Written by Georgina Cox
Jaz opened her wardrobe. Ever since she’d watched her first chick flick it had confused her how teenage girls could stare at cupboards bursting at the seams with clothes and cry out “I have nothing to wear!” before throwing themselves dramatically onto a bed. For her this had never really been an issue. Back in South Shields she could pretty much dress for any event in black tights, short floral dress, Doc Martins and a purple Cashmere cardigan she’d picked up at a Charity shop in Newcastle – God, she loved that cardigan.
She’d never had to dress for a massive house party before, let alone one hosted by a university student; a drop dead gorgeous university student. For a moment she considered denim shorts, fish nets and a band tee-shirt with her biker jacket, but then thought; nah, too grunge. Next she had a wild idea that she could wear the peach dress she’d been forced into for her aunt Kirstie’s wedding. Guys liked feminine, right? Wrong again she thought, maybe they did but not feminine that combined polyester blend with some kind of netting underskirt. This was hopeless!
In one last, desperate attempt she stomped downstairs to the kitchen, found her jeans in the dirty washing pile and shoved them into the washing machine; Jeans were a safe option. Luscombe had sicked up his Weetabix all over the kitchen floor this morning and her jeans had been just one of the many casualties. As she was staring vacantly into the second stage of the spin cycle her dad wandered into the kitchen; Eden Rose clamped on his hip like a sticky sea-urchin and a copy of The Guardian stuffed under his armpit.
“How’s it hangin’ Jazzy?” he said, obviously proud of his version of street slang.
Jaz cringed and raised her eyebrows as a response.
“Riveting as it is, I’m surprised you have time to watch the washing machine. I’d have expected you to be slaving over some homework or something.”
Jaz snapped back at him defensively. “What do you mean by that; you’d ‘expect’ me to be working? Jeez dad, it’s hard enough living with one nag, don’t you go over to the dark side as well! For your information I’m going out this evening like I should’ve been doing every other Saturday probably since I was about 12. Just get off my back, okay?”
“Don’t get shirty with me young lady! I’m not criticising, it’s just that your mum and I…”
“She’s not my mum.”
“Let me finish please! Your mum and I were getting a bit worried that you would be struggling to keep up at school, what with the big move and everything. But then we got a call from your form tutor yesterday evening and she said that some of your recent assignments have been really great. We’re so proud of you, I just wish I knew where you got multitasking talent from. I can’t even make a cup of tea and a piece of toast at the same time”
Jaz felt a prickle of guilt. “Oh you know me. I’m like a mole; an underground worker,” She said.
“Yes well, keep it up.”
“Yeah whatever.” She replied abruptly pulling her sodden jeans out of the washer and putting them in the tumble dryer ignoring the care instructions and the next load of laundry sitting on the side that should probably go on at the same time. Figuring they’d probably be about 40 minutes she decided to lock herself in the bathroom and have a go with some of the steppie’s makeup. She started off with some bright red lippie, thinking it would match her eyebrow piercing and added some black eyeliner would go quite nicely. Not too much though; no one wants to look like a panda. To finish it all off; hairspray. Lots of hairspray.
Heading back downstairs she went straight to the kitchen ignoring the “Thomas the Tank Engine” marathon going on in the front room and put on her jeans. They were a bit tighter than she’d anticipated so she had to squat several times and jump about a bit to loosen them up. Checking that everyone was occupied in the other room she quickly grabbed the six-pack of Strongbow out of the fridge and moved quickly to the cramped hallway. Snatching her keys and her battered, old Nokia off the hall table, she sat on the step to put on some black suede platforms and grabbed her biker jacket off the hook. She glanced at herself in the hall mirror; crap, not the biker jacket, too hard looking. She swapped it for the trusty purple cardigan. With a quick shout of “bye” she slammed the front door and was gone.
Jack’s afternoon wasn’t exactly going smoothly either. His plan to get his parents out of the house a good few hours before the party wasn’t, well, going to plan. It was their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary and he’d managed to scrape enough money together from his deals at the café to send them away to a B&B in Kent for the night. It was the maximum time and distance that his mum would be willing to travel without them. However, it also meant brownie points and a free house for him. Success! However, executing this was trickier than expected. He didn’t have enough money left in the budget to book them train tickets which meant they would be taking the car and could leave when they wanted, not when a timetable told them to. What’s more, his mum was a bit of a control freak, so they were leaving the house when she told them to.
