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Authors: Lucy Diamond

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BOOK: Hens Reunited
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Katie wrinkled her nose. ‘I doubt it,’ she said, unlocking the front door. ‘And now that I’ve got this job in his dad’s firm, I—’

Everyone jumped as a large figure loomed in the doorway. Alice gave a scream before clapping a hand to her mouth and giggling nervously. ‘Back so soon?’ slurred Mrs Taylor, leaning against the door jamb. Her skin was mottled and puffy, her eyes glazed. She was slaughtered, as usual. ‘Thought you might have pulled and gone off to some bloke’s house.’

‘We’re not all like you,’ Katie said tartly, elbowing her aside. ‘Come on in. Laura, are you all right with Charlotte?’ She could feel her skin prickling. Mum had to spoil everything. ‘Go up to my room,’ she hissed to Alice and Georgia. ‘I’ll be there in two minutes.’

‘I’ve told her, she’s making a mistake,’ Mrs Taylor said, her eyes small and mean. ‘But does she listen to her old mum? No. She’ll learn. She’ll soon—’

‘Oh, shut up, Mum,’ Laura snapped. ‘Or I’ll get Charlotte to puke on you.’

Mercifully – and surprisingly – Mrs Taylor sloped off to bed herself without another word.

Alice and Georgia were squeezing into Katie’s old bedroom for the night, and when they’d all whispered and giggled their way through make-up removal and teeth brushing, the three of them lay in their sleeping bags in the darkness.

‘Sorry about my mum,’ Katie said, still mortified at what had happened. ‘She’s such a nightmare.’

Alice reached out and held her hand. ‘Don’t let it spoil tonight,’ she said.

‘Yeah, come on, Mrs Watkinson, think of happier things,’ Georgia put in.

‘Oi, don’t start all that Mrs Watkinson stuff again!’ Katie scolded, but Alice had already launched into song.

‘And here’s to you, Mrs Watkinson . . .’ she warbled.

‘Georgia-’n’-Alice love you more than you could know,’ Georgia joined in, giggling. ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa . . .’

Katie smiled in the darkness at her friends’ tuneless singing. They were right – she wouldn’t let her mum wreck her hen night. She was nearly Mrs Watkinson after all – and better times were just around the corner . . .

 

Chapter One

How Deep Is Your Love?

Friday, 13
June 2008

‘So don’t forget, this needs to be handed in to me on Monday, first thing, all right? Anyone giving in late coursework will—’

BRRRRRRINNNNNGGGGG!

The school bell interrupted Katie’s words. Half the class had had an eye on the clock for the last ten minutes, of course – who didn’t want to get away at breakneck speed on Friday afternoon? – and were up from their seats, bags packed and through the door before the bell had finished pealing without so much as a ‘Bye, miss’.

‘Coursework on Monday morning!’ Katie bellowed after their departing backs. They were not supposed to leave the classroom until she’d given them permission to go – headmaster’s rules – but it was the end of the week, and she decided she’d disregard it this once. Some battles just weren’t worth fighting.

She turned back to face the remnants of the class who were busily stuffing their algebra textbooks into their bags. She could see it in their eyes, their hungry expressions, that they too were desperate to escape the classroom, but they at least were still obedient enough to wait for the official release. ‘Okay, off you go, then,’ she said. ‘See you next week. Have a good weekend.’

Back scraped all the chairs from their desks as they got to their feet. A swell of chatter rose; you could feel the atmosphere change from that of endured confinement to sweet liberation. And off they went, iPods in, mobiles checked for new text messages (another blind eye turned – they were meant to wait until they were off school premises for that), talk of parties and shopping and sleepovers . . .

Their high, excited voices echoed for a while as they went down the corridors, then all was silent. Friday afternoon. Your weekend starts here.

She sat down at her desk, relishing the peace and quiet. It always seemed particularly dense, that silence, after thirty noisy teenagers had so recently vacated the space. She pulled over a pile of Year 8 homework books. Right, then. Now for an hour’s marking before she went to the supermarket; the traditional start to the weekend. Not for her, talk of sleepovers and parties and shopping. Katie Taylor liked a good solid structure at the centre of her life. It felt safe that way. There was no room for any silly fanciful notions when you had a watertight routine in place.

