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Note: This is written in British/South African English, although almost all the media I consume is American, so that will have its influence too. For the sake of keeping the note short, I’ll post a comment to explain my use of language and obscure terms, if anyone is interested. The note is also more extensive in the first chapter.
I was very quickly reminded of the first reason why I didn’t like going to parties. The waiting. Maybe it was just me, but once I had gotten ready, I couldn’t really do anything else or relax until it was time to go. Maybe I should just be one of those people who only starts getting ready really late, but I’d be too nervous that Ellie and Jamie would get annoyed with me if I made them wait. But now I was the one waiting for them, and once I was at the party I’d probably be waiting for something interesting to happen, or waiting for it to be over. There was so much waiting involved. Maybe I wasn’t doing parties right.
I’d also spent the whole day frantically cleaning my room, so I was already worn out. I’m not exactly messy, and my room is huge, so it never really looks cluttered, but my mess felt very personal. Usually, I’d leave the books I’d been reading strewn around, and I’d just cycle through stacks of clean laundry without putting them away. The books were basically a series of hints about what I’d been thinking about over the last several months, and the laundry stacks had my underwear casually sitting on top. It was a weird juxtaposition that felt far too private, especially for Jamie’s eyes.
So I’d frantically tidied things away, dusted and wiped down surfaces, and then I’d progressed from doing that into getting ready. Which was a mistake. I’d finished far too early, even though I spent much more time getting ready than I usually do. So not only was I anxious and at a loss for something to do, I was annoyed at myself for being too concerned about my appearance. I usually never cared this much, and I didn’t want to admit to myself what exactly was making me put in all the extra effort. I had nothing left to do except mull that over, so when my phone buzzed with a message from Ellie, it came as a relief.
[Are you ready?]
[I’m coming over]
[In about 5 minutes]
[I need to use your bathroom]
______________[Is something wrong with your bathroom?]
She didn’t respond, so I just went in to my bathroom to check that it was clean enough, and I quickly looked in the mirror on my way out, to make sure I hadn’t already done something stupid like mess something on my shirt or get something in my hair.
My hair was the only thing I was still really worried about. Well, that and my personality, but I couldn’t really do anything about that. Not that there was much I could ever do about my hair. I usually relied mostly on luck. My general approach was to put in some hair product — gel or mousse, whatever I had lying around — and just randomly tousle my hair until I could generate a pleasing effect. Except it wasn’t really going well today. Hair as curly as mine made managing it an ongoing war with chaos, and chaos often won.
At least I was fairly happy with my clothes. One of the benefits of being a teenager around here, and specifically a guy, was that the range of what you were supposed to wear to a party was pretty limited. A nice button down shirt, a pair of jeans that weren’t too stylised, and whatever shoes you wanted, provided they weren’t too obtrusive. I usually don’t like structure — I hated wearing a school uniform — but parties were far enough out of my comfort zone that I could appreciate the fact that dressing for them never became one more thing to worry about.
I checked my room one more time to make sure I hadn’t left anything lying around. As rooms go, it’s fantastic. I think it was meant to be a pool-house or a servants quarters, originally. I’d lucked out majorly when we’d moved in, because there was one more child in my family than there were available bedrooms. It wasn’t a small house, there were just seven of us — it was a yours-mine-and-ours kind of situation, with my mom’s three kids, my stepdad’s two, and then the twins they’d had together. We were a big family.
When we’d moved in my brother Brian was already at university most of the time anyway, but my sister Candace and my step-sister Dan still had a few years left of high school. So to prevent a civil war between the two of them, it was decided that I would be the one who got the room. There were a few conditions attached, naturally. When Brian was back home, he slept on the sleeper couch, and it essentially became ‘Our room’, which I didn’t mind, because we got along pretty well. On the rare occasions when family stayed with us, I’d also have to sleep somewhere else.
It was a small price, and I was happy to pay it. I loved my room. It was set up like a studio apartment, with one big open space, a reasonable bathroom, a decent sized closet and even a small kitchen area. We’d put a sleeper güvenilir canlı bahis siteleri couch in there for Brian’s visits, and over the years I’d managed to scavenge various other things — a big desk, a cafe table and four chairs, a fridge and a microwave for the kitchen, and even my own TV. I’d put in a lot of effort to make it nice, since I spent so much of my time in there.
