The taxi pulled up outside a warehouse in an abandoned dock. I paid the driver the fare, then stepped out. I was still in my jeans and top, as I hadn’t bothered going back to the house to change. What I looked like was the least of my concerns. As the cab drove off, for a split second I wondered if I’d got the right address and the right time. There was no sign of life around the warehouse and I was in the middle of nowhere. I wouldn’t have known how to get back to civilisation if this proved to be a wild goose chase; I’d be effectively stranded. I wondered why there weren’t any smokers hovering around the entrance. The lack of any human presence didn’t bode well. I was growing more nervous by the minute. Taking out the flyer that Toby had given me, I double-checked the venue, the date and the time. According to this piece of paper, I was in the right place and at the right time.
I walked around the warehouse, as the façade that faced the road didn’t have a discernible entrance. As I turned the corner, I let out a sigh of relief. Signs of life. A girl with a clipboard stood in front of a large doorway, with two beefy security guards discreetly hanging back a couple of steps behind her. Now I sighted some smokers, trendily-clad ravers, who were chatting to each other. Whereas a couple of minutes ago I hadn’t cared about my outfit, I suddenly felt self-conscious and wished I had borrowed something from Amy.
Smoothing down my top and trying to suppress the thought that I stood out like a sore thumb among this hip crowd, I walked up to the clipboard girl and handed her the invite. Thankfully, she didn’t eye me up and down in disdain. Instead, she merely ticked my name off the list, then stepped aside to let me in.
Entering the warehouse was like stepping over the threshold between two different worlds. It made me think of a portal into some parallel universe. In contrast to the calm and quiet that reigned outside the warehouse, inside the rave was frenetic, loud and banging. The entire space was turned into one huge dance floor, chock-a-block with people dancing. Never before had I seen so many dancers in one single location.
I glanced up and saw the DJ on the decks. I assumed that was Mia, as that was the name printed in large lettering on the flyers. The crowd was clearly loving her. I tentatively walked around, navigating through the sea of cool kids who, on closer inspection, looked surprisingly normal. For once I didn’t feel uncomfortable as I usually did in nightclubs. Everyone was having a blast. What was also different from the usual clubs was that no one was standing back, watching. Each and every person was participating. It made for a very different atmosphere.
Once I reached the other end of the warehouse I again looked up at the DJ stand, only this time I spotted Toby standing next to Mia. He was looking straight at me, having already noticed me. Waving, he smiled at me and signalled for me to stay put. I felt giddy. The bursary letter was fast slipping from my mind.
Before I even saw Toby I felt his hand take mine. He guided me through the rave, then stopped and started to dance. I tried to join him, but I could feel my own stiffness. Dancing was not my comfort zone. One song ended and a new one started, prompting the crowd to roar in appreciation. The whole dance floor appeared to move in unison. The energy was irresistible. I found myself jumping with them, my inhibitions forgotten. I felt Toby’s eyes on me and looked at him. He nodded and smiled. There was a moment between us, it was a definite moment, and I knew I hadn’t imagined it in the heat of the dancing.
A little later we emerged out, with our drinks in hand. The sky had turned dark; it was night time. I couldn’t believe how long I must have been inside, dancing without stopping. There were three or four ravers milling about outside, taking a break like we were. Everyone was buzzing.
‘Wow!’ I couldn’t stop moving, my body still pumped. ‘This is amazing, Toby. Wow, wow, wow!’
‘The girl on the decks is super. It’s always a full house with her,’ Toby explained. ‘So you’re saying you’ve never been to a rave before?’ He looked at me incredulously.
‘Well, not to a rave per se… I mean, I’ve been clubbing before.’
Toby cast me a doubtful look. ‘I can tell you’re tearing up the dance floor every weekend.’
I self-consciously tugged at my top and looked down at my scruffy jeans. I didn’t want Toby to think I was a liar, but I also so desperately didn’t want him to think me a total square.
‘Oh no, please don’t take it the wrong way,’ he said quickly. ‘Bad joke, sorry. I just meant that you don’t look the club kid type, that’s all. I don’t suppose your brother’s old enough to drag you along…’
‘Even if he was, I doubt he’d want me around,’ I smiled, but still felt embarrassed.
