Authors: Cathy Cole
The island air was warm, scented with the heavenly smells of spicy grilled chicken as it spat and sizzled over the enormous fire pit behind the swagged, striped marquee. Eve stood among the flares on the beach and watched the party boat approaching across the waves, the lights of Heartside Bay sparkling on the horizon. The butterflies in her stomach were having a party all of their own.
The steel band struck up on the beach beside Eve, making her jump a little. As the light-bedecked boat bumped up gently against the jetty and Eve heard the excited chatter of the guests, she started to relax. Everything was going to be perfect. She adjusted her sea-blue sequinned dress and wiggled her pedicured toes in the cool sand, then lifted her arms and waved as the crowd swept off the boat.
“This place looks awesome!” Ollie gasped, giving Eve a hug. In his surfer shorts and Hawaiian shirt, he looked every inch the beach dude. “Even better than I pictured it when I was here.”
“When were you ever here, Ollie?” Lila's pink crop top showed off her long slender body and her flowing skirt brushed the sand, sparkly flip-flops peeping out from underneath. She glanced down, startled as a smiling white-tuxed waiter draped a beautiful orchid lei around her neck. “Oh my goodness, these are so pretty!”
“Lucky distraction,” Ollie whispered to Eve as Lila laughed at something the waiter whispered in her ear. “Some things are better kept a secret. I love the band. Show me the dance floor and let's get this party started!”
Polly looked gorgeous wearing a vintage fifties-style dress printed with beach umbrellas, her hair dyed a warm chestnut-brown that brought out her hazel eyes. Rhi wore an emerald-green jumpsuit with her curly hair left loose and natural around her face. Max had opted for tight blue trunks and an open-necked shirt in the style of James Bond. As for Josh, he looked much the same as ever, shirt and jumper and skinny jeans with a battered beach hat on his head.
Eve savoured the awe in her friends' eyes as they took in the beachside scene and started to relax.
I can do this
, she thought.
And everyone knows it.
Adjusting the white orchid in her hair, she moved among the guests, laughing and chatting and encouraging everyone to try the punch: a pineapple and mint combination that she and Caitlin had invented together.
“It's gorgeous, so refreshing. You'll love it.”
“Caitlin's just getting off the boat,” said Rhi, gently stroking the petals on her orchid lei. “Who's she with?”
Eve steeled herself and turned round.
Caitlin looked stunning in a pearly green mermaid dress, her hair swept gently back from her face, her eyes bright and warm. A tall blonde girl was with her, freckled and laughing beneath a pink straw fedora. They were holding hands.
“Darling,” said Caitlin, kissing Eve warmly on both cheeks. “This all looks too chic. Who is your party planner? You must give me her number.”
The girl beside her laughed, and pushed her hat back off her open, friendly face. “Hi, I'm Jessica, Cait's girlfriend,” she said, smiling. “It's great to meet you, Eve. Cait's had so much fun planning this with you.”
Eve shook Jessica's hand as if she was in a dream. “Have a drink,” she found herself saying. “Coats and bags can be left in the marquee. Please excuse me, I have a hundred things to do. . .”
She walked across to a darker, quieter part of the beach and stood there, shaking.
Caitlin was gay.
After a moment, Eve hurried up to a private spot beside the marquee where she could watch the party guests without being seen herself. Her friends were milling around the jetty and the marquee, queuing at the fire pit for barbecued chicken and swaying to the steel band. Eve started to panic. They would see Caitlin with Jessica, they would remember how Eve had kissed Caitlin in that stupid dare at Heartwell Manor. They would see Eve standing at her own party without a date â and they would know.
Everyone would know.
Eve gazed down on the boys, willing herself to fancy someone, to line someone up to flirt with and maybe kiss before the evening was out. As if drawn by a magnet, her eyes kept finding Caitlin and Jessica.
The two girls were sitting by the fire pit, together with Ollie and Polly, Josh and Lila. Everyone was laughing about something, chattering away as if they'd known each other for ages. Ollie took Jessica's hat and put it on his own head. Caitlin looked amazing in her green dress, glittering like an emerald in the firelight.
Eve closed her eyes, struggling to think clearly. Her friends seemed OK about Caitlin and Jessica. They were both beautiful, confident girls. How could they be so open about their sexuality? She felt more envious than ever. She couldn't hide her feelings for much longer. She'd hidden them for such a long time already.
Painting a smile on her face, Eve emerged from the shadows, walking among her guests, smiling and laughing without hearing a single word anyone said to her.
The marquee looked spectacular, the central poles decked out to look like palm trees. Tables and chairs were set out in groups, coconut-shell candles glowing on bright woven tablecloths. People were starting to come inside, plates piled high with barbecued chicken and salad. Mellow reggae music played in here, a different vibe to the pumping beats outside the tent flaps.
“The punch is nearly gone,” said a waiter near Eve's ear, making her jump out of her skin. “Shall we start serving the bottled juices?”
“Whoops,” said Caitlin, appearing beside the waiter. “I had no idea your friends would drink so much so quickly, Eve darling. I guess it's the sign of a successful party.”