“So, just one more time, the emergency contact numbers are on the fridge, make sure you keep the heating on low overnight, its more cost effective, don’t forget to feed the cat, emergency money is Sellotapedto the underside of the biscuit tin and please, please double lock the front door before you go to bed. Also, Alex, a new video game does not constitute an emergency.” Mrs Black looked pointedly at Alex. Alex grinned at his mum.
“Listen, Sandra,” intercepted Mr Black, “It’s 5:00 already. If we don’t leave soon we’ll be arriving there too late for a nice dinner out, and you know how much I hate night driving. You’ve given the boys this spiel a hundred times already”
“Yeah mum,” said Jack, detecting the conversation had switched back into their favour, “Seriously, just cut the cord.”
“Now you listen to me young man…” but Jack’s dad was already bustling her out of the door. He mouthed a “thank you” to his sons as he slung a duffle bag over his shoulder and wheeled his wife’s massive suitcase to the car. “Do you really need all this for one night Sandra?”
It wasn’t until the family’s old Nissan Micra had turned out of the road that Jack could finally start making preparations for the party. Turning to his brother he began to lay down some ground rules of his own.
“Right, first things first, I’m in charge this weekend so we can do this the hard way or the easy way. If we’re going to get everything ready by 7:00 I’m going to need your help. This means that you need to take all the breakables out of the living room and put them in mum and dad’s room. I’m going to head out and get some booze so while I’m gone can you order some pizza? I’ll leave thirty quid but order enough for forty and then take the rest out of the emergency fund. Now I know you’re gunna want to stay and hang out with all my friends, but to be frank you just can’t. I’m at uni’ now, they don’t want to come to a party and hang out with a pesky little kid like you.”
“Oh come on Jack! You can’t just expect me to be your slave for the whole weekend with nothing in return. It’s not like I’m gunna drink or anything, I just want to meet your friends.”
“Damn right you’re not going to drink! I don’t want you to spew all over mum’s new cream sofa; the clear-up’s going to be hard enough as it is! Just to keep it fair then you can come down for the first hour. It might be nice to have someone around as an icebreaker before the party really gets going. Also, if you speak to a girl called Alicia, could you do me a favour and tell her what a great guy I am? Say something like ‘My brother’s my role model’ or ‘That’s so interesting, I was just talking about that with Jack the other day, you two have so much in common’. Girls lap that stuff up.”
“Fair enough then. I’ll get started here while you’re at the offie.”
It didn’t take long to get the house in order. There were a few breakable knickknacks on the table in the living room. Nothing expensive but their mum would go crackers if anything happened to them. The really important things to get out of the way were the family photos on the mantelpiece. After stacking up the ones of great aunts and weddings he’d never been to, Alex came to their old family photo from their holiday in Jersey. Looking down at all their happy faces he remembered how wonderful it had been. He must’ve only been about six but he could still recall dad’s catastrophic (but hilarious) sunbathing accident, the fish and chips on the beach and the whole family building sand castles together. Things with just him and Jack weren’t the same and looking down at the five faces in the picture he realised now just how much he missed the way it used to be. He sighed, thought he would leave this one out and then picked up as much as his arms could hold and took the things up to his mum and dad’s room, stowing everything safely under the bed. It took two trips but when it was finished he carefully locked the bedroom door and stood on a chair to balance the key on the top of the door frame above the door. No-one would think to look there. He ordered fifteen pizzas from the local takeaway and asked them to deliver them at 7:00 which gave him a good half an hour to do some biking in the street. Jack would be back in a minute and he could sort out the food and drink without him. He went to his room for the key to his friend’s garage where he kept his BMX and left the house.
Ellie was one bus stop away from Jack’s when she saw Jaz sitting on the wall outside a church on the main road. She rang the bell for the driver to stop about twenty times and jumped off the bus to the tutting and scornful glances of many other passengers. As Jaz still seemed to be lost in thought, it seemed like a prime opportunity to sneak up on her and give her a scare. Sneaking over the grassy verge at the side of the church she crept up behind Jaz and sharply grasped her shoulders. Her reaction was priceless and Ellie dissolved into a fit of giggles.