Toby lifted his foot and bent his head towards it, pretending to be taking his foot out of his mouth. ‘Foot. Mouth. Out.’ He grinned. ‘How about I start again? So what do you do when you’re not raving?’
‘I play the piano.’
‘Really? Piano? Wow. Like professionally?’ To my surprise, Toby looked impressed.
‘I’m still studying, for an MA.’
Once again I was unsure whether Toby was poking fun at me and my cheeks flushed pink. Normally, people my age outside of music school weren’t impressed with any mention of classical music. In their eyes, such music was boring, stiff, for old people. They then seemed to think I must be equally boring, stiff and old for my age.
‘That’s great,’ he went on. ‘You must really know your stuff. Music theory and all that.’ To my relief, Toby sounded genuine. I was glad I had been wrong about him, at least in terms of first impressions. I no longer saw a detached, preening hipster in front of me, just a sweet, good-looking guy.
‘That’s part of it, yeah,’ I replied. ‘But mainly I practise. A lot. I’m trying to get into Juilliard.’ I wondered if Toby had even heard of it. I was so used to just hanging around my fellow music students, and to all of us it was the sacred place. However, it was easy to forget that to outsiders it might mean nothing.
‘What got you into it?’
‘Oh, I grew up with it. My mother played the piano, too, so she taught me from a young age.’
‘A legacy,’ Toby stated, and I liked the simple way he had described it.
‘Kind of, I suppose. She passed away a few months ago.’ It came out so easily, even though I had no intention of divulging any such details to someone who was practically a stranger. I was taken aback by how effortless it was talking to him about such personal things.
‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ Toby’s face turned serious.
‘It’s okay,’ I rushed to assure him. I didn’t want him to think I was about to start blubbering. ‘I mean, it’s hard but it’s okay. It just sort of makes me want it more, I guess. To make her proud.’
‘So this whole scene must be like outer space to you,’ Toby gestured around us.
‘No way! This is… it’s like the most amazing thing I’ve ever been to. Everyone is so…’ I paused, searching for the right word. ‘Free! It’s fantastic.’
Pleased to hear my enthusiasm, Toby smiled. ‘You should try it sometime.’
‘What?’ I didn’t understand what he meant.
‘Hitting the decks,’ Toby said.
‘Yeah, right.’ I thought he was kidding, but his expression made me realise he meant it.
‘It’s good fun being the person responsible for making all those bodies move.’
‘Hey, you’d be surprised how much groovin’ goes on during Chopin,’ I joked.
Toby laughed, no longer pressing me on the subject. I thought about it a bit more.
‘Do they really make a grand for just one night?’ I recalled Steve’s remark, and still found it hard to believe.
‘Some do. It’s like with any profession. It depends how good you are.’ Toby’s answer was noncommittal.
I took a sip of my drink, digesting this, when I happened to catch sight of my watch. ‘Oh my God, it’s four already!’ I screamed. ‘I have to be up in two hours!’
The warehouse doors opened at that moment, letting a raver out and the music drifted outside to where we were standing. I turned, looking back at the rave. The trouble with a threshold between two realms was that there was usually an equal pull to either plunge into the new world or stay in the existing one. I couldn’t make my mind up whether to stay or leave.
‘Or you could always stay…’ Toby suggested.
Indecisive, I stood thinking, weighing up the pros and cons. My heart wanted to stay, but my sensible side told me I’d regret it later.
‘So, what will it be? Another taste of freedom, or strapping yourself to your piano?’ Toby was playing devil’s advocate.
‘Oh, I wish I could stay, Toby. But if I do, tomorrow… I mean, today is going to be a really long day and I’ve got loads of performances…’ I replied regretfully, my sensible side having prevailed.
I moved closer, giving him a peck on the cheek.
‘Thanks for a brilliant night.’ For a brief moment, I caught his scent. It was deep and musky. It was nice. I wished for a second I could pull that old trick and pretend to be cold so as to get him to wrap his jacket around me. That way I could get his scent to stay with me for longer. Reluctantly, I stepped back.
As I turned to go, I resisted looking back at Toby, even though I desperately wanted to. Something told me that he was still watching me. A smile spread across my face. I was so energised that I felt as though I could run and jump all the way back home. Luckily, I did the smart thing and got into a taxi.