At Tonight’s Party, Thunder Approaches
Lee is almost certain that Yvonne is high on whiz. An hour earlier she had finished a double shift at her work and he hadn’t been able to get in a word sideways. He sniffs and feels his buzz wearing off.
Currently he waits outside the entrance to tonight’s party. Waits as Yvonne chats to her old high school friend Erin. Erin always secretly struck him as a bland, waif-like creature with no real defining features. She was leaving as they were arriving.
To him it sounds like they are talking about the clothes they are wearing, or a short film Yvonne is trying to get made, or Erin’s new boyfriend, or possibly all three things at once. Lee is quite positive that the next ten minutes will go on forever and that he will be stuck at the entrance to the party, taking place upstairs, until the end of his life.
“Is Dean coming tonight?” Yvonne has broken off her conversation in mid sentence.
“I’m sure Dean would never miss a party,” he shrugs and replies slow, as slow as he can to properly express the tedium.
She looks at him for the first time tonight before picking up where she had left off with Erin. “It’d be great if John would write it. (I hate writing). Did you say he isn’t here? I don’t understand why he doesn’t…”
Lee tunes out and wonders if he wants to see Dean. He needs to talk to him about something important but – if Yvonne is asking about Dean then she’ll only get in the way.
He scratches his cheek and hopes no one else can spot the pimple. He winces and hopes the pimple hasn’t popped, or worse, that it’s turned into a sticky, green and yellow head. He wants another drink. His bottle has been empty for too long.
He can hear people walking in the stairwell and coming up to the 9th floor. It’s three girls. One of them has long and curly blonde hair. He smiles and says hi to her.
The teenagers step over the threshold and into the apartment. He looks at their backs and tries to remember where he has met her before.
Erin is walking down the stairs. Yvonne has finished her conversation. They are ready to go inside. She reaches out for his hand. He hates it when she tries to turn their arrival into a grand scene.
Music plays loudly in the lounge-room. It sounds like his favourite band. He hasn’t heard this particular song before.
Two of the girls are sitting on a solitary couch. The blonde isn’t with them.
“Do you want a drink?”
“What do they have?” Yvonne rummages inside her handbag.
“Not sure. I’m finding out.” The last time he was here for a party the drink had been kept in the bathtub.
Dean isn’t inside. It’s close to midnight but that isn’t untoward of him, he is famous for making a late arrival. When he does turn up.
The blonde isn’t in the shabby kitchen covered underneath bottles and crushed cans. There’s a couple deep in conversation about a press conference a tennis player held earlier that day. The guy stands out with his peroxide hair, soft, smooth features and exquisite, sensual lips. His face looks like a baby’s.
There are a selection of dips and bread on the table, and a dirty plate, along with scraps of pastry, red, sweet savoury sauce and a dozen liquor bottles of varying type.
He lingers over the collection of white spirits next to the plate.
Someone has wrapped a string of lights around the bathroom’s doorframe. Minus the red and green plastic they can still be mistaken for Christmas lights. There are more lights inside; they hang off one of the walls. He places his empty bottle on top of the washing machine and takes in the three-dozen cans and bottles, all yellow and green, floating in the water amongst the chunks of ice, floating around like the tops of icebergs. They could be all the beers in the world for what he cares.
The water is warm. It doesn’t really feel like water, it’s too sticky. The labels are peeling off the bottles and floating to the top.
He withdraws his hand and walks back into the kitchen. It’s empty now; the window outside is pitch black, the night sky is clouded overhead and there’s no moon. Into an empty glass he drops the pieces of ice he is holding.
No one will care about the vodka he splashes in: three fingers of vodka, no less, he hates refilling his glass unnecessarily.
He tries to remember if he is working at the cinema tomorrow or the night after. He hopes it isn’t tomorrow. The Spanish film festival is on this weekend. Being the projectionist, there will be films for him to make-up and break-down for the event.
Lee thinks about Dean, thinks about him entering through the front door. Dean towers over the rest of the guests with his impossible height on top of skinny legs.
Next he imagines Dean greeting everyone in that cool, contrived passive aggressive way of his. And everyone replies back, acting like Dean’s best friend, eagerly asking him what he’s been doing, and talking about events and gatherings and parties Lee doesn’t have the slightest idea about.
The two girls are no longer in the lounge but the couple, Baby Face and the girl, are taking to Yvonne. She’s laughing and sipping from a glass of white wine. Her hand is on Baby Face’s elbow.
