The Blissfully Dead

By: Mark Edwards & Louise Voss

Prologue

Rose looked up at the hotel, wishing she’d been allowed to save the image on her phone, that it wasn’t against the rules. This was definitely the place – although, as with everything in her life, she retained a niggle of doubt. She was surprised that he would stay in a Travel Inn. That was the kind of lame place her dad stayed in when he went away on business. But she guessed that was the point. He was being clever. He had arranged the rendezvous – the word sending a little frisson of excitement through her insides – here because it was exactly the kind of crap-hole where nobody would expect him to hang out.

She was wearing her new pants – pink with the word ‘LUCKY’ stamped across the front. She’d flushed the same shade of pink as the knickers when she’d put them on the counter in Primark, though the woman who served her didn’t even smile as she stuffed them in the paper bag. If only that woman knew who Rose was meeting, she would be sick with jealousy, and she would see – like everyone would see, soon enough, when the whole world found out about their love – that she, Rose Emily Sharp, was special.

Not different, as Dad said, thinking it was a compliment. Not weird, like the girls at school sneered.

Special.

The first photo had been of this hotel, taken from this very spot, with the caption ‘11 p.m.’. She stood and fiddled with her phone, drizzle spotting its shiny surface. There was hardly anyone about, probably because of the weather, and the streetlamps struggled to cut through the gloom. A couple of young blokes in hoodies strolled past. Her whole body clenched, but they ignored her, not even bothering to give her the once-over. Not that she cared, anymore, if boys noticed her.

It was 10.59, and as the time on her phone rolled over to eleven o’clock, she received another photo, dead on time. She stared at it, her heart pounding, knowing that she only had ten seconds before it would disappear. The picture showed a pair of grey doors, with one of those big wheelie bins in front. She looked up at the hotel, confused for a moment, then got it.

He wanted her to go round to the back entrance. Of course. This was a secret rendezvous. He didn’t want anyone at the front desk to see her or, worse, try to stop her. He wanted to make sure that nothing stood in their way.

She smiled. He was so thoughtful, even more so than she’d gathered from his interviews and tweets.

Rose waited for the green man and crossed the road on shaky legs. She felt as she had that time when she’d been sent to see the head teacher after screaming at that slut Bethany Douglas in class, who had spread a rumour that Rose had wet the bed on the school trip. Bethany also said that OnTarget were a band for tweenies and toddlers, and had made up her own lyrics to their biggest hit, ‘Forever Together’, replacing ‘together’ with ‘bed-wetter’. The head teacher, Mrs Morpurgo, had sighed and said, ‘What are we going to do with you, eh, Rose?’

Rose ground her teeth together at the memory. Mrs Morpurgo would regret it when Rose was famous and spent some of her millions on buying the school and firing the head teacher. She hadn’t yet worked out what she would do to Bethany, but it would involve public humiliation and Bethany sobbing an apology that Rose would gracefully accept.

It was dark behind the hotel, the rain coming down more heavily now, and Rose swore to herself. She’d spent ages doing her hair. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she thought she saw a figure move in the trees around the edge of the staff car park, but when she looked again there was nobody there.

She felt sick. Sick with nerves and adrenalin, and from the cheeseburger she’d consumed earlier because her tummy had a tendency to rumble embarrassingly when she was hungry. But she was regretting it now, as the burger was repeating unpleasantly on her. She wasn’t supposed to be out this late. Mum thought she was in her room. Rose had left the TV on and hung the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door. But what if Mum came up to bring her a cup of tea, as she sometimes did, got worried when Rose didn’t respond and crept inside? Rose just had to hope that tonight was one of the five nights out of seven, since the divorce, when Mum glugged a bottle of wine and passed out on the sofa with her ancient Whitney Houston CDs playing.

The photo on her phone had long since disappeared, and she was under strict instructions not to take screenshots, but there it was – the back entrance.

She grasped the handle with a sweaty hand (oh God, what was she going to do about that? He’d be disgusted!) and pulled it open, slipping inside. She could hear clattering and somebody whistling in a kitchen, then heavy footsteps coming towards her, so she ducked around a corner and hid in a corridor.

A man came out of the kitchen and went through the double doors. She heard the spark of a lighter and caught the faint whiff of cigarette smoke. The man coughed and Rose’s heart pounded. She felt paralysed with nerves and had a moment of sickening clarity. This was crazy, what was she doing here, did she really think that he would be interested in her? It was probably Bethany, or one of the other girls, the girls she spent so long chatting to online, pranking her. She should go now, walk out the front door of the hotel and go home to her bed, give Mum a kiss, forget all this nonsense. She was meant to be revising and, as Dad reminded her so often, the chances that she was going to be famous or married to a pop star were about as strong as the chances of him winning Britain’s Got Talent with a PowerPoint presentation about accountancy.

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