The days went by smoothly, I went to school and came back with the Valmont twins and every evening I went to their place to watch french films. It was all pretty cool actually. I enjoyed going there and staying in their company. The twins were really nice, after all, and I felt like we were becoming good friends, which was great!
I had gotten to know the beefcakes slightly better. Gatsby was a bit of an asshole, but he was a nice guy overall, he just poked at everybody’s insecurities all the time. James was cool; he was a boisterous guy who spoke at a volume which was always higher than necessary. Connor was a shy guy who was slightly socially awkward. He was nice though, we talked together about video games once, but other than that I didn’t get to talk to him much, since he doesn’t talk much anyway. Then came Nathalie, Angie’s best friend, who, beneath her mousy and soft appearance, was just as loud and boisterous as James was. She was a tomboy who wished she could play rugby like the other boys, and Gatsby often teased her for it. She did boxing instead and it suited her.
One evening in October, I was invited over at Gatsby’s place for a little get together he had organised.
He lived in a house in the posh parts of town. It was a big house that looked traditional enough on the outside, though the inside was super modern. There were abstract paintings on the white walls and strange, small iron sculptures of the tables. His father was an art enthusiast, he told me.
His parents were gone for the evening so we were alone, settled in the attic which had been redecorated into a big room where Gatsby held most of his little ‘get togethers’. The walls were padded and covered in small LEDs. There were garlands of small coloured lights above us and wrapped around the tall closet that was in a corner of the attic. There were a few couches here and there, and in another corner there was a cabinet in which Gatsby and his brother hid alcohol and cigarettes.
I had never been invited to a party like this until now. Hell, in America, I avoided these parties as much as I could. I didn’t trust the people who went to that kind of get togethers. My parents wouldn’t let me go there as it was ‘full of drugs and alcohol’, though they let me go to this one because ‘British teens are much tamer than American ones’. Pssh, yeah right.
We weren’t the only ones who were invited this evening. Gatsby also had a bunch of other friends come over, so we were about ten to fifteen in the room, just sitting there, listening to some asshole playing Wonderwall on his guitar while Grégoire and another bunch of people smoked out on the balcony and Gatsby served us some alcohol.
It was calm and cool, everything was just so smooth and I loved it. I chattered a bit with whomever wanted to talk to me and that was it. I was socialising. As in, really socialising, over real things, not the ‘oh my god I can’t believe you’re british!‘ things. I stayed in a corner with Marie-Ange and Connor once I had been introduced to everybody, sipping on a can of beer.
It was the first time I had tried alcohol and I was enjoying it so far, though Marie-Ange was telling me not to drink too much, for she didn’t want to bring me back home in a terrible state.
“This one time, Grégoire was really drunk and he was sick for days after.” She told me, looking very concerned “We both missed school the entire week after that.”
“Why did you BOTH miss school if he was the one who was sick?”
“I wasn’t going to leave him to be alone. Mum wasn’t able to stay home, and there was no way that she was going to miss work because of us.”
I sipped on my drink again and watched over to the balcony where Greg was talking to a tall girl, smoking his cigarette with ease, as if he were born with one between his teeth.
The more I got to know Grégoire, the more I accepted the fact that he was a chain smoker. But it suited him. Damn that fucking Frenchman and the way he made lung cancer look attractive.
I always watched the way his hand would go up to catch the cancer stick between his middle finger and his index, taking it away from his lips as he exhaled a soft cloud of grey smoke. I wondered what it was like to puff on a cigarette, to fill yourself with deadly smoke just for fun, then heaving it out of your corrupted lungs. I wondered, really, it almost made me want to try.
“I’ll go check on him.” I told Marie-Ange as I got up, giving her a pat on the shoulder. She shrugged and nodded before she turned back to talk to Connor.
I walked over to the now clear balcony. Grégoire was the only one there, standing with his cigarette between his teeth. He finished it and turned over to look at me before he flicked the cigarette butt over the railing.
“So… How’s your first Gatsby party coming along?” he asked me.
I blinked at the question and looked back inside, looking at how everybody was having a good time.
Nathalie was talking with Gatsby, a can of beer in her hand and James was making out with a tall brunette in a darker corner. I grinned a bit and shrugged “It’s cool, I guess? The music is good, the drinks are good…” I said, holding up my glass “To be honest, I have nothing to compare this with, it’s my first party.”
“You first party? What about those huge house parties in America?”
“I didn’t go to those. Because A. My folks wouldn’t let me and B. I didn’t hang with the right crowd to be invited to that kind of parties anyway. Actually, at this point, I’m not even sure those parties exist.” I explained tiredly, looking back to him as I pushed up my glasses.
“Well, at least you had friends back there.”
I nodded and sighed, giving him a weak grin “A bunch of nerds and a footballer. That was my bunch of friends. We were about five.”
