She wished that she had brought a coat with her. Although the party was only a couple of streets away from Lucy’s house, it was only when she was walking there that she realised that most of her time there would probably be spent in the garden, the only place Tim’s parents allowed his friends to smoke. She had spent most of the day at Lucy’s, where it had been sunny and warm and she hadn’t expected to go out tonight, so hadn’t bothered grabbing a jacket on her way out the front door. She was wearing her favourite t-shirt, the Smiths’ Hatful of Hollow one she had worn almost every day since she got it two months ago. She wore it so often with her faded tapered blue jeans and sneakers that it had become almost like a uniform. It defined her, gave her a presence. She had been given the t-shirt as a Christmas present, and wearing a jacket or something else on top of it was an afterthought as it was too hot to wear anything else during the day. The only coats she had that she liked anyway were her black duffle-coat with peg buttons, a bright blue puffer jack and her school blazer. They were either too heavy or bulky to wear during the Summer or just not cool enough to match her new, indie-chick look.
She really didn’t want to go to this party, but Lucy had cajoled her into going, badgering her that school was starting up again the next week and that it was their last chance to have some fun before they went into the 7th form. And he would be there. Maybe. Lucy had agreed to meet Shane, her new boyfriend, at the party so there was a good chance he would tag along. It still took a lot to convince her to go. Tim was an idiot, always showing off in front of his friends who were just as imbecilic. Imagine spending an entire evening surrounded by that! It was bad enough that she would have to see them again at school for the New Year. The party was going to be predictable. There would be a keg, a bonfire would be lit in the backyard, Tim and his mates would get pissed, take off their shirts and jeans, and leap through the fire. They would vomit, pass out, piss themselves and someone would inevitably shave an eyebrow off a comatose mate. Yay. But Lucy was insistent, and if there was a chance that he might be there, then perhaps they could hang out for a little while and talk.
He had already had a couple of cans before they left for the party. After a few beers, he felt brave enough to go into his sister’s bedroom and rifle through the makeup on her dresser and have a go and putting on some eyeliner. He hadn’t done it before, so his attempts were a little shaky, but he had seen enough pictures of Robert Smith to know that the slapped on effect was cool, preferable even. He liked the way it looked, how it made him feel. If he ignored the acne, braces and unfashionable haircut, narrowed his focus to just his eyes, then he looked pretty good. It suited him, he found. His green, almond-shaped eyes became more open and full, especially after he dared to add just a little eyeshadow and mascara to the look.
But something had to be done about that hair. It was a thick mop of dark waves, cut in some sort of poor approximation of Ziggy Stardust, without the outrageous colour, texture or grandeur. It waved too much at the back, curling up slightly as it reached just past his neck, making him look a little daggy. It didn’t take much for Shane to convince him to get the scissors out and hack at it. The alcohol was beginning to free him, bring him out of himself and be less cautious about what he said and dared to do. First off, Shane went to work on the back, shearing off the wavy mullet, leaving some jagged, shorter pieces that gave it a more haphazard look. Next he started on the crown and the top, snipping random lengths as they both laughed into the mirror about the potential disaster about to unfold. “Fuck it!” he thought. “Let’s see what happens.” He began to feel liberated. When Shane had finished, he grabbed a can of mousse standing on his sister’s dresser. He had no idea how to use it, how much he needed, so at first he was careful not to apply too much. When that amount didn’t have the desired effect, he sprayed more of the can into his hand, filling up his palm and soaking his hair. That was better, but it made his hair a little too limp. It gave the texture he wanted, but not the height. Picking up the hairdryer lying on the floor, he put his head forward and down, aimed the nozzle and turned on the heat, brushing his fingers through the hair in an upwards direction until it felt stiff and elevated. That was better. It was a more punkier Morrissey-esque quiff, but with the cut being so chaotic with random lengths all over, it looked weird and angular enough that it wasn’t obvious that he had tried, and failed, to emulate his Mancunian hero.
By the time she got to the party with Lucy, Tim was already well beyond drunk. He had started early, as soon as his father dropped off the keg, and then someone had brought a bottle of cheap vodka and he had begun to do shots in the kitchen. When Lucy saw him like that, she wanted to go as she couldn’t stand Tim when he was like that. Although she had been excited to go the party, she began to feel apprehensive about what might happen with these guys so pissed up. Tim was rambling, could hardly stand up straight and had drips of saliva seeping down his chin on to his collar. But she convinced Lucy to stay. During the short walk over, they had talked about him, and she had become excited to see him again after enjoying his company during the holidays.