Another great feature was that it was also semi-detached, only connecting to the main house through the laundry room and garage, which resulted in a lot of privacy and protection from the general chaos of the rest of my family. I even basically had my own private entrance — a small garden path around the back of the house, with a metal gate that opened out onto the street. Which is where I went to unlock the gate for Ellie.
“Hey, I hope you don’t mind,” she said quickly, gliding past me down the path. “I just need to do a few things here before we go.”
I left the gate unlocked, since Jamie would be here soon, and followed her inside. She walked over to the cafe table and put down a bottle of rosé wine with a pink bow on it, and hung her bag off the end of the chair. Then she took off her jacket, followed by the t-shirt she was wearing to reveal a slightly more adventurous sequinned, sleeveless top underneath.
I suppressed a comment about how weird it was that she’d come into my room and immediately started stripping, and she pulled some makeup out of her bag and headed to my bathroom to start applying. I stepped up awkwardly to the bathroom door, looking over her shoulder. She finished dusting some glittery powder on her eyelids and picked up a pencil, which she began running around the edges of her eyes.
“What?” She looked out at me through her reflection.
“Most people get ready in their own homes.”
“Yeah, well.” She put the pencil down and started putting on some mascara. “Most people don’t have my mother.”
She wasn’t wrong. Her mother had been a teacher at the primary school we’d both gone to, halfway across the country. While she wasn’t exactly oppressive or overbearing, she certainly had many opinions on how ‘young adults should conduct themselves’. She was an English teacher, so she also had some pretty biting ways of expressing those opinions. She was also warm, witty, and great, but she did sometimes make me grateful for my mothers more hands-off approach to parenting.
“Yeah,” I was suddenly feeling vaguely nostalgic. “Hey, remember when we were in year six and instead of letting us quietly read the set-work book she gave us a twenty-minute lecture on how those white candy sticks were a gateway to a smoking habit, and we should never buy them.”
“UGH!” Ellie nearly poked her eye out. “Don’t remind me. I still have stress dreams about those impromptu life advice sessions. That wasn’t even the worst one.”
“There were more?”
“Forget I said anything.”
“Uh-huh.” I grinned.
I stepped back and paced around my room. Eventually, Ellie came out of the bathroom, and packed her makeup back into her bag.
“There, how do I look?”
“Good.” I shrugged.
Ellie was usually constrained at school — as were we all — by the very strict uniform and dress code. She also did ballet, which meant on any given day she usually had her hair up in a very functional, practical bun, and wore very little makeup. You didn’t want one of the teachers or administration staff at the school to drag you aside and give you detention for ‘looking like the whore of Babylon’ or something like that. I’m exaggerating, of course, but not as much as you might hope.
“Seriously? Good?” She shook her head. “Can I at least have a multi-syllable adjective?”
I rolled my eyes, and looked at her. I’d learned by now, from my mom and sister, if you say something nice without looking you’ll just get in more trouble. Ellie was beautiful, I could be fairly certain about that. I hung around enough gross straight guys to know that she was the main person most of the guys — and probably some girls, actually — were always lusting after, and that was when she looked like a God-fearing ballerina. With her perfectly styled hair, clothes and well-applied makeup, she took it to a new level. My fake crush on her had, at least, had a very believable target. I didn’t want her to get the wrong idea though, given our history, so I didn’t feel like I could tell her she looked ‘Beautiful’.
“Thank you!” She perked up. I seemed to have landed on the right word. “You look great too. I like that shirt. Just… come here a sec.”
I obediently wandered over, and she began poking and pulling at my hair. The shirt I was wearing was red, and it was one of the nicest pieces of clothing I owned. I go to parties so rarely that I’d had to do research — looking at photos on social media to make sure I hadn’t worn the same one last time.
“Ow!” I said, when she gave a particularly sharp tug at my hair.
“Sorry. Just… there. How’s that?”
She güvenilir illegal bahis siteleri stepped back, and went over to the kitchen sink to rinse my hair gel from her hands, while I went to check it out in the bathroom mirror. It actually looked pretty good. She’d managed to get the messy, casual look I was going for, but what she’d done looked much more organic and effortless than anything I thought I could ever achieve. I could never get my hair to give off the impression that ‘I just woke up like this’, but somehow she’d done it.
