Lives of several different teenagers meet and intersect at a house party. Now added to!
| I've been jittering all day, sitting impatiently through every lesson and dashing home the moment the bell sounded. Now that I'm here I find I still can't relax - I scurry around the house cleaning, tidying, hiding valuables. I can't stop peering out of the window, convinced that my parents are going to come rolling up the driveway in Dad's van, brought home early by some catastrophe - but I know that they won't be back until Sunday; neither hell nor high water could keep them from the Opens.
By half past five the house is as tidy as it's ever going to be and I start on myself, running a hot bath and getting out all my makeup from its rarely-opened case. I think my boyishness is one of the reasons people were surprised when I told them I was having a party - it's a strange thing to assume that people are less fun because they never wear mascara to school, but that's what my classmates seem to think. It's been weird since we moved up to Sixth Form - people who used to hang out with me at the railway bridge playing football in the long grass and laughing at the bottle-blondes with their plastered-on masks, now seem to be gravitating towards the night-clubs in town, lip gloss and sparkles. I thought I'd have allies in the boys, at least, but they've all started to trail around after the easy chavs and drink too much. It's like they've hit puberty all over again. So most of them were delighted when they heard that I'm throwing a party while my parents are away, the piss-up having become central to their existence over the last few months. I think some people were a bit underwhelmed when they realised it was to be at my house, presumably under the assumption that a party thrown by Bethany Watson would consist of Scrabble marathons and apple juice, but my friends - who, despite their odd changes, still love me - made sure that good words got round and now I was feeling distinctly pressured by the hype they had created.
As I was pondering on the strange ways of the adolescent mind, having a leisurely wash, I glanced at the clock on the windowsill absentmindedly and was aghast to see that it said ten past six. I had ten minutes before Matt arrived! Hastily dragging a razor over my legs and incurring several garish red cuts in the process, I hurried to get out of the bath as quickly as possible. I'd just wrapped myself up in a big bathrobe when the doorbell rang, and straight away the front door opened. Matt had long since done away with the courtesy of waiting to be let in.
I clattered downstairs, clasping my robe self-consciously about me. Matt had offered to come over early to help me get ready, and he was carrying several carrier bags which clinked with contraband stored in his garage since last Saturday for safekeeping. He grinned when he saw me.
"Don't make any smart comments about my outfit. I haven't got dressed yet," I pointed out, knowing his uninspiring sense of humour.
"Okay then, I'll take your word for it. You want these in the kitchen?" He'd started to lug the bags down the hall before I'd even answered him. Leaving him to it, I ran upstairs to put on my outfit.
Matt smiled to himself as he arranged bottles of cider on the table. Trust Beth to lose track of time. He'd lived next door to her since they were both four, and he knew better than anyone of her scatty ways. Looking around, though, he had to concede that she'd been surprisingly well-prepared. The kitchen was spotless, and he had a feeling the rest of the house would be as well. There was really no point in his being there, since most of the preparation was already done, but he liked to have Beth to himself and he knew that this might be his only chance, what with the number of people coming. Matt couldn't remember quite when his infatuation with Beth had begun, only that it had been there for a long time and simply grew stronger with each day. He was always telling himself he'd ask her out - when they went to the cinema together; when she'd slept at his house after a concert; when they'd watched the fireworks on Bonfire night and she had rested her head on his shoulder like girls did with their boyfriends - but tonight, he was determined, he would not baulk out. It had to be said at some time, and the party would be his best chance. Dwelling on this thought made him nervous, and he took a swig from one of the bottles he was holding.
"Don't start drinking them already!" Bethany admonished from the doorway. He spun round in guilty surprise, and then stopped dead, jaw agape. Beth looked stunning. She was wearing makeup, for a start, and her hair had been allowed to fall in its natural chestnut ringlets around her shoulders. These were bare, because she was wearing a strapless dress made from blue crinkly silk that highlighted her sapphire eyes and made her tall, square frame look elegant and feminine. In Matt's long silence, Beth began to blush and huddled her arms around herself anxiously.
