9. Champagne Showers
Across the misty October sky, a pheasant , startled by the presence of ten trained guns dogs, takes off against the wind and I watch it down the barrel of my shotgun. Any higher and I can't shoot it because it would only cause injury or a cruel lingering death. I pull back the trigger and the bird goes crashing onto the heath, only to be caught in the mouth of one of the gun dogs.
"Good shot old boy!" My uncle Anthony booms, handing a brace of pheasants which I sling over my shoulder. "Roderick could never of done that when he was your age but mind you, he was too busy being expelled to do much else!"
Uncle Anthony brays with laughter and I nervously laugh too. I search in the pocket of my tweed jacket to see if I have any cigarettes and I have one but I decide to save that for later, when Uncle Anthony or any of his stupid friends are not around. There's about 30 of us on this shoot and we're shooting Grouse tommorow and then stalking deer after that. I'm not very good at shooting but I'm the only one out of my cousins who Uncle Anthony likes so I kind of have to.
I'm casually adjusting the string of the braces of pheasants when I look up and realise that I'm surronded by a bunch of people who I barely know and are intent on asking me lots of questions.
So you live in Filey I believe?” Stanley, my Uncle’s work colleague asks
“Do you know the Hilton-Mackintoshes?”
I’ve had this all the time while I’ve been here. In Filey, there’s a middle-class social circle of my parents and their friends and as soon as I let on that I’ve grown up on the edge of this circle, you get all these random posh people asking me if I’ve met the so-and-so’s. Yes I’ve met them. No we don’t go the same school. Yes they’re nice people (lie, unless you like a bit of North Yorkshire middle-class snobbery)
“Yes they’re good friends with my parents.”
“So you went to school in Filey did you?” His son, Cedric is a posh wanker and is good friends with Roderick. They both give me stick because I went to state school.
“I can see why you left. When I was little, my Mummy wouldn’t let me play with those kind of children.”
He genuinely said that, word for word. I know right?
“Neither would mine.” Roderick agrees. That’s one of the reasons Mum and Aunt Collete don’t get on. They have a different view of class and schooling.
I think of Elliot.
“Where do you go now?”
“St Richmond College.”
“St Richmond College? Really?”
“The most unacademic school with the highest rate of bullying. Rodders, did you see that show that they took around last year?”
“Yes. Oh my god, it was the gayest thing ever.”
I don’t know what to say.
“God, those sorts of places will accept any old riff-raff.”
I would have punched Cedric but then I hear a voice I've dreaded hearing for a long time.
"Oh hello Ben. Long time no see."
I turn around and my cousin Steph is looking me up and down. I haven't seen Steph since I was about 12 and she looks exactly like she did then, just without such bad teeth.
She flicks her straightened blond hair.
"Steph, who would you rather marry? Someone like Cedric or someone like him?" Roderick asks. Steph is his twin and his equal in every way. She looks at Cedric, the epitome of 'good breeding' and narrow mindness me and then she looks back at me; the cousin she always looked down on because I once put a snail on her arm to her the difference in pace on different surfaces.
"I do have a boyfriend Rodders, but if I had to choose. Definetely Ced. You may look innocent my dear cousin but I know you're a heart breaker deep down. And I was always warned against hanging around with boys like you.'
As if fate intervenes, when I get back to school, Henry has a new favourite song; Boys like you by some band called 360. Even as the weeks go by, I hear her voice in my head.
"I was always warned against hanging around with boys like you."
"and that was his response?"
Augie nods and wipes the tears from his eye.
"I haven't laughed so much until he said that!"
"I don't think I've laughed so much until you told me.
I get up from the Alcove we're sitting in and stretch.
"Wait Ginger, have you done the history prep?"
"I'm going to do it tomorrow. I've looked at it, I just haven't actually started it."
"Of course you have Ginger." He slaps me on the back. "Of course you have. Shall we go and get another hot dog?"
We go and queue for a hot dog with what feels like the rest of the whole school.
"Wait Augs, are you free on Sunday? We need to finish our film."
"Sure. You have it on your Netflix don't you?"
He's about to say something else when we both see a group of Alvie girls from our year.
"I've just got to go and talk to India. I'll be back in a minute."
A minute becomes ten and I guess he's not coming back. I get my next hot dog and wander away from the Quad and towards where the crowd are watching the fireworks.
