The story continues. This chapter contains scenes that may distress some.
Ariana shivered against the biting cold, bunching her hands into tight fists and burying them deeper into the pockets of her parka. Three pints of extra strong cider provided a degree of internal central heating but the coast was less than a mile away and a fierce Atlantic blast was rapidly dissolving the core of warmth she had kindled within the sweltering Union bar.
‘I don’t know why we bothered paying in if we’re going to stand out here half the night, freezing our backsides off.’
She stared pointedly at Tess until a cloud of smoke doubled her over hacking, as a dozen bemused students watched as they huddled in the roofed smoking area outside the Union’s main entrance.
‘Oh don’t be such a drama queen,’ scolded Tess, a lit Marlboro Light hanging from her bottom lip. ‘We’ve barely been out two minutes. Anyway, you can’t hear yourself think in there. Dance music is killing the art of conversation. It’s up to us smokers to preserve a dying art form.
‘Smokers?’ spat Ariana incredulously, now upright again. ‘Doesn’t smoking involve inhaling said smoke into one’s lungs? All you do is inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. It’s like watching a little steam engine huffing and puffing to its hearts content. Have you even smoked before tonight?’
‘Course I have,’ pouted Tess, self consciously lowering the cigarette and nervously checking if any of the nicotine addicts around them had overheard Ariana’s critique of her smoking technique. Content that her reputation was still intact she stubbed the butt out and grabbed her sarcastic sidekick by the forearm, dragging her back towards the Union. ‘Come on. Once more unto the breach, dear friend.’
‘Do we have to? I’d be quite happy grabbing a cheesy chip and calling it a night. I’ve a 10:00 o’clock seminar with Professor Ickringill in the morning.’
‘Ooooooooh. Professor Ickringill,’ squealed Tess, placing her hands to her cheeks in open mouthed mockery. ‘I wonder if he’ll be packing his pipe? Or wearing that sexy tweed jacket. You know, the one with the leather elbow patches.’ She giggled before a wicked smile traversed her face before pushing Ariana without warning against a wall.
‘Ow, what was that for?’ groaned Ariana, rubbing the small of her back. ‘Just because you’re allergic to hard work doesn’t mean the rest of us need to stoop to your level.’
‘Shhhhh,’ hissed Tess, before making frantic eye movements in the direction of the Union entrance.
‘Are you alright, Tess. It’s just you look as if you’re having a stroke. Smoking kills, remember.’ She looked over her friend’s shoulder to determine what the cause of the drama was. Standing at the entrance stood a young man, smiling shyly at them. He looked away quickly upon realising he had been spotted, suddenly engrossed with the contents of his mobile phone screen.
‘Did you twig tall, dark and exceedingly handsome guy at the door?,’ whispered Tess at something approaching several thousand decibels. ‘He is totally checking me out.’
Ariana sighed, reverting her gaze to the bouncing pink blancmange in front of her. ‘I hardly think so. He’s probably trying to process the sight of a deranged lunatic in a ballgown flouncing about in front of him.’ She looked over again towards the young man. This time he maintained both eye contact and the smile before turning and walking back into the Union past the door staff.
‘Come on,’ urged Tess, grabbing Ariana’s hand. ‘We’re going back in. I’m determined for tonight not to be an utter waste of time. Once the famous Cartwright charm is unleashed no man, or woman for that matter, can resist.’
‘You really are a catch, Tess. Is that all you’re interested in?’
‘Of course not,’ she replied, marching past the door staff with Ariana in tow. ‘There’s also the possibility of a free drink or three.’
‘Oh my Lord. Hark at the feminist of the year.’
The noise and heat of the crowded bar hit her like a sticky, sonic wall as Tess steered them through a mass of bodies, her sights honed on the back of the young man’s head. Ariana estimated he was at least 6’2’’, possibly taller as he towered above the majority of those around them. She really, really wanted nothing more than to be buried beneath the bed covers, nose poked in her latest Kindle Fire purchase. She avoided social events whenever possible and her relationship history extended to a handful of disastrous dates during final year at school with the President of the Chess Society.
Tess veered left without warning causing Ariana to cry out in protest as her wrist was almost wrenched from its socket. They burst onto the dancefloor where several dozen inebriated students threw a variety of uncoordinated shapes to a grinding drum and bass beat. Whatever happened to melodies, harmonies, tunes? Ariana often thought she was born several decades late. She was brought back to her senses as they crossed the floor before Tess deposited them in a booth where the young man sat, nursing a pint of Guinness.
‘Hi, I’m Tess, and this is Ari….Becky. Bex. Rebecca, yes, this is Rebecca.’ She blew her fringe back and puffed out both cheeks. ‘Gosh it’s hot in here,’ she sighed, fanning her face in such a theatrical and obvious manner that Ariana wanted the ground to open and swallow them both up, there and then. To be fair to him the young man merely smiled and held out a hand in greeting. ‘I’m Adam. Can I get you ladies a drink?’