Eve felt her composure start to slip. She lifted a finger and pointed hard at Caitlin.
“You were responsible for ordering the drinks. And now look what's happened!”
Caitlin looked surprised. “We have plenty of cold bottled juices and sodas, darling. And anyway, they've started serving the food now. Pineapple and mint is completely gorgeous by itself, but utterly vile alongside barbecued chicken.”
“We shouldn't have run out of punch,” Eve shouted. She moved closer to Caitlin and poked her in the chest. “It's going to make me look
if we run out of punch. I can't look stupid at my own party! I knew I should have done this by myself. I can't trust you. I can't trust anyone!”
“Eve,” said Caitlin gently. “Slow down. What's going on?”
what's going on!” Eve was feeling almost hysterical. “You . . . her . . . punch. . .”
“Goodness me, it sounds like you're challenging me to a duel.”
“Don't laugh at me,” Eve howled.
“Come on, we need to talk.”
Eve felt Caitlin grab her hand and yank her out of the marquee, into the darkness.
“I understand how you're feeling, Eve,” said Caitlin in a low voice. “Talk to me. I'm listening.”
“I don't want to feel like this,” Eve shouted, pummelling at Caitlin, fighting to get away from her. “I want to feel
Caitlin wiped the tears from Eve's cheeks. “You'll ruin your make-up with all these tears.”
Eve took a deep, shaking breath and composed herself.
“I really do understand,” Caitlin said quietly. “Not long ago, I was you.”
“You and Jessica. . .”
“We've been together for a couple of months. Jessi is the first person I've felt comfortable with. My first girlfriend.” Caitlin giggled. “It sounds so strange. But right too.”
“Did you ever . . . date boys?” Eve managed to ask.
Caitlin waved a hand. “Don't go there. Hideous. I tried and tried but it was all a lie. So exhausting.”
“I'm so tired of it all,” Eve hiccupped.
The tears flowed despite her best efforts. Caitlin put a comforting arm round Eve's waist.
“I liked our kiss,” Eve whispered, burying her burning face in Caitlin's shoulder.
“Me too,” said Caitlin into her hair. “Don't tell Jessi.”
Eve giggled wanly. This was such a strange conversation. “How do you know?” she said at last. “You know, once and for all, if you're. . .?”
Caitlin patted her arm. “One day you will meet someone you fit with,” she said simply. “That's when you know.”
Eve felt a little happier thinking someone as cool and gorgeous as Caitlin could be gay. And maybe there
still boys out there who would fit with her, like Caitlin said. The prospect gave her a little hope.
A strange thought struck her. “Does my dad know about you?”
“Probably,” said Caitlin. “I took Jessi to one of my father's parties a month ago. Your dad was there.”
I'll always love
no matter what.
Could her dad have suspected Eve's confusion? Could he have brought Caitlin into Eve's life for a reason? Eve didn't know whether she felt anxious or relieved at the thought.
“Friends again?” said Caitlin.
It felt really nice, hugging Caitlin.
But just as friends
, Eve reminded herself.
There was a scream of anger down on the beach that made them both turn and look. Lila was nose to nose with Polly.
“Tell me,” Lila was hissing in outrage. “How long have you two been seeing each other?”
Ollie was standing in the shadows, looking paralysed. Polly's eyes were wide and haunted. “I swear, we haven't been seeing each other, Lilaâ”
Lila laughed mirthlessly. “I'm not stupid you know.” She looked at Ollie, standing silently in the shadows behind Polly. “Every time I look at you two these days, you're making big cow eyes at each other. Have you been sneaking around behind my back? Tell me!”
Polly came to life. “I would never do that to you, Lila,” she said vehemently. “I've seen what happens when people cheat. It just causes misery.”
Eve sensed disapproving eyes turning in her direction. She squirmed, thinking about Rhi and Max.
Lila looked at Ollie again. Eve could see that Ollie was avoiding her eye.
“Just hugging, were you? Pull the other one,” she said at last.
“It's true!” Polly looked close to tears. “I . . . I do like Ollie but I'd never do anything, I swearâ”
me?” Ollie interrupted, looking astonished. “But you're always winding me up about how stupid I am.”
Polly had turned bright red. “Forget I said anything,” she muttered, folding her arms tightly across her body.
Either the firelight was casting a red glow on his cheeks, or Ollie Wright was blushing as vividly as Polly was. He seemed oblivious to Lila's furious glaring.
“You like me?” he repeated. “But . . . I like you too, Polly. I've always liked you but I thought. . .”
He stuttered into red-faced silence. Polly put her hands to her mouth, peeping over the top of her fingers like she'd never seen him before.
“What do you mean, you've
liked Polly?” Lila said, looking more upset than ever. “You've been going out with me for months!”
“You dumped me last week,” Ollie pointed out, tearing his eyes from Polly. “Remember?”
Lila gave a choking cry of rage and stormed away down the beach. There was a brief silence, then a storm of chattering.
Everyone loves decent gossip at a party
, Eve thought grimly. She realized that she felt sorry for Lila. It was a strange sensation.