He shoved a hand in his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He opened the small box and took one out, bringing it to his lips and lighting it. I watched as the cigarette lit up, a flickering orange light appearing at the end of it. The flame soon consumed the tobacco leaves, leaving grey ashes at the end of the stick. Grégoire sighed out the toxic smoke and grinned, closing his eyes. I looked at him curiously, wondering what was making him smile.
“What’s the matter?” I asked
“Nothing.” He replied, tapping the cig on the railing “Wanna take a drag?” he suggested, handing me the cigarette.
I hesitated for a moment. Didn’t he tell me two weeks ago not to smoke because it would ruin my life? Fuck you, Greg, fuck you for giving advice and then chugging it away. You know what, I’ll chug your advice way as well.
“Sure.” I said “Just—I’ve never smoked before, so tell me what to do.”
“Bring it to your lips, let the smoke cool down in your mouth and breathe in, then breathe out.” He explained matter-of-factly.
I did as he told me, shakily bringing the cancer stick to my lips, I sucked in the velvet smoke anxiously and coughed once it reached my throat. Greg chuckled and took the cigarette back with a grin, taking a drag from it.
“I did the same when it came to my first smoke.”
I coughed again “Don’t be so fucking patronizing.” I snapped back at him, my cheeks heating up.
“Oh come on, I was just joking!” he teased, wrapping an arm around my frail shoulders, giving me a shake.
I pouted and snatched the cigarette from between his fingers. I then brought it back up to my lips and inhaled the toxic smoke again before I exhaled, looking straight into Greg’s eyes.
He flashed a grin, revealing his crooked tooth. His grin soon disappeared when I crushed the cigarette on the railing. We were close to each other, close enough to smell each other’s tobacco-infested breath. I could almost feel myself being dragged in by Grégoire, leaning into him.
I breathed in quickly and started coughing. Greg laughed and patted me on the back before we walked back inside Gatsby’s attic to join the others.
Marie-Ange was still on the couch, sitting alone, looking incredibly bored. Connor was next to her, but he wasn’t speaking to her. He was looking at his phone, his curly blond hair hiding his face as he looked down.
Grégoire picked up a can of Red Bull from the drinks table before he settled down next to Connor, opening the can and gulping down the gross brown liquid as if it were freshwater.
Connor got up and walked away to go talk to Gatsby who was in another corner with a bunch of people, leaving us alone without saying a thing.
“Rude.” I said, watching him walk away.
“Don’t mind him, he doesn’t talk much.” Greg said as he shuffled closer to Marie-Ange on the couch, putting his empty can of Red Bull on the coffee table.
“Hm?” she leaned forward as she heard her brother call for her.
He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and rubbed her back. She leaned her head against him with a sigh, closing her eyes.
Grégoire looked at her and sighed “We should go back home, seeing in the state she’s in. I’ll go tell Gatsby we’re leaving.” He said before he got up to go get his jacket and Marie-Ange’s cardigan.
I looked down on Angie as I got up and helped her to her feet. She looked so cute like that, all sleepy and tired and ready to go to bed. She stood up and straightened the skirt of her pink polka-dotted dress before she took my arm, pressing it to her chest again.
Greg soon came back with Marie-Ange’s wooly cardigan she had left on one of the chairs and put it around her shoulders before we headed out.
It was about half past eleven when we left the party. We took the last bus to the park that lead to our street, staying huddled together as to avoid getting mugged by some drunk bastard who would be hanging around. It was a calm drive home, we didn’t talk we just stayed in each other’s company on the bus, hiding Marie-Ange from some old man who was raving about young girls these days, all dressing up like whores.
That comment seemed to have touched Angie somehow. I didn’t see why; she wasn’t wearing anything that someone would qualify as ‘slutty’. Just a pink dress above the knee and a cardigan over that. I glared at the old man, and he went off on a tangent about how disrespectful teenagers were nowadays.
We arrived at the park and got off the bus quickly. Greg had an arm wrapped firmly around his sister’s shoulders as he led her forward. I tagged along, shoving my hand in the pocket of my jeans to pull out my phone to see if I had any missed calls.
I had one missed call from Mum earlier so I decided to text her. I wasn’t so sure about going home after all this.
Greg looked at me, running a hand through his hair before he spoke up.
“Do you want to sleep at our place tonight? We can watch a movie and have a few drinks before we go to sleep.”
“I don’t want you two drinking any more than what you had at Gatsby’s.” commented his sister in a sleepy voice.
“I didn’t have anything! Just some Red Bull and a shot of vodka, okay?” he complained, looking back at Angie.
The girl huffed and looked to the ground “Anyway, it would be nice if you could stay the night, David.” she said before she looked back up to me as we entered the street. We walked down the pavement until we got to their house. I sent a text to my mother saying that I’d be home the next morning and that I’d be spending the night at my friends’ house. I hoped she wouldn’t mind. She better not mind either way because I was going to stay at the Valmont’s place regardless.
