Inside we are Picasso blue, outside it's Armageddon. So all that we can do is run for our lives. Promise me that we will make it through.
‘So, what’s it gonna be, Mandi?’ asked Dave, sitting down next to Mandira in Chemistry on Friday morning. ‘You coming to my birthday party tomorrow or what?’
‘Hm? Oh, no, I’m sorry.’ She looked deeply apologetic. ‘I asked my mum if I could go and her first question was, “Will there be boys there”.’
‘Yeah. And when I told her how far away it was she flat out refused on that account, too. So she actually managed to find two reasons for me not to go. She was on good form.’ Mandira sighed. ‘It’s so unfair, too, because when my brother was my age he was allowed to go to parties.’ She glanced sideways at Dave. ‘Can I ask . . . Are you seeing anyone?’
The question took Dave by surprise and he blinked a couple of times before answering, ‘Er, yes, I am. Er, sorry,’ he added as an afterthought.
‘Oh, no, I wasn’t coming on to you or anything!’ Mandira told him hurriedly. ‘My parents would go ballistic if I brought home an English boy, Christ . . . I was just wondering. Back in school I saw all these girls get gussied up for parties and to go out on dates and stuff and I never knew what it was like.’
‘I went out with a few girls like that,’ said Dave. ‘Mostly, they were vapid, shallow attention-whores.’
Mandira looked suddenly annoyed. ‘Don’t say stuff like that! It’s not their fault they’ve grown up in a culture where the only value ascribed to them is dependent on their looks. They’ve been taught that their purpose in life is to get guys to notice them, because no one will ever judge them on their own merits. Meanwhile, guys like you are taught that girls who put themselves out there that way are slags, or attention-seekers, and you look down on them and only ever deign to use them for sex.’
Dave frowned. ‘I don’t—’
‘I’m sure you don’t,’ she interrupted him, and she sounded perfectly earnest. ‘I’m sure you don’t use your girlfriends for sex. But you’re still a product of this culture. And I’m not saying mine is any better. My mother dresses me up in expensive saris when we go to family gatherings or weddings or holiday feasts or whatever, in hopes that some nice Indian boy will notice me and want to marry me. But my parents also want me to get a proper education, so that I can support myself, and they want me to have self-respect, so that other people will respect me too. That’s why they don’t want me to go to parties where there are boys. They’re worried that I’ll fall to peer pressure and that someone will try to take advantage of me.’
Dave pondered this for a moment. Did he treat girls that way? Did he objectify them? He supposed the only girl he had ever been friends with before was Mellie, and she was off limits anyway, as his cousin, so she was out of the equation. Had he used Linda? If he had, she had used him in equal measure to further her own social status. He had long since admitted to himself that he had never particularly liked any of the girls he’d gone out with. He’d done it because that’s what you do.
There was perhaps one exception in a very cute and very clever girl called Leigh whom he had befriended at a holiday resort in Spain one summer, and ended up kissing, quite a lot. They had taken each other’s addresses and promised to be pen pals, but nothing had ever come of it, and he had long since misplaced the address.
Mandira pulled him out of his reverie by asking, ‘Is she nice, then, your girlfriend?’
This question caught Dave so off guard that he ended up staring at her for several seconds while trying to figure out what on Earth she could mean. When it finally struck him, he felt very nervous all of a sudden. He liked Mandira, and he didn’t want to lose the only friend he’d managed to make here so far. But then again, if she didn’t accept him, perhaps she wasn’t really a friend after all.
‘Yeah, see, the thing is,’ he stuttered, ‘I haven’t exactly got a girlfriend . . .’
‘Did you just say you were seeing someone so you wouldn’t hurt my feelings?’ she asked, her look all understanding and no judgement.
‘No! Absolutely not!’ Dave hesitated for a moment. ‘I haven’t got a girlfriend. I’ve—I’ve got a boyfriend.’ He bit his lip and looked away.
‘Oh,’ she said. ‘Well, why didn’t you just say so, then?’
Dave looked up at her to find her smiling at him. Her smile was genuine and sincere.
‘That doesn’t bother you at all?’
‘Should it?’ Mandira shrugged. ‘I mean, for one, it’s none of my business who you’re with. Doesn’t affect me one bit. And anyway, I’ve always thought people should be with the one they care about. So who cares if that’s a boy or a girl, right?’ She leaned toward him in a conspiratorial manner. ‘Also, while my parents won’t let me go to parties where there are boys, they did let me attend a slumber party last year with some girls, and there ended up being some . . . experimenting, if you know what I mean.’ She giggled. ‘I’ve never told anyone.’
