Extract from Carrie Goes off the Map
by Phillipa Ashley
Rowena was right, thought Carrie. After ten years together, she ought to know Huw well enough. In fact, she thought, as she drove home from the theatre towards Packley Farm, she had a pretty good idea exactly what he’d be doing right now. He’d be sitting by the fire with a large bunch of flowers and an apology. All of which she would graciously accept—after she’d made him suffer just enough.
Relief swept through her as she saw his Range Rover parked in its usual place in the farmyard. At least he’d made it home. There were no lights on in the farmhouse; maybe he’d gone straight up and was waiting for her in bed. Pushing open the front door with her bottom, she fumbled for the light switch.
Fur brushed her legs. She sighed in relief as the farm cat wound his way round her ankles.
‘Hello, Macavity,’ she laughed as the cat rubbed his warm body against her calves with a welcoming miaow.
Then Huw’s voice cut through the gloom. ‘Carrie? Is that you?’
‘That’s a very clever trick, Macavity. You sound just like my fiancé,’ Carrie joked before flicking the light switch. Huw was sitting by the hearth, one arm hanging over the edge of the chair, the other clutching a tumbler of whisky. ‘Hello. Have we had a power cut?’ she said, depositing her stuff on the tiled floor.
‘Then why were you sitting in the dark?’
He downed the rest of his whisky before answering. ‘Dunno. Guess I just felt like it.’
‘You just felt like it?’
Carrie crossed the kitchen. Her skin prickled when she saw him close up. There were dark shadows under his eyes, which also had a glazed look in them. He stank of whisky too; she could see the almost-empty bottle at the side of his chair.
‘I was upset that you missed the play, but there’s no need to hit the bottle,’ she said lightly. ‘I’m not going to start hurling china at you. You missed a treat. I was great, you know. Everyone said so—’
‘I’m sure you were. You always are,’ he said. Picking up the bottle, he sloshed whisky into the glass, spilling half of it on his trousers. He was completely plastered. She swallowed down a rising feeling of unease. ‘How much have you had?’ she asked.
‘Enough. So what? It was my stag weekend.’
She flinched. It wasn’t like him to be whiny either. She put it down to too much booze and too little sleep.
‘Sounds like you’ve had quite a time, but I was expecting you at the play. Where’ve you been?’
He shrugged. ‘Just driving about.’
Carrie frowned. Huw did not drink and drive. Huw didn’t even break the speed limit. Huw played by the rules, unless it was on the rugby pitch. ‘You were driving about pissed?’ she said, unable to believe it.
He took a slug of the whisky and wiped his mouth with his hand. ‘No. I drove first. Then I got pissed. Do you have a problem with that?’
The edge of sarcasm in his voice made her hackles rise. This wasn’t the man she’d known for the past ten years, and it definitely wasn’t the one she was looking forward to marrying in two weeks’ time. This wasn’t her Huw. She tried to stay calm, hoping he’d cool down and sober up.
‘I don’t have a problem with you drinking on your stag weekend, but I do have a problem with you acting like this. I don’t deserve it.’
He raised his glass and tilted it, peering at the liquid as if he didn’t want to meet her eye. Then he shrugged as if to say he didn’t care what she thought or deserved. Carrie began to simmer. She’d had enough.
‘Look, Huw. If you’ve had a row with some of your mates over bloody rugby or a poker match or something—or you’ve just got pissed off with each other—I don’t mind. But I won’t have you thundering home in this state and taking things out on me. I’m not sure how much whisky you’ve had, but I think it’s enough—’
‘Can’t you just shut up?’
Her mouth fell open. This wasn’t the gentle, placid giant she loved, but an angry bull of a man. She was shaking but she stood her ground, wound her five foot two frame up, and said, ‘Shut up? I asked you a perfectly reasonable question. Just because you’ve fallen out with the tribe, don’t blame me.’
His knuckles whitened round his glass. He glared at her. She was angry herself and determined to face him down, because what he was doing was so unfair. Missing her last night, coming home pissed and behaving like a total shit.
‘I just won’t be treated like this, Huw. I won’t—’
‘Can’t you see how hard this is for me?’ he said softly.
Her heart started ricocheting madly. She knew something was very wrong. ‘Hard for you? What do you mean?’
He was staring down at his glass again, swirling the whisky round in circles. ‘I’ve been sitting here for hours wondering how I was going to do this, but it’s no good,’ he said.
She felt a cold sweat breaking out on the small of her back. ‘Huw, what are you talking about? I don’t understand you.’
‘I don’t really understand myself, Carrie, but I do know there’s something I need to tell you.’
‘Like what? Has your mother ordered the wrong flowers? Has the cake company gone bust?’ She tried one last stab at humor, pretending that he was only joking, that he wasn’t going to say something terrible, but he shook his head.
‘It’s been tearing me up for weeks, Carrie. I thought the stag weekend would help—make me realize that this was what I wanted, that I’d be fine once all this wedding shit was over, but it’s no good. I can’t do this to me, and certainly not to you, love. God knows I’ve tried, but I just can’t do it. Carrie, I can’t marry you.’
Copyright - Phillipa Ashley and Sourcebooks 2011