“That was one hell of a pee,” says Michael as I sit down.
He’s still here. Part of me was hoping he wouldn’t be.
“You sound impressed,” I say.
“I am actually.”
Becky, Evelyn and Lauren are now talking across the
table to some other girls from our year who I don’t really
know. Lucas smiles briefly at me. Rita’s laughing and
smiling, mainly at Lauren. They’re discussing a girl we
used to know who moved to Truham for sixth form
because she said that she “preferred boys to girls” and now
she’s organising parties where everyone takes acid and rolls around on the floor.
“So you’re gay?” I ask.
He blinks. “Wow. This is quite a big deal to you guys.”
It’s not a big deal. I don’t really care at all.
“Do you find boys attractive?” I ask, with a shrug. “Or
girls? That’s one way to check. If you’re not sure.”
He raises his eyebrows. “You think I’m not sure?”
I shrug again. I don’t care. I do not care.
“Everyone’s attractive, to be honest,” he continues.
“Even if it’s just something small, like some people have
really beautiful hands. I don’t know. I’m a little bit in
love with everyone I meet, but I think that’s normal.”
“So you’re bisexual.”
He smiles and leans forward. “You love all these words,
don’t you? Gay, bisexual, attractive, unattractive—”
“No,” I interrupt. “No, I hate them.”
“Then why label people?”
I tilt my head. “Because that’s life. Without organisation,
we descend into chaos.”
Staring amusedly, he stretches back again into the chair.
I can’t believe I just used the word ‘descend’.
“Well, if you care so much, what are you?” he asks.
“What are you? Gay, straight, all-around horny, what?”
“And are you sure that you’re straight? Have you liked
a boy before?”
I actually haven’t. Ever. This is because I have a very
low opinion of most people.
I look down. “All right then. I’ll let you know if I fall
in love with a girl any time soon.”
Michael’s eyes twinkle, but he doesn’t comment. I hope
I haven’t come across as a homophobe.
“Are you going to remember what you came to tell
me?” I ask.
He strokes his sharply parted hair. “Maybe. Maybe
tomorrow. We’ll see.”
Soon after that everyone declares that they’re leaving.
I accidentally spent £16, so Lucas insists on giving me
the extra pound, which I guess is pretty nice of him. Once
we’re all standing outside the restaurant, he starts chatting
earnestly with Evelyn. Most of the people here are heading
to Lauren’s house for a big sleepover thing or whatever.
They’re all going to get drunk and stuff even though
it’s a Tuesday. Becky explains that she didn’t invite me
because she knew that I definitely wouldn’t want to come
(it’s funny because it’s true), and Ben Hope overhears her
and gives me this kind of pitying look. Becky smiles at
him, the pair momentarily united in feeling sorry for me.
I decide that I’m going to walk home. Michael decides
that he’s coming with me and I don’t really know how
to stop him so I guess this is happening.
We have been moving in silence through the high
street. It’s all Victorian and brown and the cobblestone
road is sort of curved like we’re in the bottom of a trench.
A man in a suit hurries past, and he’s asking someone on
the phone, “Do you feel anything yet?”
I ask Michael why he’s walking home with me.
“Because I live this way. The world does not revolve
around you, Victoria Spring.” He’s being sarcastic, but I
still feel kind of put out.
“Victoria.” I shudder.
“Please don’t call me Victoria.”
“It makes me think of Queen Victoria. The one who
wore black all her life because her husband died. And
‘Victoria Spring’ sounds like a brand of bottled water.”
Wind is picking up around us.
“I don’t like my name either,” he says.
I instantly think of all the people I dislike named Michael.
Michael Bublé, Michael McIntyre, Michael Jackson.
“Michael means ‘who resembles God’,” he says, “and
I think that if God could choose to resemble any human
He stops then, right in the street, looking at me, just
looking, through the pane of his glasses, through the blue
and green, through depths and expanses, bleeding one
billion incomprehensible thoughts.
“...he wouldn’t choose me.”
We continue to walk.
Imagine if I had been given some Biblical name like
Abigail or Charity or, I don’t know, Eve, for God’s sake.