Dave laughed. ‘Well, good for you. Experimentation is good for the soul. Speaking of, hope we’ll get to do some practical work soon. All this theory is so boring!’
* * *
Mellie arrived that evening in a flurry of hugs. ‘Okay, just let me get my coat off and then tell me everything about college!’ She looked positively gleeful.
They sat down on the floor in Dave’s room with some music on the stereo, and Dave told her about his lessons and his teachers, and Mandira.
‘She sounds really cool,’ said Mellie when he’d finished recounting parts of their conversation that day.
‘She is. She really shamed me about my views on girls, though. At the end of it I was ready to pledge my allegiance to the feminist cause and swear to fight the patriarchy to my dying breath.’
‘Ooh, big words,’ Mellie teased. ‘Maybe you should. White blokes are more likely to listen to white blokes, after all.’
‘Yeah, but rather less likely to listen to queers. And you know I hate politics.’ Dave waved his hand dismissively.
Mellie laughed. ‘You excited about your party tomorrow, then? And is Mandira going to be there?’
‘Sadly not. You’ll have to wait to meet her for some other time. The two of you would get along great, though. You could sit around taking the piss out of me for hours.’ He nudged her thigh with his foot. ‘And yeah, party will be fun. Not every year I get to have my birthday party on my actual birthday.’
Mellie glanced at her watch. ‘Speaking of which, it’s nearly midnight. You’ll be seventeen soon.’ She smiled. ‘Happy birthday, Dave.’
He smiled back, and just then his mobile phone rang. Not an awful lot of people would ring him this late. He answered without looking at the display.
‘Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear Dave! Happy birthday to you!’
‘Aww, thanks babe!’
‘Hm, babe. I like that,’ said Nick. ‘You may continue calling me babe.’
‘I’ll call you Susan if I like, it’s my birthday.’
Mellie poked Dave’s shoulder and waved, grinning widely.
‘Mellie says hi,’ Dave told Nick. ‘At least I think that’s what she’s trying to communicate. She’s waving like a moron. No, you may not talk to him, Mels, he’s my boyfriend and it’s my birthday!’
Mellie gave up her efforts of taking the phone from him and sat back in a huff with her arms crossed. Nick laughed in Dave’s ear.
‘Tell her hi back,’ he said. ‘Tell her I’m excited about seeing her tomorrow. And I’m excited about seeing you too, of course,’ he added. ‘Lots of people showing up?’
‘The usual suspects. Couple of the guys from football—the non-homophobic ones. Chas asked if he could bring some girl. I’ll be interested in seeing what she’s like. And I invited a couple of the less bitchy girls from our year last year just to even the numbers a bit and make it less boring for the straight boys. Though I have today been reliably informed that I’m a misogynist.’
‘No, but I’m sure she’d agree. By Mandira who, as suspected, is not coming. Too bad, as she’s a girl I would have loved to have here. I came out to her today, though.’
‘Yeah? How’d she take it?’
‘Like it was nothing. I was impressed. Anyway, we should be about fifteen people tops tomorrow, if your Stuart comes along. It’s a good number. A crowd of fifteen I can just about control so they don’t tear the house apart. My dad would kill me.’
‘Sounds good. I’ll turn up a bit early tomorrow and help you set up, shall I?’
‘Come at three. Mellie has a mad idea that we should make pizza from scratch for the party, and my cooking is atrocious.’
Nick laughed again. ‘All right. See you tomorrow, then. I love you.’
‘Love you too.’ Dave hung up.
‘Aww, bless! You two are so cute!’ Mellie grinned at him, and he stuck his tongue out at her.
‘When you get a boyfriend, I will tease you so mercilessly your future children will feel constantly embarrassed and have no idea why.’
* * *
Even though it had only been a few weeks since they had last seen each other, when Nick and Dave had gone on a weekend trip to Manchester for Mellie’s birthday, Nick and Mel’s reunion was one of squeals, hugs and a lot of enthusiastic compliments, not least in reference to Mellie’s hair, which she had recently cut.
‘God, it’s so brilliant to see you again!’ said Nick, grinning widely. ‘I’ve missed you. Teasing Dave is never as fun without you.’
‘Well, I am finally here, and I promise that Dave shall be mercilessly taken the piss out of,’ Mellie said happily. ‘Don’t think you’re off the hook, though, mister. I’m an equal opportunity piss-taker. What’s going on with the hipster jeans?’
‘They’re not hipster jeans!’ Nick protested. ‘They’re just nice jeans!’
‘And they make his arse look fabulous,’ Dave interjected, slapping said arse a bit harder than strictly necessary, earning him a mock pout and a bite to the shoulder.
