Dear World, Friday is here! Marianne insists I get ready for the party at her house. I have no choice. I take over the minimal make-up that I own, and the two outfits that I can’t decide between. When I get there, Marianne’s parents have already left for their weekend away. I gaze around at the big empty house, feeling lost and confused, as Marianne takes me from room to room, showing off the decorations and the food all laid out. As promised she has locked the rooms she wants to keep intact, but there is still plenty of space for the guests to mill about and mingle. Marianne is breathlessly pretty in a simple black dress and sparkly cardigan. I wonder if the cardigan is to disguise her cuts, but I do not ask. I let her bask in her glory. I actually feel proud on her behalf. She has certainly gone to a lot of effort.
She ushers me upstairs to help get me ready. “Are you okay?” she asks me more than once. “You seem totally out of it Lou.”
“Just tired,” I keep telling her, while the image of Joe practically hanging from the bridge remains imprinted in my minds eye. Marianne looks at my clothes and tells me to go for the dress. I am unsure.
“You look stunning for fucks sake,” she tells me firmly, gripping me by the arm and staring daggers into my eyes. “Show off all your hard work, Lou. Let all the kids from school see how amazing you look.” I stare into her eyes and just want to cry, but I have no idea, no idea why at all. She lets my arm go and drapes the dress carefully over my knees. “Come on woman. Do it. Then I’m going to do your hair and makeup.”
“Because it matters what girls look like?” I ask her weakly, recalling our conversation with Joe in the summerhouse that day. Marianne meets my gaze and smiles vividly.
“Exactly,” she triumphs, her eyes glittering. “Now come on. Do it.”
A short while later I am wearing a dress, and Marianne has straightened my hair to within an inch of its life. She kneels before me and painstakingly applies layers of mascara and eyeliner to my eyes. “You have the most amazing eyelashes I have ever seen,” she says as she does it. “People pay to have lashes this long and dark, and you have them naturally.”
“From my mum,” I shrug apologetically. “Sara’s are the same.”
“They look amazing now,” she tells me and holds the mirror up to my face so I can see what she has transformed me into. I was always such a tomboy before I think, as I stare at the girl in the mirror. I swallow. She enchants me. She is not someone I recognise. She is not me.
“Thanks,” I tell Marianne, pushing the mirror away. “How about a drink to steady the nerves?”
“What are you nervous about?” she frowns at me, getting up and walking to her large desk, where an unopened bottle of wine stands.
“I meant you,” I lie. Marianne laughs.
“I’m not nervous! Why would I be nervous?” She opens the bottle and fills two glasses.
“I don’t know. You’re not ever nervous, about anything?”
“You have to care about stuff to get nervous,” she says flippantly, thrusting a full glass towards me. I take it and consider her careless statement.
“We need some food now too,” she says then, as if she has just remembered this is important. I try not to let my blind panic show. “Before the party starts,” she explains, heading for the door. “You know, to line our stomachs!”
“What food?” I ask, my mouth like sandpaper.
“Toast is best,” she assures me. “Otherwise you’ll be on the floor after the first few drinks, don’t you know that? Have some toast, then you’ll be able to drink more.”
“If you’re sure,” I say hesitantly, and drink my wine. Marianne stops and grins back at me just before she goes through the door.
“Don’t freak out about it,” she says. “You’ll only throw it up again later.”
“Oh,” I say, lowering my glass and staring at her intently. “Oh yeah, I suppose.”
After another glass of wine I am feeling more relaxed. Marianne has put some music on; she’s gone for some sort of generic chart compilation, just to be on the safe side. Josh and Ryan arrive first. They make a beeline for the drinks Marianne has displayed on the kitchen counter. “You’ve thought of everything!” Josh tells her, as he makes himself a whiskey and coke. I watch from the doorway, drink in hand, wondering if Josh has ever tried whiskey and coke before, and if Marianne’s dad is going to notice. What does strike me is the free and easy way Marianne has with them. I’d had no idea they were all so close. I had always thought of Josh and Ryan and Joe’s friends, more than mine. They were there, you know, at school and at people’s houses, but they weren’t people I called up by myself to meet up with, or vice versa. I watch them all and feel a stab of jealousy and confusion. I lift my glass to my lips and drink steadily. I feel like something is unfolding around me slowly, but I have no idea what, or why. I can only watch Marianne, the star of the show, and wonder how I never noticed it in her before. I had always thought her strange. Confident and spiky in her own way, but I had never had her down for a social butterfly.
