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How long have I been awake? Is it morning yet?
I feel so rough. What happened last night? God, my head hurts. Okay, I'm never drinking again, ever.
I feel so woozy I can't even think, let alone . . .
Oww. How long have I been awake?
My head is splitting and kind of foggy. And my mouth is parched. This is the most monster hangover I've ever had. I'm never drinking again, ever.
Is that a voice?
No, I have to sleep . . .
How long have I been awake? Five minutes? Half an hour, maybe? It's kind of hard to tell.
What day is it, anyway?
For a moment I just lie still. My head is pounding with a rhythmic pain, like some sort of massive concrete-breaker. I'm dry-throated and aching all over. My skin feels like sandpaper.
Where was I last night? What's wrong with my brain? It's like a fog has descended over everything. I'm never drinking again. I must have alcohol poisoning or something. I'm trying to remember last night as hard as I can-but all that's coming into my head is stupid stuff. Old memories and images from the past, flashing by in random order, like some kind of iPod shuffle in my brain.
Sunflowers waving against a blue sky . . .
Amy as a newborn baby, looking like a little pink sausage in a blanket . . .
A plate of salty french fries on a wooden pub table; hot sunshine on my neck; my dad sitting opposite in a Panama hat, blowing out cigar smoke and telling me, "Eat up, sweetheart" . . .
The sack race at school. Oh God, not this memory again. I try to block it out, but too late, it's rushing in. . . . I'm seven years old, it's sports day, and I'm winning by miles, but it feels so uncomfortable to be out front that I stop and wait for all my friends. They catch up-then somehow in the melee I trip and wind up coming in last. I can still feel the humiliation, hear the laughter, feel the dust in my throat, the taste of bananas . . .
Hang on. Somehow I force my brain to hold steady for a moment.
Through the fog another memory is glimmering. I'm desperately trying to retrieve it, to reach for it . . .
Yes. Got it. Banana cocktails.
We were drinking cocktails at some club. That's all I can remember. Bloody banana cocktails. What on earth did they put in them?
I can't even open my eyes. They feel heavy and stuck down, like that time I used false eyelashes with dodgy glue from the market, then tottered into the bathroom the next morning to find one eye glued shut with what looked like a dead spider on top of it. Really attractive, Lexi.
Cautiously, I move a hand up to my chest and hear a rustle of sheets. They don't sound like the ones at home. And there's a weird lemony smell in the air, and I'm wearing some soft cottony T-shirt thing I don't recognize. Where am I? What on earth-
Hey. I didn't score, did I?
Oh wow. Was I unfaithful to Loser Dave? Am I wearing some hot guy's oversize T-shirt which I borrowed to sleep in after we had passionate sex all night and that's why I feel so bruised and sore-
No, I've never been unfaithful in my life. I must have stayed overnight with one of the girls or something. Maybe I'll get up, have a shower . . .
With a huge effort I wrench my eyes open and incline my head a few inches.
Shit. What the hell-
I'm lying in a dim room, on a metal bed. There's a panel of buttons to my right, a bunch of flowers on the nightstand. With an inward gulp I see an IV drip in my left hand, attached to a bag of fluid.
This is unreal. I'm in hospital.
What's going on? What happened?
I mentally prod my brain, but it's a big, stupid, empty balloon. I need a strong cup of coffee. I try peering around the room for clues-but my eyes don't want to peer. They don't want information, they want eyedrops and three aspirin. Feebly I flop back onto the pillows, close my eyes, and wait a few moments. Come on. I have to be able to remember what happened. I can't have been that drunk . . . can I?
I'm holding on to my one fragment of memory like it's an island in the ocean. Banana cocktails . . . banana cocktails . . . think hard . . . think . . .
Destiny's Child. Yes! A few more memories are coming back to me now. Slowly, slowly, in patches. Nachos with cheese. Those crummy bar stools with the vinyl all split.
I was out with the girls from work. At that dodgy club with the pink neon ceiling in . . . somewhere. I can remember nursing my cocktail, totally miserable.
