Happy 2014, everyone!! To celebrate the new year we have a Shakespeare rewrite by Louise Gornall. She usually writes urban fantasy, so I chucked her one of my favourite genres. This blue haired beauty is one of my bestest Twitter friends and I strongly suggest you go follow her. But first, read this. (And try to guess which of Shakespeare’s works it’s based on!)
Kill Me Tomorrow, Let Me Live Tonight
by Louise Gornall
Mum pulls her knife back and forth across her turkey breast. The perfectly polished silver blade catches the porcelain plate and makes a screeching sound. She smiles politely and dabs her lips with corner of her napkin.
“So, Oliver,” she says, reaching for the string of pearls around her neck. “Delilah tells us you’re an officer.” The words march out her mouth, coated in condescension. I lift my eyes and look at my father who appears to have frozen. The glass of Merlot in his hand hasn’t quite managed to meet his mouth.
“Yes ma’am,” Oliver says.
She doesn’t ask him to elaborate, instead she fixes a plastic smile, tilts her head a little to the left and raises her eyebrows.
Oliver gives me a brief glance before he starts telling my mother about his colorful army career. He talks, she twists her pearls and asks him questions that make my insides curl. I drink until my face goes fuzzy.
A thousand years later, dinner is over and Oliver’s entire life story is led in the middle of the table, spread eagle, panting and desperately seeking a cigarette.
My mother picks up the coffee pot. “White or…black?” she says, putting far too much emphasis on the black.
It doesn’t matter how brilliant Oliver is. She can’t — won’t — see beyond the colour of his skin.
I need vodka.
“Would you look at the time. We really have to go,” I say, standing up, throwing my napkin in my dish, wishing I was throwing it at my mum’s face.
“You’re leaving? So soon?”
“We’re going to meet Charlie.”
My mum’s eyes light up. She loves Charlie, possibly even more than she loves me.
“Why didn’t you ask him to dinner?”
“I did. He already had plans.” I snatch hold of Oliver’s hand and drag him up off his seat.
“Goodbye, mother.” She kisses my cheek. I feel the sting of frostbite. “Send my love to Charlie. Tell him we’re looking forward to seeing him tomorrow.”
I bend down, lean into my father. “Goodnight, daddy.”
“Be good,” he says. I know his eyes are on Oliver. Not if I can help it, I think and flounce out of the room, dragging Oliver behind me.
The cold air hits me like a slap across the face and suddenly I feel sober. Oliver laces his arm through mine and we begin walking up the drive, leaving footprints in the fresh blanket of snow.
“Your parents seem to like Charlie.”
“My parents like anyone with money…”
“And white skin?” he interjects. I swallow nails.
“Who cares what they think? They’re vile. Horrible,” I say, pushing my lips against his. His mouth curls up into a crescent.
I continue listing all the things my parents are in between kisses, until he says, “You didn’t tell them we were married.”
“I told you I wouldn’t.”
“I didn’t think you were serious.”
“Why does it matter?”
He looks at his feet. I snatch his cheeks in my hands and lift his head. My thumb traces the bumps of a war wound under his left eye.
“I love you. That’s where I begin and end.”
My parents wouldn’t understand. They don’t know love. They don’t touch, don’t kiss, don’t cling to one another like the world is about to end. I’ve known Oliver a month and in that time we’ve shared more love than they have in twenty years.
The smell of stale liquor and cigarette smoke assaults my senses before we’ve even stepped into the bar. I breathe it in and exhale a blissful sigh.
The place is alive with laughter and music. It warms my insides like whiskey. Charlie is sitting at the bar, his face swallowed by his smile. He sees us, leaps up off his seat and ploughs into Oliver’s chest. I think of wild bears wrestling as the two embrace each other and exchange merry Christmas wishes.
“And who is this divine creature on your arm?” Charlie winks at me as he unwraps himself from Oliver’s embrace.
“Oh stop,” I tease and simultaneously flap my lashes.
He takes my hand, kisses it then spins me under his arm. Charlie and Oliver serve together. Without Charlie, Oliver and I might never have met.