She plays the perfect hostess for the first hour of the party, as more and more people drift in. The doorbell seems to be ringing endlessly. Marianne floats around, serving drinks, embracing people she barely knows, and pointing them in the direction of the party nibbles. Everyone looks so grown up and glamorous, I think, as I watch from the sidelines. It has only been a matter of weeks since we saw people from school, but somehow it feels like months, and it seems like everyone has changed in some way. I don’t look at myself this way, until the stick insects, Christine and Stacey spot me and come over. Christine holds her hands up and flaps them about excitedly, while Stacey sort of circles me, in this threatening sort of way, eyeing me up and down, smiling greedily. “Oh my god!’ they both squeal at exactly the same time. I just smile awkwardly.
“Lou Carling! Is that really you?” Christine, the taller stick insect places her perfectly manicured hand gently on my shoulder, as if to steady herself, as if she is about to keel over or something.
“You look amazing!” Stacey echoes her, hands on her chest, mouth open, eyes wide. I nod at them, and want to kill them.
“Yes, yes, it’s me, it’s really me.”
“Oh my god!” Christine cries again. It’s like she is close to orgasm or something, I can barely stand it. “You look amazing! Doesn’t she look amazing Stace? I just can’t believe it!”
“You look so amazing,” Stacey is still running her pale blue eyes up and down my body, which makes me feel queasy to be honest. I am not used to this, and wonder if I will ever feel comfortable with it. “How much weight did you lose? How the fuck did you do it Lou? You have to tell us!”
Yes, I think, glancing away for a moment, searching for help with my eyes, because you two really need to lose weight, don’t you? I shrug at them politely and try to fight the urge to claw their eyes out with my fingernails. “Oh you know,” I tell them pleasantly. “Healthy diet and exercise basically.”
“Fuckinghell, you look stunning, you really do,” Christine flicks her long blonde hair back over one shoulder. She is wearing a tiny skirt and a bustier style top, which kind of make her look like a hooker. I smile politely. “You lost loads of weight last term, but this, this is unbelievable!”
“Thanks,” I shrug, and drink more wine.
“And your hair!” Stacey cries suddenly, pointing at my newly straightened locks, with a look of childlike happiness on her freckled face. I would like to feel touched that I have made them both so ridiculously happy, but the only thing I am feeling is pure pent up rage. I wonder if now is the time to remind them of how vile they were to me in years eight and nine? When I was supposedly part of their little click? When I tried to be? When I tried so hard to please them, to be like them, that it kept me awake at night, that it tied my stomach in knots before school, never knowing if today they would be kind to me or cruel to me. I look at their admiring faces and wonder if they have really forgotten? Stacey reaches out and strokes my hair, and I feel like slapping her hand away, and then slapping her face.
“You look so beautiful,” Christine tells me assuringly, and the look on her face suggests to me that she is trying to convince me of this. Let me know I have passed a test, or something. That I am all right now, in her book at least. I scratch at my neck, and stare past them, wondering where the hell Marianne is.
“This party is fucking brilliant!” says Stacey, gazing around at the kitchen, which is now pretty full. “It’s so nice to see everyone!”
“So nice of Marianne to do this,” Christine leans towards me, speaking to me as if we are suddenly great friends again. “This house is amazing.”
“It is amazing,” I murmur, and want to go and find a big fat thesaurus and shove it in her slightly too wide mouth. “It’s all amazing,” I say again, look back at her and smile.
“She looks great too!” Stacey says suddenly, as if this fact amazes her too, that Marianne could look hot. “She looks amazing!”
“I always thought her a total freak,” Christine leans in again and says. Stacey nods emphatically in agreement.
“Total freak at school.”
“But not now?” I ponder. “Not here? Here she is amazing?”
They look at each other, a flicker of confusion passing over their bland Barbie doll faces. “Totally amazing!” Stacey says suddenly, looking relieved. I smile at her pityingly.
“Well let’s just hope she is still amazing, when school starts,” I say to them, moving away from where they have trapped me against the counter. “Let’s hope she doesn’t go back to being a total freak hey? I’ve got to get another drink.” I walk away from them, in search of alcohol. What I would really like to search for is a blunt knife.