‘That I cannot argue with,’ Mellie admitted, and Nick blushed deep crimson.
Dave was glad that Mellie seemed to have got over her feelings for Nick. Aside from being extremely inconvenient, he knew they had also been very painful for her. Looking at her now, though, Dave couldn’t believe for a second that Mellie still felt unappreciated by the opposite sex. Where he might have previously referred to her as slightly chubby, she was now wonderfully curvy, and she had always had a pretty face—her switch from glasses to contacts only enhanced this fact. He felt sure that his cousin would find love any day now.
The pizzas turned out far better than expected. They made one with just tomato, one with pepperoni and pineapple, and one with ham and mushrooms. They topped them all with obscene amounts of cheese and more Provence herb mix than could possibly be healthy. By the time the first pizza was in the oven, Dave, Nick and Mellie were all covered in flour and very giggly.
The crusts turned out a bit uneven, and the one with pepperoni was nearly burned, but they all looked and smelled great. They filled up several large bowls with crisps of various kinds, and even made a bowl of fruit punch, the final ingredient of which arrived half an hour before the party was due to start, along with an already somewhat inebriated Matt.
Matt had been tasked with procuring alcohol, and he obliged with two bottles of vodka and several bottles of cheap wine. Quite how he had got hold of all this booze he seemed reluctant to say, but claimed he had his methods. When Dave theorised out loud that his methods involved sucking a lot of cock, Matt merely shrugged his shoulders and grinned.
Nick’s new friend Stuart was the most punctual of all the guests, arriving exactly at the stroke of five. When Nick, slightly nervously, introduced Dave as the birthday boy and his boyfriend, Stuart barely batted an eyelash, told Dave ‘happy birthday’ and Nick, ‘I thought you might have been gay.’ Dave wasn’t entirely convinced he liked this Stuart.
After that, the guests started trickling in at a steady pace, until the sitting room was full of some fifteen teenagers all munching pizza and drinking an assortment of alcoholic beverages. It was looking to be a good night.
* * *
‘No, but you see that’s why straight men are naturally homophobic,’ Stuart was saying. ‘Because the men who took on the gatherer role rather than the hunter role would be around the women all day and thus free to impregnate them without any other men interfering. Of course, that’s also why humans got cleverer, because the clever men found ways to pass on their genes without having to be the strongest.’
‘That is complete and utter bollocks,’ said Nick, shaking his head. ‘I seriously question your sources there.’
‘It’s all just common sense,’ Stuart insisted.
‘You’re ignoring one important thing, though. Gay men like blokes. I would never shag a woman.’
‘You say that now, but you totally would if you, A, had no willing men available and B, were surrounded by women all day and knew you needed to pass on your genes in order for stone-age society to advance.’
Dave shook his head and went to get another cup of punch. Then he walked over to the sofa and took a seat next to Alan. It had been a while since he’d had the opportunity to talk to his best friend. Things had been strained for a long while, even after Alan had apologised for his behaviour to both Dave and Nick, but by the time the summer holidays had started they had been mostly back to their old rapport. Now things seemed a bit tense again, however.
‘So, how are you liking Sapswell?’ Dave asked.
Alan shrugged his broad shoulders. ‘It’s all right. Not terribly different from secondary school. Loads of the same people are there.’
Dave laughed. There were a lot of those he wouldn’t miss. ‘Is Linda still a bitch?’ he asked.
‘Oh, Linda’s not at Sapswell.’ Alan grinned. ‘I heard her parents caught her having it off with some bloke and went a bit mental. Decided to send her to an all girls’ sixth form. She’s boarding and everything.’
Dave nearly spat out his drink. ‘Are you serious? Oh, she must hate that! Poor Linda.’ Though in truth he didn’t feel especially sorry for her at all. He nodded towards Chas, who sat in a lounge chair with Ellie, the girl he’d brought along, in his lap. ‘Quite a change Chas has made,’ Dave observed.
‘Yeah, he had us all fooled, I think,’ said Alan, nodding. ‘He’s doing well in Media Studies. And I think he met the girl in Computing. She’s into video games in a big way, and she’s gorgeous, so jackpot there.’
Ellie had seemed quite nice when Chas had introduced her to Dave. She had wide, hazel eyes and auburn hair, and seemed like a chatty, bubbly sort of girl. She was currently engaged in animated conversation with Mellie while Chas listened and stroked her arm lazily with his thumb. He looked calm and content.
‘What about you?’ Dave asked, turning to Alan again. ‘Have you . . . met anyone?’
