A short story by Alice Oseman
i’m on my own
you’re at the beach
hundreds of miles away
i don’t wanna be that girl
i don’t wanna be that girl
Shura – What’s It Gonna Be?
I appear to be experiencing a mid-life crisis at the age of nineteen. Or some kind of late-onset teenage angst. Essentially, just a big old pile of sad that’s been caused by various failures that I am responsible for due to being an absolutely pathetic mess of a human being.
And now I’m having a bit of a cry on a garden bench at some randomer’s New Year’s Eve house party.
I’ve never been one to make resolutions. As if I’d ever do them if I did. People who say they’re gonna lose weight, or start exercising, or write a book, or whatever. No one ever does that shit. Dreams are stupid, anyway. Why get your hopes up for something amazing and unattainable and then live with the crushing weight of disappointment for the whole of your perfectly average life?
At the end of the day, being average is the most any of us can hope for. And I’ll fucking live by that. And I’ll be happy.
Once I’ve got it all out of my system with a good old vodka-fuelled cry.
A voice sounds to my left. I look up, only to see a girl standing just outside the backdoor to the house, her arms outstretched and her body frozen as if trying to camouflage into the brick wall behind her.
“Do you want to be alone?” she asks, grinning sheepishly like she’s done something very embarrassing. “You look like you’re having a moment.” With the word ‘moment’, she waggles her fingers, as if casting glitter into the air.
I hastily wipe the tears from my face. Shit. Makeup almost certainly everywhere. Probably look like a puffy mole.
“I’m fine,” I say, in what I hope is a convincing tone.
“I’m fine,” she repeats back at me, in an overly posh voice.
“Excuse me, I’m not that posh!” I snap at her. Who the fuck does this girl think she is?
I look her up and down. She looks like just another girl like me, on a night out, dressed up for no real reason other than wanting to feel kind of nice for once. She’s wearing quite a nice dress, actually. Burgundy velvet, long sleeves, a diamond shape cut out of the front. I wonder where she got it. Mind you, I don’t know how she’s surviving in December weather with bare legs and no jacket, but I guess I’m sitting here in just a dress and heels too, so I’m not really one to talk.
“Excuse me,” she repeats back at me, like she’s pretending to be the fucking queen. “Darling. I’m not that posh.”
I roll my eyes and turn away from her. I’m kind of drunk and starting an argument would be easy – God knows I’ve done that before – so best to just ignore. Ignoring people seems to be getting easier and easier with age.
“Okay, okay, sorry. That was mean.” The girl wanders over to my bench and sits down next to me, tucking her hands underneath her bare legs. “You have a great accent. Ten out of ten.”
I give her a look of disdain. Why is she sitting next to me?
“Mate, you’ve got eyeliner all smudged under your eyes,” she says, looking directly at me. The light from the house catches on the side of her head – half of her hair is buzzed, while the other half flows down past her shoulder. Lots of girls have that style nowadays. Have they even considered how hard it’s going to be to grow that out again? Imagine when the shaved side gets an inch long. That’s gonna look really weird.
“I’m aware,” I say.
“Do you want a makeup wipe?” She yanks her bag onto her lap. “I have a whole pack with me.” She unzips her bag and takes out a full packet of makeup wipes.
“Why… did you bring a whole packet?” I ask.
“Dude. For, like, severe emergencies. Like this one.” She whips out a makeup wipe and hands it to me. I look at it for a second, and then take it and start mopping at my eyes.
“Thanks,” I say.
“It’s fine,” she says, and when I look at her, she’s smiling, smugly.
“What d’you want?” I ask.
She shrugs and looks away, over the garden. “Just wondered why you’re out here by yourself, crying. It’s pretty dramatic.”
“How about you mind your own fucking business?”
“Wow.” The girl holds up both her hands. “Sorry, mate. D’you want me to go away?”
I look at her. She looks harmless. Younger than me, probably. She starts swinging her legs – they aren’t quite long enough to reach the ground, despite the heels she’s wearing.
“No, it’s fine,” I mumble and look away again.
Someone from inside the house shrieks “FOUR MINUTES”, meaning that there are only four minutes to go until midnight. God, has this evening gone by that fast? I feel like I’ve barely talked to anyone here. Haven’t even danced. I’ve only had four or five drinks, for God’s sake. What have I even been doing? Just sitting here, like a fucking miserable wreck?
“So, what you crying about, mate?” the girl asks.
I resist the urge to snap at her again. It really isn’t her business, but… who gives a fuck. It’s not like I’ll ever see her again, is it?
“Just my shit life,” I say.
“What’s shit about it?”
She laughs. “Wanna be a bit more specific?”
I stare at her, and then lean back heavily into the bench.
“All right,” I say. “So, I’m dropping out of uni halfway through my second year, which doesn’t matter because I don’t have any friends there and I would fail my course anyway. None of my friends from home talk to me anymore because they’ve all moved on and have new uni friends and new lives. I literally don’t have any future prospects because I’m so extraordinarily average at everything and I have no talents or dreams or anything, and to top it all off, I dumped another boyfriend last week because, yet again, he turned out to be a fucking piece of shit, because all guys are fucking disgusting and don’t even consider girls to be people.”
Raine leans back in the bench so we’re level with each other. She folds her arms and lets out a heavy sigh.
“Fucking hell,” she says. “That’s some stuff.”
“THREE MINUTES,” calls someone from inside the house. As if I give a shit.
“Yeah,” I say, and wipe another tear that’s forming in my eye. God, I don’t want to cry anymore.
“I don’t have any advice, by the way,” she says. “I’m a bit of an average piece of shit myself.”
This actually makes me chuckle a bit.
“Are you?” I ask.
“Oh, yeah. One hundred percent. Like, I’m pretty much failing all of my A-Levels. No chance of getting to uni. I’m really unpopular, like, I don’t have any real friends. I mean, I have all these people who talk to me, but, like, no one who actually knows me that well. D’you know what I mean?”
Surprisingly, I do actually know what she means.
“Yeah,” I say. “Yeah, definitely. Like, you’ve got this big friendship group, and they all talk to you, but no one actually cares that much about you. Everything’s fine when you’re being funny and likeable and stuff, but… like, no one would give a shit if they saw me like this.”