"It's not too much is it? I feel a bit stupid, to be honest," she began.
"No! No, it's... you look beautiful," Matt replied softly. There was an awkward silence.
"Right, we'd better get these pizzas in the oven then," Beth suggested eventually, and with an abashed glance the two friends busied themselves with preparations.
Rowan is a bright girl, but this kind of shocking apathy in her studies cannot be allowed to continue.
This is what it says in the letter accompanying her new report card. The letter goes on to explain how the card works - how she must take it with her to every lesson, and the teacher will sign it and give her a grade based on her behaviour and effort. If there is an improvement over the next few weeks, she will be taken off it. If not, further measures will be taken. These are Mrs Riley's words. She sighed and shook her head a lot while she wrote them, with her eyebrows raised: see what you made me do. Rowan was told to take it home and have her mother sign the parental awareness slip at the bottom.
She takes it home.
Rowan's mother is in the kitchen. There is a baby dangling from the crook of each elbow as she cups a phone against her shoulder and tries to make herself heard above their wails.
"No, Richard!" she is shouting. "If you really thought the twins needed a dad, you should have stayed here for them! You can't just decide to become a responsible parent when it suits you!"
Rowan goes up to her mother and takes the twins. She puts them in their high chairs and starts to feed them their pappy banana mush. Later, she will fill in the parental awareness slip with her mother's signature and give it back to Mrs Riley.
"I'm going out tonight, Mum," she says when her mother has slammed the phone down and shouted bad names for a while.
"You bloody well are not," is the reply. "You think I can afford to spare you when I've got the tots to look after, and dinner to cook, and a report due in tomorrow that I can't even bear to think about yet..." She puts a hand to her forehead and sighs. "Besides, Jon's coming over and I need you to keep the twins quiet."
Rowan leaves the table.
Two hours later, she is on her way to Bethany Watson's house.
I'm thrilled by nervous excitement as my first guest arrives, clumping up the gravelled drive in leather boots with a rucksack full of cans dangling heavily from one shoulder. The nerves evaporate when I realise it's Daisy; she's been my best friend since year 7. I knew I could count on her to bring plenty of stuff - looks like she's got half the off-license in that bag.
"Hello!" she squeals, dropping the rucksack with a clank and rushing to hug me. We hardly ever see each other any more, since she went to the regional college to study art and design while I stayed to do A-Levels at sixth form, so we make the most of these moments. She doesn't look any different from when I first met her aged 11 - same straight dark brown hair, same laughing eyes and small sharp nose. Same tiny, pixie-like figure dwarfed in huge sweaters and ragged jeans. The only difference is the piercings - for her 16th birthday she had a lip ring done, and a few weeks ago she had a tiny stud put in her nose which glitters with a gem to match the five in her ears. She has the overall appearance of some kind of strange, underground fairy, and the energy of a small cyclone that infects the whole room. She will definitely make this party fun.
"God, I've missed you," she says as we carry her bags upstairs. "It's so weird at college, it's like everyone's all - grown-up?"
"Did you invite Bob?" I ask, remembering that she'd asked to bring her new boyfriend with her.
"Oh, no. You didn't hear about that did you? Yeah, that didn't work out. He got a bit creepy and possessive, so I decided it was time to call it a day."
"Oh, that's a shame." I'd never even gotten to meet the guy.
"Not really. Bit of a freak!" she laughed, and we hurried back downstairs at the sound of the doorbell ringing again.
"Ow! That's the second time you've kicked me, arsehole!" Natasha snapped crossly. "Why did we have to give these morons a lift anyway? It's not that far, they could've walked," she grumbled, glaring at the unwanted passengers in the rearview mirror.
"Don't worry, babe, we're nearly there now. Just sit still, alright guys?" the driver replied. He reached over and rubbed a hand up Natasha's thigh. "It's gonna be a good night, yeah?"