We entered the house as quietly as we could and walked up the stairs to Greg’s room.
“Isn’t your Mum home?” I asked them, walking after them on the stairs. They turned back to look at me. Angie looked down, Greg shrugged.
“She has a thing going on with her boss, we already told you.”
“Yeah but doesn’t she come home at night? Doesn’t she take care of you?”
“The only way she takes care of us is by bringing money home, other than that she doesn’t do shit for us.”
“She does, actually.” added Marie-Ange, looking back up to her brother “She cares for us, deep down.”
“If she cared for us, she’d be with us at home more often.”
“Greg, don’t start.” His sister snapped back at him before she walked up a few more steps “Let’s just get changed and watch a film and go to bed.”
We watched Love Songs that night. We were settled on Greg’s large bed, drinking some coke and eating some crisps. Angie had changed into her pyjamas and stole one of her brother’s hoodies to wear over it to hide her generous curves. I didn’t comment on that. She was probably just as insecure about her body as I was.
Greg was wearing a grey T-shirt and dark blue boxers, shamelessly flaunting his body. It was the first time I saw him in such little clothing, not that it should matter.
I hesitated before I undressed, pulling on a T-shirt that Greg had lent me for the evening before I got on the bed with the twins.
The bed was settled along the wall, its side facing the small TV. We huddled under the covers as we watched the film.
The next two hours went by slowly as I watched the life of this melancholic Jewish Parisian man whose girlfriend died in the first twenty minutes of the film. He then fell in love with his mistress’ new boyfriend’s brother and they did the do.
It was interesting enough, and the songs in it were nice, even though I wasn’t exactly the kind of guy who was into musicals.
Then we watched another film during which Grégoire slept soundly, letting out a snore from time to time. Marie-Ange was watching it with watery eyes. I mean, sure, it was a sad movie, but I never understood how girls could cry so easily in front of them. I patted Angie on the back with a grin. She leaned into me, pressing her head to my shoulder as she watched, wiping her tears away.
“Sorry, I’m being stupid…”
“It’s okay…” I told her, wrapping and arm around her as her brother slept. She sighed and hugged me back for a while when the movie ended and some song by Ed Sheeran played in the background.
I couldn’t help myself right there and then, but I sniffed her hair, inhaling the sweet strawberry scent of her shampoo. I stopped myself two seconds after I realised what I what I was doing. Oh shit, shit, shit, that probably creeped her out. I gulped and smiled down at her a little awkwardly, pushing up my glasses. Marie-Ange reached up and snatched them from upon my nose to try them on, giving a girlish giggle as she did so “Wow, your eyesight is really messed up! How much do you have?”
“I’ve got like -7.50 on my left eye and -7.00 on the right one.” I told her. She wanted to know, so I just went ahead and told her. I wasn’t ashamed of my glasses, after all.
“You look nice without them.” She told me softly as she took them off “I-I mean, not that you don’t look nice with them on! That’s not what I meant.”
I chuckled at that. It was endearing how she tried to catch up like that. I held a hand up as if to tell her that rambling was useless “It’s okay, I don’t really look attractive anyway, in my opinion.”
She blinked at that and looked up at me “Why would you say that?”
“Oh God, where to start? I’m a ginger, I have freckles all over my body, I’m skinny as fuck—“
“You’re lucky to be thin.” She interrupted me, looking down “I’d kill to be thin.”
I stared at her for a while and sighed “Angie…” I groaned, holding her shoulders “You don’t need to be thin to be pretty. You’re like—like the living proof that bigger girls can be pretty too.”
“You think I’m pretty?” she asked me. Oh crap, no, this was getting sentimental. I usually wouldn’t touch that sort of conversation with a ten-meter pole, but there I was, telling Marie-Ange Valmont that she was pretty—which, don’t get me wrong, was true. But I never imagined that I’d ever tell her.
Well, now that I jumped in, I better splatter around as much as I can to avoid drowning.
“Well—uh, yeah. You’re really, uh, cute, I guess? I mean, I’ve known girls who were thin but who looked like a horse, man. I think that a pretty face is more important than being thin—not that being thin is bad. I mean, it’s healthier, and—and… Fuck, sorry Angie, I’m really stupid.” I said, hiding my face with one of my hands “I’m just super tired and all that crap, so yeah.”
“David—David. It’s okay.” She said, taking a hold of my wrist and pulling my hand away from my face. She was smiling softly at me “You’re so nice to me, David.” She told me, her bright blue eyes looking into mine. She then hugged me, her soft breasts pressed against my chest. I ran a hand through her hair and smiled softly, turning my head to dare to kiss her cheek.
She blinked at me again as she felt my chapped lips against her round cheek. It was sweet, I thought. This was gentle and smooth, and she didn’t push me away, which was a plus…
Then, out of the blue, I felt those soft, plump lips pressed against mine.