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Authors: Jill Mansell

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Fast Friends

BOOK: Fast Friends
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FAST FRIENDS

JILL MANSELL

 

Prologue

Camilla stared at the girl sitting
cross-legged on the bed
opposite
her. ‘But what is subversive behaviour?’ she asked,
curiosity mingling with excitement. With those dark eyes, heavy,
slanting
eyebrows and incredible cheekbones, Roz Vallender
exuded an aura of exotic mystery which transcended her sixteen
years. Camilla’s mother, no doubt, would have
taken one look
and pronounced her ‘dangerous to know’. Camilla, however,
was instantly enthralled. ‘And why did they expel you?’ she continued
breathlessly. ‘What exactly did you
do?’

Roz, having in turn studied the plump, eager blonde with
whom she would be sharing this large but slightly
shabby room, decided that Camilla Avery-Jones would be a push-over. All she
had
to do in order to maintain the position of superiority she had held at her last
school was to start as she meant to go on.


Gambling, smoking,
drinking,’ she began, ticking them off on her fingers with studied casualness. ‘Organizing
a sit-down
protest, seducing the history teacher, class non-attendance –
that was because I was seducing the history
teacher of
course . .

The other girl gasped, audibly
impressed. ‘What was he like?’

Roz smiled. ‘He was a she, actually.
No, I’m joking. Strictly
men only.
But it all added up to subversive behaviour so my
mother sent me here instead. Cigarette?’ She tossed the packet
of Sobranies towards her new room-mate, who first
shook her
head then cautiously removed one.


So who else shares this room?’ she said, proffering a
cigarette lighter and watching the
girl’s inexpert attempt at
inhalation. She had achieved the upper hand already, she
realized with some pride. Easy. So easy when you knew how.

Glancing across at the third bed,
Camilla replied with
enthusiasm,
‘Oh, you’ll like Loulou, Loulou Marks. Everybody does – she’s terribly funny
and nice. Last Friday she ate thirteen Mars bars for a bet and when she
complained of stomachache Matron told her that it served her jolly well right.
It wasn’t until Saturday morning that they realized she had appendicitis and
rushed her to hospital!’

Roz, who was in the process of blowing a string of perfect
smoke rings, shuddered momentarily at the mention of the word
‘hospital’. Then she pulled herself together,
dismissing the
memory and visualizing
instead the absent Loulou, whom
everybody
liked so much. It wasn’t too hard to envisage the
kind of person who would eat thirteen Mars bars –
she
undoubtedly weighed 13 stone, made fun of her size in order to
court popularity and earned great favour with the
hockey team
by using her incredible
bulk to defend their goal and flatten
anyone who dared approach her.


She sounds great fun,’
she remarked dutifully, whilst
inwardly reflecting that a female Billy
Bunter would be just as
easily manipulated
as Camilla. Those kind always were. And
there was an added bonus too: at least these two tanks wouldn’t
be
able to borrow her clothes.

Glancing at her watch Roz ground out her cigarette in the
upturned biscuit-tin lid beside her, rose from the
bed and
unsnapped the locks on her
trunk. ‘Better unpack, I suppose.
Who else is here whom I should know? I’m
only the new girl so you’ll have to tell me who’s who at Elm House.’ With an
air ofcomplicity she added, ‘I don’t want to waste time meeting nohopers, after
all.’

Just the right balance, she decided as she stuffed piles
of
expensive, fastidiously ironed underwear
into drawers which
were pathetically
small. Arrogant, but willing to acknowledge
the need for help when necessary. Camilla could provide her with what she
needed to know until she formed her own elite
circle of friends. Maybe,
if this girl was very lucky, she’d be allowed to join it.

By the time they reached the echoing
dining hall two hours
later
Camilla was firmly entrenched in her role as party hostess
and took great personal pride in introducing Roz
to only the right people. Roz, in turn, watched and listened and said not
very much at all as each of the girls was
introduced. When she
did speak, she
was careful to either shock or flatter only as far
as it was possible to
get away with it.

 

At midnight, Camilla lay awake gazing restlessly into the
darkness. The room smelled different since Roz’s arrival: a
mingling of expensive scent, foreign – and distinctly forbidden

cigarettes, Pernod and pot-pourri. And she
felt
different too, although
she couldn’t quite understand in which way. Roz was
mysterious, beguiling and had bags of charm, but Camilla
couldn’t help feeling vaguely uneasy at the same
time because
the girl was so
incredibly self-possessed it was unnerving.
She had, decided Camilla, a
take-it-or-leave-it attitude that
surrounded
her like an aura and so far it had captivated
everyone. But although she had told Roz practically her entire
life
story this evening, she had learnt scarcely anything in return.
Except that her full name was Rosemary – which she
hated –
and that she had been expelled from her last school, and had
seduced her history teacher, if it were true.

And she was
so
good looking.
Camilla, whose own fair
colouring
and tendency to plumpness were the bane of her life, wished fervently that she
could have looked like Roz, that she could have had even a tenth of her
self-assurance. But she knew
herself well
enough to recognize that that would never happen
in a million years.
Turning over on to her side and settling down to sleep she contented herself
instead with the thought that she
and the
tantalizingly enigmatic Roz would become friends.
Maybe even best
friends.

