A hush falls over the room as I walk inside. Faces turn to stare. I tentatively cross the parquet floor towards the bar. I need a drink, something to hold, something to lubricate the evening.
I see Merrily standing with Harry, her hand covering her mouth. But her eyes, her eyes are on me. I can only guess what she’s telling him.
Was it only six weeks ago that Merrily and I were inseparable. I ponder this as I ask the bartender for my drink.
‘How do you know the couple?’ he asks, with a kind, innocent gaze. He smiles as he pours my chilled pinot gris.
‘Bride-to-be and I go way back.’ I hope this is enough information to appease his query, but cagey enough to stop further questions.
‘Enjoy the night,’ he murmurs, passing my glass.
I thank him and turn to glance around the room again. Couples stand together, chatting, heads close, their intimacy apparent. My blood feels cold in my veins. I don’t know who to approach, where to stand. I’ve never felt more alone.
Merrily is still in whispers with Harry. We’ll never get past this if we hide behind gossip and avoid each other. I head towards them. Her steely-eyed stare brings a shiver over my body but I throw my chin up and toss my shoulders back. Assume confidence in every situation, Granny would always say. Perfect timing to conjure Granny; I am smiling as I come near Merrily and Harry, and thoughts of her calm my pounding heart.
‘Hello Merrily, Harry,’ I say. ‘How are you both?’
‘You’ve got a nerve to turn up here,’ Merrily spits her response.
‘I’m invited, just like everyone here.’
Harry leans close to Merrily’s ear, purses his lips. I think he’s shushing her. He can’t be on my side, surely? I decide to go for it.
‘I’m sorry we’ve not spoken for a while. I miss you Merrily,’ I offer. Harry nods his head at me, as if urging me on. ‘How can we fix this?’
Merrily glares, her nostrils flare. ‘I don’t know if we can,’ she returns through gritted teeth. ‘Look around you. Can’t you tell that no one wants you here. Everyone’s on my side.’ At this, she tosses her hair over her shoulder.
I sink inside. I am a deflated balloon, as it dawns on me that Merrily has engineered this. She is a snake in the grass. Slithering around our friendship circle, her forked tongue spreading venom. I shoot a look at Harry. He shakes his head, mouths the words, I’m sorry.
I turn abruptly from them. Placing my glass on a table, I walk to the door. It is only when I’m outside that I let the tears fall from my eyes.