The amount was slightly obscene, in comparison to my salary—or even Rowan’s salary. I had spent years drooling over the reports she sent back from a villa in the Bahamas or a yacht in the Maldives and waiting for the day when I, too, would be senior enough to get those kinds of perks, but now I was actually getting a taste of it, I wondered—how did she stand it, these regular glimpses into a life no regular person would ever be able to afford?
I was idly trying to work out how many months I’d have to work to pay for a week on the Aurora as a passenger, when I heard something—an indistinct little noise—beneath the roar of the water, that I couldn’t place, but it definitely sounded like it came from my room. My heart quickened a little, but I kept my breathing firm and steady as I opened my eyes to turn off the shower.
Instead, I saw the bathroom door swinging towards me, as though someone had shoved it with a swift, sure hand.
It banged shut, the solid, firm clunk of a heavy door that was made of the very best-quality material, and I was left in the hot, wet dark with the water pounding on the top of my skull and my heart beating hard enough to register on the boat’s sonar.
I couldn’t hear anything above the hiss of blood in my ears and the roar of the shower. And I couldn’t see anything, apart from the red gleam of the digital controls to the shower. Fuck. Fuck. Why hadn’t I double-locked the cabin door?
I felt the walls of the bathroom closing in on me, the blackness seeming to swallow me whole.
Stop. Panicking, I told myself. No one’s hurt you. No one’s broken in. Chances are it’s just a maid come to turn down the bed, or the door shutting by itself. Stop. Panicking.
I forced myself to feel for the controls. The water went freezing, then agonizingly hot so that I yelped and staggered back, cracking my ankle against the wall, but then finally I found the right button, the stream stopped, and I groped my way to the lights.
They came on, flooding the little room with an unforgiving glare, and I stared at myself in the mirror—bone white, with wet hair plastered to my skull like the girl from The Ring.
Was this going to be what it was like? Was I turning into someone who had panic attacks about walking home from the tube or staying the night alone in the house without their boyfriend?
No, fuck that. I would not be that person.
There was a bathrobe on the back of the bathroom door, and I swathed it hastily around myself and then took a deep, shaking breath.
I would not be that person.
I opened the bathroom door, my heart beating so hard and fast that I was seeing stars in my vision.
Do not panic, I thought fiercely.
The room was empty. Completely empty. And the door was double-locked, even the chain was across. There was no way anyone had got in. Maybe I’d just heard someone in the corridor. Either way, it was obviously just the tilting movement of the ship that had caused the door to swing shut, impelled by its own weight.
I checked the chain again, feeling the thick weight of it heavy in the palm of my hand, reassuringly solid, and then, on weak legs, I made my way to the bed and lay down, my heart still pounding with suppressed adrenaline, and waited for my pulse to return to something approaching normal.
I imagined burying my face in Judah’s shoulder and for a second I nearly burst into tears, but I clenched my teeth and swallowed them back down. Judah was not the answer to all this. The problem was me and my weak-ass panic attacks.
Nothing happened. Nothing happened.
I repeated it in time with my rapid breaths, until I felt myself begin to calm down.
Nothing happened. Not now. Not then. Nobody hurt you.
God, I needed a drink.
Inside the minibar was tonic, ice, and half a dozen miniatures of gin, whiskey, and vodka. I shook ice into a tumbler and then emptied in a couple of the miniature bottles, pouring with a hand that still shook slightly. I topped up with a splash of tonic water and gulped it down.
The gin was so strong it made me choke, but I felt the warmth of the alcohol spreading through my cells and blood vessels and felt instantly better.
When the glass was empty, I stood up, feeling the lightness in my head and limbs, and pulled my phone out of my bag. No reception, so clearly we were out of range of the UK transmitters, but there was Wi-Fi.
I clicked on mail and downloaded my e-mails, chewing my nails as they popped one by one into the in-box. It wasn’t quite as bad as I’d been fearing—it was a Sunday after all—but as I scanned down the list, I realized I was tense as an elastic band about to snap, and at the same time, I understood what I was looking for, and why. There was nothing from Judah. I felt my shoulders slump.
I answered the few that were urgent, marked the others unread, and then pressed compose to start a new e-mail.
Dear Judah, I wrote, but the rest of the words wouldn’t come. I wondered what he was doing right now. Was he packing his bag? Crammed onto some economy flight? Or was he lying on his bed in his room, tweeting, texting, thinking of me . . .
I relived again the moment I’d smashed the heavy metal lamp into his face. What had I been thinking?
You weren’t thinking, I told myself. You were half-asleep. It’s not your fault. It was an accident.
Freud says there are no accidents, said the voice in the back of my head. Maybe it’s you. . . .
I shook my head, refusing to listen.
Dear Judah, I love you.
I miss you.
I deleted the one to Judah and started a new one.
To: Pamela Crew
From: Laura Blacklock
Sent: Sunday, 20 September
Subject: Safe and sound
Hi, Mum, safe on board the boat, which is seriously swanky. You’d love it! Just a quick reminder to pick up Delilah tonight. I’ve left her cat basket on the table, and the food is under the sink. I had to change the locks—Mrs. Johnson upstairs has the new key.
Lots of love and THANKS!
I pressed send, then pulled up Facebook and messaged my best friend, Lissie.
This place is insanely nice. There are UNLIMITED free drinks in the minibar in my cabin—sorry, I mean fucking enormous SUITE—which doesn’t bode well for my professionalism, or my liver. See you on the other side, if I’m still standing. Lo xx
I poured myself another gin and then I went back to the Judah e-mail.
I had to write something. I couldn’t leave things the way they were when I walked out.
Dear J. I’m sorry I was such a bitch before I left. What I said—it was incredibly unfair. I love you so much.