“So, how did the big meet and greet go?” Charlie asks flashing two fingers at the bartender.
“It was ghastly.” I flail and throw a hand to my brow.
“Her parents think I’m a Neanderthal.”
“No?” Charlie replies, handing each of us a small glass overflowing with bourbon. I lick the sticky excess off my fingers.
“It’s true. They think he’s going to defile me.”
“Perhaps I should have told them I already have.” Oliver grins and throws his drink down his throat as Charlie and I laugh.
The world rocks back and forth, I feel like I’m on a boat. I’m tingling from the tip of my nose to the bottom of my toes. Oliver and Charlie have made friends with the pianist, they’re leaning against his piano, wailing to one another like a couple of warring cats. My cheeks sting from smiling.
I’m absently running a finger round the rim of my glass and making it sing, when someone taps me on the shoulder. I flick round, the face looking down on me puts a bullet in my mood.
“What do you want?”
“Is that anyway to greet an old friend?”
“You are no friend of mine, old or otherwise.”
“Don’t be like that.”
I look away, pick up my drink and watch the thick brown liquid splash around my glass. My unwelcome visitor, Nigel, sits by my side.
“Let me buy you a drink.”
I ignore him.
“Come on, Del.” He strokes the back of my hand with his finger and I fix a stare on him that I hope will peel the flesh from his bones. I’m more than disappointed when it doesn’t.
“What do you want, Nigel?”
“I wanted to say hello, maybe buy you a drink. I thought maybe with it being the season for forgiveness…”
“Well you thought wrong.”
He grins, all teeth.
“If you don’t forgive me our dance at your parent’s party tomorrow is going to be very awkward indeed.”
I feel like he just punched me in the gut.
“You’re not invited.”
“Am so. Your mother called this evening and invited me herself.”
“What if I don’t want you there?”
“I’ve all ready accepted.”
“Then un-expect.” He’s still grinning, it sours the liquor in my stomach.
He lifts his hand to my cheek, tucks a stray curl behind my ear and I am eighteen years old again, listening to this man promise he’ll love me forever.
“Del?” I startle and loose half of my drink over the side of my glass. Oliver’s glare flits back between me and the strange hand caressing my face. “Everything okay?”
“Can we help you with something?” Nigel says. He’s on his feet before I can take a breath. He’s half the size of Oliver, half his age too, but he squares his shoulders and juts out his box chin.
“Oliver, this is Nigel. Nigel this is Oliver, a dear friend of mine.” I see Oliver flinch when I say friend, feel it in the pit of my stomach, but I’m not about to start discussing my current relationship with my ex. This is not the time or the place. Oliver holds out his hand. Nigel doesn’t shake it.
“Nurse! Oh nurse,” Charlie calls from over by the piano. He’s chortling away, but I’m too busy watching Nigel and Oliver, trying to murder each other with silent stares.
“Del, I think I might be bleeding to death.”
“What?” My head snaps round to see Charlie cradling his face, rivers of red seeping through his fingers.
“Oh good Lord,” I squeal and snatch a Bourbon soaked napkin off the table. I hold it under his nose and tilt his chin with my fingertips.
“What happened?” Oliver asks. My shoulders drop. I’m sorry Charlie is bleeding, but I’m mostly relieved that Oliver is distracted.
The already waterlogged napkin is falling to pieces. A drop of Charlie’s blood drips on my hand, rolls down my wrist, slow and sluggish.
“Just started bleeding.” His words tumble from his lips in a drunken stupor and land in a pile on the floor. He wraps a sloppy arm around my waist and ushers me toward the bar.
“Barkeep, more of your finest napkins,” he yells. I look back over my shoulder, Oliver takes a step to follow us, but Nigel chooses this moment to take his hand and shake it.
Charlie’s head pivots uncontrollably. I tug on his chin to keep it still.
“You’re making this impossible,” I snap. He finds this cute, flicks one of the curls from my forehead and giggles like a schoolgirl.
I can’t concentrate. Oliver and Nigel have been talking for ten minutes. Oliver keeps looking over at Charlie and I, his face crinkled with concern.