Why was I so down? What had happened-
Bonuses. Of course. A familiar cold disappointment clenches my stomach. And Loser Dave never showed up. Double whammy. But none of that explains why I'm in hospital. I screw up my face tight, trying to focus as hard as I can. I remember dancing like a maniac to Kylie and singing "We Are Family" to the karaoke machine, all four of us, arm in arm. I can vaguely remember tottering out to get a cab.
But beyond that . . . nothing. Total blanko.
This is weird. I'll text Fi and ask her what happened. I reach toward the nightstand-then realize there's no phone there. Nor on the chair, or the chest of drawers.
Where's my phone? Where's all my stuff gone?
Oh God. Was I mugged? That has to be it. Some teenager in a hoodie clonked me over the head and I fell down in the street, and they must have called an ambulance and-
An even more horrendous thought grips me. What underwear was I wearing?
I can't help giving a small moan. This could be seriously bad. This could be the scaggy gray knickers and bra I only put on when the hamper is full. Or that faded lemon thong with the fraying edge and cartoon of Snoopy.
It wouldn't have been anything posh. I mean, you wouldn't for Loser Dave-it'd be a waste. Wincing, I swivel my head from side to side-but I can't see any clothes or anything. The doctors must have incinerated them in the special Hospital Incinerator for Scaggy Underwear.
And I still have no idea what I'm doing here. My throat's feeling really scratchy and I could die for a nice cool glass of orange juice. Now that I think of it, where are all the doctors and nurses? What if were dying?
"Hello?" I call out feebly. My voice sounds like someone dragging a grater over a wooden floor. I wait for a response, but there's silence. I'm sure no one can hear me through that thick door.
Then it occurs to me to press a button on the little panel. I select the one that looks like a person, and a few moments later the door opens. It worked! A gray-haired nurse in a dark blue uniform enters and smiles at me.
"Hello, Lexi!" she says. "Feeling all right?"
"Um, okay, thanks. Thirsty. And my head hurts."
"I'll fetch you a painkiller." She brings me a plastic cup full of water and helps me up. "Drink this."
"Thanks," I say after gulping the water. "So . . . I'm guessing I'm in hospital? Or, like, a really high-tech spa?"
The nurse smiles. "Sorry. Hospital. You don't remember how you got here?"
"No." I shake my head. "I'm a bit hazy, to be honest."
"That's because you had quite a bump on the head. Do you remember anything about your accident?"
Accident . . . accident . . . And suddenly, in a rush, it all comes back. Of course. Running for the taxi, the paving stones wet with rain, slipping on my stupid cheap boots . . .
Jeez Louise. I must have really bashed my head.
"Yeah. I think so." I nod. "Kind of. So . . . what's the time?"
"It's eight o'clock at night."
Eight o'clock? Wow. I've been out of it for a whole day?
"I'm Maureen." She takes the cup from me. "You were only transferred to this room a few hours ago. You know, we've already had several conversations."
"Really?" I say, surprised. "What did I say?"
"You were a little slurred, but you kept asking if something was 'baggy.' " She frowns, looking perplexed. "Or 'scaggy'?"
Great. Not only do I wear scaggy underwear, I talk about it to strangers.
"Scaggy?" I try to appear baffled. "I've no idea what I meant."
"Well, you seem fully coherent now." Maureen plumps up my pillow. "Is there anything else I can get you?"
"I'd love some orange juice, if there is any. And I can't see my phone anywhere, or my bag."
"All your valuables will have been put somewhere safe. I'll just check." She heads out and I look around the silent room, still dazed. I feel like I've put together only a tiny corner of the jigsaw puzzle. I still don't know which hospital I'm in . . . how I got here . . . Has anyone told my family? And there's something else nagging at me like an undertow . . .
I had been anxious to get home. Yes. That's right. I kept saying I needed to get home, because I had an early start the next day. Because-
Oh no. Oh fuck.
My dad's funeral. It was the next day, eleven o'clock. Which means . . .
Did I miss it? Instinctively I try to get out of bed-but even sitting up makes my head lurch. At last, reluctantly, I lie back down. If I've missed it, I've missed it. Nothing I can do about it now.
It's not like I really knew my dad well. He was never around that much; in fact, he felt more like an uncle. The kind of jokey, roguish uncle who brings you sweets at Christmas and smells of drink and cigarettes.