“From afar, everyone thinks you’re popular,” she says, nodding wildly at me. “But, like, in reality, you don’t have any real friends.”
“That’s literally it!” I say.
Wow. Never met anyone who really got that before. Even my own mum thinks I’m being stupid when I tell her I have no friends.
“TWO MINUTES,” shouts the voice.
Two minutes until the new year.
The music blares on from the party, the heavy bass making the floor vibrate underneath my feet.
“Sounds like we should be friends,” the girl says, holding eye contact. Her hair, dark and soft, moves gently in the wind.
I laugh again. “Should we?”
“Yeah, man. Fake Popular Girls Unite.”
“Popular girl. Haven’t been one of those for a while.”
“Well, you’re popular with one person,” says the girl, and she nudges me on the shoulder with a fist. “And that’s me.”
This actually makes me snort. “Thanks… I think?”
“Your hair is so great, by the way,” she says, looking at my hair. I’ve kept it down today and it really needs a cut. “I’ve always wanted to dye my hair a cool colour.”
“Thanks,” I say.
“Have you had it like that for long, or…?”
“Yeah… over three years now, actually.”
“Holy shit, that’s so cool. You’re Purple Girl.” She grins.
I groan. “Purple Girl sounds like the worst superhero ever.”
“Nah, I think you’d be great. Dressed all in purple. Like a big old plum.”
“You’re just making it worse.”
We both laugh.
The girl swings her legs more rapidly.
“Don’t have a midnight kiss, then?” she asks.
I snort. “Who gives a shit… I’m not twelve-”
“So you don’t, then?”
“Why would I be sitting out here alone if I did?”
“Wanna be mine?”
It takes a few moments for me to fully understand the implication of the question.
“I-” I find myself stuttering, suddenly feeling kind of awkward. “Er, I’m not- I’m not gay.”
She shrugs. “Neither am I.”
There’s a pause. Fireworks have already started going off in far away in the town, and everyone inside the house are shouting the numbers, counting down to the near year, and I’m struck with how little I care about anything. I don’t care about the new year and I don’t care about my life, I don’t care about what I’ve told to this random girl and I don’t care about kissing her, or not kissing her, or whatever I do. It doesn’t matter what I do, because I’m still just going to feel nothing.
“All right, then,” I say, with a wobbly smile. “Why not?”
She grins back. “Why not?”
And then, just as the party-goers reach the end of their countdown, she leans in close to me and it’s different to the other times I’ve been this close to another girl. Different from drunken hugs and drunken kisses on foreheads, different from doing each other’s makeup and hair, different from food fights and face paint and pokes on cheeks. Our lips meet and it’s not like I haven’t kissed anyone before, God, I’ve kissed a shit ton of people, people who were amazing at it and people who didn’t seem to know how to move their mouth, but it feels new and different to all of that. Maybe it’s the drink. Maybe it’s the way she moves her arm over my shoulder and pulls me closer, not like a boy who just wants to fuck you but like a friend who wants you to feel good about yourself. Maybe I’m just imagining all of this.
She moves her lips so softly against mine and I like her, I like this, I just let the moment happen, hoping, praying that something good is happening, that something good is happening to me.
“You know, Lorraine, if you’re struggling with any particular topics, you can always come and find me in my classroom at lunchtimes,” says Mrs Edmonds, in the sweetest old lady voice I’ve ever heard.
I smile a thin-lipped smile at her. It’s not her fault I’m failing my history A-Level. It’s my fault for being fundamentally unable to retain information in my obviously pea-sized brain.
“You’re a bright girl,” she says, nodding sadly across her desk. “You just… you’re just not quite there yet, are you?”
Not quite there. Summary of my life, am I right?
“I’ll get there,” I say.
“I know you will. But if you need any help-”
“I’m good, I promise, I’m good.”
I get the heck out of there.
I mean. I got a D on the essay.
That’s pretty good for me.
I know it’s a bit shit compared to everyone else. I know it won’t get me into university.
But I’m just being me. And that’s all I can be.
I skip fifth period and wander out of school. I don’t have a lesson and no one will notice I’m gone. Well, I’d skip it even if I did have a lesson. I don’t think anyone would notice then either.
In fact, even if they did notice, I still think I’d skip.
Don’t give a shit.
I’ve been gradually caring less and less about anything that I do at school for some time now, but over the last year, there are a few things in particular I’ve been coming to terms with.
Firstly, your friends probably aren’t actually behaving like friends. They’re just people you hang out with when it’s convenient. Real friends are people who travel across the country to see each other and stop them eventually killing themselves because they’re having a mental breakdown and their mother is the epitome of evil. Yeah. Long story. Don’t worry about it.
Secondly, no one gives a shit about you unless you’re good at academic stuff, which, by the way, I’m not. They just force you into detention, as if being made to do practise papers over and over again is going to help you learn anything.
Thirdly, if anyone ever tells you that being a teenager is fun, they’re lying.
As I’m walking down the road towards the high street, my phone buzzes in my pocket. I fish it out and glance at the screen. It’s another text from Carys.
I put my phone back in my pocket. I’ll answer it later.
Now, I’m pretty sure afternoon drinking is a sign of alcoholism. And I also know that I haven’t drank alcohol for almost two years.
But sometimes you’ve just gotta not give a fuck. Right? Right.
I wander into the high street Wetherspoons and head towards the bar. There are a few people here, mostly people out for a casual lunch or a drink with friends, and a fair few old men just sitting and drinking and reading newspapers. Hopefully there’ll be a free booth I can go and hide in.
When I reach the bar and look up at the bartender, I nearly turn around and leg it.
It’s the girl.
That girl. Purple girl. From New Year’s Eve.
She gives me a thin-lipped smile and says, “What can I get you?”
Oh, bloody hell. Even worse. She doesn’t even recognise me.
She looks exactly the same. Her hair’s still super long – seriously, how does anyone deal with having hair that long? Must take literally two hours to wash.
She gives me a weird look. Oh. I need to say something.
“Er-” Fucking get it together. What do people even drink nowadays? I was just on pure vodka, the last time I drank. “Erm, can I have a cider, please?”
