Authors: Cathy Cole
Eve decided she'd bared her soul enough for one night. “Dare,” she said, feeling a little flicker of nerves.
“Kiss Caitlin,” Lila giggled.
The others gasped.
“I'm game if Eve is,” said Caitlin with a laugh.
It's just a game
, Eve reminded herself. And she pressed her lips to Caitlin's.
The strangest feelings coursed through Eve as she felt Caitlin's lips moving against hers. Instinctively she opened her mouth, and felt a little electric shock at the feeling of Caitlin's tongue.
She broke away, dimly aware of cheering.
you just did that, Eve,” Rhi gasped, giggling madly.
“She loved every second, look at her,” Lila joked. “I've never seen you blush before, Eve.”
Eve was feeling breathless. Confused. She couldn't look at Caitlin. “If that's the hardest dare you can think of, you're losing your touch, Lila,” she said, trying to make light of it.
She could feel Caitlin looking at her.
Don't look back
, she thought.
She was scared of what she might see.
A loud hammering on the door made everyone jump out of their skins.
“Strippergram,” shouted a familiar voice.
Rhi covered her face. “It's Max!” she gasped.
“And it sounds like he's brought half of 10Y with him,” sighed Lila at the sound of laughter on the other side of the door.
“How did they know we were here?” asked Polly.
“I got their details from the list for the party and invited them,” Caitlin said, getting up. “I hope it's not a problem? The best parties have a mix of girls
boys, in my experience.”
Eve took the opportunity to move to the far side of the room. She wanted to put as much distance between herself and Caitlin as possible. What had just happened?
It was just a game
, she told herself.
Don't think too hard about it.
“About time you lot opened up,” said Max, striding into the room with Ollie, Ryan and Josh. He looked around admiringly. “Nice place. Can we stay too?”
Lila and Ollie looked warily at each other. Ollie made his best puppy-dog eyes, and Lila laughed reluctantly. “OK,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Since you're here you might as well stay. But no funny business.”
“Not even with me?” smirked Ryan.
Lila ignored him, tugging on Josh's arm to bring him further into the room. Eve winced on Ryan's behalf. His attempts at flirting with Lila always fell flat.
“Do you want to talk?”
Caitlin had somehow sneaked up on Eve and was now standing beside her, hands in her pockets and head cocked to the side.
“What about?” said Eve, sidling away. “There's nothing to talk about.”
Caitlin's brown eyes were serious. “Sure?”
Eve's laughter sounded brittle to her own ears. “This is a party,” she said awkwardly. “We have guests to see to. Right! Who wants lemonade?”
She threw herself into a whirlwind of what she was best at: looking after party guests. Soon everyone had a glass in their hand, sandwiches had been ordered on room service and Max was squirting Ollie with some scented hand lotion he'd found in the bathroom. Ryan hung around the edges in his usual way, slouching on and off the balcony and sighing.
Somehow amid the laughter and sandwiches, Caitlin had slipped away. Eve sank into the comfortable chair at one end of the room and rubbed her eyes. She didn't want to think about the kiss, but she couldn't help it. Even the memory sent a shiver through her.
“This is boring,” Ryan complained from the balcony. “Let's go out.”
Lila looked up from where she'd been laughing on one of the beds with Josh. “Have some more crisps, Ryan. This is
“Well I'm bored,” Ryan repeated sourly. “We should all head into town. Do something crazy.”
Ollie made jazz hands in the air, making Polly laugh. “Like what? FrappÃ©s at the Heartbeat? Everything's free here, Ryan, hadn't you noticed?”
, Eve thought before she could stop herself. She shook her head impatiently. What was wrong with her? Everything had been going so well, her friends were having a great time â and she just felt ratty and irritable.
“I was thinking about somewhere better than the Heartbeat,” said Ryan casually.
“Where?” Max said, looking interested.
“The shopping centre.”
Everyone went quiet. Lila's eyes gleamed.
“That place is only half-built,” Ollie said at last. “We're hardly going to get access, are we?”