‘That would be lovely thank you,’ babbled Tess. ‘Two vodka and Diet Cokes please. Large ones.’ She sat back, looking immensely pleased with herself as Adam rose returning a short time later with the drinks.
‘Thanks pet,’ gushed Tess. ‘So, Adam, What are you studying and what are your intentions once you leave uni?’
‘Is this a job interview?’ Adam winked and smiled at Ariana, who could only smile back. He was very handsome. She couldn’t quite place his accent due to the cacophony around them but there was a hint of a Southern lilt. Dublin?
‘If it is, you’re off to a fantastic start,’ gushed Tess, laying on the clumsy charm with a shovel. The next twenty minutes were a shouted exchange as Tess flirted outrageously above the din of the music. Adam fended off most of her more direct questions with ease, all the while rolling his eyes and smirking at Ariana whenever her friend wasn’t looking. Part of her fumed at the casual way he mocked her best friend but she silently sipped her drink, at the same time secretly thrilled at the attention he was affording her. Ariana Hennessy, social wallflower and forever in the shadow of the glorious Tess Cartwright.
The night meandered on. Tess dragged Adam onto the dancefloor but all the while his gaze returned to Ariana sitting awkwardly in the booth. At one point Tess badgered her reluctant friend into joining them but she hated every second as drunken louts careered into them from all angles, the dancefloor resembling a human pinball machine. Finally the lights came on and a mangled voice informed them over the tannoy to make their way towards the exit in an orderly fashion. Ariana checked her watch. It was well past the witching hour. She groaned internally, chastising herself at being lured out when she had such an early start the next morning.
Tess attached herself to Adam like a limpet, hooking arms with him as they edged towards the doors with the rest of the revellers. Ariana shuffled behind, zipping her parka in anticipation of the bracing night air. She wasn’t disappointed and shivered involuntarily despite the several layers she had on. If Tess didn’t end up with hypothermia it would be a minor miracle but she appeared oblivious to the cold as she hung on Adam’s every word. Emily Pankhurst would be turning in her grave, thought Ariana, as the cheesy chat from her best friend showed no sign of abating.
‘Sooooo, Adam, did you have a pleasant evening?’ she cooed, all wide blue eyes and parted lips.
‘I’ve had worse. You?’
‘Oh, I’ve had a wonderful time.’ She swayed unsteadily in front of him as an uneasy silence enveloped them. Finally Tess could contain herself no more. ‘This is the bit where we swap phone numbers.’ She smiled sweetly, before rolling her eyes at Ariana in faux dismay as Adam began to punch numbers into her phone which had been thrust into his hands.
‘There you go,’ he said handing her the phone back. ‘Another notch on your fantasy bed post. Now why don’t you run along now and I’ll walk your friend home.’ Suddenly the charm was gone, replaced by an unpleasant tone that immediately sobered Ariana up and set alarm bells ringing.
‘Er, that’s not how it works.’ Flirty Tess was gone, replaced by a cautious tone. Ariana looked around and realised it was just the three of them outside the Union, everyone else already half way to where they needed to be.
‘Look, I think we should go, Tess. We have that early start in the morning. Professor Ickringill, remember?’ She grabbed her friend’s hand but Tess resisted, refusing to be the first to look away in her staring duel with Adam.
‘I don’t know who you think you are but….’
‘Oh I know exactly who I am just as I know exactly who you and your little friend are. Isn’t that right, Ariana?’ He turned and leered at her, no longer disguising the contempt in his voice.
‘How did you know my….?’ Ariana’s stomach froze over and her legs threatened to give way beneath her.
‘Oh I know all about Bomb Girl. In fact, you could say you’ve been my specialised subject for a number of years now.’
‘Wait a minute you creep, you can’t speak….’
Adam turned and placed a hand on Tess’ bare shoulder. ‘Like I said, my dear, I strongly suggest you turn around and flutter off to where you came from, while I walk your lovely companion home. Now please don’t make me ask again. I’m a patient man but I have my limits. Please.’
He smiled, an icy, humourless smile, as Tess nodded slowly, a vacant expression settling on her formerly feisty features. She looked at Ariana as if it was the first time she had ever set eyes on her best friend. ‘Yeah. Maybe I should go. Early start and all that.’ Without another word she turned and walked away. Ariana froze, a half formed scream in her lungs as a large hand clamped over her mouth and dragged her backwards towards the darkness beyond the half glow of the Union’s security lighting.
‘Time we had a little chat, Bomb Girl.’ They were the last words Ariana heard before she drifted into unconsciousness.
I hoped you enjoyed Chapter 5. Please feel free to leave any feedback or questions below.
Chapter 6 – NEXT WEEK.