Nor was it a massive shock him dying. He was having some big heart bypass operation, and everyone knew there was a 50-50 risk. But still, I should have been there today, along with Mum and Amy. I mean, Amy's only twelve-and a timid little twelve at that. I suddenly have a vision of her sitting in the crematorium next to Mum, all grave under her Shetland pony fringe, clutching her raggedy old Blue Lion. She's not ready to see her dad's coffin, not without her big sister to hold her hand.
As I lie there, imagining her trying to look brave and grown up, I suddenly feel a tear rolling down my face. It's the day of my dad's funeral, and here I am in hospital with a headache and probably a broken leg or something.
And my boyfriend stood me up last night. And no one's come to visit me, I suddenly realize. Where's all my anxious friends and family, sitting around the bed and holding my hand?
Well, I suppose Mum's been at the funeral with Amy. And Loser Dave can sod off. But Fi and the others-where are they? When I think how we all went to visit Debs when she had her ingrown toenail removed. We all practically camped on the floor, and brought her Starbucks and magazines, and treated her to a pedicure when it was healed. Just for a toenail.
Whereas I've been unconscious, with an IV drip and everything. But obviously no one cares.
Great. Just bloody . . . brilliant.
Another fat tear trickles down my face, just as the door opens and Maureen comes in again. She's holding a tray, and a plastic bag with Lexi Smart written on it in thick marker.
"Oh dear!" she says as she sees me wiping my eyes. "Is the pain very bad?" She hands me a tablet and a little cup of water. "This should help."
"Thanks very much." I gulp down the pill. "But it's not that. It's my life." I spread my arms hopelessly.
"It's total rubbish, from start to finish."
"Of course it's not," Maureen says reassuringly. "Things might look bad-"
"Believe me, they are bad."
"My so-called career is going nowhere, and my boy friend stood me up last night, and I haven't got any money. And my sink keeps leaking rancid brown water into the flat below," I add, remembering with a shudder. "I'll probably get sued by my neighbors. And my dad just died."
There's silence. Maureen looks flummoxed.
"Well, that does all sound rather . . . tricky," she says at last. "But I expect things will soon turn around for the better."
"That's what my friend Fi said!" I suddenly have a memory of Fi's eyes shining in the rain. "And look, I end up in hospital!" I make a despairing gesture at myself. "How is this turning around for the better?"
"I'm . . . not sure, dear." Maureen's eyes are darting helplessly from side to side.
"Every time I think everything's crap . . . it just gets even crapper!" I blow my nose and heave a massive sigh. "Wouldn't it be great if just once, just one time, life fell magically into place?"
"Well, we can all hope, can't we?" Maureen gives me a sympathetic smile and holds out her hand for the cup.
I pass it back-and as I do so, I suddenly notice my nails. Bloody hell. What on earth-
My nails have always been bitten-down stumps that I try to hide. But these look amazing. All neat and varnished pale pink . . . and long. I blink at them in astonishment, trying to work out what's happened. Did we go for a late-night manicure last night or something and I've forgotten? Did I get acrylics? They must have some brilliant new technique, because I can't see the join or anything.
"Your handbag's in here, by the way," Maureen adds, putting the plastic bag on my bed. "I'll just go and get you that juice."
"Thanks." I look at the plastic bag in surprise. "And thanks for the bag. I thought it had been nicked."
That's something good, anyway, to have got my bag back. With any luck my phone will still be charged up and I can send a few texts. . . . As Maureen opens the door to leave, I reach into the carrier-and pull out a smart Louis Vuitton tote with calfskin handles, all glossy and expensive-looking.
Oh, great. I sigh in disappointment. This isn't my bag. They've got me mixed up with someone else. Like I, Lexi Smart, would possess a Louis Vuitton bag.
"Excuse me, this bag isn't mine," I call out, but the door has already closed.
I gaze at the Louis Vuitton wistfully for a while, wondering who it belongs to. Some rich girl down the corridor, must be. At last I drop it onto the floor, flop back on my pillows, and close my eyes.
From the Hardcover edition.