“Isn't that the point?” Ryan drawled.
“That's trespassing, mate,” said Max.
Eve thought Ryan looked bigger, somehow. As if by getting everyone's attention, he'd grown two inches.
“So?” he said, strutting from side to side. “I'm man enough. The question is â are you?”
“Up to the challenge, boys?” Lila drawled. “Because I am.”
Ryan puffed out his chest a little more. “I knew Lila would see it my way. Who's in?”
Eve felt the old familiar flick of jealousy. Lila only had to click her fingers and boys came running. She wondered what her dad would make of them all climbing around his shopping centre in the middle of the night. A little kick of rebellion fluttered in her stomach. The thought of having the almost-complete shopping centre to themselves. . . It would be a like a giant playground. And it would take her mind off Caitlin, that was for sure.
“I am,” she said out loud. Just because she was a Somerstown, it didn't mean she couldn't play every now and again.
“Fine,” Max said, rolling his eyes.
“I don't know,” said Polly, looking worried.
“Come on,” said Ollie, putting his arm round Polly and giving her an encouraging squeeze. “It'll be fun.”
It didn't take long to convince the last remaining doubters. The girls ran into the bathroom to change out of PJs and back into jeans and sneakers. They all tiptoed out of the suite, squeezed into the lift and headed into the cold night air.
It was a short walk downhill to the construction site. Its huge glass and steel walls loomed over them, the cranes silent, the diggers parked haphazardly to one side. A single night security guard patrolled aimlessly past the main entrance, flicking his torch from side to side briefly before disappearing.
“Now's our chance,” Ryan said.
“Last one's a chicken,” Lila giggled.
Eve could feel her bravado deserting her. This had felt like it might be fun, back in their suite at the hotel. Now she wasn't so sure. Construction sites were dangerous places.
Ryan had reached the main entrance already. Lila wasn't far behind him.
“Losing your nerve?” Ryan taunted the others.
“Shut up, will you?” Max hissed. “Do you want the security guy to come back?”
Thinking about the cosy hotel suite had brought Eve's thoughts back to Caitlin. Desperate for distraction, she turned to Josh. Maybe she could fancy him again. How hard could it be?
“I'm scared,” she said, slipping her hand through the crook of Josh's arm. “You won't leave me alone in this place, will you Josh?”
Josh fiddled with his glasses. “I'm not traditional hero material,” he observed. “Ollie and Max are the knights in shining armour around here.” He nodded at the two boys, who had already jogged over the road to join Ryan. Lila, Rhi and Polly followed, their nervous laughter echoing in the darkness.
“You could always draw a knight if I needed one,” Eve said, fluttering her lashes. “You're so talented, it would probably leap off the page and charge us all down.”
Josh looked flattered. “Let's catch up with the others before they leave us behind.”
They ran quickly through the entrance and into the vast central space with the others â and stopped, looking around in awe. Two partially complete flights of stairs ascended from the ground floor to the top, where the restaurants would be. Silent escalators cut silver zigzags up and down the open space from floor to floor. Dangling wires and scaffolding poles gleamed in the moonlight filtering through the high glass roof. The winking red lights of the cranes could be seen far overhead.
“This is even better than I'd hoped.” Ryan jogged over to one of the half-completed staircases and tested it with his weight. “Race you to the top!”
“Ryan, I don't think it's safe,” said Rhi uneasily.
“Come on Rhi,” Lila scoffed. “I thought we'd talked about having some fun for a change!”
But Ryan was already halfway up, leaping over the gaps like a monkey climbing up a tree. He sat on the edge of the open-sided mezzanine floor, dangling his legs over the edge.
“Come on,” he shouted down, laughing. “It's no fun alone. I don't know what you see in these losers, Lila.”
Lila folded her arms. “No one likes a show-off, Ryan.”
“That's not showing off,” Ryan grinned, getting to his feet again. He pushed his hair out of his eyes. “
is showing off.”