“Could I possibly see some I.D.?”
“Oh, yeah, sure.” It takes an awkward minute for me to get my driving licence out of my purse. She looks at it, and I can see her trying to calculate whether I’m actually eighteen. Looks like she’s as bad at maths as I am.
When she’s done, she nods and hands it back to me.
“Which cider?” she asks.
Fuck. I’ve made a terrible mistake. I don’t know the names of any ciders.
“Whatever’s… cheapest?” I offer.
She chuckles. “Half-pint of Strongbow, then.”
I pay, and then she picks up a glass and moves away towards the tap of Strongbow.
The sensible and normal thing to do here would be to just not say anything. Just get my drink and go away.
Unfortunately, I’ve never been known to be sensible or normal, so there’s that idea out the window.
“I think we’ve met before,” I say, when Purple Girl plonks my drink down in front of me.
She looks up at me in alarm, then frowns at me, squinting. “Have we?”
“Yep. New Year’s Eve?”
Her expression changes from confusion, then to sudden realisation, and then to vague embarrassment. It’s kind of funny.
“Oh, right,” she says. “Sorry… Your hair is different now.”
Of course. I dyed my hair silver a few weeks back. I probably look like a completely different person.
She starts rearranging the glasses behind the bar.
Then she says, “I didn’t realise how young you were.”
“I’m… eighteen. You literally just checked my licence.”
“Yeah, well, I’m twenty.”
“That’s not that much older.”
“You’re still at school.”
What’s she on about? I laugh at her. “Have you never gotten off with someone younger than you?”
She snorts. “Well, no, to be honest.”
“Well, sorry for not giving you a full and complete bio beforehand.” I waggle my fingers in a showbiz-like fashion. “Raine Sengupta. Female. Eighteen. Kent, UK.”
“Raine.” She snorts again. My name sounds hilarious in her posh accent. “What sort of name is that?”
“It’s short for Lorraine.”
“Oh god, Lorraine? That’s even worse.”
“What’s your name?”
She puts down the glasses and smiles at me, amusedly. “Becky Allen.”
“Becky. I mean, that could use some work, mate. That’s one of the plainest names out there. You couldn’t even go for Bex or Becca or something?”
“I didn’t exactly have any choice, to be fair.”
There’s a pause. Becky leans forward and rests her chin on her hand.
She’s pretty. Like, really pretty, actually. She’s got that classic wide-mouth, big-eye look. Cute makeup. Sleeves rolled up to her elbows. She seems cool, too, from the very few things that I know about her. The purple hair. The fact that she’s working here, at a dingy Wetherspoons, in the middle of the day. All that stuff she was talking about on New Year’s Eve – yeah, I remember. I know she’s a bit like me, in some ways, anyway.
“Well, sorry for making out with you,” I say. “It was kind of rude.”
She laughs. All her laughs sound vaguely sarcastic. “It wasn’t that bad.”
“No.” She shrugs. “It was nice to have someone to talk too. I wasn’t in the best mood at the time. And going into the new year alone would have been really sad.”
She doesn’t like being alone. Like me.
She nods at the full glass of Strongbow in front of me. “You gonna drink that, then?”
I look at it too. It suddenly looks a lot less appealing than it had been when I came in here.
“I haven’t had alcohol for, like, two years,” I say, with a laugh.
She frowns. “What? Why?”
“Er… I got a bit… insane when I was, like, sixteen. Went a bit too far into the party scene. Swore off alcohol ever since.”
“Oh.” She seems to sense she’s entering deep territory. “Why the fuck did you order it then?”
“I don’t know! I don’t know. I just felt like it.”
“Yeah, well, I feel like walking out of here and getting a sausage roll from Greggs, but I don’t just do it, do I?”
I watch in amazement as she glances from left to right, and seeing that the other bartenders are busy, grabs my drink and literally downs it in one go.
Once she’s done, she slams the empty glass down in front of me and wipes her mouth.
“Holy fucking shit on a bike,” I say.
She tucks a stray strand of hair behind one ear. “That’s my party trick.”
“That’s fucking amazing.”
“Yeah, well, thanks for the free drink.” She smirks at me. “And you should stay alcohol-free for as long as you can. It just makes things shit.”
She walks away before I can say anything else because another customer has approached the bar.
And I’m just sitting there with an empty glass and an open mouth.
When she returns, I say, “We need to be friends.”
She raises her eyebrows. “Do we, now?”
“If you want to.”
She grabs one of the taps and pours me a glass of lemonade.
“I don’t mind,” she says.
The girl I made out with on New Year’s Eve is called Raine and I’ve been talking to her at work for at least two hours.
As it turns out, she’s actually a fairly nice person.
She might have been a nice person on New Year’s Eve as well, but I don’t really remember what we talked about. I remember the kiss, though.
First kiss with a girl.
Well, it was bound to happen at some point, knowing me.
I didn’t recognise her at first because she’s dyed her hair silver. It looks excellent. And she does look a bit younger in her school clothes – she’s wearing office wear, so she must go to the Academy. I wish we’d had office wear at Higgs and Truham. We had to wear uniform until the day we left.
I learn all the basics about her life throughout the rest of my shift. She’s a severe under-achiever, which is surprising, because she doesn’t seem unintelligent. She’s not going to university, which is kind of nice to hear, since I’m a university drop-out. She’s got a couple of friends – she tells me this fucking insane story about going to Durham to persuade one of them to leave university, or something – but no one she thinks she’s very close to. And she used to be a party girl. House parties, clubbing with fake I.D.s, drinking so much that she had to have her stomach pumped twice? She mumbles something about probably having taken LSD at some point but she isn’t actually sure, and one day she was so drunk and/or high that she nearly fell off the river bridge. That’s when she called it quits.
I tell her all about how I came to leave university – how I’d been failing, and hating it, and I couldn’t deal with being there anymore – and how I’m living back home with my parents doing nothing except this shitty job. I tell her how my friends have all moved on, really, even Tori, who I used to think was my best friend, but I think that was my fault. I almost start telling her about how my future and life is so dull that sometimes I don’t even want to get out of bed, but then I check myself, because getting that deep would kind of be awkward. I do tell her that I used to be a party girl too – though, not quite at LSD level – but that all came to a close after my horrible Freshers’ Week, in which there was such a high risk of sexual assault that I left at 11pm on the first night and refused to go out again for the rest of the week.