I am pouring myself a vodka and coke when Marianne suddenly bumps into the side of me. She immediately giggles, and bends over her knees, pointing at the puddle on the floor where she has spilled her drink. I frown at her curiously. “Are you drunk Marianne?”
Marianne straightens up, throws her skinny arm around my shoulders and wags her empty glass at me. She is drunk all right. Drunker than I have ever seen her, anyway. “I might just be, a little tiny bit!” she laughs, and pulls me closer with her arm. “I’m going to get myself some food now,” she confides in me, “to soak up the booze. And I’m going to have a big pint of water too!”
“Oh yes! Oh yes. That’s what you ought to do. You can slow it down a bit. That’s my plan.”
“How much have you had anyway?”
“Oh a few, a few!” she giggles against me and waves her glass about. I start to expect her to drop it at any moment and cover our feet with glass. “How about you? Have you had a few? Lou?” She instantly creases over again, bent double in laughter at herself. “That rhymes, that rhymes!”
“Yes it does,” I nod at her patiently, looking over her head. “And guess what? It looks like your guests of honour have just arrived.”
“What?” Marianne jerks herself up violently, and stares around, dramatically flicking her silky hair back out of her face. I nod towards the hallway, where just above the group of people milling there, we can see Leon’s head. Marianne gasps, and then hides herself behind me.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Oh like I said,” she says quickly, “food, water, all that.” She scampers off, and I shake my head, utterly bemused. I look back towards the hallway, and see Joe pushing through the crowd toward me, with his brothers just behind him. Joe is looking excited but incredulous, staring around at the masses of people, and the extremely successful party our strange little friend has pulled off. He is holding a huge bottle of cider and thumps it down on the counter beside me. I look about, but there is no sign of Marianne now. “Good to see you,” I tell him with a sigh. He nods. He has no idea. I glance at Leon and Travis, who are both clutching their own booze. They look like they have made an effort at least. Freshly shaven and wearing clean shirts.
“Where’s the party girl then?” Leon enquires, spreading his feet apart, setting his shoulders, and claiming his space, as if anyone here would dare consider entering it anyway. Travis leans against the counter, crossing his legs at the ankle and smiling at me pleasantly.
“Who knows?” I shrug, picking up my own drink. “She was here a minute ago.” I lift my eyebrows at Joe. “Right little socialite she is these days you know.”
Joe snorts. “Really?”
“Well let’s get these open,” Leon says, dropping his six pack of Carlsberg next to Joe’s cider, and yanking one free of the plastic wrapping.
“This house is fucking huge,” Travis comments, looking at me. I nod at him.
“You should see the garden.”
“It’s got a summerhouse,” Joe tells him. Leon rests his back against the counter next to Travis, folds one arm across his thick middle, and raises his can of beer to his mouth.
“Some people,” he rolls his eyes. “They don’t know they’re fucking born.”
I am not sure what this really means, but it is one of those sayings I’ve heard my parents say a million times. Whenever someone they know gets a bigger TV, or a new car, or moves to a better house. Apparently they don’t know they’re born.
“Lucky bastards,” Travis says, with a lazy grin. He scans the room then, nodding and frowning in turn at the people he can see. “Loads here though.”
“I’ve just spotted the food,” Joe says to me, nudging me with his elbow. “Shall we head over there?”
“I’m not really hungry,” I shrug. “Josh and Ryan are here somewhere.”
“Are you okay Carling?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” I snap at him. “Why do people keep asking me that?”
“Sorry,” grins Joe. “You just seem weird, that’s all.”
“You would seem weird if you had to spend an entire afternoon being primped and prepared by Marianne!” I hiss at him. “And then be accosted by the stick insects, having fucking orgasms about how amazing I look!”
Joe snorts again. He has poured himself a huge pint of cider and has the plastic glass in one hand, and his other hand in the pockets of his jeans. He is wearing a Radiohead t-shirt. “Calm down woman,” he says to me, grinning. “Don’t let the vipers get to you. They’re just jealous. You have a personality as well as looks!” He looks me up and down then, and raises his pint at me. “You do look hot, by the way. I was scared to react, because I know what you’re like. Thought you’d kick me in the balls or something!”