She hurried into the darkness after her former enemy, following Lila's footsteps through the sand as they zigzagged erratically across the beach. The last flare was some distance behind her, the moon offering the only light, when Eve at last heard sobbing.
“Are you OK, Lila?” she called, shading her eyes and peering into the gloom.”
“Do I sound OK?” Sitting on a sand dune with her knees drawn up to her chest, Lila looked utterly crushed. She peered at Eve with red eyes. “Come to gloat?” she said, wiping her nose.
Maybe it was the conversation she'd just had with Caitlin, but Eve felt as if something inside her had changed. Softened, perhaps.
“No,” she said honestly. “Although I understand why you might think that.”
She sat beside Lila. Together they watched the white tips of the waves blooming through the darkness, listening to the soft shush of the surf on the shore.
“I did dump him, I guess,” Lila sniffed. She glanced sideways at Eve. “Do you think they were seeing each other when Ollie and I were together?”
Eve thought about the hug she'd seen in the shopping centre. She shook her head. “No. Because they care more about you than they do about themselves.”
Which is more than can be said for me
, she thought.
“Then what if Ollie was pretending I was Polly every time we kissed?” Lila said in despair.
“Are we talking about dented pride or broken hearts here?” Eve asked briskly.
“Pride, I guess,” Lila mumbled after a moment.
Eve felt wistful. If only her life was as simple as Lila's. “Then you'll recover just fine,” she said. “You and Ollie just didn't work out. It happens. The heart does what it wants, whether we like it or not.”
“Well, this heart wants a little fun for a change,” said Lila, suddenly sounding decisive. “I'm not going to date anyone for a while.”
“Not even Josh?” asked Eve, unable to resist.
Lila looked shocked. “Josh? No! Why do you think I would date Josh?”
“How the world can change,” Eve remarked, dusting sand off her dress. “One minute we're at each other's throats and the next you're asking for relationship advice. I'm not the best source of advice just now, believe me.”
Lila stared curiously at her. “You're a real surprise sometimes, Eve.”
Eve smoothed her hair. “I hope that's a compliment.”
“It is.” Lila smiled. “Thanks for coming after me. Sitting here instead of queening it around your party. It's a great party, by the way.”
“I should have parties more often,” Eve mused. “Once a week is about right.”
Lila laughed. “You know,” she said in wonder, “I never thought we'd be friends.”
Eve heard the motor boat before she saw it. Engines revving, lights on full beam, it skidded on to the sand, throwing up a powerful arc of water that quenched three of the beach flares. Eve was on her feet at once, running with Lila back up the beach. She pictured robbers, kidnappers, party crashers. . .
Ryan Jameson leaped off the boat. He stumbled slightly as his feet hit the sand, which spoiled the effect a little. Several people cheered when they recognized him.
“Lila!” Ryan shouted with a flourish, hunting through the crowds. “I've come to claim you. I can't go on like this! I love you!”
Eve felt furious. Who did Ryan think he was, crashing her party so spectacularly?
I'll grind him to dust
, she thought, preparing to go on the attack.
Lila caught her arm. “Wait, Eve. It's OK. I kind of . . . like his style.”
Eve didn't like the gleam in Lila's eyes. “Don't tell me Ryan is going to qualify as âfun',” she said warily.
Lila giggled. “Come on, he makes a decent distraction. Don't you think?”
Ryan had spotted Lila now, and was striding towards her with his arms extended. Eve cringed. How could he be so embarrassing? Didn't he know what a fool he was making of himself? He just didn't know when to stop!
“Lila,” Ryan declared, going down gallantly on one knee. The crowd watched, agog. “I can't spend another moment away from you. Kiss me.”
“You know how to make an entrance,” said Lila, folding her arms and grinning at him. “I'll give you that.”
“I want more,” Ryan said passionately. “Much more.”
Lila rolled her eyes, laughing. “Fine. You want a kiss? I'll give you a kiss.”
Ryan looked as if he couldn't believe his ears. “Seriously?”
Lila fluttered her eyelashes. “Get on with it or I might change my mind.”
Ryan scrambled to his feet, almost knocking Lila off her feet as he kissed her soundly on the lips. There was a roar of appreciation from the crowd. Ryan pulled away from the embrace and punched the air as if he'd won some kind of kissing trophy.
Eve had had enough. Was she the only person around here who remembered Ryan's idiocy at the shopping centre?
“OK, so now you can leave,” she said coldly. “Hop back into your little boat and chug away, Ryan. I recall banning you from this party.”
“Give him a break, Eve.”
“He nearly gave
a break, as I recall,” Eve hissed. “Legs, arms, back. Skull. This is my party and I want him to leave.”
Ryan puffed out his chest for the benefit of the watching crowd. “This island is public property. I can be here if I want.”
Eve wanted to stamp her feet in frustration.
“My security team might have something to say about that,” she said sweetly.
Two burly bouncers were heading towards them, talking into their mouthpieces. Ryan leaned towards her, his eyes shining with anger through his fringe. “You're as big a fraud as your father, Eve Somerstown,” he said.
For a hideous instant, Eve's entire world stopped turning.
What did he mean?