I’m very critical of religion and it probably means that
I’m going to hell, if it even exists, which, let’s be honest,
it probably doesn’t. That doesn’t bother me very much
because whatever happens in hell can’t be much worse
than what happens here.
“Well,” I say, “I support the Labour Party, but people
call me Tori. Like the Tories. If that makes you feel any
He doesn’t say anything, but I’m too busy looking at
the pale brown cobblestones to see if he’s looking at me.
After a few moments: “You support the Labour Party?”
I realise then that I’m freezing. I’d forgotten it was the
middle of winter and raining and all I’ve got is this shirt
and jumper and thin jeans. I regret not calling Mum, but
I hate bothering her because she always does this sighing
thing where she’s all like “no, no, it’s perfectly fine, I’m
not bothered”, but I can tell that she is most definitely
Silence and a faint smell of Indian takeaway continue
all the way up the high street and then we take a right on
to the main town road where the three-storey houses are.
My house is one of these. Two girls walk past in gargantuan
heels and dresses so tight that their skin is spilling out, and
one of them says to the other, “Wait, who the fuck is Lewis
Carroll?” and in my imagination I pull a gun out of my
pocket, shoot them both and then shoot myself.
I stop when I get to my house. It’s darker than the
others because the lamp post closest to it is not working.
“This is where I live,” I say and start to walk off.
“Wait, wait, wait,” he says. I turn back round. “Can I
ask you something?”
I cannot resist a sarcastic comment. “You just did, but
“Can we really not be friends?”
He sounds like an eight-year-old girl trying to win back
her best friend after she accidentally insulted her new school
shoes and got herself disinvited from her birthday party.
He’s wearing only a T-shirt and jeans too.
“How are you not freezing?” I say.
“Please, Tori. Why don’t you want to be friends with
me?” It’s like he’s desperate.
“Why do you want to be friends with me?” I shake my
head. “We’re not in the same year. We’re not similar in
any way whatsoever. I literally do not understand why
you even care about—” I stop then, because I was about
to say “me”, but I realised midway through that that would
be a truly horrific sentence.
He looks down. “I don’t think that... I understand...
I’m just standing there, staring.
“You know, it’s said that extreme communism and
extreme capitalism are actually very similar,” he says.
“Are you high?” I say.
He shakes his head and laughs. “I remember what I
was going to tell you, you know,” he says.
“I remembered it the whole time. I just didn’t want
everyone to hear it because it’s not their business.”
“Then why did you come and find me at a busy
restaurant? Why not just find me at school?”
For a second, he genuinely seems to be offended. “Don’t
you think I’ve tried?” He laughs. “You’re like a ghost!”
It takes a lot of willpower not to just turn round and
“I just wanted to tell you that I’d seen you before.”
Jesus Christ. He already told me that.
“You told me that yesterd—”
“No, not at Higgs. I saw you when you came to look
round Truham. Last year. It was me who took you round
The revelation blossoms. I remember exactly now.
Michael Holden had shown me attentively round
Truham when I was deciding whether to go there for
sixth form. He’d asked me what A levels I wanted to
do, and whether I liked Higgs very much, and whether
I had any hobbies, and whether I cared much about
sports. In fact, everything he’d said had been utterly
“But...” It’s impossible. “But you were so... normal.”
He shrugs and smiles and the raindrops on his face
almost make him seem as if he’s crying. “There’s a time
and a place for being normal. For most people, normal is
their default setting. But for some, like you and me, normal
is something we have to bring out, like putting on a suit
for a posh dinner.”
What, now he’s being profound?
“Why did you need to tell me this? Why did you need
to track me down? Why was it that important?”
He shrugs again. “It wasn’t, I guess. But I wanted you
to know. And when I want to do something I usually do
I stare at him. Nick and Charlie were right. He’s absolutely
He holds up a hand and sends me a slight wave.
“See you soon, Tori Spring.”
And then he wanders away. I’m left standing under the
broken lamp post in my black jumper and the rain,
wondering whether I’m feeling anything yet and realising
that it’s all very funny because it’s all very true.