She had noticed him at school the previous year. Although they had been at the same school for almost three years, they had never spoken to each other. It wasn’t until Lucy began to go out with Shane that she paid attention to him. When Shane and Lucy hung out during lunch break in either the library or music room, he was there too. Shane had befriended this weird, quiet kid earlier in the year when they ended up in sitting next to each other in English and found they had a shared love for indie music, especially the Smiths. This was his first close bond with anyone at this school. Although he had some friends there, those relationships were confined to the classroom or yard, and rarely did they hang out after school or during the weekends. But with Shane, it was different, and they spent most of Summer break together, watching music videos taped from the TV and even attempting to make their own with him wrapped naked in a white sheet, miming to U2’s “Bad.” It was bad. But there was something easy about this friendship, that they could just be themselves around each other and be those oddballs they had always been.
But whenever he was around anyone else, it was different. He became more insular, less likely to join in on the conversation or whatever was going on. He was this insecure weirdo, unsure of what to say in case he looked stupid, or his voice cracked in an adolescent squeak. But she had seen the Smiths badge on his lapel and the names of several other bands she liked scrawled on his khaki army-style satchel.
“Oh, ahhh, thanks,” he muttered in return.
“Where did you get it?”
“Ummmm, EMI. Yeah, it’s pretty cool, eh” as he smiled a little but then immediately put his eyes back to the ground. Their conversation was stilted as Lucy and Tim disappeared into their own universe, but he managed to make her laugh a little with his self-deprecating quips and comebacks. He’s cute, she thought afterwards. An oddball, but cute. He was smitten. He had been for some time as he had seen her around school for a while, but finding out she was also into the Smiths, the Cure and Felt- it was just amazing.
Lucy and Shane were together a lot over the Summer. It was becoming harder for her to catch up with Lucy now that Shane was on the scene, so she ended up tagging along with the two when they hung out in the town centre or at Lucy’s place. Sometimes, he was there. In fact, he was there quite a lot eventually and that was another reason why she didn’t mind sharing Lucy with Shane. He was still painfully shy and found it almost impossible to make eye contact with her, but he was funny and a little goofy, and she didn’t mind the awkwardness between them. At times when Shane and Lucy left them alone to be by themselves, he would freeze and not know what to say. He needed that buffer of Shane to start up a conversation and without him there, he would seize up and stare at the ground. But she wasn’t as uncertain. She could see in him something else, something beyond the mumbling and awkward glances. She found that once she began talking to him about their common interests, he would become a little more animated, confident in what he could say to her about them. And again with those almost imperceptible smiles. He wasn’t aware of it because he thought his smiles aimed towards her were well-mannered and low key. But she found that he did it all with his eyes, that he gave everything away with those hurried looks in her direction. She adored it. And he had a goofy laugh, one full of that spark that she could in his eyes when he looked at her. “Oh, God! I think I really like him” she thought. “You think he likes me too?”
He arrived at the party with Shane a little after 10. The initial rush of confidence he felt with the booze and had begun to wear off and he was beginning to feel a little more anxious as they approached the gate to the house. They let themselves in after ringing the bell and knocking on the door several times with no one apparently inside hearing them. The hall was strangely quiet with all the doors to the rooms closed. There were a couple of empty plastic cups scattered across the hall, but no real signs of a party. As they opened the door to the dining room and kitchen, there was a rush of heat and the stench of alcohol. There were some people lurking in the dining room, but the party seemed to be mostly happening out the French doors, past the patio and on to the lawn where a small bonfire had been lit and everyone had gathered around the keg nearby. “Let’s get a beer!” Shane urged, and they passed through the dining room, grabbing two styrofoam cups on the way. Shane pumped the keg and filled both their cups. One or two of Tim’s friends gave him derisory looks, but their attention was mostly on the skulling contest taking place with a way-gone Tim and two other too-drunk to care guys.
Shane moved to say hello to some guests whilst he remained in situ, shuffling his feet, eyes pointed towards the fire, taking large gulps of the beer. He wanted to go. Almost the second he walked into the party, he felt uncertain and paranoid. He had seen the way those guys near the bonfire had looked at him with his eyeliner and ragged haircut. “They’re going to smash me!” he thought and panicked, turning and rushing towards the patio door. But then she was coming out the French doors, looking for Lucy. He had been looking behind him and off to the side in case someone was coming after him, so he didn’t see her at first and sped past.
He turned warily towards the voice, not knowing if it was one of the guys from the bonfire. He was relieved to see it was her, but then he felt a wave of anxiety as he realised that he was totally unprepared seeing her in this panicked state.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
“Ahhhh, yeah. Cool,” he stammered, his eyes darting across the yard.
“I’m going to get a drink – do you want one?”
He stood there, frozen and stared down into his empty cup.
“I’m good, thanks.”
“Fuck, look at these knobs!” she said, motioning towards Tim and his mates who had found the yard glass and were spilling beer all over themselves and anyone else near.
“Yeah,” he murmured.
“Look, I’ll just grab a beer and I’ll be right back. Are you sure you don’t want one?” she offered.
“’k, yeah” he said. She wasn’t sure if he meant he was fine, he didn’t need a drink, or that he had changed his mind and did want one.