“I can’t get over your hair. He always has such a great haircut!”
“I should do, with all the hairdressers I know.”
The girl is smirking. “Sometimes I don’t know how he leaves the house. He spends his life in front of the mirror.”
“Hey, it doesn’t style itself!” says Baby Face as he strikes a defiant pose.
He takes in the beads around Yvonne’s neck, knows that they have to be fake pearls, knows that she can never dress casual, and looks at the lines underneath her large, white eyes. One of the lines runs faintly down her cheek. Looking at those lines anyone who didn’t know her properly would mistake her as a merry person.
He pulls a big gulp of vodka and raises his eyebrows. Yvonne smiles back, then looks at Baby Face, listening to what his sensual lips mouth next.
Lee can’t bother himself to join in. A slight build-up of perspiration has washed over his face. Rumbling from beyond the ceiling faintly sounds: it is thunder approaching.
He gulps from his drink again – not as deep, otherwise he’ll have to refill it – and climbs the stairwell to see what else is happening in the other rooms. He follows the faint sounds of party speak above him and wonders where the blonde has disappeared. He has the vague memory that her name is Miranda.
Most of the talking is coming from the balcony outside the master bedroom. The bright outdoor light illuminates the faint waft of cigarette smoke billowing over the partygoer’s heads.
He can see her blonde hair cascading down her back. She looks over the edge. He motions to touch the pimple but stops, and squeezes his nostrils instead for a split second. There is no more drip in the back of his throat.
He touches the cold stone of the balcony wall and she smiles at him.
She nods and adds a bored, “Yeah.”
He looks at the cigarette in her hand, and the way the paper burns and glows. Her skin is darker than Yvonne’s; it has a faint olive complexion. She is quite young, and has not yet been touched by the world.
“We met at the last party that was here. Right?”
“No, this is my first time,” Miranda smirks to herself and takes a puff, “my friends brought me.”
He thinks about what’s going on with Baby Face and Yvonne downstairs. “I’ve always enjoyed the view from this apartment balcony.”
“I like the skyline.”
He looks at the buildings of the quarter –black silhouettes that hang over the cityscape horizon – and pulls from his drink.
“Yeah. I don’t know what you’d call it; but I like how you can look into the windows of the apartments underneath. And no one can look back?” He looks over the ledge, staring down at a courtyard nine floors below. The feeling of vertigo makes his legs wobble. “In a way it almost makes me feel… invisible. Especially when it’s dark like this.”
The ice rattles in the bottom of his glass, there isn’t enough vodka for another drink.
“Voyeurism is great.” He winks at her slowly.
“Want some of mine?” She has stopped smirking, and her blue eyes shine in the low light of the balcony area. He can’t recall if she was standing that close to start with.
“What is it?”
“Red bull and white wine.”
He sips hesitantly at first, and then sips a second time. Deciding that he likes the taste, he empties what is left.
“I didn’t mean drink it all!” She laughs at him quietly.
He considers his empty glass, then checks himself and makes a quick scan around the balcony for Dean. The sky rumbles with thunder again.
“I guess I’ll have to get you another. My shout.”
The apartment is hot; it feels as if the heating has been switched on. With the thunderstorm approaching that seems strange to him.
Baby Face is still talking to Yvonne. They’re both in the same position he had left them in, deep in conversation, her hand touching his elbow. It looks like she’s confiding to him about something. The girl he was with earlier is no longer around. His skin is very smooth, even on his cheeks.
Her glass is full again. She isn’t any drunker than when they had first arrived. Lee wonders why that is, wonders if she has something he doesn’t know about.
Yvonne sees Lee and stands next to him, clumsily hooking her arm around the hand in his pocket. He knows that if she’s acting like this, then soon enough she’ll want to kiss.
“Finer than fine. However, one’s glass is empty.” He motions with his head and a contrived purse of his lips at the makeshift drinks room. His voice has started to slur.
“I’ve got the perfect D.O.P. for the film.” Her arm hasn’t moved.
He thought the production had already started filming.
She looks at Baby Face. “So you’ll talk to him? Will he do it?”
“Yeah. I mean, Johnny’s always up for doing film stuff.”
Yvonne fixes on Lee with her wide eyes. “Johnny’s studying at the performing arts academy.” She turns back to Babyface. “Doing documentary?”