“You’re welcome.” She sat down at the cafe table, pulling out her phone.
My phone started buzzing next to my bed, so I went over to check it.
[Hey, it’s Jamie]
[Ellie gave me your number]
[I’m here, how do I get in?]
______________[Do you know which house it is?]
“Jamie’s here.” Ellie said.
“I know, are we going right away or…”
“No, we can’t go yet.” She checked the time. “It’s only just after seven.”
“The party starts at seven, doesn’t it?”
“Oh Jay, sweetheart…” she flashed a grin. “Just tell him to come in.”
______________[Do you know which house it is?]
______________[Around the corner]
______________[On Richmond road]
______________[There’s a side-gate]
In a minute or two Jamie was standing in front of the glass door that led from my room to the pool area, holding what looked like a bottle of vodka. He was wearing basically the same outfit as me, the only difference was that his shirt was grey, and his hair had not needed Ellie’s help to look perfect. I bet he did actually wake up looking like that. I cleared my throat and slid the door open to let him in.
“Is this your room?” He said, stepping in and looking around.
“Yes.” I slid the door closed behind him.
“Did you seriously get Caitlyn cheap vodka?” Ellie wrinkled her nose. “That’s a mortifyingly bad present.”
“What?” He looked down at the bottle. “Oh no, this is for us. Pre-drinks. I haven’t got Caitlyn a present in like five years. She doesn’t notice.”
“Oh. Well if it’s between that and nothing, nothing is literally the better choice.” Ellie indicated my kitchen, “Jay has glasses. Just in there.”
“Nice, man. You have everything in here.”
He wandered over, got out three glasses and poured out generous portions of vodka. I sat down at the table with Ellie.
“I have orange juice.” I offered, sincerely hoping he wasn’t going to make us drink neat vodka.
I’d recently learned I had a better tolerance for the burn and bitterness of spirits than most people, but Ellie was right about this vodka. It didn’t even look like a real brand. The label looked home-made. I couldn’t imagine drinking that, on its own, would be pleasant.
“Fancy.” Jamie looked back at us. “Do we need that?”
“Yes,” Ellie said. “I’m not drinking just vodka. Gross.”
“I also wouldn’t mind.” I said, rather diplomatically, I thought. “It’s just in the fridge door.”
“Okay,” he shrugged, grabbed the orange juice and topped up the drinks, then brought them to the table.
“Wait,” I said, turning to Jamie. “Aren’t you only seventeen?”
“Only for like another month.” Jamie shrugged, and smiled.
“He’s so naive.” Ellie patted my hand patronisingly.
It wasn’t news to me that most other people my age had been drinking illegally, and for a while. What was new was that I was involved. I sighed and just picked up my glass without saying anything. At least Ellie was also eighteen.
“To illegal drinking!” said Ellie, raising her glass.
Jamie laughed, and we all took a sip. Ellie began sputtering.
“Oh god, that’s so incredibly awful. Orange juice and drain cleaner.” Ellie made a face. “Where’d you even get that?”
“My mom has a pallet of them in the garage.” Jamie shrugged. “My dad bought it off a buddy for next to nothing. She uses it to disinfect stuff.”
“So we are LITERALLY drinking cleaning fluid.” Ellie said, scrunching up her face. “I need more orange juice.”
I shrugged, as Ellie went over to the kitchen counter to dilute her drink with more orange juice.
“Jay or I could have bought something nicer, if we knew you wanted to do this, you know.” She said to Jamie, sitting down again.
“Oh, I would have turned you into the authorities. So fast.” I said, taking another sip.
Jamie laughed at that, and I felt my stomach flutter. Pre-drinks hadn’t even occurred to me, but it seemed like a very efficient idea. I could show up at a party for once already capable of enjoying it, or at least capable of tolerating it. We had one more round of vodka and orange juice, then I locked up, and we headed to the party. Once we were on the street, I messaged my mom.
______________[I won’t be home for dinner tonight.]
______________[Going to a party.]
______________[Have already güvenilir bahis şirketleri left.]
[Oh no, why didn’t you tell me before you left?
I would have taken photos.]