The boys in the back sniggered, and Natasha pushed his hand away scowling.
"Stop it, Jay. Just drive the car," she ordered sullenly. He grinned and pulled the peak of his cap down, and Natasha didn't see him slip his hand behind the seat to high-five his mates. Two more minutes and they were pulling up outside the modest detached house in which Beth lived.
Natasha lingered in the car, putting the final touches to her lip gloss and teasing out a kink in her perfectly straightened hair. Stuart and Ollie had already clambered out of the bucket seats in the back and gone in to the party, while Jay waited patiently for his girlfriend. When she had finished tweaking, before she got out of the car, he put his arms around her slender waist and pulled her towards him for a kiss.
"Jay!" she giggled, shrieking, and by the time they got to the front door her lip gloss had been smudged right off. When they entered the party, Natasha could see by the look on the hostess' face that she was wondering who on earth had invited them. It was alright, it didn't bother her. She knew that a lot of the people in her year disliked her, and found her very public relationship with Jay distasteful, but that was okay because she knew he loved her and that was all that mattered. Taking his hand more tightly in hers, she moved forward into the house.
By now there were about twenty people in my house. I knew all of them by sight, but not many were my friends. This didn't unduly bother me - I'm not unpopular, but if I'd only invited my closest friends it would be a very select gathering. Everyone seemed to be having fun, so I was happy, and we hadn't even started to run out of drinks yet. I was a little bit worried by how quickly some people were knocking them back - I didn't really want any vomiting wrecks to look after - but I turned my mind from the matter and concentrated on being sociable.
Stopping to chat to various people along the way, I slowly made my way towards the kitchen. Matt was the only one there when I went in; he was on his hands and knees retrieving a bottle-opener that had been kicked under the table.
"You having fun?" I asked as he stretched for it. He looked up in comic surprise, narrowly missing a sharp bang on the head from the edge of the table.
"Yeah, yeah, it's great!" he burbled, scrambling to his feet. His face was pink and he laughed awkwardly as he pushed a lock of hair from his eyes.
"Good..." I smiled. Inwardly, I was quite puzzled - he was behaving really strangely. Almost as if there was someone he wanted to impress.
"Matt?" I questioned.
"Is there someone here you... like... like?"
His face flushed a deeper shade of red and he opened his mouth wordlessly. I smothered an incredulous giggle - I'd obviously hit the nail right on the head. But who could it be?
"I meant to tell you... I... it's really hard...." he rambled, desperately avoiding eye contact.
"Tell me? Why... ohhh!" I realised suddenly. It made sense - the awkwardness tonight, the way he always tried to tag along with me and my friends... I just didn't know why I hadn't worked it out sooner.
"Don't worry, I won't tell her!" I grinned, clamping a finger across my lips playfully. "But you're in luck - she told me earlier, she's broken up with that Bob guy..."
"Oh God, was that in the living room?" I gulped, and with one last conspiratorial glance I ran off to make sure my parents' wedding photo was still intact.
"She... Bob? Oh! Wait, no...!"
Matt started after Beth, then gave in and sat heavily onto a chair. He twiddled the bottle opener he was still holding, examining it absently with a rueful sigh. At least she hadn't twigged the truth. He'd just have to have a quiet word with Daisy later on...
Despite himself, he laughed.
Rowan scowled. She was finding herself doing this more and more these days, but she didn't bother to prevent it. She was watching Natasha Hurnwood and that disgusting creep of a boyfriend she had, sucking each other's faces off right there in the living room - it made Rowan feel sick.
"Are you alright?" said someone beside her. She turned to see a stocky, brown-haired boy occupying the seat next to her, eyeing her with a mixture of concern and friendly teasing.
"I'm fine," she replied listlessly. His hazel eyes brightened as he smiled.
"You don't look very happy. You not having a good time?"