“I think that’s part of his PhD.”
“I thought he was going to write it,” Lee sighs.
“No, that’s John. Erin’s boyfriend.” Her voice quietens for only him to hear. “No Dean-o yet.” It was the pet name she used for his friend.
“Yeah.” He untangles his arms from hers.
The glass feels hot in his hand and is becoming uncomfortable to hold.
“I’m feeling excited. It all seems to be coming together. At last! Can we call him tonight?”
“Don’t see why not babe. He should be up.” Baby Face pauses for dramatic effect. “It is the weekend.”
Lee splashes more vodka, doesn’t bother with ice and considers the word ‘babe’. Baby Face and Yvonne seem close. Lee can’t remember receiving an introduction. Even now he can hear their chatting from the other room. He swigs from his glass and splashes in another top-up. He can’t understand why she had insisted for him to come tonight. It seems like she is only here for mingling and making contacts for her film, the film that has been in eternal ‘pre-production’. He listens carefully, trying to catch what she next says to Baby Face.
The music cuts out and there’s silence. Before the next song starts a door slams and a foreign voice shouts: “DEAN!”
Lee carefully cranes his head and neck into the room.
Dean wears the same scarf and fedora from when Lee last saw him. Lee knows he wears these clothes all year ‘round. Tonight he has applied eyeliner as well. It strikes Lee that the makeup contributes to his understated sexual energy. Dean’s eyes are glazed over and bloodshot.
Dean is talking to Yvonne and Baby Face. Lee needs to speak to him. There’s another person, a young man dressed in bright colours, who seems excited to see Dean.
He nervously pinches at his cheek; thinks about what Yvonne will say when they’re all together with Dean, chatting politely. He shudders at the thought. The room is hot and the walls are dark.
He looks at Baby Face’s skin. It is so clean and spotless. He rakes his fingernails across the open sore on his face and wishes that the pimple wasn’t there for tonight of all nights. No one has seen him re-enter the lounge room yet. Everyone is deep in conversation, listening or speaking intently. He feels tired and his head throbs. Dean looks sedate as he slowly readjusts his scarf and replies to a question posed by Yvonne.
Lee slips upstairs to the balcony. His foot catches on the first step and he stumbles. Some of his drink spills over the edge of the glass and onto the carpet. Nobody notices.
The air outside is growing electric. A faint breeze has picked up and is whipping through the throng of mingling people. As his eyes adjust to the night he finds it hard to make out anyone’s face; they look like black smudges, with tiny red pinpoints where a mouth should be.
In the near distance he can see a billboard sign on top of one of the buildings. A spotlight is fixed to the bottom of the frame. The picture is faded and old, impossible to decipher in the gloom of the night. A dark font stretches across it: In the still of the night.
Lee thinks about Yvonne with Baby Face; Dean with anyone he wants. He thinks about his place in this social triangle, where he fits in exactly.
“Is that mine?” A voice breathes into his ear.
“It might be.” He smiles dumbly at Miranda. Her eyelashes are long and wavy and darker than her blonde hair.
“What is it? Vodka?”
She stares at the clear liquid in his glass. The balcony is crowded. Her hip brushes against the back of his free hand and he feels her body. He touches the small of her back and offers the drink to her.
He looks at the shape of her cheeks, and her thin, straight nose. Her pupils are dilated; he can’t see the blue in her eyes. He tries to remember whether it’s possible to tell if someone’s attracted to you from his or her pupils alone.
“Is that neat?” She hesitates and her eyebrow arches. She takes a sip, and shuts her eyes at the taste. Her forehead wrinkles, but not by much.
“It’s better the second time ‘round.” He drinks and then offers her the glass.
This makes her grin. She reaches for the glass. Their fingers touch but he doesn’t let go, instead raises the drink up to her lips.
She sips again, deeper this time, and makes a little gurgle in the back of her throat after gulping the Vodka. She isn’t a day over seventeen. She breaks eye contact as something distracts her.
“Luis! What are you doing?”
The man in bright colours, who was earlier talking with Dean, points a mobile phone at them. Before he can reply Miranda answers her own question.
Lee looks at the phone, black and almost the size of a matchbox, and inwardly groans. Miranda boxes him in close for an imagined frame and adopts a big grin.