Rhi and Polly both gasped as Ryan heaved himself on to a piece of scaffolding and swung there for a moment, bringing his feet right out over the open space below.
“I'll join you,” Max said, clearly not happy at being upstaged. “The stairs don't look that difficult.”
“Apart from the huge hole halfway up, through which you might plunge to your death?” enquired Josh a little sarcastically.
“Yeah,” Max said with a casual shrug. “Apart from that.”
Eve was wishing they hadn't come. There was a wildness about Ryan in here that made her nervous. The weight of responsibility on her shoulders was unpleasant. This was her father's place. What if something happened?
Ryan was now climbing to the next mezzanine floor, two levels up. “I bet you can't get this high!” he shouted down at Max, grinning.
“Ryan, stop!” Polly implored. “Don't go so far!”
Eve felt a little ill.
Ryan prepared to go?
“Let's play hide and seek,” Ollie suggested.
Ryan was back on the ground, doing press-ups in the middle of the great marble floor with Polly and Lila giggling and cheering him on.
“Ryan's such an attention-seeker,” said Rhi. “Why did he even come with us?”
“Don't be too hard on him, babe,” Max said easily. “He just wanted a good time. And we're having a good time, aren't we?”
“We do still appear to have all our limbs in working order,” Josh said. “That has to be a good thing.”
“Hide and seek?” Ollie repeated, rubbing his hands. “There are some awesome hiding places in here. Who's seeking?”
Josh seemed the keenest to keep his feet on the ground, so Josh was first seeker. Eve darted away into the darkness with Rhi. This
pretty fun. She had been worrying about nothing.
“Are you serious?” she said in horror as Rhi squirmed underneath a freshly cast concrete bench near the back of the shopping centre. “You'll get filthy!”
“Shhh!” Rhi whispered. “Run Eve, before Josh sees you.”
Eve ran on, her breath clouding in the chilly air. Spotting a curve in the wall, she swerved out of sight and pressed herself up against the bare concrete.
“Sixty-eight and a half, coming ready or not,” shouted Josh.
Eve heard Ollie's voice echoing as if from very far away. “You're supposed to count to a hundred!”
“Lovely clue as to your whereabouts, Ollie!” Josh shouted back. “Thanks for that.”
Several laughs echoed around the complex, including Eve's. Ollie could be a real idiot sometimes.
Leaning back against the cold concrete, Eve gazed up at the great glass roof overhead. It reflected the whole complex back at her. It was going to be fantastic when it was finished.
Not long now
, she thought, hugging the thought close. Her dad had said it would only be a matter of weeks before the first businesses moved in.
“Behold the invisible woman.”
Eve jumped to see Josh peering at her round the corner. “How did you find me?”
Josh pointed up at the glass roof. “It reflected your red coat beautifully. Guess you're the next seeker.”
“OK, so you got me,” Eve said.
She sat on Rhi's concrete bench. She almost screamed when Rhi grabbed her ankle.
“That's a funny face,” said Josh in surprise.
“The bench is cold,” Eve explained, fighting to keep a straight face. She looked around the space. “How are your plans for the shopping centre logo coming on?”
“I have lots of ideas,” he said eagerly. His face fell a little. “But your dad's too busy to discuss them at the moment, so I have no idea whether I'm on the right track or not.”
“He won't forget about you,” said Eve. “I promise.” She hoped that was true. She hadn't really spoken to her dad for days. Not properly. She vowed to herself that she would remind him of his deal with Josh as soon as she could.
Josh prowled twice around the complex before spotting Rhi underneath Eve's bench. Ryan was hiding on the second mezzanine floor. Josh refused to climb up to get him, so he was declared the winner of round one.
“Round two: no climbing,” said Max irritably. Josh had found him lurking near the entrance shortly after finding Ollie lying underneath an escalator.
“Come on, you did win the first game,” said Lila as Ryan rolled his eyes in an exaggerated manner.
“Fine,” Ryan grinned. “As long as you hide with me this time, Lila.”