She pulled over the first book. Ella Townsend. With ‘I ♥ Zack!!!!’ in big letters on the front cover. Katie couldn’t help but notice that ‘I ♥ Danny!!!!’ and ‘I ♥ Miles!!!!’ had been crossed out elsewhere on the cover. If Ella Townsend could just pay as much attention to her maths homework as she did to her love life, she’d be top of the class. As it was, with Zack Richards to moon over and write love notes to, her homework had taken a swerve for the worse this year. What was it with teenagers and their hopeless crushes?

Katie wrinkled her nose as she red-penned her way through Ella’s equations. Cross, cross, cross, cross, tick, cross. Ella wasn’t daft, either. Only a year ago, she’d been one of the most diligent students in the class. Now hormones had kicked in and schoolwork had gone out the window. The sad thing was, she didn’t even seem to care.

Concentrate, Ella!
, Katie wrote in red pen at the bottom of the page, having totted up the girl’s score as four out of twenty.
I know you can do better than this!

Still, they all had them, didn’t they? Their silly romantic lapses of reason. Katie, too, had been like that, back when she was a teenager. But of course, she’d been even worse than Ella. She’d actually given up her degree to go and get married. To Neil Watkinson, of all people! So she was a fine one to talk.

Katie realized she was gazing out of the classroom window, almost as if she were expecting her ex-husband to gallop across the playground on a white charger or something. She stifled a giggle. Fat chance. Neil Watkinson probably drove a people-carrier these days, with a collection of kiddie seats in the back and his second wife in the passenger seat. Or third wife, even, knowing what he was like.

Neil bloody Watkinson, eh. It seemed almost unbelievable to her now, that she and Neil Watkinson had once spent all that money on the hired suit and dress, flowers, photos and a finger buffet, had pored over invitation lists, seating plans and honeymoon travel brochures. For what? A year of having to pick his dirty pants up off the floor every day, that’s what. Cooking all those bloody Findus crispy pancakes, his favourite food. Ironing umpteen work shirts of his – how had that happened? How had they morphed into those husband/wife stereotypes so scarily quickly, when she was just as useless with an iron as him?

All that she had now to show she’d ever been married were a few faded photos, that nasty gold Ratners ring stashed in the depths of her knicker drawer and the cheeseboard her Aunty Wendy had bought them, gathering dust in the kitchen. She didn’t even particularly like cheese; she was a Cheddar kind of girl, fine in a sandwich with a bit of tomato, but that was about it.

It seemed even more surreal to Katie that she’d ever taken her clothes off and lain there on the marital bed, letting Neil Watkinson clamber onto her and pump away, wearing his Bristol bloody Rovers top half the time (sartorial standards fell alarmingly, post-wedding). He was desperate for her to get pregnant as quick as possible. Not because he particularly liked children – he called the neighbours’ kids all the names under the sun if they woke him up on a Sunday morning – but because he thought it would prove he was a Real Man. And that was really where their marriage started to go wrong, of course . . .

Katie shuddered at the fleeting flashback. She and Neil had got together during the long vacation after her first year of university. All her friends were heading off on adventures: Georgia had wangled herself an internship at the
Daily Mirror
as part of her journalism course. Alice was InterRailing with a few other mates. Katie had no such exciting plans – in fact, she was working as a barmaid in the White Horse, trying to pay off her debts. But then in walked Neil Watkinson and bought her a drink . . . and suddenly life seemed to pick up.

She was smitten with him, instantly. His low voice, his crooked smile, the way his eyes sought out hers and lingered over her body. She’d never had a proper boyfriend before then, had never known what it felt like to be in love, but within minutes she felt as if she were drowning in the stuff. Two weeks later, she’d lost her virginity to him in one of the meadows by the towpath. And two months after that, he’d proposed.

Everyone had voiced their doubts when she said she was leaving uni to marry Neil. ‘You must be barking,’ Georgia had said with typical bluntness. ‘Tie yourself down to one bloke? You’re not even twenty yet – you’ve got years of shagging around ahead of you!’

‘What about your degree?’ Alice had added. ‘You can’t just drop out because you’ve fallen in love. Can’t you wait a few years?’

But no. She didn’t want to wait. She didn’t want to ‘shag around’, as Georgia had so charmingly put it. Her mind was made up. Even her mum couldn’t sway her. ‘You’re making a terrible mistake,’ she’d said, shaking her head. ‘Don’t trust him. Lesson number one – men are all bastards.’