"Do you have to eat your hot dog like that? It's disgusting and really making me feel sick."
I turn around and this girl is looking at me eating my hot dog with my fingers with a look of complete revulsion.
"What? I took too much ketchup and it's really difficult to eat."
"Well it's disgusting."
I take a good look at her. Of course. She's the girl I saw at the Valentine's ball, with the backless dress and the blue streaks in her hair. Oh my god it's umm...what's her name...Ivy James's friend...
"You have no idea what my name is do you?"
I shake my head. She just looks at me.
"So clearly we haven't met before. Let me see; hand me down Barbour, chinos, styled hair, a winning and practised cheeky smile. You walk with a strut yet you're loitering here and you have a slight Yorkshire hint to your accent and you're aloof yet friendly enough to introduce yourself to me."
She stays silent for a moment.
"Only in Arkansas."
"Okay, my go. Long plait so trying not to be conventional, piercings to defy school rules, a goddam huge tattoo to make a statement and a lot of jewelerry which obviously have a lot of sentimental value. You hate the way I eat which shows that you had a much posher upbringing than me and the compass necklace shows that you are a wanderer and you hate staying in one place."
I wait for a moment. Then it comes to me. Of course. I know exactly what she's called.
She picks up my fork and throws it at me, splattering ketchup all down my Barbour.
"That's NOT my name!"
"Then what is it?"
She throws my napkin and my knife at me.
"Sorry. I really am. I didn't mean to offend you. Can you stop throwing things at me?"
She stops and suddenly looks really sheepish.
"Sorry. It's just because my best friend has gone and I don't know what to do without her."
This time, I feel the guilt creep up on me.
"Have we met before?"
She just looks at me.
"I am in two of your classes. No, three."
"Seriously? Which ones?"
"English, French and...Christ, I even sit on your table in Geography."
"God in English you're so annoying. I will never understand why she put all the Arkansas boys on one table."
Then something clicks. Well, for her anyway.
"Wait, so if you're in Arkansas, what did you know of Ivy James?"
Time to lie.
"Someone was trying to set her up with Gwebe."
"Well it wasn't us."
She's not convinced.
"It was probably Valerie."
"Hmmm...Well at least she's free. I would do anything to get out."
She fidgets with the compass around her neck.
"Who, Valerie? She doesn't seem free to me..."
She throws an empty coke can at my head.
"Ivy James you idiot!"
There's an awkard silence.
"Oh my god, is it raining?" I say, trying to break the silence.
"It's only a bit of rain."
It's actually quite a lot.
"Shall we go into the Quad?"
"Well okay. We might as well."
We go back through the crowds and through the bottom door that will take us into the basement. We slam the door behind us and the corridor is pitch black. This corridor goes from the basement right down to the door on the left side of the Quad which leads onto the classroom blocks. We go in the opposite direction into the basement but the door opens and one of the teachers walks through and because it's such a tiny corridor, we have to press ourselves against the wall to let him get past. As soon as the door slams and the teacher walks out, I peel myself off the wall but Jay doesn't. She just stays there, pressed to the wall.
"You have something in your hair." I whisper. "Shall I get it out?"
She nods. It's a bit of the napkin she threw at me and I move the bit of hair out of her face so I can look at her properly. Here, lying under me, pressed against the wall, I wonder what would have happened if I'd just kissed her then. Then out of nowhere, she raises her arm and slaps me hard around the face.
"You ruin my best friend's life and it's because of you she's left so don't you dare think I'm some sort of object for you to use. I was always warned against hanging around with boys like you and now I see why-"
The door goes flying open and three people come storming through.
"Look Tris I was just trying to-"
We break apart. Augie stares at me, Tris stares at Jay, Rome also stares at me. I just can't believe she hit me. God it stings.
"Hey JJ." Tris says with a creepy smile. She twiddles her hair.
"Ben, what the actual-"
"Oh it was nothing." Jay says, pushing me away.
"I should go."
I don't need Augie's questions, Tris's patronising looks or Rome's sneering remarks. I go through the basement and slam the door behind me.
"Ben! Wait up!"
"What now Augie? Can't you just let me be?"