Rowan didn't bother to reply to this. Another person had taken a seat on the sofa so that the boy was forced to sit nestled closely against her side, and her skin prickled unpleasantly at his touch. Without a word, she got up and left.
The boy gazed after her pensively for a couple of seconds, then took another swig of his beer and forgot about the rude raven-haired girl.
It wasn't long after ten o'clock that Daisy came upstairs and found me sitting on the landing talking to some friends from my Psychology class.
"Um, Beth?" she began, twiddling her mobile in her small, nail-varnished hands.
"No-one's been let in recently, have they?"
"What do you mean, let in? To the house?" I asked, puzzled, as I indicated the crowd of people around us.
"Yeah, in the last quarter of an hour or so, I mean," she explained awkwardly.
"Well, probably. People are still arriving now - Paul's downstairs, you know. I didn't think he was coming..." I began conversationally, but Daisy cut me off.
"I've just got a really weird text from Bob saying he's here and he saw me with another guy. He's probably lying but... it's just a bit freaky, that's all."
"Were you with another guy?" I asked, beginning to feel uneasy.
"No, not like that, but obviously I've been talking to guys..." she said. I got up from the floor and took her hand.
"We'll go downstairs and have a look - it's not a big house, we'll soon know if he's here or not. You'll have to come with me," I insisted as she pulled back reluctantly, "I don't know what he looks like, remember?"
Daisy seemed so nervous that I actually started to get quite worried.
"Exactly how weird is this guy, Daise? If I've got some kind of bunny-boiler in my house I want to know about it!"
"He's not like, psycho or anything. He just didn't take the break-up very well... I don't trust him not to cause a scene. He got a little bit threatening at one point," seeing the look of alarm in my eyes, she hastily explained: "Oh, he'd never lay a finger on me, don't worry. But I just think it's best that, if he is here, we just get rid of him without him seeing me."
"But how will I know what he looks like?" I asked.
Daisy flipped her phone open and pressed a few buttons until a picture of a thick-set, dark haired guy filled the little screen.
"That's him. Just get a couple of the boys to chuck him out, he'll go home."
This is how I ended up anxiously descending the stairs with two lads from the school rugby team in tow, searching the throng of people for the face I'd seen on Daisy's phone and torturing myself with images of violent gatecrashers. We eventually found him in the dining room, sitting in the corner on his own, hunched over his mobile and texting furiously. I approached him slowly.
"Sorry mate, do I know you?" I asked. He looked up at me blankly. "If I didn't invite you, I'm afraid you'll have to leave," I said, trying to make my voice forceful despite my fear.
"Where's Daisy?" he asked.
"Daisy? Daisy's not here, I don't know where she is... maybe she's in town," I babbled, hoping to convince him to leave in search of her.
"Stop lying to me, you bitch. I seen her here!" he snarled. His eyes looked strange, like his pupils were all out of scale, and I wondered what he'd been taking.
"Look, mate, you have to go now," one of my rugby friends, Mark, repeated. He stepped forward and took Bob's arm.
"Fuck off!" Bob barked angrily, shrugging him away. "I wanna see Daisy!"
At this, Mark's friend Tom grabbed him as well. The two of them held on tightly as he flailed and swore, and I couldn't help cowering back as the three young men struggled. Bob was a heavy guy, but he was drunk and high so his co-ordination was off, and there was nothing he could do to stop the two sturdy lads slowly coercing him out of the room and down the hallway.
"Daisy! DAAAISY!" he bellowed hoarsely. I prayed that she wouldn't be tempted to peer over the banister, God knows what he'd do if he saw her. By now the doorways to every room were crowded with inquisitive faces, looking on in trepidation as Mark and Tom bundled Bob out of the front door amidst his outraged cries and clumsy fists. They slammed the door behind him and peered through the small frosted window to make sure he walked away - but he stayed on the doorstep, hollering and thumping the door til I was afraid the hinges would give way.