Before I know it, my shift ends, and we’ve been talking for a good three or four hours.
When we step outside, it’s starting to get dark.
“I really don’t want to go home,” says Raine. She laughs and looks at me.
“Neither do I,” I admit. Going home would mean going back to my boring life. I haven’t spoken to someone so much for months, maybe even years.
“We should go out,” she says, and for a moment I think she might be asking me out, but then she says, “We should go out for the night. A homage to our younger days.”
“But… why would we do that if we can’t drink?” I ask, confused. “I have to drive home later.”
“Because you get to hang out with me,” Raine says, smiling cheekily. “And I’m great.”
I laugh, momentarily not knowing how to reply. I glance at my phone. “Well, I guess it’s only seven o’clock.”
“Perfect. We start at The Crown.” She points at the pub over the road. “About nine, we move to Oliver’s Bar.”
“Oliver’s Bar?” I raise my eyebrows. “Bit upmarket, isn’t it?”
“You never went to Oliver’s Bar? But you’re at least ten times posher than me!”
“I don’t go anywhere where the cocktails are fucking nine pounds.”
“All right, all right, then we go to The City Wall. They have good music.”
I nod approvingly.
“And then…” Raine steps forward into the high street road and points down to the right. “Johnny R’s.”
Johnny R’s is the biggest nightclub in town. I’ve been there probably more times than I’ve been to my grandparents’ house.
It’s a disgusting, sticky, dark hellhole of a club.
Raine quickly picks up on my look of disgust. She skips up to me. “Come ooon. Barely anyone goes there anymore anyway.”
I sigh. “Fine. But if any gross men even approach me, I’m leaving.”
“Honestly, same.” She claps her hands together. “All right! Are we ready?”
I glance down at what I’m wearing – my black Wetherspoons shirt and black skinny jeans. Not my best clubbing outfit, but I have seen worse.
I look at Raine. She’s smiling wide. She seems so excited.
“We’re ready,” I say.
Our couple of hours at The Crown passes quickly and we both make it through a huge bowl of chips and a huge bowl of nachos. Raine is extremely easy to talk to. She picks up on lulls in the conversation without any hesitation, but she also actually listens to you when you’re talking, instead of just smiling and nodding and putting up with you. It feels weird to be sitting in a pub totally sober, only drinking J20s, and almost makes me feel nervous. Or maybe I’m nervous for other reasons.
We run over our schedule and don’t get to The City Wall until about ten, and the music is already so loud that talking to each other is impossible. Doesn’t really matter. They’re playing a Katy Perry song, which apparently Raine loves, because as soon as we get inside she puts her hands in the air and skips into the crowd of people, who are all dancing, bobbing up and down, middle-aged women and groups of lads and kids only just turned eighteen. I hoist my bag onto my back and follow her, grinning. Haven’t done this for so long.
The music is so good. Drowns everything out. There’s only me and Raine and the flashing lights, changing her skin from red to green to purple to silver. She grabs my hands and holds them up in the air as we jump up and down. People standing around send her approving nods, as if they can feel how happy she is, they can feel how excited and joyous and good she is, all understanding why people like us might end up in a high street bar on a weekday night, all joined together in our dysfunction. I can’t stop smiling. People like us get to feel joy too, sometimes.
Johnny R’s is only half-full when we got there, as Raine promised. My ears are still ringing, but I catch Raine saying, “Mate, I am sweating one out,” which makes me laugh, and say, “This is my exercise for the month,” and then she looks at me and says, “This is my favourite day of the month so far,” and I look at her and say, “Same.”
We dance some more until the club gets so crowded that we can just dissolve into the bodies and the bass vibrating under our feet.
“Haha, you look like a hot mess,” says Raine, laughing. We’re heading to the car park now, finally too tired to dance anymore.
I pat my head tentatively. I can feel my fringe sticking to my forehead.
“The sign of a good night,” I say, nodding.
“I can’t believe I had a good night out without alcohol.”
“See? You should become alcohol-free, like me.”
“Oh god, no way. I don’t know how you do it.”
“Well…” Raine nods. “Nearly falling off a bridge to your watery doom has a way of changing your mind about some stuff.”
We both laugh and turn the corner off the high street, walking down some stone steps towards the car park. The yellowish light of the surrounding streetlamps turns Raine’s hair gold. All is silent bar the whoosh of traffic in the distance.
“We should do this again sometime,” says Raine.
“Or, like, other stuff. Shopping. Cinema.”
I glance to one side. I genuinely do want to hang out with her again. Quite a lot.
She feels my gaze and turns her head towards me. We start to talk a little slower.
“What?” she asks, smiling.
I shake my head and look away. “Nothing.”
She stops walking entirely and says, “Dude.”
I stop a couple of paces ahead and turn back to her. “What?”
Then she steps forward and kisses me.
It’s so unexpected that I just freeze. It’s not like back on New Year’s Eve, where we just sort of mutually agree to make out, just for fun. This feels more serious, somehow, even though the kiss isn’t as deep and the way she puts her hand on my arm is much more gentle.
It scares me.
When she pulls back after only a brief moment, I can’t hide the fear from my face. Her own expression drops.
“Shit,” she says, “sorry, I just- I thought-”
Has she only been hanging out with me the entire evening because she wants to get with me?
Just like all the boys, really. That’s why I don’t really like being friends with boys. You be nice to them and that means they think they can get with you.
I’m not gay. I’ve had boyfriends. I’ve had literally eight different boyfriends. I’ve had sex with boys multiple times.
Raine starts to babble. “S-sorry- I- I don’t think before I do shit like that… I just do stuff without thinking, I’m so sorry, I-”
I guess she didn’t really want to be friends. She just wanted to get with me. Just like the boys.
Was it too much to think I might actually have made a good friend?
“I thought… you wanted to be friends…” I mumble, not able to meet her eyes. She frowns. “Of course I do!”
I shake my head. That’s what they all say. They just want to be friends, and then they expect you to get with them. I’m used to this. I don’t fall for this shit anymore, not like I used to.