“Your turn to seek, Eve,” said Rhi breathlessly. There was a long smudge of grime down her trouser leg from hiding under the bench.
Eve covered her eyes to count. Visions of the kiss swam across her eyelids. The softness of Caitlin's mouth. The smell of her hair. She opened her eyes again abruptly, to catch a glimpse of Max scurrying for a pile of enormous concrete blocks stacked beside one wall. She frowned. She didn't know much about construction, but blocks that size weren't usually “finishing touches,” as her father had described things in his speech at her business away day.
After a while, she realized she hadn't been counting.
“Coming,” she shouted. “Ready or not!”
She loitered for a while before heading for the concrete blocks and pretending to be surprised to find Max and Rhi.
“Can we go home after this round?” Rhi asked as Max dragged her grumpily to sit with him on the bench.
Eve did a careful sweep of the right-hand side of the complex next. Shop after shop lay empty and bare, wires swinging from plasterboard ceilings. The words “finishing touches” came into her mind again. Being inside her own head was no fun tonight.
She swung round a corner, into one of the covered radial corridors that fanned out from the central space, past a stack of paint pots, a folded ladder and a battered tarpaulin â and almost crashed into two people wrapped tightly in each other's arms.
Ollie and Polly leaped apart.
“Er . . . you found us!” said Ollie brightly as Polly's cheeks deepened to a rich poppy red. “Well done!”
“Were you kissing?” asked Eve in astonishment.
“No,” said Ollie.
“Definitely not,” Polly squeaked, turning even redder.
Facts started whirring and clicking through Eve's brain. Cogs spun and settled. Ollie on the yacht.
I've kind of . . . liked someone else for a while
It was so obvious, now Eve came to think of it. These two had been weird around each other for ages.
Something else I was wrong about
, Eve thought to herself with a sigh. Ollie hadn't been talking about her on the yacht. He'd been talking about Polly.
Polly covered her burning face with her hands. “I got scared in the dark,” she mumbled through her fingers. “And Ollie . . . Ollie just gave me a hug. Don't say anything!”
“Don't tell Lila,” said Ollie awkwardly.
Eve raised her eyebrows even higher.
“I mean, Polly's right,” Ollie amended, putting his arm round Polly's shoulders, “nothing actually happened other than a hug like she said, but . . . I don't want Lila getting the wrong idea. You know. So soon after we broke up.”
“You won't tell her,” repeated Polly, her voice high with anxiety. “Will you?”
Eve didn't like the way Ollie and Polly were looking at her. Like they were scared of her, and what she might do with this little bombshell. The old Eve would have tucked the information away, then dropped it into a conversation at a later date for maximum impact.
Eve â the Eve who had apologized to her friends, the Eve who had kissed a girl tonight and felt the old ground beneath her designer-clad feet shift and quiver â
Eve didn't have any interest in being mean. Seeing the two of them, the feelings they had for each other written clear as day on their horrified faces, just made her heart ache. Everything seemed so simple for other people.
“I won't say anything if you don't want me to,” she said with a shrug. “Sit in the middle while I find the others.”
They scurried away gratefully. Eve shivered, pulling her coat a little more tightly around herself. Why was it so cold?
Focusing on the radial corridor she was standing in, she suddenly realized why. The whole back wall of this section of the complex was open to the elements. Mud and rubble lay beyond the yawning space. Puddles of stagnant water glinted around muddy tools that looked like no one had touched them in weeks. Eve remembered the concrete blocks Max and Rhi had been hiding behind.
The complex was nowhere near finished, she realized, looking around. This whole section was a mass of scaffolding, plastic sheeting and mud. Uncertainty gripped her.
Suddenly Eve's throat felt dry. She pictured the plaque with all the investors' names on it. Her father's smooth promises. The empty hulk she was standing in.
Had her dad been lying to her?
She shook her head. Her father was honest, hard-working . . . he would never lie about something like this. Would he?
There was a sudden clatter. An unearthly wail ripped through the air, echoing like a ghost against the exposed bricks.
“Help me! Someone, help! HELP!”