Ensconced in the plush, velvet sofa of the 333 Club, I was glad of the loud, pulsating music and the throng of sweaty bodies dancing around us. I wanted to feel as far removed from Tom’s depressing suburban semi-detached as possible. I was sitting next to Amy and, further across from us, Steve seemed to be in some sort of a heated exchange with Christian, who was taking a break from spinning tracks. The ceiling was low, and the whole place was decked out in dark wood, gleaming chrome and black floor tiles.
Dotted around the central dance floor area were little alcoves like ours, where you could sit back and people-watch. I never felt the urge to dance in these places, preferring instead to observe. It wasn’t that I didn’t like dancing, it’s just that I enjoyed far more seeing how other people responded to music. It was fascinating to watch the many different dance styles and moves and to think that one song could inspire such a variety of responses. That was something that I missed in classical music. The responses were pretty much the same – the audience sitting quietly in their seats, occasionally maybe swaying their heads a bit, but that was as far as it went.
Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’ blared out, causing Amy to raise her eyebrow.
‘I come here to switch off from my money problems, and they have to play that!’ She sipped from her cocktail. ‘A nice wad of money would come in handy, though,’ she added wistfully.
‘Tell me about it.’ Although I wasn’t struggling with paying bills right now, it would be a different story once I moved to the Big Apple. I noticed Steve reach out for Christian’s hand, but he abruptly pulled it away. Whatever they were discussing, it wasn’t looking too amicable.
‘Maybe you could earn a bit accompanying a ballet school or something like that?’ Amy suggested.
‘Oh I do,’ I replied. ‘I play for the ballet group in the school, but I can’t do that more than once a week because of my classes and rehearsals. It’s just a bit of spending money, really,’ I explained. ‘What about you? Have you given any more thought to Fashion Week?’
‘I’ll apply. But I’ll never get in.’ Amy shrugged her shoulders.
I didn’t like seeing her so defeatist. The money problems must really be getting her down, I thought.
‘Why not? Charlotte Clarke got in, and she graduated the same year you did,’ I continued, trying to make her feel better.
‘Charlotte Clarke knows people.’ Amy shook her head despondently. ‘I’ve got a higher chance of winning the lottery than getting shown on Fashion Week.’
‘Then what are you waiting for?’ I joked. ‘Go buy a lottery ticket. I could do with a win like that myself. First thing I’d do is by a concert hall, all of my own, and then headline every night!’
‘And I’d start my own fashion label and never, ever, do another alteration for as long as I live,’ Amy shouted over the din.
I was distracted by Steve and Christian, who were getting more animated by the minute. Only bits of their conversation drifted over to our corner. I thought I could make out Steve saying ‘That’s exactly what I’m talking about’, to which Christian responded ‘You’ve got no idea’, but I couldn’t tell what it was they were arguing about.
I raised my glass and Amy clinked her cocktail against my own.
‘To winning the lottery!’ I offered by way of toast.
‘To winning the lottery!’ Amy echoed.
But before Amy could take a sip, Steve had appeared in front of us and grabbed her drink, downing it one go.
‘It’s over,’ he announced melodramatically.
We were both used to his penchant for theatrics, but he did look more glum than usual, so we urged him to sit next to us and tell us what happened. Amy put her arm over Steve protectively.
‘I got tired of living in someone else’s closet,’ Steve announced, leaning back, his anger suddenly spent, and a deflated air replacing it.
‘Was it that bad?’ I wasn’t as informed of all the ins and outs of Steve and Christian’s relationship as Amy would have been.
‘It’s been five months and he won’t even hold my hand in public – in case word got back to his family.’ Steve’s sarcasm was palpable. ‘Like he’s going to run into his Gran at the 333 Club.’
I felt for him, but had no words of comfort. In such matters I was a relative novice and didn’t think I was much qualified to offer romantic advice to anyone. I never seemed to have had any spare time for boys, not that any had come calling. Since primary school, my days had been taken up by school and piano lessons. Whatever free time remained after that had always belonged to Amy.
‘It never ceases to amaze me that someone so successful in their career could be such a complete and utter failure in their relationship,’ Steve continued, now more ponderous.
I was a bit surprised that Steve rated Christian’s profession so highly. ‘What, you mean his DJ-ing?’ I said. ‘I don’t know if I’d call that a career exactly.’
Steve noted my scepticism. ‘Are you kidding me? DJs are the new rock stars. D’you know how much Christian makes in one night?’ Steve looked at both of us, pausing for effect. ‘A cool grand.’
‘No! A thousand pounds, are you serious?’ I couldn’t believe it. ‘No wonder my kid brother wants to be a DJ,’ I added, crediting Mike with more nous in light of this revelation.
‘We’re in the wrong line of work, Heather,’ Amy concluded philosophically.
‘Tell me about it. And if he wasn’t so damn repressed, he’d probably be earning even more,’ Steve continued to gripe, although I failed to see how the two were connected, but didn’t feel like asking. If Steve needed to vent, then we would be there for him to air his grievances.
‘Maybe the two of you just need to talk when you’ve both cooled down. Things might work out?’ I offered, knowing it was lame advice as soon as the words left my mouth.
‘And in the meantime, ignore who I am? No thank you!’ Steve hotly responded.
Steve was one of those rare individuals who had figured out their identity at a very early age and were completely at ease with themselves. When he had the first inkling that he was gay, Steve did not question his instincts or experiment with girls to reassure himself to the contrary. He embraced this self-realisation with staunch certainty, not allowing for anything in his environment to curb it. Luckily, his family had been supportive and he had never spent a day in the proverbial closet.
Amy gave Steve a tight hug. ‘I’m sorry, Stevie. But remember - there are plenty of fish in the sea. Fish who aren’t afraid to come out of the water.’
Steve sighed and nodded, but I could tell he wasn’t ready to even think about dating someone else yet. Amy had told me how differently Steve had been acting since meeting Christian. And although the words ‘in love’ had not been mentioned, Amy believed Steve had fallen for the DJ badly.
A new song came on and I remembered that I had an early start in the morning.
‘Guys, I better go or I’ll get the bottom of the barrel for practice rooms tomorrow.’
I kissed them both goodbye and waded my way through the throbbing mass of people dancing. The route from our seats to the exit seemed disproportionately long and the tortuous progress reminded me why I didn’t usually hang out in these sorts of places. I never felt really comfortable in clubs, and I didn’t really know why that was. Perhaps I wasn’t into the music enough, or perhaps you needed to be more of a drinker than I was to really enjoy such a scene. The sensory overload of night clubs tended to overwhelm me. Maybe it was my classical music upbringing that had something to do with it. I finally made it out, into the street, feeling like I’d completed some arduous trek. I gratefully took a deep breath of the cool night air.