“I’m gonna go,” I say, and walk past Raine without looking at her, start walking so fast that I practically jog down the rest of the steps and into the car park, ignoring the way she calls my name.
Too much. I expected too much. I should have learnt by now. I’m just a fucking party girl. People want to get with me, or they just put up with me. I don’t get to have real friends. I don’t get to make that special connection with someone who genuinely cares about me, not like nice, good people do. Not like Tori did.
Rita, my older sister, is doing uni work at the kitchen table when I slink past her at 1pm to get some breakfast. She gives me a disapproving look, which immediately annoys me. Not my fault that she’s the achiever of the family. Not my fault I went to bed at 4am last night because I watched the entire first season of Brooklyn 99.
Okay, maybe that last one was slightly my fault.
“Is something up?” Rita asks, swivelling round in her chair to look at me.
Normally, Rita would be one of the first people to find out the intimate details of my personal life. She got the brains, I got the drama.
However, I don’t really want to get into what’s been happening over the past few weeks right now with anyone.
There’s really no casual way to announce that you’re probably attracted to girls as well as boys and have just broken up with your first girlfriend.
Not that Carys and I ever really classified ourselves as girlfriends.
She never seemed like she wanted that. Which I went along with. Because I’m a big fucking idiot.
“I’m hungry, that’s what’s up,” I say, swinging the cereal cupboard open. Rita turns away back to her physics equations or whatever she’s doing.
All in all, Carys and I went wrong because she didn’t think it was serious, whereas it was obviously serious for me, because she was the first girl I’d ever gone out with. Plus, I liked her. We started talking after she said she could help me work out what to do after school. We quickly stopped talking about that and started talking about other things. Then we stopped talking very much and started doing other things instead.
We got together back in May, after having been texting for ages. We lasted almost three months before she started messaging me less and seemed less interested when we met up.
She got bored.
I wish it hadn’t made me sad, but it did.
Anyway, that was a month ago, and I’ve dealt with it. Plus, I’m out of school.
And I have no idea what I’m doing with my life.
Mum set me up with an interview for an admin job at the local council. It’s only a temporary thing, but they just need someone to file stuff and write emails and whatever else you do in offices. Sounds like it’s something I can do, despite the horrendous A-Level results I received last week.
I put on one of my school suits and get there in good time. I even dyed my hair black last night specially. At least if I got a job, my family will get off my back.
Imagine being Rita. Studying physics at a top university.
The council offices are in the next town over. About a fifteen minute drive. I park in a theatre car park and find my way there using Google Maps. The building is super old and looks really, really miserable.
It’s just a temporary job. It’s not forever.
I head inside and tell the receptionist my name. He tells me to sit down on one of the chairs in the corner of the room, where there are a few other interviewees waiting.
When I look over to them, I spot her immediately.
It takes her a moment to realise it’s me, and I’m honestly surprised I recognised her anyway.
The purple hair is gone. She’s dyed it brown and cut at least half its length off.
It looks weird on her.
She still looks pretty, obviously, but it doesn’t seem to suit her.
Her expression is unreadable.
Is she still angry? Oh god. She probably never wanted to see me again.
“Hi,” she says, sitting up in her seat.
I sit down cautiously next to her. “Hi.”
We’re immediately interrupted by a voice calling out, “Becky Allen?”
“Good luck,” I say as she stands up.
She smiles down at me. Just as lovely as I remember it. “Thanks.”
After my own interview has finished, I find her sitting on a low brick wall outside the building, sipping from a bottle of water.
Is she waiting for me?
“Becky,” I call out to her as I approach.
She twists round to look at me, her expression brightening. “Hey.”
I sit down on the brick wall next to her. Should I start by apologising again? She was totally right to be angry at me. I was angry at myself.
She looks different. Not just the hair. She looks smaller. Maybe it’s just the way she’s hunching her shoulders.
“You- you dyed your hair,” I say.
She snorts. “How very well observed.”
“No, I mean… you had it purple for so long before that.”
“Yeah, well. Gotta grow up at some point, haven’t you.”
She sounds bitter. Sad, even.
“I preferred it purple,” I say.
She snorts again. “Oh great, thanks.”
“You still look really nice. Purple was more you, though.”
She looks away. “Yeah.”
I need to just say I’m sorry. Then maybe walk away. I don’t think there’s any chance we’re going to be friends again. She’s a straight white girl. Not openly homophobic but still freaks out when presented with gay people.
I’m about to speak but she gets there first, the sun peeking out from behind a cloud and shining down on one side of her face.
“I missed you,” she says.
In the sunlight, I can kind of see traces of purple beneath the brown hair dye.
I swallow. “Did you?”
She chuckles and looks away. “Maybe I’m just starved for attention.”
What does that mean? What do I say?
“I did the wrong thing,” she continues. “On our night out.”
What’s she referring to? She thinks she was wrong to be friends with me? Or she was wrong to… turn me down?
“Okay, look.” She sighs. “I don’t trust people who want to get with me by being my friend first. Pretty much every guy I’ve been with has done that to me. Pretended to be my friend just so he can get with me.” She shoots a quick glance at me, then looks away again. “But I don’t think you were doing that. You’re not… manipulative. Like they are.”
She thought I was just hanging out with her because I wanted to get off with her.
“I just jumped to a conclusion,” she says, as if telling herself off. “Because no one that’s ever liked me in that way has ever actually cared about my feelings.”
“I care about your feelings,” I say, my voice quietening.
She smiles at me. “Where’ve you been for the past five months, then?”
“I thought… you probably wouldn’t want to talk to me again-”
“Well, yeah. I didn’t for a while.” She shrugs. “Then I realised that I’m a fucking idiot. Surprise, surprise.”
What is happening? What’s she saying? Where the fuck is this going?
“Are you gay?” she asks quietly.
I fiddle with my sleeves. “Well… no, I- I don’t really mind what gender I, er, get with.”
“Er, yeah. Sort of. I guess.” I don’t go into the pansexual thing. She probably doesn’t even know what that is.
“Sorry for being a dick back then,” she says.
She’s apologising now? That should be me.