He stops following me after that. I go back to Arkansas and smoke two cigarettes out of my window. Then I lie on my bed and think about Thuglife, I mean Jay. The way she smelt, the way her skin felt under my fingers. God. She has no idea what I'm planning to do. I just need to gain her trust. That's all I need to do at the moment.
"Now here is the first draft of your coursework on 1920's America back. I want you to read the comments and the next lesson, I'll go through your coursework with each of you and discuss how each of you could improve."
The phone rings and she scuttles out, almost falling over her bin in the process.
"Does anyone know what the date is?" I ask because I think the date written on the board is not even the right month.
"Ben, it's the 13th."
"Brad, Brad, what did you get?" Akash asks.
"An A. What about you?"
"An A as well. I was googling the mark scheme and luckily I was only a mark off an A star in history. My parents will kill me if I don't get one-"
Flick who is sitting next to him whispers something to him and he shuts up. Brad and Akash for as long as I've been here have been competing for the title of 'cleverest boy in the year' and considering they're both dating quite high profile creative Alvie girls, it's becoming a power couple struggle too.
"TJ, what did you get?"
I show Brad my C, scrawled in violet ink. Until a couple of minutes ago, I thought I'd done pretty well for myself.
"What did you get Angela?"
Angela is trying for the smartest girl in the year and is probably one of the only smart girls in the year.
Brad clenches his fists under the table.
"Did you only an A? Oh. Shame."
His knuckles are going white.
"Now I think it's break time so you can all pack up and go." Our teachers says, coming back in and tripping over the bin again. "I had a sheet of prep for you but I've misplaced it so I'll...umm..."
We all pack up very quickly and escape. Brad is still fuming.
"God I hate that girl." He whispers as she struts past.
"Don't worry, she doesn't have any friends, it's fine."
"And I have classics with her after lunch! God!"
I suddenly wonder if it's do with Lulu. Girls are so weird after all, it's probably the strangest and most complicated reason that none of us would have ever thought of.
"Shall we wait for Henry?"
We wait for a bit while Henry mopes from design by himself. Out of all of us, Zook and Jel's disapearance has hit Henry the hardest. I mean, I have Augie and Brad has Lulu but Henry has no-one.
"Hey H, you okay?"
Henry shrugs his shoulders.
"Come on, let's go to lunch." Brad's an arm around Henry's shoulders as we head into lunch and Henry sort of smiles but I know he won't properly smile until Zook get's back. Tuesdays and Fridays are the only days we have lessons after lunch and on this particular day, I'm not what Henry and I were doing in particular but it was enough to make us late.
We were sprinting down the stairs from the library and although we were only two minutes late, when we get there, we realise one very important thing.
"Oh my god-"
In Geography there used to be two big tables; one which housed all the 'lads' like Shreyas, Akash, Russian Kev, Valerie and Hayley (another Wildfell girl who is a complete bitch.) Anyway, Henry and I used to sit on the other table with India-Jane (who spends all our lessons evil glaring Henry,) Flick, Gwebe and Jay apparently. But now the tables are set out in twos and I just know this new women standing at the front has a seating plan.
"And you must be Benedict and Henry."
We nod in sync.
We go to sit down but she stops us.
"Oh no no no. First, I do not appreciate lateness in my class-"
"But we were only two minutes late!"
"Second, there will be no answering back in my class Benedict Middleton Jones. For being so late, holding up my class and answering back, that's an hour of DT for both of you on Saturday Night. Benedict you're sitting here-"
She gestures to a seat next to Jay. Oh. Great.
"And Henry you're sitting at the back next to India-Jane."
Henry sighs heavily.
"Now go and sit down before I make it two."
We oblige. I really don't like this women and I've only known for about 3 minutes. I don't even know what her name is. All I know is that she's given us both detention which is the longest and most boring hour of my life. Henry and I both have to show up at the Maths classroom on the third floor in our day uniform after dinner. I think they expect sit for an hour actually doing work. We're supposed to be at a cabaret dress rehearsal but since the memory stick mysteriously vanished (last seen in Gwebe's room, so the story goes), things have been very tense. We don't even know if Jel has a spare copy of our video and they've been away for such a long time with no contact that I've given up trying to get hold of him to ask.
"Benedict Middleton-Jones! Headphones out!"