“All done,” I say, pushing a wad of napkin up Charlie’s left nostril. “Now breathe through your mouth.” It’s only taken six attempts to plug him up. Charlie lunges forward, kisses my cheek. His lips linger.
“You’re an Angel, Del,” he says. His voice lazy, sexy, just like it was the day he told me he loved me.
“Okay, Mr Baker.” I push him back. “Let’s get you home.”
I pull his arm over my shoulder. He leans into me, sags, and I feel the full weight of his one hundred and ninety pound frame hanging off my hip. Oliver sees me strain and dashes over.
“Need another set of hands?” Nigel is asking, but it’s too late. We’re already out of the door.
“Nothing.” Oliver says, turning his back on me. I lean over, plant my lips on his cheek.
He hasn’t mentioned Nigel since we got back. I know he’s sulking. It radiates off him, like heat from a fire. But if he’s going to be a baby about it, he can damn well stay in the dark. I slam my head back down on to my pillow and flick off the lamp.
“What did Charlie say to you?” his voice is shaky, darker than midnight.
“When he kissed you?”
“He didn’t kiss me.”
“I’m not blind. I saw him.” I know then what him and Nigel were talking about. Nigel didn’t tell him about our affair. He told him about Charlie and I. Playing mind games is what Nigel does best.
“Charlie is like a brother to me. You know that. He’s like a brother to you too.”
“He’s in love with you.”
“Was.” It’s my turn to lie.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“There was nothing to tell.”
His breathing is heavy. I wait and wait, but he says nothing. My heart is charging. The darkness is suffocating. I close my eyes and wait for sleep to pull me under.
I force my eyes open, and as always, run my hand across the space beside me. My palm does not find the lumps and bumps of Oliver’s chest as it normally does. I’m stroking empty sheets. I sit up, pull the covers up to my chin and drown in the freezing cold atmosphere that envelopes my room.
The rest of the day drags. I spend it alone, buried in my blankets, reading and trying to sleep away a blazing headache.
Oliver strides through our bedroom door just after five. He’s wearing a grin as big and as bright as the sun. I’m confused, concerned, but he walks over and plants a kiss on my cheek.
“We’re going to be late for your parents’ party,” he says, strolling over to the wardrobe. There’s blood on his cheek.
“Where’ve you been?”
I laugh. Oliver abhors anything pompous and overtly British. Horse riding, shooting, the royal family. It’s one of the things we have in common.
“Your friend Nigel invited me.” My throat tightens.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You never asked.”
Somewhere between dinner with my parents and our party at the bar, an ocean has formed between us. I should have expected it. This place has always been poisonous.
“Are you angry with me?”
“Of course not.” He slips off his shirt and pulls a crisp, clean white one off the hanger. “Are you planning on showing up to your parents house in bed sheets?” He winks, but I hear a seriousness in his words that makes me shrink.
“What if we don’t go to the party? What if we stay here instead?”
“Your parents would be disappointed.”
“My parents are always disappointed.”
“It’ll be fun,” he insists, buttoning up his shirt. “Give me a second chance to prove my worth.”
“Prove your worth? You don’t need to prove anything to anyone.”
He expels a laugh that makes the walls of our room shake. It’s thick and deep, distinctly patronizing.
“Get dressed,” he says, pulling his dinner jacket over his arms as he leaves the room.
I’m wearing a red dress. It clings to every curve. The silk is cold, it makes my skin feel wet. My lipstick is the colour of blood and my neck is dripping with diamonds.
I’m charged, angry with my new husband for taking his self-esteem issues out on me.
I don’t know him here. I want to be back at the base, where past indiscretions are buried and he’s not being constantly reminded of the differences between us.
The first person I see when I step into the hall is Charlie. I free myself from Oliver’s arm, glide over and throw my arms around him.
“How’s the patient? Let me look at you.” I grab hold of his chin and inspect his face. I can feel eyes burning into my back. “Well the good news is you’re going to live.”
Charlie, picks me up and spins me round. Then, as always, he turns to his friend.
“What’s the matter with you? Face like thunder,” he says.
“Nothing a stiff drink won’t fix,” Oliver replies.