“What’re you waiting here for then?” asked Ellie once she’d regained some composure, “Also, were you aware that you’re flashing crack really badly at the back?”
“You’re kidding!” yelped Jaz, tugging her t shirt down self-consciously “These bloody jeans have shrunk so badly in the wash but they’re my only pair! I’m going to look like a right lemon at this party.”
“I’d say you’re working more of the peach look to be honest.” Jaz punched her on the arm. “Ow! But seriously, what are you doing here?”
“I’ve got these shoes on and I couldn’t walk to where we said we’d meet so I thought I’d wait here for you. I was about to text you.”
“Well here I am. Perfect timing! Shall we go?”
“Erm…” Jaz hesitated. “Isn’t it a bit early? Shouldn’t we try and leave it the perfect amount of time before arriving at Jack’s? The last thing we want to do is be the first ones there! Let’s hang on for ten minutes or so. By the way, what the heck do your parents think you’re doing this evening? I swear they’d never let you out to a thing like this.”
“I have to admit that I’ve even outdone myself this time. I’ve managed to convince them that I’m going to a drama workshop and that drama skills are really sought after in medical applicants to university. Something to do with the ability to work in a team, making snap decisions using improvisation, blah, blah, blah. So as far as they’re concerned I’m rehearsing with the drama group tonight and then staying over at yours. They even gave me money for dinner so look what I managed to get hold of.” Ellie held up a bag of bottles.
“Ellie, those are just soft drinks.”
“Yes but I’m not going to use a fake ID am I? I have some scruples and people always need mixers.” They both laughed.
“Well, I think we’ve waited long enough, let’s go.” Jaz picked up her own drinks, hitched up her jeans at the back and they headed off. It took about five minutes to walk to Jacks – or in Jaz’s case limp to Jack’s. As they reached the porch of his semi-detached house Ellie checked her watch. It was exactly 7:10, so they rang the doorbell.
Jack rushed to the door, feeling slightly flustered. On his return from the off-licence, the flimsy, plastic bag had broken; smashing a bottle of Malibu in the process. Putting on a suave smile but still reeking of coconut he undid the latch and opened the door.
“Hey, how’s it going?” he asked. It was Ellie and the other girl from the coffee shop whose name he couldn’t remember. He hated to offend anyone so he kept it noncommittal. “You two look great!”
“Hey Jack.” They trilled in reply.
Jaz handed the two bags of drinks over to him. “Sorry we’re a bit late,” she said, “but we’ve brought some stuff along to help out.”
“Oh… cheers that’s really nice of you. And don’t worry about being late; you’re the first ones here.” Jaz’s heart sank as she felt the awkwardness of the situation close in on them. “Sorry, I’m not going to be much of a host; I’ve still got a few things to sort out. Talk amongst yourselves for a while.”
Ellie took the lead and sat down on one of the sofas, but Jaz wasn’t at all comfortable; she didn’t come to the party to just talk to Ellie. She watched Jack sweeping up the glass fragments with a dustpan and brush and after a few moments she jumped up.
“Give me a job,” she said, “There’s no point in being early if we can’t help.”
Ellie looked at her and frowned. Jack looked at her and grinned. “Hey, thanks, erm…”
“Jaz,” Ellie butted in with an edge of sarcasm in her voice.
“Yup of course, I knew that…I was just wondering what you could do…”
“Not much,” Ellie interjected again.
Jaz glared at her. What was her problem?
“I could get the glasses ready if you like?” she said, “And organise the bar in the kitchen?”
“Brilliant!” Jack announced. He stood and pointed in the direction of the kitchen. “Through there.”
Ellie watched her friend smile at Jack in a way that she never smiled at her. Flirt, she thought.
“I’ll come and help you as soon as I’ve done this,” Jack said.
Ellie jumped up from the sofa herself. “No worries, I can do that,” she said quickly. “You get on with something else. There must be tons to do.” She smiled and Jack said, “Thanks Ellie.”
Jaz glared at her a second time but all’s fair in love and war, she thought. The doorbell rang again, a crowd could be heard outside and they all breathed a communal sigh of relief.