But that was like a red rag to a bull, of course. Katie was not going to take love-life advice from her mum of all people. She’d listened to her heart instead, she’d sorted out the white dress and tiara, and sent out the invitations. She’d been Mrs Neil Watkinson for a whole twelve months until the tension had begun to crackle between them, when she hadn’t given him a baby, and he wouldn’t give her any freedom, and . . . well, you had to have your bottom line, didn’t you? And stumbling upon your husband rogering Linda O’Connor from next door in the spare room was definitely what Katie called a bottom line.

What a relief it had been, walking out on him! She could see herself now, head high as she strode down that narrow front path, not looking back at the little two-up two-down terraced house, all her stuff wedged into sports bags (including the cheeseboard – God knows why she’d packed that, as a weapon perhaps, in case he tried to stop her going).

Neil, this isn’t working any more
, she’d written.
I’ve gone back to London. Sorry.

It had been cowardly, sure, sneaking out of the relationship when he’d been at work, especially as he’d grovelled and begged over the shagging-Linda-O’Connor incident until he was blue in the face. He thought he was forgiven, but she’d just been biding her time, steeling herself until she had the guts to walk away. And the lightness that had filled her, the joy of liberation, she was almost giddy with it as she clicked the front gate behind her and left their home for good.

End of the marriage. Start of her new life. Easy as that. And no, she’d never truly trusted another man since.

She turned back to her desk and picked up the next exercise book. Megan White. Who
also
loved Zack, by the looks of things.

Ten minutes later, Katie was interrupted by Miss Dickens, the school secretary, popping her head round the classroom door.

‘Sorry to bother you, Katie dear, but there’s a . . .’ She looked flummoxed for a second, her nose twitching like a rabbit’s. ‘Well, there’s a car waiting for you outside. A taxi.’

Katie frowned. ‘A taxi? For me? But I haven’t ordered—’

‘Yes, for you, dear.’ That faint look of consternation on her face as if she suspected a prank in the offing. Miss Dickens was very wary of pranks. ‘Most insistent, the driver was. Said there’d been a change of plan and you needed to leave work now.’

‘Change of plan?’ Katie echoed. ‘Leave now?’

Miss Dickens nodded and the silvery curls on top of her head bobbed back and forth. ‘That’s what he said. I hope nobody’s mucking you about, what with it being Friday the thirteenth and all that, but . . . well, if you wouldn’t mind sorting him out, dear, only I’m right in the middle of the Year 10 class schedules for September and . . .’

‘Yes, of course,’ Katie said, cutting in. Given half a chance, Miss Dickens would be there until Sunday evening, sounding off about her class schedules. How irritating to be interrupted like this, though. Obviously, there was some misunderstanding, all this talk of a change of plan, and having to leave work. Friday the thirteenth indeed – Katie had no truck with fanciful superstitions. The driver was clearly confusing her with another person who didn’t have twenty-five more homework books to mark and a Tesco trip to fit in by six o’clock, but all the same . . .

She grabbed her handbag and followed Miss Dickens down the corridor. It was still so warm – this June was turning out to be a scorcher – and she made a mental note to put some Pimm’s in the trolley when she finally got to the supermarket. Pimm’s, mint, lemonade, cucumber, maybe some strawberries. If a thing was worth doing, it was worth doing properly, Katie always thought.

She’d reached the front doors of the school that opened out onto the staff car park and drive. And there, engine purring, sat a large black cab, the sort you usually only saw in London. It looked swanky and decidedly out of place, waiting outside scruffy St Joseph’s Comprehensive School in this particular Bristol suburb, which usually only saw Mondeos and Astras shambling around.

Definitely a case of mistaken identity. Oh well. At least this would only take two minutes to sort out.

She strode over to the car, an apologetic look on her face. ‘I think you’ve got the wrong—’

‘Katie Taylor?’

‘Yes, that’s me, but—’

‘Birthday tenth March, lives on Warburton Road?’

She stared at the driver, momentarily taken aback. Had she met him before? She racked her brain but had no memory of his dark hair, thick eyebrows and greasy-looking skin. ‘How did you know that?’

He consulted a piece of paper he had on a clipboard. ‘Born in the General Hospital to Margery and Ian Taylor, two sisters?’

Katie could feel her cheeks flushing with heat. What was this? Some massive wind-up? ‘Look, I don’t know who sent you—’ she began, trying to wrest back some control.

BOOK: Hens Reunited
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