I sigh heavily and go back to writing out Geography definitions to make it look like I'm doing work. I had spent ages sorting out my geography folder into different sections but apparently that wasn't 'work'. I decide to do some English which I really don't understand when my phone vibrates. I look across at Henry. This is bad. Really bad. God I'm so worried. The hour goes by so slowly and I begin to panic even more. I go through every possible thing that could have gone wrong.
"Right. If you've had an hour, you can go."
Henry and I hurry out.
"Walk Middleton Jones!"
We get out of DT and look at each other.
"Oh shit TJ. Brad is in so much crap."
"What are we going to do?"
We both turn and eye ball somebody's bike sitting outside the maths block with no bike chain. Ten minutes later, this doesn't seem like such a good idea. I'm sitting on the seat while Henry peddles.
"I am! Why don't you try for a change!"
We barely make it to Drama without almost crashing into two hedges. We go running into drama in our day uniform and seem to have walked in on something big. All the Alvie Girls are standing together in one group while Brad is standing on his own and confronting Tris.
"Ooh. What's wrong Brad?"
"Where is he? I'm gonna kill him! I'M GONNA KILL HIM!"
I think Brad would have gone for him if Henry and I hadn't held him back.
"No Brad. He's not worth." Henry whispers.
"But he kissed her! He fucking kissed her-"
Brad lashes out again and shoves us both away. Then he knocks Rome to the ground and starts to beat all living hell out of him.
"Brad! Stop! STOP!"
The whole room looks up to see Lulu enter.
"YOU BITCH! YOU WHORE!"
He goes up to her and raises his arm.
"No Brad. No."
Brad looks up the long brown arm the white teeth and dominant posture. We're all as shocked as he is. Particulary Henry and I. Jel beckons us to him.
"What the heck is going on?"
"You're wondering that Jel?" Henry asks, also starting to get angry.
"Wait why are you guys-"
"It's a long story. Come on Jel, we've work to do. Henry, take Brad to the kitchen. Jel, come on, we've got to get Lulu before Rome does. We go tearing through and approach the Alvie girls first.
"Have you lot seen Lulu?"
"She like, went through the door, like, to the theatre."
"But Jel," India-Jane grabs his arm. "She didn't kiss him. Honestly."
"Thank you India."
Jel and I go tearing through the theatre door. I haven't asked Jel how his second audition went or where Zook is or anything.
"You go that side, I'll the go down the other."
We go down either side of the stage. It's dark and silent and I keep tripping over all the wires and plugs for all the lights and sound. There are endless swathes of black curtain and she could be anywhere.
I turn on the torch of my iPhone so I can find my way out.
"I'm coming Jel."
I go over the stage and battle my way through the black swathes of curtain. I swear I've dreamt about something like this before.
"TJ, are you there?"
Jel pulls back a curtain and lets me through.
Lulu is sitting there, in floods of tears. All her thick eye make up has run down her face and her blond hair is a mess. She's in tight jeans and a leather jacket with a crop top on underneath which is all over the place, like someone has run a hand up it or tried to tear it off or something. I kneel down next to her.
"Oh my god! What happened? Are you ok?"
She starts to cry again, silent tears that just keep streaming.
I look at Jel.
"Where is he? I need to talk to him!"
"Answer us first."
Jel kneels down to next her. She turns away from him.
"Lulu. Look at me."
"No! Don't you dare touch me!"
Something changes in Jel's face.
"I'm not going to hurt you. We're going to help you. But you need to tell us. Did you kiss him?"
She brings a hand up to her face and starts to cry again.
"Did you kiss him Lulu?"
She nods. Then she brings her knees up to her chest and hugs then tightly.
"Did he make you do it?"
After a moment, she nods again. I get up and so does Jel.
"Can you help me Jel?"
He offers her a hand and she pulls herself up.
"Ben, stay here with Lulu. I'll go and find Brad."
Jel disappears, leaving the two of us.
"I would give you a cigarette but I think we'd set the fire alarm off and then we'd really be in trouble." I say and she doesn't reply.
"Would you like for later?"
The door opens and Lulu looks up. I've never felt more of a third wheel. I head back through the black swathes of curtain and go back into the Foyer. Then I realise I'm one of the last people to get here. Miss Nelson just watches me walk in and sit down in the corner, as does the whole year.