I start to say “I’m sorry for-” but she interrupts me halfway through by leaning towards me and kissing me gently on the mouth. I’m so surprised I nearly start laughing.
When she moves back, and I’m just sitting there, open-mouthed, she smiles, sun shining down on her like she’s a heavenly apparition, and says, “That’s payback.”
Neither of us gets the job.
We hang out every day for a full week. We go to the cinema (we both like thrillers), we go shopping (neither of us buy anything because we’re poor), we take Becky’s dog for a few walks. On the final day, Becky comes round mine, as the rest of my family have gone on holiday. I decided not to go with them, claiming that I needed this time to look for a job. In reality I just wanted to get the fuck away from them and their expectations for a while.
Becky and I order a pizza and watch three episodes of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, though we stop watching properly halfway through as we’ve got too much to talk to each other about.
That’s one of the things I like about us. We can’t stop talking to each other.
Another thing I like about us is that we don’t need to drink to have fun with each other.
When I was younger, the only way I could have fun with other people was to drink.
Eventually the TV goes off and we’re just snuggled in blankets on the sofa, talking in lowered voices.
“It’s weird that we met,” she says, at some point.
“I feel like you’re me from the past.”
I grin. “But I’m way less grumpy than you.”
She elbows me in the side and we both laugh.
Then she says, a little quieter. “Please don’t become like me.”
We hug, and don’t let go.
It’s Becky who leans in for the first kiss.
This one feels like a real first kiss. Because we’re both ready for it. We both want it. Neither of us are trying to impress or trying to be romantic. It just feels right.
She pulls me in with all of her limbs, fingertips brushing so softly against my arms, then my neck, then my cheeks. She stops after a moment and just laughs and says, “This is funny,” which completely throws me off for a moment before she kisses me again, harder, more urgent. I break us apart soon after, not so much worried as totally confused that she even wants to do this, and ask, “Is this- are you sure this is okay?” to which she snorts and says, “I would say so if it wasn’t.”
And then we’re kissing more.
Hands drift from shoulders and arms to waists and legs. I start laughing because I very quickly get pins and needles in my left leg, so we move around and I end up sitting on her lap, but then my hair gets in her eyes, which makes her laugh, so she ties my hair up with a spare hairband she had on her wrist into a bun on the top of my head, which makes her laugh even more, especially while I sit there pulling faces and asking her whether she finds me attractive.
Eventually the sofa feels too small and neither of us show any signs of wanting to stop, so I say, “We could go upstairs, if you want?”
She raises her eyebrows. “Are you literally asking me to have sex with you?”
“No! It just might be comfier, and- like, I- you wouldn’t want to, right?”
To my amazement, she shrugs. “I’d be up for it.”
My mouth feels very dry all of a sudden. “You mean… sex?”
Becky produces a fake, exaggerated gasp. “Sex? Shock horror! What will mother say? A young lady of but twenty years old, having sex? What a disgrace.”
I’m too busy both laughing and internally combusting to think of a response.
“Don’t know what I’m doing, though,” she says. “With boys it’s all just a bit…” She raises her hands, poking one finger through a circle she makes with the opposite thumb and forefinger. “You know. Bit straightforward.”
“More like boring,” I say.
“D’you know what I mean!”
“It’s so dull! And they usually have no idea what they’re doing.”
“True. They think it’s just in, out, in, out, done. Every single fucking time.”
“Have you never even watched gay porn?”
She wrinkles her nose. “No. Well, I tried watching straight porn, once, but it was just very violent and I didn’t like it.”
“Wow. You’re way more sensitive than you appear.”
She grins and glances off to the side. “Leave me alone.”
She’s kind of adorable when she’s a bit embarrassed.
I kiss her on the cheek. She turns to me and kisses me on the mouth.
“Are we going upstairs, then?” she asks.
It takes us about ten minutes to get upstairs because we keep stopping to kiss against walls. I keep wondering whether we’re going too fast, but we both want it, and it’s not like either of us haven’t had sex before, so I dispel my worries and try to remember everything I’ve learnt about having sex with girls.
I really, really don’t want to get this wrong.
I don’t want her to regret it.
It feels a little awkward, but not awkward enough to make either of us want to stop.
Becky freezes when we get inside my bedroom, which immediately worries me that she doesn’t want this or I’ve pressured her into doing something she doesn’t want to do but then she says, “How the fuck is your bedroom this tidy?”
“I… tidy it? Sometimes?”
“This is unreal.” She wanders around the room, holding out her arms as if measuring the space around her. “I thought you’d be messy. Like me.”
“Well… we’re not exactly the same person, mate.”
“Yes, apparently you still have some remnants of your life together.”
I stay quite still near the doorway, not quite sure where to take things from here. I’m never this nervous when I have sex with people.
Maybe it’s because I’m having sex with someone I actually like, this time.
Becky turns round to face me, and then in one quick swoosh, takes her t-shirt off. She gestures at me to come towards her with a nod of her head. “Come on, then. Ain’t got all day. I’m a very busy gal.”
I grin and step towards her.
Once we get on the bed, I’m so nervous that I can hear my heart pounding in my ears. She pulls my top off and I roll over to shuffle my leggings down, then look back at her to find her staying very still, just kind of staring at me. When she realises I’ve seen her staring, she says, “Sorry! Sorry, I’m being a nervous idiot,” and laughs shakily.
“We still don’t have to do this right now if you don’t want to-”
“I definitely want to,” she says, and seems to get a sudden surge of boldness, takes her jeans off, and kisses me.
“I actually do really like you,” she says, a little quieter.
“I just… this is kind of new territory for me.”
“Ugh,” she says, loudly. “I hate being serious. I hate being a fucking grown-up.”
I grin. “Shall we just have sex and talk about it later?”
Maybe that’s unwise. But that’s who we are, after all.
We kiss, rolling over so that I’m balanced above her and her hair spills over my pillows. We take each other’s underwear off, though both of us are struggling to take anything seriously and Becky keeps making ‘Careless Whisper’ saxophone noises just to make me laugh. When my hands and my kisses wander elsewhere, she grows quieter, but every time she smiles at me, I feel like my life is a little bit better. When she makes other sounds, I feel so desperate for this to go on for the rest of my life. When I reach out to kiss her lips again, she clings onto me, not in that violent way that I’ve always hated, but feeling that she really does want to be here with me right now more than she wants to be anywhere else in the world.