"I know you're there! I'm coming back for you, Daisy! DAISY! I love you!"
And with that, to everyone's surprise, he began to weep - noisy, snivelling howls - and, scrubbing his face with the back of a meaty hand, stumbled away down the path and out into the night.
As soon as that arsehole had gone, Matt saw Beth put a shaky hand to her face and rub at her nose wearily in the way that he knew so well, the way she always did when she was stressed out. She had just thanked the boys for their help, and was turning to go upstairs and find Daisy, when Matt took her by the shoulders and stopped her.
"Well done, Beth," he said earnestly. "That was a horrible situation, but you did really well." And, like he knew she would on receiving this praise in her current frame of mind, she slid into his arms and leaned against him for a long moment, collecting herself and letting him comfort her with his strong warm arms. Matt cuddled his sweetheart and felt her soft hair against his face, smelling her shampoo and feeling acutely aware of the curves of her body pressed against his, and he knew that he had to tell her how he felt tonight. Not right now though, because now she was pulling away with a grateful smile to find Daisy.
"Do you want another one, babes?" Jay held out a bottle towards his girlfriend, who was lolling in a deep comfy armchair with her chin on her hand, looking pale.
"No thanks. I think I've had enough, I don't feel very well." She glanced at the fizzy stuff in the bottle and grimaced. Jay looked around and the crowded, noisy room and arranged his expression into one of caring concern.
"Do you want to go somewhere a little bit quieter until you feel better? I think there's a bed free upstairs, you could sleep it off for a bit," he offered magnanimously. Natasha nodded sleepily, and he took her arms and led her unsteadily across the hall and up the stairs. On the way, he thumped his friend Stuart in the arm and grinned, giving the thumbs up sign, but Natasha was feeling too poorly to notice.
They got upstairs and found a room with an unoccupied bed. There were a couple of girls gossiping in the corner, but Jay glared at them as he gently laid Natasha down on the duvet, and they scuttled away hastily.
"Feeling better here, baby?" he asked sweetly, brushing a lock of hair from her eyes.
"Mmm," she murmured softly. She was almost asleep, her breathing growing deeper and more regular by the second, and Jay decided it was time to wake her up a bit. He put his face down to her neck and began to kiss it, his lips working fiercely across her smooth white skin. As he'd hoped, her eyes opened and she smiled, running her fingers through his hair. Gently, so gently, his hand slipped down to her jeans. His long fingers began to work at the button, tugging it through its stiff denim slit until it popped open and he could pull down the zip...
"No, Jay," she slurred in protest. She pushed his hand away and her slow, fumbling fingers began trying to re-fasten the button.
"Natasha," he appealed, his deep voice drawing her name out slowly.
"No. You know I don't want to..." she mumbled, making an effort to keep her eyes open as her head sank into the pillow.
"I'll be really gentle," he promised, softly taking her unresisting hand and moving it away from her jeans so he could undo them again.
"Jay... please..." But it was too much, and finally her heavy eyelids dropped and she relaxed into a deep, unnatural sleep. With a slow smile, Jay slid the jeans down.
Elliot shifted his weight restlessly from one foot to the other as he stood against the doorframe, wishing he could slip through the door and escape. But this girl had him pinned there, chattering brightly as her hand brushed against his in a way the tipsy bint probably thought was subtle. She was pretty enough, but really not Elliot's type and besides, there was another girl on his mind. Since he'd first spoken to that strange moody girl on the sofa earlier, he'd seen her around a couple of times. Something about her fascinated him, and he'd finally decided to go and find her when this blonde had appeared out of nowhere and assailed him with her attentions.
"...so I really didn't want to go to college, because there are a load of people there who just do, like, photography and stuff, you know? But of course you can't do BTEC's at Horton... are you listening?" She poked him in the ribs with a sharp finger, bringing his focus back to the present.
"Uh, yeah, that's really... um, I'm just going to get another drink," he mumbled, trying to hide his half-full bottle of beer behind his back.