In a thick sounding French accent, Luis blurts out: “Cheese!” A wispy goatee sprouts from his chin. It strikes Lee that the fluoro green shirt Luis wears has a purple hue to it.
She reaches out impulsively for the phone. Luis complies, turning the display around for her to look at. Her nose wrinkles and she shakes her head. The French man holds up the phone for a second attempt at a party photo.
Miranda’s grin reappears effortlessly. Lee stretches out his arm and grabs her far shoulder. She holds his hand with hers, squeezing his fingers in a tight grip. Lee feels like reaching out and touching her face, running a finger along her lips.
The second time Luis presses the button Lee can hear a distinct whirring and clicking. Miranda is pleased with this new photo. He gently rubs the fabric on her shoulder.
The party has reached its apex for the evening; the hubbub has grown to an intense pitch. He considers his empty glass and how tiresome it would be to push through the ebb and flow of people. The floor gently tilts, first to the left, then to the right, and back again.
He clumsily sets his glass on the ledge and nearly drops it off the edge, catching it at the last moment with his slow hands. Her body presses closer and stops his legs from buckling. He leans in to Miranda, feints to kiss her on the side of her face and connects on the corner of the mouth. She smiles at him, sheepishly, but doesn’t look away. It seems to him that this type of kiss almost always works.
She says something that he can’t hear. Lee can’t really hear anything, all sound on the balcony has transformed into a drawn out, murmured blur. The sky lights up in the distance, revealing angry purple clouds that vanish after a split second. Thunder briefly follows. She squirms and he looks her in the eyes, nodding at whatever it is she’s talking about.
On instinct he thinks about who else is out there on the balcony and slowly scans the area.
He stops at the profile of Dean standing in the doorway. His head instantly throbs again and his face and lips suddenly feel very dry.
Dean looks back at him and Lee can’t detect any emotion on Dean’s surface. Lee removes his hand from Miranda’s shoulder in a quick movement. Dean motions with his head, indicating that he wants Lee to follow him, and disappears into the apartment.
“I need to talk to him.” He adds as a distracted afterthought. “I’ll be back later.”
Before he can hear Miranda ask, “Talk to who?” Lee has already walked away.
He momentarily loses sight of Dean – as he staggers and pushes and can’t find a way through the crowd – before spotting him at the foot of the stairs. In a half-stumble Lee follows after him and slips into the room that swallows Dean up.
Lee shuts the door loudly. Dean raises his finger up to pale lips and shushes him.
He grins out of instinct and then scans the room, trying to act aloof and cool. They are in someone’s bedroom. He can’t remember being in this room the last time he came to the apartment. The room is very dark; it’s hard for him to make out any details.
Dean flicks on a lamp and light spills across his face. Dean’s eyes don’t seem as bloodshot as before. Dean looks at the sore on Lee’s cheek and smirks.
“What happened to your face?”
“Genetics: it’s only natural.” His cheek feels cold and wet and he realises that the pimple has popped. He imagines what it must have looked like in the mobile phone picture.
“Someone has been practicing,” Dean laughs and then sighs.
“What else is one to do with one’s spare time?” Lee is speaking too fast and slurring over his bit.
Dean’s face reverts to a blank stare. “Yvonne was telling me about her film. I’ve lost track of how many she’s making.”
Lee thinks of blonde curly hair and girls ten years his junior. He slowly rubs his nose, running his fingers along the length of his nostrils and then gently squeezing. He doesn’t want to chaff the skin unnecessarily.
Dean is nursing a haver sack. He props it against the side of the queen size bed and sits down next to it, kicking out his long legs and stretching them along the carpet.
“So, are you now too cool to say hello to me?” He asks after a brief yawn, not looking at Lee directly.
Lee stays silent and tries to decide whether to lie or tell the truth. He wants to sit next to him, against the bed, but instead slumps down opposite Dean and offers a slight shrug in reply. Dean looks inside his sack.
“I’m so tired.” Lee could sleep for a million years and still feel tired. He reclines back and tries to make out the details of the room. He can’t tell if it’s a guy or girl’s bed, or if a couple lives in here.
“I have something to wake you up.”
The lamp is directed at the stretch of carpet between them. Dean has laid out a syringe, a spoon, some cotton buds, and a small baggie of crystal meth. He fiddles with what appears to be Yvonne’s lighter.
“That’s all I’ve got left.”
Lee looks at the sack and wonders what Yvonne was talking to Dean about. Dean notices Lee’s stare.