When she finds out how extremely ticklish I am, that descends into a hysterical tickle fight for at least five minutes. When we get to the things that Becky’s never done before, settling with me sitting on top, holding each other’s hands, we’re both much more relaxed, and keep joking and laughing, Becky warning me that she’s going to rate what happens next out of ten, me suggesting that she draw up a mark scheme. Things never really quite get totally serious, and there’s never that silence that I’m used to during sex, the wait for it to be over while the other person does their thing. This is so much better because God, it’s fun.
For a while we just become desperate touches, searching for something more than what we have.
“I really wish we’d saved some pizza for after this,” says Becky, who has wrapped herself right up to her chin in my duvet after complaining that my room is the temperature of a fridge.
“I think we have ice cream in the freezer.”
“No. I need carbs. Good, reliable carbs.”
“Sounds like you need more exercise, mate.”
Becky pokes me on the forehead and we both laugh.
We get dressed and go downstairs so I can cook some sausage rolls. As we’re munching away at the kitchen table, chatting, Becky asks, “Have you had sex with a girl before, then?”
I swallow. “Yeah. Just one, though.”
“Who was she?”
I raise my hand to my mouth in faux-shock. “What’s this? Jealousy!?”
Becky throws a sausage roll at me, which I just manage to duck in time. “No! I’m just curious.”
“Well, I met her a few months back through some other friends. She lives in London, but we messaged a lot, and… I don’t know. I think I’d always been a bit curious about, like, being with girls. One thing led to another, I guess. She’s gay.”
Becky is munching slowly. “Only a few months ago?”
“Yeah… It was kind of sudden. And over very quickly. I think she wanted to be with someone a bit more experienced.”
Becky raises her eyebrows. “That’s a terrible reason to break up with someone.”
“She wasn’t really into me very much, to be honest.”
“She sounds more and more awful by the second.”
There’s a comfortable pause.
Then Becky says, “I… I’m not just a rebound, am I?”
She nods, believing me. “Okay.”
“I would literally go out with you,” I say, my mouth completely full of pastry. “I mean, if you want to.”
She stays silent for a moment.
“Well… I just… I think I need a bit more time to, er, sort myself out, first,” she says.
I sit up a little. “What d’you mean?”
“I mean… just sort out my life. Sort out what’s going in my head. Try to actually… get my life in order before, you know. Going out with anyone.”
“You know we literally just had sex, right?” I say.
“Oh, no, what? I totally didn’t notice,” she says, but it doesn’t make me laugh.
“You don’t want to go out with me?” I ask.
“It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just-”
This is Carys all over again.
Using me for sex.
Which, of course, I always fall for. I always think the best is going to happen, and people make me fall for them, and then they turn around and say they don’t want me.
“Why would you- why would we do this if you don’t want to go out?”
Becky suddenly seems a bit annoyed. “Well, let’s be real, we never specified that before we did it, and I don’t exactly owe you anything, do I?”
The words cut into me like a fucking knife.
“But… I thought you’d want to,” I say. “You said you liked me.”
“I do, I- well, I’m not sure, I just need time-”
“You’re not sure?” I slump back into my seat. “You just used me, then.”
“No!? No! Look, my life is a fucking mess, I need time to sort it out-”
“Yeah, well, so is mine!” I snap.
“Not really, though,” says Becky. “You’re me before my fucking downfall. You’ve got time to make your life actually decent. I’ve already fucked mine all up.”
“I guess you don’t understand me half as much as I thought you did,” I say.
“Well… likewise,” says Becky.
We sit there in silence for a moment.
“I guess I’ll leave then,” says Becky. She stands up.
“No, hang on-”
She walks towards the kitchen door. “I’ll text you later.”
“Wait, we- we can sort this out-”
She leaves the room and speaks back to me through the hallway. “No, I need to sort myself out. That’s what I’ve been saying. But obviously you don’t care.”
I don’t know how to respond, and the next thing I hear is the door opening and then slamming shut.
This is the first wedding I’ve been to since I was six years old.
This is my twenties, I suppose. The beginning of a long period of watching other people getting married and start families, people asking you where you’re working and whether you’re seeing anyone and do you plan to move out any time soon and do you think having children is on the horizon for you, Becky? Why no, thank you, Debra, I’m perfectly happy being single and degree-less right now and the last thing on my mind is pushing a tiny human out of my vagina.
“You look like you want to murder them,” says a voice from my right. I turn to look.
Tori has returned to our table, holding two glasses of champagne. She hands one to me, sits down beside me, and looks towards what I’ve been staring at – the married couple, dancing in the middle of the hall.
“I mean, that’s what I feel like doing,” she says, in that completely expressionless, deadpan way she has of making dark jokes like that. “I would literally rather be watching a Nicholas Sparks movie right now.”
“Yikes,” I say. “That’s a bold statement, there.”
“Yeah. What’s the Miley Cyrus one?”
“The Last Song?”
“That one. Would rather be watching Miley Cyrus trying to be dramatic and sad right now than sitting here, watching this.”
I chuckle. I don’t even know how we ended up invited to this thing. The wife is some girl from the year below us at school, and this wedding is so huge that apparently they ended up inviting literally everyone from her year group, the year group below her, and our year group.
Who the fuck gets married at nineteen, anyway?
I’m twenty-one in like two weeks. The thought of me getting married at this age is absolutely hysterical.
Tori Spring and I started talking to each other again sometime in October. I’m not sure exactly how it happened. But the strings of our friendship started coming back to us, and now here we are, complaining about people being love. It used to just be Tori who had this cynical outlook on life. In many ways, I think I’m more like her now than I used to be.
I was a bit of a shit when I was at school.
I also have a job now. Since September, actually. It’s nothing super exciting – it’s just an assistant job at a marketing firm a couple of towns over – but it’s full-time, the pay is good, and it’s so much better than cleaning toilets at Wetherspoons.
Tori glances at her phone and sighs.
“Michael’s got lost,” she says.
“How the fuck did he do that?”