Travis leans forward then, over Joe’s shoulder. “You do look gorgeous Lou,” he says to me sounding scarily sincere. I just stare at him blankly. “You really do.”
“All grown up, all of a sudden,” Leon comments, with what passes for a smile on his face clearly visible behind the rim of his beer can. I shake my head slightly, wanting it all to stop.
“Oh shut up, all of you,” I say in disgust and finish my drink. They are bloody laughing. At me. I could kill them, but then I start to laugh too. I laugh back, and loosen up a little, and then I get the coldest feeling, tingling across my skin, and when I look back over my shoulder, Marianne is staring right back at me. From across the room. They have not noticed her, but she is there. So tiny, and so dark, maybe she has been creeping in and out of the crowd the whole time. Maybe she has heard everything. I swallow down a smile. I turn back to Joe, and his brothers. Joe has filled my glass up for me.
“Let’s get fucking wasted Carling,” he says to me then. “To make up for last night. You with me?”
I feel somehow naughty and brave, as I let the smile slide across my face, and flick back my straight, glossy locks, and let my mischievous gaze sneak quickly to Travis, and then back to Joe, as I hold up my glass. Joe chinks his against mine. “Fucking right I’m with you,” I tell them, and that is that. I am drinking with the boys.
After that it all starts to get a bit messy.
We drink steadily. We converse with the crowd. Josh and Ryan join us. Marianne keeps her distance. I am shorter than all of them, so I end up hopping onto the side, so that I can hear them better above the music. Before I know it I am pretty fucking wasted, and brimming with that obnoxious self-love that only drinking indulgently can bring on. I feel wonderful, I feel beautiful, and I feel funny. I feel I am all of these things, as I perch on the side, with all three handsome Lawrenson brothers surrounding me. Joe is leaning heavily against me. Every now and again he places his hand on my leg. It is fine. We are just friends, and all that. Like fucking brother and sister remember? So I take no notice, and I flick back my glossy hair, and laugh out loud at everything they are saying, and I do a fine job of hiding the strange and forceful desire that burns inside me every time he does it.
For the next hour and a half I only spot Marianne in the distance, through the crowd. I try in vain to call out to her every now and again, to get her over. But she either cannot hear me, or is pretending not to. Every time I spot her, she is making the rounds, playing the hostess to perfection. I am proud of her really. Good on her. It is a fucking great party.
I find myself laughing with Joe when he retells the guy on the bridge story to Leon and Travis. Now that I am drunk, it does not seem horrible at all, only funny and wild, and a tale to tell for years to come. “Back over there tomorrow,” I hear Leon say to Joe after this, and I see a look go over Joe’s face that tells me he is not so sure. I reel myself in then. I am so so drunk, but I saw that look. He doesn’t want to do it anymore, and I know it. I find myself slinging my arm protectively around his shoulders and resting my head against him. I hold my glass up to my cheek. It is cold, and I am so hot. I breathe in and out slowly. I am suddenly almost incapable of speaking. So I loll into him, and just watch them, and listen to them.
I watch the easy rapport that passes between Travis and Leon. They are on the same wavelength, I realise. They have an obvious mutual respect that Joe by default of being the youngest, does not receive. Not that they are cruel to him tonight. They are at his friend’s party after all. But as I watch them I become aware that they really only see him as a little kid. Someone to boss around. Someone to get doing what they want. I watch them, and I wonder if they love him at all. If they know him, like I know him. I wonder so many things World, and it’s worse when you’re drunk isn’t it? Everything crashes through me like a runaway train. Feelings colliding with thoughts, my mood wrenching one way and then the other. My heart trembling within me.
My eyes meet with Travis’ more than once. In fact, nearly every time I look at him, he is already looking at me. Talking to Leon, and looking at me. I still don’t get it. I’m nothing special. Surely he could have any girl he wanted? But in my drunken state I get off on it hugely. I look back at him, daring him. I wait for him to make his move, determined to prove Joe wrong.
I am totally hammered by the time Marianne finally decides to join us. In contrast, she suddenly seems refreshingly sober. She squeezes sweetly in-between all the boys, asking them if they need a refill, or any food. “This is Marianne,” I jerk my head away from Joe’s shoulder and announce, with an accompanying hiccup. “This is her fucking party!” I say this too loud, and Marianne frowns at me smilingly. I point my glass straight at Leon, who I deem to be the villain in everything. “So you better give her some fucking respect right?”