“Well, I mean I have a lot more,” he says, bragging like usual. Lee knows it doesn’t actually mean anything. Dean has no firm grip on reality. “But that’s all I have for you.”
Lee cooks the spoon, finds a vein and then lies back to wait for the euphoria to rise up in a big surging wave.
“There’s still some juice left for Lee-boy,” says Dean as he picks up the syringe and looks at it.
Lee clenches his jaw, sits up and smiles.
“Is this a new syringe? It hurts.”
“Yeah, it’s new enough,” says Dean as he switches off the lamp, his features instantly going black.
“You always look so fucking good in that hat.”
“And you always say that.”
Lee hears Dean sigh faintly from across the room. He wonders why he’s acting like such a dick, as he waits for Dean’s silhouette to appear in the gloom. Lee pulls the needle out of his arm and drops it to the floor. He thinks about how to break the silence, about what he needs to say to Dean. The buzz was taking much longer to hit than usual.
“The cinema is running a festival of Spanish films this week. We should go see some.”
The room lightens up a little but Lee’s can’t see Dean’s face.
“I’ve… got a lot going on.” Dean finally twitches and pushes his hat up a little. “A lot of important things that I need to… if I turn up at the last minute, I can just call you and whoever is working there will give me free tickets, right?”
Lee stares hard but there isn’t anything in Dean’s face for him. It wasn’t always awkward like this. Back in the day, when either one of them wanted to do something the other followed along. Lee replies because he knows Dean is waiting for a response.
“Yep. I can leave a ticket. But I want to go with you…”
“It seems as though I’ve started a flirtatious romance with someone.”
Lee’s head starts throbbing as the buzz finally kicks in. It feels like it’s taking his breath away as the two sensations battle for his focus.
“Who? A girl?” Lee tries to figure out which new people Dean would have met recently. He considers if it could be someone at this party. Dean hasn’t replied. Lee thinks about what he should say next to keep him talking.
“How long for?”
Lee pictures when he was last with Dean. They had been at a bar somewhere. Dean had his eye on some girl he’d never seen before, he couldn’t get over how tall she was and the way how her head stood out above the crowd, looking down on everyone. Lee told him to forget about her. But his friend didn’t listen and went over to her. Lee left the bar soon after. Lee can’t decide if that was six weeks, or six months ago.
He isn’t even sure that Dean is telling the truth. He can feel goose bumps on his arms but only faintly; the feeling of vertigo returning in his legs almost completely overpowers the growing buzz.
“That was an awkward silence.”
“Was it? I was thinking about what you said. Good. I am happy. That you are with someone.” Lee stands up.
“Where you going Lee-boy?” Dean is looking at him but he doesn’t care. The last place he wants to be is stuck in the dark with Dean, running over the same conversational ground. Dean doesn’t even realise that ‘flirtatious romance’ makes no fucking sense. He fumbles for the door.
“I need to get out of here.”
The party has thinned out in the time he was in the bedroom. The upstairs area is empty. The storm has broken and rain splashes against the balcony. Wind whips water against the shut glass doors.
Downstairs in the kitchen four drunken teenagers loudly quote their favourite television shows. Yvonne is no longer there; Baby Face has gone too. Lee is almost certain that they have left together. It wouldn’t surprise him, not from how she was hanging off Baby Face before. His head slightly throbs and he clenches his jaw.
In the lounge room Miranda sits on the couch and flicks ash from her cigarette into a coffee cup. A song he’s familiar with blasts from the speakers. It’s strange to him that the music is playing that loudly for only five people; it ricochets off the walls in static distortion. She notices Lee and smiles at him.
“Hi Bright Eyes. Who’s keeping you company?”
“This awful… song.” Her eyelids are half shut and her head lolls noticeably.
“Where’d everyone go?”
“Everyone went… to a fucking… nightclub.” Miranda stands up and accidentally knocks the cup off the armrest, spilling ash over the floor.
“Shit!” She reacts late and swears too loud.
“Don’t worry about it, babe.” Lee clenches his jaw, tries to figure out who’s bedroom he was just in, and what Dean could possibly be doing in there now, as he focuses on the waves rolling over his body. “The key reason for attending a party is to make a mess.”
She slowly turns her head away from the cup and grins at him. He reaches out for her. As she presses close to him, they lock lips and kiss.