My older sister never would have gotten away with that, just in case you’re thinking my mom’s too relaxed. She just handles my social life differently — on the incredibly rare instances where it actually exists. Maybe it’s because of the rarity, or because I’m her third child, or because I’m a boy. It could also be my personality. I was the kid who never wanted to go on roller coasters. The guy who had firmly told his dad ‘No’ when he offered to get me a motorcycle last year. My mom wasn’t an oblivious parent — she just knew her kids well, and treated them accordingly.
[Where is it?]
[Do I know her?]
[Who are you going with?]
______________[Ellie and Jamie.]
______________[Someone I know from school. He’s in AP math with me.]
[K. Is the number I have for Ellie still right?]
[And you have your keys and your phone and wallet?]
______________[Have my keys and wallet, think I forgot my phone.]
[Oh right. Hahah. Okay, text me when you’re back,
or I will track you down.]
[Don’t drink and drive.]
[Don’t do drugs.]
[Don’t leave your drink unattended.]
______________[So many rules. Should I not go?]
[Don’t be silly. Have fun.]
______________[Thanks. Love you.]
[Love you too.]
“Jay, who are you texting?” Ellie asked.
“My mom,” I said, putting my phone away. “Just letting her know where I’m going.”
“Only now?” Jamie asked. I nodded.
“I wish I had your mom.” Ellie said. “I basically have to get approval a month in advance.”
“Same.” Jamie said.
“Your dad’s cool though.” Ellie pointed out.
“Yeah, and that’s why ‘but Dad said I could do it’ only gets you in more trouble in my house.” Jamie grinned. Ellie and I both laughed.
Caitlyn’s house was only two streets over, so we were there almost instantly. It was a gigantic modern construction halfway down the hill from my house, facing the sea. It seemed built for one purpose, and that was to flaunt wealth. Which was fair enough, since we knew they definitely had the wealth to flaunt. In case there was any doubt that this was the right house for the party, thousands of bunches of balloons in violent pinks and purples dotted the front lawn, blowing in the breeze, which had calmed down since that morning.
Ellie, Jamie and I made our way inside. Ellie dropped off her bottle of wine on a table right inside the entrance that had a very aggressive and demanding ‘PRESENTS’ sign. We sidled up to the buckets of ice, to take advantage of the free drinks. Say what you want about Caitlyn — and people do — but her family had the kind of money that always resulted in amazing parties.
There was a real, light-up dance floor, with an actual DJ in an actual DJ booth. There was a pool table, and an air hockey table, which were probably just always there. Of course, there were buckets and buckets full of ice and every sort of drink a teenager could want. There was also good food, but no one here was really interested in that. She was a real modern-day Gatsby, just not self-made, and with less redeeming qualities.
“Ellie!” Ellie’s best friend Sara came up to us, her golden blonde hair painstakingly curled in a way that made her look like a beauty pageant contestant. “Hey Jamie. Hey Jason. Can I steal her for a second?”
You weren’t really supposed to disagree with girls when they asked that, and Sara didn’t even really give us a chance. She immediately dragged Ellie off into the crowd. One down already, and we’d only just gotten there.
“What now?” I asked Jamie.
“Let’s go play pool.”
I nodded, and we made our way over to the pool table. It turned out to be a good choice, since most of the guys from our school were hanging around there. The only guy I really got along with there was Matt, but with Ellie already gone, it was a relief to see him. He wasn’t really part of my ‘crowd’, insofar as I even actually had one, but we’d been partnered up for an economics project a few years ago that had gone so well, we’d developed a standing joke that we planned to go into business together one day. Matt looked like a quintessential bad boy — dark hair, dark eyes, bulky — but he was one of the nicest people I’d ever met. I was definitely a lot more comfortable around him than I was around Jamie.
Jamie got his turn at the pool table first. Either he sucked at pool, or it just wasn’t his night. He barely managed to beat someone who was clearly unskilled, in a game that dragged on forever. I moved on to a second beer while waiting for my turn. When Jamie eventually won, and I got to play against him, I’d basically wiped him off the table in a few minutes. He was not a graceful loser, which I found pretty amusing, and kind of adorable. Matt challenged me next, and I held my own, but it was clear I was up against one of the greats, and he inevitably won.
“You’re damn good at pool.” I said when we stepped back from the table.
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