"Oh great, I'll have red wine if there is any, please!" the girl said with a shrill horsy laugh. Elliot ignored her and hurried away while he could, leaving the sound of her prattling behind him as he searched for the mournful girl whose name he didn't know.
She wasn't in the kitchen, although Elliot did find Matt in there looking nervous at staring at the back of Bethany's head as she poured a glass of water for a girl who'd had too much to drink. She wasn't in the dining room, and he'd just come from the lounge, so he made his way upstairs. There was a cluster of people outside the bathroom door, all looking irate as they waited for someone inside, and the first bedroom he peered into he didn't dare go in because he could see writhing silhouettes under the bedclothes. The door to the next bedroom was closed, and he pushed it open slowly and cautiously, wondering what acts of deviancy were going on inside. The room was dark and apparently empty, but he could sense, rather than see or hear, someone’s presence in the shadows - so he switched on the light.
The girl’s tall, lean body looked tiny as she sat with her legs curled against her, knees under her chin, on the floor against the bed. She blinked in the sudden brightness, but did not move. Elliot knew it was the girl he had been looking for, but she looked so much smaller and weaker than she had appeared earlier. He sat down beside her.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
The girl did not reply, and gently, as if she were a timid wild animal, he reached out a hand and moved a tress of hair away from her face so he could see her expression more clearly. Without moving a muscle, she seemed to shrink away from his touch.
“Sorry,” he said, dropping his hand. “Can I get you anything? A drink or something?”
One thin white arm emerged from the tangled knot of limbs, holding up an almost full glass.
“Okay. Well, do you mind if I just sit here for a little while? It’s so crowded out there.” He wanted to be with her, as if his company could somehow make her feel better. She didn’t seem to mind this, moving up slightly so that he could lean against the bed next to her.
They sat in silence for several minutes.
“Pardon?” Elliot stared at the girl, not believing these words which were the first he’d heard her speak since their initial meeting.
“Don’t you ever feel like a mindless, pointless, fuck? Fuck me.”
“Uh... I... Well, it’s a...” he mumbled, beginning to wish he’d stayed downstairs with the tipsy blonde. Suddenly, the strange girl leaned over and began to kiss his mouth, aggressively and hungrily. Elliot’s eyes bulged in surprise and he pulled away instinctively.
“What...!” was all he could say.
And with that the girl’s head dropped to her knees and she was sobbing, her narrow shoulders heaving with violent gusts of grief.
Elliot was now completely confused. Part of him wanted to leave the room quietly and not come back, but he didn’t feel that he could leave the poor girl here crying her heart out, so he shuffled closer to her again and put a tentative hand on her back.
“I’m sorry... just go, go away, I don’t want you to see me...” she sniffed in between gulps. But Elliot didn’t move, and eventually she began to calm down and breathe more steadily as he softly rubbed her back in what he hoped was a comforting way.
“Look, what’s going on here?” he asked gently when her cries had descended to quiet snuffling.
“I’m sorry,” she repeated, “It’s nothing, it’s all just stuff, all crap really... it’s just a bit much sometimes.”
“Do you… want to talk about it?” Elliot pried, feeling painfully awkward and ineffectual.
“No,” she replied uncertainly. Then she seemed to strengthen, and she repeated herself with more resolve:
“No. I don’t want to talk about it. I want to forget about it. I want… I want to have fun.” As she said this, she unfolded her limbs and visibly relaxed. Then she downed the remainder of her almost-full glass of vodka and coke. She climbed to her feet and held out her hand to Elliot.
“Come on. Let’s go downstairs and enjoy ourselves.”
Elliot was nonplussed by her sudden change of heart, but he took her hand and jumped up, grateful for his reprieve from the uneasy role of comforter. She smiled at him as they walked down the stairs - an even, pretty grin - but something in her eyes made Elliot uncomfortable. She did not look fine.