’d bridled and mumbled that she was fine, thank you very much, but the truth was she wasn’t fine, she was hammered, and thank God he hadn’t taken advantage of that.
And how had she got so drunk? She didn’t remember having that much. Wine at dinner, then gin and tonics in the nightclub, after which her memory got hazy. They were pretty liberal with the measures here. She’d watched them sloshing the gin into the glass; that must be what had happened. Well, she was going to have to be careful for the rest of the holiday. This could not happen again.
The rest of the holiday. Right then she didn’t want it, didn’t want to stay here for another two nights. They’d arrived five days ago, her and May and Gemma, on a week away to take her mind off the break-up with Phil, the man she’d been sure she was destined to marry until she’d realized that maybe she wasn’t destined to marry him after all, so she’d decided to end it. A decision which she hadn’t been sure about when she took it and which seemed even less like a good idea now, as she lay here, mouth dry and head throbbing, having nearly ended up on the wrong end of a one-night stand, a one-night stand that would have been her first ever, had the man she’d thrown herself at not been, thankfully, enough of a gentleman to turn her down.
She’d made Phil wait a month before she slept with him. That was more her speed. And it had been well worth the wait. More than worth it. He was the first and – still – only man she had ever had sex with. Her high-school boyfriend. They’d stayed together all through the university years, him at the University of the West of England in Bristol, her at Durham, which were two places about as far apart as you could get in England. A true long-distance relationship, a true test of their devotion, then they’d moved back to their hometown, back to the village of Stockton Heath, where they’d rented a house together, and set off on the final leg of their journey to marriage and kids.
Until she decided that she wasn’t ready, that she needed to live a little before settling down. She comforted herself that she could always go back to him, if she needed to. That made the decision a bit easier, although not for him. He hadn’t taken the break-up all that well. Truth be told, he’d taken it very, very badly. He called her early in the morning before work and late at night, drunk in his friend Andy’s flat, where he was living until he sorted out something permanent, or from outside some nightclub or, once, from the bathroom in the house of a girl he’d gone home with. He’d told her he’d moved on, found someone else.
Why are you calling me from her bathroom at two a.m., then? she’d said, aware that it was mean to mock him, but it was the middle of the night and she was tired and frustrated.
Fuck you, he’d replied, his voice wavering as though he was on the verge of tears. Just fuck you, Kate.
So yes, it was fair to say he hadn’t taken it very well, which was part of the reason she’d come away. At home he was a constant presence, so she struggled to get any perspective. She needed some space, some distance between them, some time with her girlfriends, doing nothing but relaxing on the beach in the day and going out at night.
Her friends. They’d be freaking out. She leaned over and looked at the pile of her clothes on the floor. A knee-length red summer dress, black lace underwear, strappy high-heels. All bought with this holiday in mind. All bought with the thought that she needed to look good in the pubs and clubs of her holiday destination.
And to look good for what? So she could wake up in a stranger’s bed? No, not for that, but, damn it, that was what had happened, and she was not happy about it, not happy at all.
Her bag was next to the clothes. She reached down and grabbed it, then took out her phone. There were a bunch of missed calls from Phil, but then she’d been getting those all week. She’d not answered any of them. She’d come here to get away; the last thing she needed was a long, emotional conversation with her ex. There were also missed calls from May and Gemma, and a bunch of text messages. She scrolled through them.
2:02 a.m., from May:
Where are you?
2:21 a.m., again from May:
For fuck’s sake, Kate, pick up your phone! Where are you? We’re worried!
2.25 a.m., this time from Gemma’s phone. She imagined the conversation, pictured May speaking: Perhaps my phone’s not working, maybe the messages aren’t getting through, let’s try yours and then the message:
Did you leave with that guy? You need to message us, now.
And then, her reply, at 2.43 a.m.:
Hi! I’m fine. I’m with the guy from the nightclub, Mike. He’s really nice! Don’t worry, I’ll see you in the morning.
God, she’d been drunk. She didn’t remember sending it, couldn’t place it in the timeline of the night. Was it before they arrived at his place? After? She had no idea.
She typed another message.
On my way back. See you soon. I feel like a dirty stop-out.
She put her feet on the cold tiled floor and reached for her clothes. Now for the hard part. Now she had to face Mike and then get the hell out of there.
She pulled her clothes on, pushing the thought from her mind that she was going to have to do the walk of shame through the morning streets of this Turkish resort, everyone who saw her dressed in her evening clothes fully aware that she had gone home with someone and was now making her way back to her own accommodation.
She didn’t care. She’d never see those people again, and she’d never do this again. All she wanted was to get back, shower, sleep, and forget this had ever happened.
The bedroom door was ajar. She pushed it open and walked into the apartment. It was a typical holiday apartment: an open-plan kitchen and living room, with two bedrooms: the one she had woken up in, and one which still had the door closed. Presumably one of Mike’s friend’s was still asleep in it.
All the more reason to get out of there.
He was sitting on the couch, a mug of coffee in his hand, one bare foot on the tiled floor, the other tucked under his thigh. He looked up from his iPad and smiled at her.
‘Morning, Kate,’ he said. ‘Sleep well?’
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