Audrey bounced out of bed, seemingly unaffected by the countless shots of tequila that the group had imbibed during the previous evening’s bar crawl. Stretching out her pale, slender legs, she stood up, placing her feet on the cold tile floor. The chill took her by surprise and she shrieked, losing her balance, and tumbled onto the end of her roommate's bed, shocking a still-sleeping Harriet into life.
“Hey! What the heck?” Harriet groaned.
“Get up, lazybones! We’re on holiday!” said Audrey, giggling and pulling back Harriet’s cotton bedspread before hurtling out of the room. She knocked on every door and scooted towards the kitchen, calling out in a sing-song voice, “Up you get, everyone! Rise and shine!”
In the kitchen she stalled, surprised to see that she was not the first up.
Nessa, the holiday organiser and a friend for many years, was already preparing breakfast.
“Morning, Audrey,” she said with a wink, “I was trying not to wake everyone.”
“Hi, Nessa. Did you hear the bells? How adorable was that?” Audrey’s cheeks dimpled as a smile curled across her face.
“Damn racket, I thought,” said a sleepy Harriet who had joined them and was now heading, arms outstretched and zombie-like, for the coffee machine.
“I’ll make it, seeing that I woke you up,” offered Audrey. Squeezing past her friend, she guided Harriet into one of the white-painted wooden chairs.
A loud gurgling sound distracted Nessa from frying bacon and eggs; accident-prone Audrey had flicked the wrong switch and rather than starting the coffee machine, the waste disposal unit began chewing up the remnants of yesterday’s leftover lunch - pizza and stale nachos. Harriet almost fell off her chair, clutching dramatically at her chest. Raucous laughter now filled the kitchen and echoed through the hollow hallway, but still failed to awaken all residents of the spacious villa.
After managing to make something akin to coffee, Audrey and Harriet wandered outside. The sun was already high in the sky and a heat haze masked everything in a misty shroud. Nessa followed them to the terrace, a tray laden with breakfast goodies in her hands. As one, they noticed the sunken wheelchair and gasped in unison, cups and trays clattering to the floor.
Nessa ran around the pool, her eyes scanning every corner, looking for signs of Fern, the owner of the chair. She shook her head repeatedly, “No, no, no!”
Nothing. No towel on the sun-lounger, no book, not even an empty teacup.
Harriet and Audrey stood rooted to the spot, only snapping out of their trances when Nessa screamed at them to go and wake Raven. “I’m going to check Fern’s room. I don’t like this, not one little bit.”
They scurried off at breakneck speed, slipping and sliding on the smooth marble tiles and cursing under their breath.
Meanwhile, Nessa dawdled back into the villa, ambled across to Fern’s room and opened the door. They’d given Fern the master bedroom nearest to the kitchen and away from the other bedrooms, by virtue of her need for extra space.
“She’s not here!” Nessa yelled. “Her bed doesn’t even look slept in.”
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