“No idea. He was trying to find the bathroom. He probably decided to do some exploring.” She stands up. “I’ll be back in a sec.”
She wanders out of the hall, leaving me alone at our table.
Funny how life works out, isn’t it?
I glance around the crowd. I keep spotting people I vaguely remember from school, but can’t remember their names. Ghost of my past. I half wish I could just move past all of this and start afresh, but that’s not the way life works, is it?
“Why do I always find you at parties?”
A familiar voice sounds from behind me, causing me to spin round.
A girl with silver hair is standing there, wearing a purple dress and holding a full glass of water.
It takes a moment to collect my thoughts and say something. “What- why are you here?”
“I mean, I was invited,” says Raine, sitting down on a chair opposite me. “The husband went to the Academy.” She takes a sip of water.
We haven’t seen each other since that week in August.
I never texted her.
I don’t know.
Was I embarrassed?
Every time I tried to think of what to say, I’d get too nervous and talk myself out of it. The longer the time got, the more convinced I became that she would just forget me anyway. Then, suddenly, it was four months later.
“You’re looking at me like I’m the actual worst person in the world,” says Raine, chuckling sadly.
“You can’t read people’s expressions.”
“Okay. Well, it was nice to see you, but I’m leaving now anyway, so I’m just gonna go.” She stands up. “And I’m glad your hair is purple again.”
She walks away.
I down my champagne.
And walk after her.
She’s walking down the front steps when I catch up to her. The wedding is at a huge, old manor house, and all around us is countryside. The bride and groom are super rich, apparently.
She reaches the bottom step and turns, surprised. She’s wearing a coat now and her breath leaves her mouth in little clouds in the cold air.
I get down the stairs as quickly as I can, which isn’t very quickly, because I’m wearing five-inch heels.
“Hello,” she says, sounding almost cheerful. “Please tell me you’re about to do a massive romance cliché and tell me you love me.”
“Well, that might be getting a bit ahead of myself.”
“Fair enough.” She folds her arms. “What’s up?”
“Er…” Shit. I haven’t planned what I’m going to say.
“Did you sort it out, then?” she asks.
“Sort what out?”
Oh, right. That’s what I’d said to her back then on that day.
I see why she got angry, but I had needed that time. I needed to come to terms with so many things. That my life isn’t the big romance I always dreamed it’d be. That I probably will always be a little bit average, in many areas of my life. And I’m attracted to girls occasionally.
That needed a bit of thinking about.
“Yeah,” I say. “Did you?”
Raine scuffs one foot on the ground. “Well, I got a business apprenticeship.”
“That’s so good!”
“Yeah… I mean, it’s not that exciting, but… I have a job, at least.”
It surprises me how genuinely relieved I feel to learn that Raine isn’t jobless.
“I should have texted you,” I say.
Raine raises her eyebrows. “Why didn’t you, then?”
“I didn’t know what to say.”
“If you’d wanted to talk to me, you would have texted.”
“I… don’t think that’s entirely true.”
Raine shakes her head and looks down.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” I groan. “Look, I really like you, all right? Genuinely. But… I was such a mess at the time, and then bam suddenly it’s like, oh by the way, Becky, FYI, turns out you’re not straight, so you’re gonna have to deal with that as well, okay? And I was like, FUCK!” I say the word slightly too loudly. A couple of people nearby, making their way to their cars, turn around and look at us.
“Wow,” says Raine, grinning. “That is a mess.”
“But I’m fine with it now. I mean. Bisexual.”
I spent night after night googling the word after that week in August. Watching every YouTube video I could find. Trying to find other people like me.
Turns out they’re out there.
People like you are always out there.
“Anyway… by the time I realised all this, I thought you’d probably have moved on, or… I don’t know. It would have been weird to text you after, like, three months.”
Raine shakes her head. She looks vaguely amazed.
“We always seem to find each other,” she said.
“Is that a line from a movie? I just threw up in my mouth.”
She laughs. “Shut up.”
“It is kind of funny that we keep meeting at parties.”
“It’s probably fate.”
“All right, that was cheesy.
“Can we please get together now?” she says.
The phrase sends a jolt of fear through me. Only because getting together with people has never ended well for me before.
But this is different. Things are different now.
“Yeah,” I say.
We both lean in for the kiss at exactly the same time, me pulling her against me by the waist, her having to reach up on tip-toes because I’m both taller and wearing heels. The kiss feels familiar and I get flashbacks to that one night in August, the best night I’ve had this year until now. In a world where everything is bad-to-average, at least there is this. At least there is something good.
When we break apart, she looks a bit dazed, and sweeps her hair out of her eyes. “Cor, fucking hell. That was romantic.”
“I used to hate romantic stuff,” she says.
“But I’m special?” I smile cheekily.
“Nope, you’re a weirdo,” she says. “But I can put up with it.”
She grabs my hand and links our fingers together. Her hands are freezing, and only then does the cold hit me – I’m standing outside, after all, in December weather, in just a sleeveless dress.
“Let’s go back inside for a bit,” she suggests.
“You don’t have to leave?”
“Nah, I was only leaving because I didn’t have anyone to talk to. But we’ve got a lot to catch up on.”
How has it been four months? Is this adult life? Where time skips around, and by the time you think you’ve caught up, it’s suddenly a year later?
“Yeah, we do,” I say, nodding, and Raine pulls me back up the steps by the hand. “You could meet my friends, as well.”
“Mate, what? Did you just say you had friends that aren’t me? I can’t believe this day has come.”
“Times have changed, dude.” I step closer to her and put my arm around her shoulders. “I’ve changed.”
“Damn, it’s too early for us to be getting that real,” she says. We walk back through the door, the lights of the wedding hall twinkling before us. “Let’s go find some sausage rolls, or something.”
“Then we should have a dance. I feel like partying.” I glance at her. “What d’you think?”
There’s a sparkle in her eye. “I always feel like partying.”
Thank you very much everyone for reading my short story! I’m sorry if this seems a little rushed or unedited – I actually mostly wrote it today, due to various life things getting in the way. Regardless… I really hope you enjoyed it! And I hope you have a very happy new year 🙂
Becky Allen is a character from my first novel, Solitaire.
Raine Sengupta is a character from my second novel, Radio Silence.