Chloe knows that she should be dancing. She should be laughing and jumping around, not caring about the photographer recording the entire thing or the idea that someone might be judging her. She wants to. Really, she does. But she can’t bring herself to do it. The boning in her dress is digging into her waist, stinging her skin, and her feet hurt. She feels silly. The song changes, and she stills. She looks across the room to see if Rav has noticed, if he is sharing the same memory she is. But he isn’t looking at her, he’s dancing. Laughing. The sickly pop song hasn’t catapulted him back to that time, that place. She staggers back to the table, to sit down.
Chloe gulps at a glass of cold water, trying to steady her breathing. Thankfully, the song ends. But the tightness in her chest isn’t going anywhere. Rav is still drawing focus on the dance floor, doubled with laughter as he, his brother and his newly minted sister-in-law, Meghan, do some ridiculous dance, one that everyone knew in the noughties. The canopy above them is studded with fairy lights and everywhere she looks she can see flowers. Fat, sexy white roses.
Rav pulls his mother up on to the dance floor; she’s perfect and pristine in a pale-yellow suit. To Chloe’s surprise, she allows it. All eyes are on them. Chloe can see why. They’re so beautiful, all of them, they manage to make the silly movements look good. Chloe slips off her shoes. They’re high, with red soles. An unsuitable Christmas present from her mother-in-law, worn today in an attempt to gain favour. What time is it? She and Rav had agreed that they would leave at midnight.
Chloe doesn’t want to be a killjoy. She loves Rav’s brother, and his new wife. Admittedly, she wishes that Rav’s parents weren’t quite so blatant in their favouritism, but that isn’t the happy couple’s fault.
She takes a sip of wine, smiling at her husband and his family as they throw themselves around. Rav looks lit up from the inside. They’ve been together for what? Fifteen years? But sometimes she can’t quite believe he’s hers.
Chloe feels a tap on her shoulder and turns, fixing her face into a smile. It’s a woman, about the same age as her. She’s wearing very high heels. Chloe’s face is level with her torso.
‘Hi,’ the woman says, gesturing at herself. ‘Corinne. I did Engineering with Max and Rav. I don’t know if you remember?’
‘Of course,’ lies Chloe. ‘How are you?’
The woman takes her reply as an invitation, sinking down on to the chair across from her. She leans towards Chloe, her breasts tipping forward, straining against the V of her shiny red dress, and puts her hand on Chloe’s thigh. ‘I hope you don’t mind,’ she says, a conspiratorial expression on her face, ‘but I just have to ask. We’ve been talking about it on our table – saying we’d always been curious.’ She stops herself, seeming to realize that she’s not making any sense.
‘Sorry,’ she says. ‘What I mean is, we’ve been talking, and we were wondering.’ Corinne pauses, like she’s taking a run-up, and then asks: ‘What happened to Zadie?’