I look over my shoulder. Only Zook. He get's me in a headlock and Jel ruffles my hair.
"Now, the cabaret rehearsal can finally start. And thank you so much to Rome handing in the memory stick. I would have been a real tragedy for it to have gone missing with all your hard work on it."
We just look at Rome. He's up to something and it's going to destroy someone. The question is working out who, before it's too late.
The year 11 Cabaret is about the last thing we need in the beginning of December. By the end of November, we had two GSCE maths paper, three science controlled assessment plus coursework in Geography, History and business studies. We've also had four French orals and an English controlled assessment coming up in the last week of term and NOBODY is prepared. Even the weather can't get it together and decide whether it's going to rain or snow so it just sleets and the ground turns into a muddy icey slush. To top it off, our year 13's got us the whole house gated. We're all dressing up for cabaret in the loft and as usual, we look like idiots.
"Jel, there's a present on my bed. That's the secret santa gift isn't it?"
"Last year, Zook got me a key ring from the school shop."
"Well it is in a tennis ball like shape..."
Zook bangs on the wall.
"It was a lovely key ring thank you very much!"
Jel laughs and adjusts his braces.
"Do you want me to help you with yours?"
"Yes please Jel, thanks. So why exactly did Mr H gate us again?"
"Well, can you clip that at the front? It's an annual tradition, unknown to Mr H, to get super drunk on the night before the 1st of December and running around, waking us all up."
"Yeah I figured that bit."
"Oh Ludwig. He's such a laugh. He put toothpaste on your forehead didn't he?"
This time, I laugh.
"I was just going to the toilet when Ludwig charging up to me and put a blob of toothpaste on my forehead with his thumb. Then he sat me down outside his room and slurred 'you're my body guard now. Stay here.'"
"I did wonder where you'd gone. There we go."
"Cheers Man. After two hours, I just crept back. I can't believe they stole Gallagher's Christmas tree."
"I just can't believe they took off all the branches and made it completely bald then gave it back."
We both laugh again.
"Are you two losers almost ready?" Henry yells.
"Come on TJ, let's go."
We all gather in the corridor.
"God don't we look a site."
"Oh Henry don't be such a cynic. We look awesome. Right, photo time? One for Insta?"
We all look at him.
"No Zook. Just no."
We get a couple of good photos then sling our blazers over our shoulders and head towards drama. We're wearing exactly what we wore in the music video; converses, black trousers, white shirt, red braces and cheap black blazers which we bought when we were in Inverness from the big Tescos when we went to the cinema months ago and have spray painted writing on the back. I just know nobody else is going to be dressed up like we are. We get into the theatre and the only people there are the Alvie girls who are all painted orange and in different coloured dungarees.
"Shall we now ask?" Zook asks and they all nod. God knows what they're doing.
"Well like, whey hey Arkansas, like, look at you." Nicola says, pinging Jel's braces. We look amongst the Alvie girls and we all look at each other. Something is wrong. We never talk about 'the incident' which happened at the cabaret rehearsal, the day Jel and Zook got back but now things which we were thought were long dead seem to be beginning to stir again. We're all thinking the same thing; where is Lulu?
"Ah ha, you're here. Well, come through to the theatre."
Jel goes up to the stage. Flick is loitering there in a long dress and high shoes. She seems to be the only one who isn't orange.
"Why are you up here?" she asks.
"Well I'm the compare aren't I?"
"I'm afraid you're not."
"Then who is?"
Jel turns around and he clenches his fists and his knuckles go white. We all just stare. Augie has never set foot on a stage in his life Hasn't he?
"Ah Arkansas, here is your table."
Miss Nelson come swishing in and gestures to a tiny table at the back. Jel goes up to her and they start to argue.
"Hey, can I sit here?"
"Of course Augs."
He sits himself down, looking particularly smug.
"Excuse me Augie. I think you'll find that's my seat."
Jel is towering over him.
"But nobody was sitting here."
Jel takes Augie by the shoulders and hauls him up and throws him onto the ground.
"I'm serious Augie. Don't mess with me."
The boys from Gallagher are just entering but luckily Tris doesn't say anything.
"Now welcome to the annual year 11 cabaret. I have a glass of Prosecco for each of you after the first act but it's just one glass remember. Alvie, I believe your video is first."
They all file up on stage and Flick stands up to introduce it.