They all crack up laughing, even Leon. Marianne slips in between him and me and looks up at him with a quizzical expression, that lets him know she knows nothing about his reputation. Except, of course she does. She has a glass of wine held delicately between her fingers. She still looks immaculate, and I can see Leon’s eyes giving her the once over. I drop my other arm around her and give Leon the evil eye. “Best party ever Marianne!” I tell her, pulling her close. She smiles at me patiently. She looks at me as if I am three years old.
“Oh dear Lou, how much have you had now?” she says with a laugh, rolling her eyes at Joe.
“Not enough actually,” I say defiantly, shoving my empty glass at her. “What else you got for me Sholing?”
“Ooh how about I make some cocktails?” she says suddenly, looking instantly back up at Leon. “Are you boys up for that?”
“Fucking right,” Leon nods at her, a faint grin pulling at his lips. He nods at his empties, lined up along the counter. “Just finished all my beers.”
“Right then!” Marianne puts down her glass and claps her hands. “Give me a minute. We need a load of stuff.”
She scoots around the counter, grabbing bottles and glasses and plonking them next to us. She then pulls open one of the lower kitchen cupboards and drags out a huge glass bowl. “Do you want something tried and tested?” she asks us breathlessly. “Or something completely experimental?”
“Experimental!” I say loudly, before anyone else can speak. “Just chuck in a load of stuff, and we won’t look! We promise!”
“Are you sure?” Marianne looks over her shoulder at the rest of them. They all nod back or shrug.
“You might want some water first,” Joe whispers in my ear then. I look him in the eye accusingly. I realise that I simultaneously want to punch him in the face and kiss him. I don’t know what is wrong with me. I let his sweet face warm my heart and smile at him lovingly.
“It’s okay my sweet. I am going to just have one cocktail and then go outside and vomit spectacularly okay?”
“Okay,” he laughs, crossing his arms. “If you think that is wise.”
“I think that is very wise. One cocktail first. Then I will go.”
“You really feel sick?”
“I think I really feel sick. But one cocktail first.”
“Okay,” Joe laughs. “If you are sure mate. I will come out and hold your hair for you. Wouldn’t want you getting carrot chunks in your new do, would we?”
“No we would not. We certainly would not.”
“You’re well and truly hammered.”
I can feel someone nudging me then, and when I turn in their direction, I find it is Marianne pushing a glass of red liquid into my hands. I frown down at it, and lift it to my nose to smell it. “What’s this?” I ask and for some reason they all laugh at this. “What?”
“Mystery cocktail you idiot!” laughs Marianne, passing them out. “It was your idea!”
“Oh yeah. Let’s give it a whirl then.”
I only manage to drink half of it before I experience the undeniable and forceful urge to vomit. I slip ungraciously to the floor, dragging Joe with me, and find myself bumping straight into Travis, who spills his drink and stares at me.
“Need fresh air, excuse me!” I mutter and push past him. I feel Joe pull free from my grasp, and it occurs to me to turn back, beg him to come, like he promised to, but I can’t hang about. If I turn back I am going to throw up in their faces. So I plough on, pushing urgently through the people, ignoring the school friends who call my name and try to talk to me. I head for the conservatory, and that is where I feel a rough hand close around my bare arm, and I think thank fuck, it’s Joe, he will hold my hair for me after all. I let myself be pulled into his side, and he helps me get out of the French doors and into the blissful fresh air of the back garden.
It is only once I am out there, that I realise in foggy confusion that it is not Joe. Joe is smaller. It is Travis holding me up. It is Travis helping me walk. I kind of pull away from him, feeling stupid and embarrassed and angry all at once. I head for the flowerbeds and kneel down. “Leave me alone, you don’t want to see this!” I call out, waving my hand at him, before I hurl my guts up in Mrs. Sholings flowers.
I sit there for some time. It feels like ages. Travis held my hair out the way when I was sick, and then let it go once I had stopped. So I sit there, and wipe my mouth, and breathe in the cold air, and feel my head start to clear, and I stare at my sick, and hope to god he has gone. When I turn around, I hope to god he is not there.