“Good shout.” Charlie throws his arm over Oliver’s shoulder and the pair wander off into the dining room.
A shadow falls over me from behind. “Curious fellow, that friend of yours.” Ice slips down my spine.
“What did you say to him?”
“Me? I didn’t say anything. It’s none of my business what you do, or who you do it with.”
I spin round to face Nigel. “That’s right. It’s not.”
The thing about Nigel is he has a way with words. It’s what makes him an amazing lawyer. He could argue black was white and end up convincing you of the same. Manipulating people is his sport.
“Stay away from us.”
“Not sure I can. I’m having far too much fun.”
“Darling, there you are.” Mum’s shrill voice cuts through me like a knife. She’s marching toward me, arms up in the air. I want to disappear.
“Let’s dance.” I grab hold of Oliver’s arm and pull him into the middle of the room. I can’t stand to watch him buddy up to Nigel a second longer. He wraps his bear arms around my waist and we sway in-time to some melodramatic, maudlin nonsense the band is playing.
“Don’t listen to Nigel. He’s very good at lying.”
“So, you were never with Charlie?”
I swallow hard, without meaning to, and he sees.
“Who is really the liar here?”
“I never lied to you.”
“But you didn’t tell me,” he growls and the couple beside us look over. I’ve never seen Oliver jealous before. It makes my skin prick.
“Nigel tells me you and Charlie are the reason your relationship ended.”
“That’s not true.” Mostly.
“So you didn’t find comfort in Charlie when Nigel was in America?”
“I…I…” The people around us have stopped dancing and are starting to stare. I feel like my dress has disappeared. He pulls me tighter into his chest. His fingers are pressed so hard against the bottom of my back I worry they’ll pierce my skin.
“I let you be alone with him. I let him walk you home. I let you undress him when he’s too drunk to help himself,” he snarls into my ear. “You must think I’m an idiot.”
I push myself back off him. Take a composing breath. “If you’ll excuse me, I have a headache.” I flee the room.
My mind is racing, my heart hammering at the back of my throat. I forget to watch where I’m going and collide with a chest.
“Del, what’s wrong?” Charlie. He runs the back of his fingers down my cheek. They come away wet. “Why are you crying?”
I hadn’t realized I was. My tongue has seized. I can’t talk. Sobs keep bursting from my throat. Charlie glances behind me then leads me into the nearest guest room.
“What’s happened?” He pulls a handkerchief from his breast pocket and dries my eyes.
“Oliver is upset. I’ve never seen him so angry.”
“Angry over what?”
“Over you and I?”
“What you and I? There is no you and I.”
“But there was. And Nigel has been poisoning his mind. His head is consumed with jealousy.”
“Stop crying. I’ll talk to him.” Charlie squeezes me and I sob into the nape of his neck. I feel safe.
“Tell him that he’s being ridiculous that you and I…”
The door slams shut. Charlie and I break apart so fast it makes me dizzy.
“Oliver, what on earth…” Oliver doesn’t give Charlie a chance to finish. He marches toward him and throws him arm forward. There’s a popping sound as bone connects with bone. Charlie wilts to the ground, blood dripping from the new split in his eye.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” I shout, but he pushes his hand against my mouth and we fall back onto the bed. He stares deep into my eyes. I’m drunk just inhaling the fumes on his breath.
“Harlot,” he growls. I shake my head in protest as he snatches a pillow. I wriggle, try to break free from his grip, but he has the strength of an elephant.
“I love you,” I say when he moves his hand to hold down my arms. “Please. Don’t do this. Whatever you think you know, you don’t.”
“You think I’m a fool,” he spits. He keeps saying harlot, over and over again as lifts the pillow to my face. Tears are rolling down my cheeks and pooling in my ears. I’m still shaking my head.
“Oliver, don’t do this,” I choke as he pushes the soft, sweet smelling fabric against my face.
I can hear him mumbling. Talking about an affair with Charlie that never was. Talking about idiocy. About self worth.
In seconds my face is numb. I can hear the ocean in my head. He sobs, but pushes down harder on the pillow. I hear him tell me he loves me before everything goes black.