“Ok, wait there” and she went to the keg to help herself.
He stood there, halfway inside the dining room and the patio door, unsure of what to do next. She had filled her cup but had been distracted by Shane asking her if she had seen Lucy. She came back with Shane and said she was going to the basement lounge where Lucy was with a couple of friends. As she said this, she lifted her eyebrows expectedly, intimating that she wanted him to follow. Shane moved past them to the stairs off the kitchen going down to the basement, whilst she nodded her head and gave him a little push to follow, her hand lingering just a little longer on his shoulder than she thought she should. He felt electricity. Such a seemingly innocuous gesture as that had fired his brain and snapped him out of his panic about the party. He followed her down to the bottom of the stairs where they came to a narrow doorway. Lucy was inside with Shane and a few other kids from school. It was a lot quieter than upstairs and the atmosphere wasn’t quite as drunken. There was only one seat left on the couch whilst of two other armchairs were full with another couple occupying one and Shane in the other. He looked around and found himself a spot on the floor, sat up against the wall, directly across from the couch.
The conversation centred on Tim and his mates, his parents and how rich they must be to afford a three storey house. He didn’t know what to say. He was still charged from her touch and began to question what he should do next. The group began to talk about how creepy they thought the guys upstairs were, that they were a bunch of sleazebags and how could any girl possibly fancy morons like that.
“You get what you pay for with those guys,” she quipped.
“What do you mean?” questioned Lucy.
“Well, we all know what idiots they are and they don’t really pretend to be anything else, y’know? Like, you know exactly what they’re thinking!”
The group all nodded and agreeing with her.
“I worry about those guys are not like that really. I mean, the ones who just sit there and stare at you without saying a word. It can be a little creepy.”
The panic rose in him again. Was she talking about him? Is she? “I thought she liked me” he thought. “Fuck, does she think I’m a creep now?” He became all too aware that he had been sitting on that floor during the entire conversation, not saying anything, but hanging on to her every word, gazing intently at her. She had seen this and became incredibly self-conscious.
“Oh shit! I touched him in the kitchen and now he’s acting all weird, well, weirder. Should I have done that? I thought he liked me.”
She turned to him, to silently give him some encouragement to engage with her and the group, to see if he was alright. He sat there, looking blankly at the opposite wall, above her head. He wanted to get out of there. “She thinks I’m a creep. I’m a fucking creep!” The faster his thoughts raced through his head, the more intently he stared at the wall, daring not to look at her in case she caught his eye and saw his panic.
“What’s wrong with him?” she worried. There was something between them, she had felt it, but he’s just ignoring her, not even looking at her. “Have I fucked this up?” Had she been too intense with him earlier? Maybe she had. But it was nothing, just a friendly hand on the shoulder. Is he that fragile? The conversation among the group downstairs was becoming more animated and louder. Yet despite this, she couldn’t hear a word they said. She was too lost in her own thoughts, the seemingly innocent moment of that touch upstairs replaying in her head, over and over. He was doing the same, thinking of what happened before they came downstairs. He wanted to feel that connection with her again. But he was now convinced it was nothing, that the touch had no deeper meaning than just an unconscious but friendly gesture to let him know she was heading down to the basement. There was nothing in it. He had got it all wrong and she was just a mate, all she would ever be, if he was lucky. Had she noticed they way he had jumped a little when she put her hand on his shoulder? That’s probably why she thought he was being a creep. She realised that he liked her but didn’t feel the same, and now it’s fucked, he thought.
Seeing that everyone’s attention was elsewhere, he took the chance to get up off the floor and leave the room. He hoped no one would notice, least of all her. He didn’t look back, just aimed for the door and the stairs and made his way through the dining room, to the hall and out the door. He can never go back there again. He’s made a fool of himself acting so weird and she’s probably scared of him or something. He went through the open gate, turned right and walked across the football field back home. His head was down and he found himself beginning to run, not stopping until he got to his front door where he felt safe again.
“He’s leaving!” He didn’t even say goodbye to me, or anyone else. She didn’t get it. Was he that unpredictable, that sensitive? Was she that wrong about him, about what she thought he felt about her? He just walked out without saying a fucking word, not even a look towards her and she just felt so confused. And angry. How had she gotten it so wrong all over again? She had spent the entire Summer thinking about him, how she adored his awkwardness, found it compelling. But was that all there was about him; that she was wrong in thinking there was really was something behind all of that. She thought she had seen glimpses of it, but perhaps she had totally misread him and he wasn’t likely to ever relax around her, open up and reveal those hidden depths she believed he possessed. She thought that she had been a really good judge of character, but then began to worry that she had been blinded to his shortcomings by projecting her own desires for an enigmatic but confident boyfriend on to him. “That’s it” she mouthed to herself. She would never make that same mistake again.