Alan seemed to sort of stiffen. Then he looked away. ‘No,’ he said quietly. ‘Not really.’
‘You know,’ Dave pressed, lowering his voice, ‘coming out . . . It seems really, really difficult, but it feels really good once you do it.’
Alan turned his head towards him and glared. ‘I’m not doing that,’ he said through gritted teeth. ‘That’s not—it’s not me. All right? And besides, my dad—’
Dave raised both hands in surrender. ‘Fine, fine. Forget I said anything. Look, as long as you’re happy, I don’t care, yeah?’
‘Yeah.’ Alan seemed to force a smile. ‘I’m fine. You don’t need to worry or anything. So, did you get any cool presents from the parentals?’ It was an obvious change of topic, but Dave went along with it nonetheless. He grinned.
‘Just my driving licence. Starting lessons next week.’
‘Good on you!’ said Alan. ‘Road trips on the horizon, then?’
‘Yeah, except we’ll need a car. I somehow doubt my dad will let me take the Bentley . . . Maybe Nick’s sister might be persuaded to lend us her car.’
* * *
‘Thank you so much for letting me come!’ Ellie threw her arms around Dave’s neck and hugged him. ‘It was a really, really nice party!’ Then she pulled her coat shut and opened the door, stepping outside.
Chas shook Dave’s hand and smiled a half smile. ‘Isn’t she great?’ he said quietly.
‘She seems lovely,’ said Dave, returning his smile. ‘Good luck with it.’
‘Don’t need luck, mate,’ said Chas, zipping up his jacket. ‘I’ve got skill.’
Matt and Alan stayed behind to help with the clean-up, once the rest of the guests had gone. That is to say, Alan helped clean, while Matt hovered about and tried to convince him to come out for a cigarette, to which he finally agreed. By the time they returned, what must have been at least four cigarettes later, it had just gone two in the morning and Dave, Nick and Mellie had mostly finished tidying.
‘It’s fucking freezing out there!’ Matt complained.
‘Then you should have brought a jacket, you stupid twat,’ said Alan gruffly. Matt kicked him playfully in the shins, and Alan responded by swatting him upside the head.
‘Fuck, ow!’ Matt rubbed the back of his head, but was grinning. ‘Dave, mind if I crash here? It’s cold out, and I’m way too pissed to walk home on my own.’ His words were slurred.
‘Go ahead, but Mellie’s in the guest room and I promised the sofa to Alan.’
Matt shrugged. ‘I can sleep anywhere. I’ll just curl up in a chair or something.’
Alan shook his head. ‘You’ll kill your neck, stupid. Come on, I’ll walk you home. I can just as well crash on your couch as Dave’s. Could you lend this idiot a jacket or a hoodie or something so he doesn’t freeze to death?’ he asked, turning to Dave.
‘Er, yeah. Sure.’ Dave was taken aback. It was unusual for Alan to show such concern for anyone, least of all Matt, with whom he had gotten off to a very rough start. But he found an old canvas jacket in the back of the hall closet and gave it to Matt, who put it on with some difficulty.
‘All right, then, handsome,’ he said, turning to Alan and hooking their arms together. ‘Take me home.’
Alan rolled his eyes. ‘Bye, guys,’ he said, and then they both disappeared.
Dave, Nick and Mellie watched them go, wearing matching expressions of puzzlement.
‘So, are they . . . ?’ Mellie asked after a while.
‘No!’ said Dave and Nick at once.
‘That would be so weird,’ said Nick.
‘Yeah,’ Dave agreed. ‘They barely even tolerated each other last year.’
‘Ah, yes,’ said Mellie sagely. ‘Because people who used to hate each other ending up together is an utterly unfamiliar concept.’
Dave shook his head. ‘This is different. I’m glad they’re friends, though.’
Nick nodded. ‘Suppose they were together, though? That would be pretty cool.’
‘Alan’s nowhere near there yet,’ said Dave, shaking his head. ‘All right, you guys, bedtime! Especially you.’ He hooked his index fingers into the belt hoops on Nick’s jeans and pulled him close. ‘Don’t you owe me a birthday blow-job or something? Isn’t that the law?’
‘Well, technically it’s no longer your birthday,’ Nick pointed out, grinning.
Mellie laughed. ‘Right, I’ll leave you two alone. Night!’
‘Night!’ they told her together.
‘So, what do you say?’ Dave purred and kissed Nick on the nose.
Nick giggled. ‘How about we start with going to your room and see what happens after that?’
‘Sounds like a plan,’ said Dave and smiled.
Thanks for reading! I hope you liked it. If you have any questions, comments, or critiques, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.