 

Over the course of the next couple of days Camilla could
only watch and admire as Roz established herself with mesmerizing
thoroughness in her role as leader, managing to
make almost
every girl feel that she alone was the one with whom Roz
most wanted to be.

Camilla, despite having succumbed herself, still harboured
suspicions that Roz’s endless stories weren’t always true. They
were so bizarre that at least
some
of them
had to have been
made up, surely.


But I thought you said
you’d spent last summer in Milan?’
she queried one evening when they
were alone together in their room. "That was when you met Claudio.’


Three
weeks
in Milan,’ corrected Roz in her calm voice as
she
refilled their mugs with wine so dry that Camilla had to
struggle not to
pull a face with every mouthful. ‘Geneva was
afterwards
– much more exciting. My mother was having an
affair with a Swiss financier, which meant that I could do
whatever
I liked. I met Sebastian in a restaurant beside Lake Geneva and by the end of
the afternoon he’d taught me to water ski. By the end of the night,’ she added
with a faint, conspiratorial smile, ‘he’d taught me a lot more.’

I don’t
believe you, thought Camilla. At fifteen?


What happened?’ she
asked aloud, a note of challenge in
her
voice. Roz, hugging her knees, nodded casually towards the cluttered desk
between their beds.

‘I came home, of course, and Sebastian went back to univer
sity. He writes to me every week. His letters are
in there
somewhere – if you promise not to breathe a word to anyone I’ll
let you read them.’

And naturally, as if to prove that Roz didn’t need to lie,
there
were
letters, sixteen in all, and photographs of Roz
and
Sebastian laughing together at the lakeside. Sebastian,
naturally,
was blond, tanned and handsome. How could he possibly have been anything
less?

 

The following afternoon, Roz returned to their room between
classes to find an intruder rummaging
energetically through
her chest of drawers.

‘And just what the bloody hell,’ she demanded icily, ‘do
you think you’re doing?’

The girl looked up, apparently
unconcerned. ‘Me?’ she said with mock surprise. ‘Oh, I’m just a knicker
fetishist.
These
are nice . . . Janet Reger no less!’ Holding up the jade
green silk panties, she let out an
appreciative whistle. ‘My
favourite
kind.’

Stalking across the room, Roz snatched
the knickers from
the girl’s grasp and
would have slapped her face if she hadn’t danced rapidly out of the way. Her
black eyes glittered as she
surveyed her
adversary with contempt. The girl was small,
slender and undeniably
pretty, with rippling silver-blonde hair, huge grey eyes and very white teeth.


Now, now,’ she scolded
cheerfully. ‘No need to get your
Janet Regers in a twist – you’ll only
snap the elastic.’


Get out,’ said Roz,
advancing towards her once more, her
jaw
rigid with anger. ‘How
dare
you come in here and go
through my
things. And let me tell you right now that
nobody
speaks to me like—’


Forgot my geometry set!’
panted Camilla, bursting pink-
faced
through the door and cannoning into Roz’s back. Then
she let out a squeal of delight and rushed across
the room,
flinging her arms around the grinning blonde.

‘Lou, I had no idea you were coming back today! This is
fantastic!’

Loulou, submitting to Camilla’s enthusiastic embrace, cast
a
derisive half-smile in Roz’s direction. ‘Well,
I’m glad you think
so, at least,’ she drawled.

Roz, stunned by the revelation that
this beautiful, fragile-looking, sharp-as-glass girl was the missing Loulou
Marks,
could think of
absolutely nothing to say.

Loulou,
however, simply laughed.


So you’re Rosemary,’ she said, making no effort to move
towards her. Turning to Camilla, she went on: ‘Is
she always
this bloody bad-tempered or is it just that time of the
month?’

‘Oh no,’ retaliated Roz coolly, recognizing at once that
in Loulou she had found a true adversary. ‘I’m always this bloody
bad-tempered, particularly when I find a complete
stranger
going through my underwear drawer.’

Loulou shrugged, then winked at Camilla who was watching
the exchange with unconcealed dismay. Camilla always wanted everyone to be friends;
Loulou found it far more entertaining to
discover
for herself whether the friends were worth having
before she made any
kind of commitment.


I was looking for that copy of
Playgirl
I
bought last month,’ she explained. ‘I thought I’d left it in that drawer.’

‘You could
always apologize,’ said Roz tightly.

Tilting her blond head to one side as
if giving the matter
some
consideration, Loulou said, ‘Could I?’


Oh go on, Lou.’
Camilla, clenching and unclenching her
fingers in agitation, was
appalled at the prospect of needless
animosity.
She hated scenes. ‘Just say "sorry" and then every
thing will
be all right.’

‘OK,’ said Loulou, finally. Holding out her hand, she took
a single step in Roz’s direction. ‘I’m sorry I rifled through your
knicker drawer. But I’m even more sorry,’ she
added with a
wicked smile, ‘that I couldn’t find my copy of
Playgirl.’

This girl was a real threat. Roz knew
that if she didn’t pull
out all the stops this time she ran the risk of finding herself flat
on her back, unceremoniously kicked off her throne.

‘In that case,’ she replied, her tone softening as she
clasped
Loulou’s slender hand, ‘I’m sorry
too. Everyone calls me Roz,
by the way. And I really do hope we can be
friends.’

BOOK: Fast Friends
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