"Now, St Richmond College runs like clock work. But perhaps it's because of these guys..."
Then they all disappear. I've never seen anything like it. They're apparently Oopma Loopmas and it shows them doing lots of jobs around campus and in Alvie Lodge itself. They think it's completely hilarious and it's probably full of injokes that nobody else will ever understand. The girls in Wildfell just sit there, rolling their eyes, thinking it's the stupid thing they've ever watched.
"Thank you Alvie. " Augie says, strutting up on stage. "And now for the next act..."
There are three more act before our video; Smith, the Chinese guy in our year playing the Piano, A girl from Wildfell call Lexie singing while playing the piano and Tris and Lulu playing a guitar double act with Tris playing the electric and Lulu on bass.
"Now Arkansas, are you introducing your video?"
We shake our heads. Our music video to Stacey's Mum was the definitely of the funniest things we've ever done. We think it's hilarious.
"Zook and Henry could you go and get a bottle of Prosecco from my office please?"
She gives them the key and as soon as they've disappeared, Rome stands up.
"That was the gayest thing I think I've ever watched!"
"Just sit down Dude."
"No. You're all a bunch of faggots and you ruin everything-"
Miss Nelson stands up.
"Do you want to know what they did?"
The whole class go silent.
"You really want to know?"
Jel gets up to meet him.
"Don't you dare-"
He grabs Lulu and pulls her up. Brad jumps up. The storm continues to rage outside.
"If you're so curious to find out what's going on, ask him!"
Just as he says that, the power goes and we're left stranded in total darkness. I think Rome storms out. All the girls start to scream and run around.
"Come on TJ." I hear Jel say. "We need to get Zook and Henry. We need to talk to them."
He grabs my arm with one hand and takes Brad with the other and we find our way out of the theatre. He switches on the torch on his IPhone and we go along and up the stairs into her office.
"Zook, Ugly, are you here?"
"Yup, Henry and I are down here."
He shines the light on the floor.
"I think the department are having a party here afterwards."
"As well as having to give a glass to all of us." Henry adds.
There are about 20 bottles of Prosecco.
"Jeez. Look, there's something you two need to know. Something has just-"
"Have a drink first and then tell us."
"Do you think we're allowed..." Brad trails off.
"Brad? She's been called down to the Pastoral office anyway. She won't be coming back anytime soon. Come on, we've got nothing better to do anyway."
"Wait I'm gonna text India. We should give them half."
"Yeah you're right."
"Can you hurry up then."
We start drinking in her office and end up going running out into the snow and I don't know what happens next. I just know I've never been so drunk. I just hearing Champagne Showers by LMFAO in the distance coming from the year 12 G&T and lying down to make a snow angel.
"Are you ok?"
I look up. There's the most beautiful girl I've ever seen. She has a pixie hair cut, a backless dress and sneakers. She's an angel. She also holding a bottle of unopened prosecco.
She helps me and I sit up. Then I pull her down next to me. I offer her the last of my Prosecco and she swigs it straight from the bottle and starts to smile. I remember drunkenly babbling about something.
"We're trapped here...trapped for ever more..."
She lies back and keeps drinking.
"You know, someone said to me in a dream once...that I'd meet three witches on the way to my fate...one that would deceive, would that would relieve and one that would show me the way. Which one are you?"
"You're delirious. Come on, let's go!"
She gets up and starts to run away.
I run after her. Everything is spinning. I grab her around her waist from behind and spin her around. She opens the other bottle of prosecco and opens it and we dance around in it like its rain. The excess of luxury; we had no idea it would do so much damage. I have a sudden craving for salt; to feel the cool sea breeze in my hair not snow and the sand between my toes. I yearn for the deep horizon and it's promises of what lies beyond. I feel the wild deep ocean inside me surge and whirl. I don't know where the line is for good and evil anymore but as the alcohol rushes through my bloodstream, it dissolves every ounce of good it meets. . I believe though there is more to us than just our education and our false morals. We defined by what haunts us and nothing would haunt me more than my next thought.
"Can I kiss you?"
I just do it anyway. The wind of change continue to roar around us. I kiss her hard. Everything starts to swirl and merge. The snow begins to properly fall, covering all our champagne stained deceptions and intertwining snow covered tracks.