Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
6. The Year Seven Disco
The night that the Bluevale Ridge year seven disco happened to fall on was also the night my mother went into labour with my brothers. As I was choosing what to wear, she was in agony on a hospital bed with her legs opened to strangers. She’d found out she was pregnant shortly after I started school. “I didn’t particularly want any more children,” she’d remarked to me after one of her hospital check ups. “But it could be a nice thing, right? Bring us all together.”
Dad was with her, leaving me at home with Journey and Dexter. It meant I had to cycle myself to the school in the warmth of a July evening, but I wasn’t really worried about that. I stood almost naked in front of my wardrobe, in only my underwear and a vest. Staring at the clothes that hung limply from their hangers, I realised I didn’t like any of them. None of them looked like they wanted to be worn; all torn and stained and faded from years and years of use. They weren’t me anymore. Bought by my parents, or handed down by siblings and cousins. It wasn’t like the year seven school disco was something fancy, or that I felt the need to show off to my classmates, but I wanted to wear something that I felt comfortable in.
My fingers brushed against each shirt, feeling the qualities of the fabric that held it together, until it came across something unfamiliar. A soft button up shirt, dark grey and covered in swirling patterns. It wasn’t mine - it must have been sorted into my clothes by mistake. It was either Dexter’s or my dad’s, but I’d never seen either of them wear it. I gently tugged it off the hanger and held it up in front of me, turning to face my mirror. It was oversized, massive really, but I slipped it on over my vest anyway. The fabric was cool against my skin and almost reached my knees, covering the lack of curves on my body. I slowly buttoned it up, before carefully selecting my best pair of black jeans. My hair fell into place on my shoulders as I brushed it back off of my face and continued to look myself up and down in the mirror. Perfect.
The door creaked open, and Journey walked in. “Oh, you’re wearing that to the disco?”
“Yeah, what’s wrong with it?” I twirled round, ending with a curtsy. “I think I look like a princess, don’t you?”
“You look like a skinny, useless pirate.” Her eyes glanced down to my skinny black jeans. “A gay skinny, useless pirate.”
I put on my best pirate voice. “A-hoy, me hearties, tonight we’ll be lootin’ the corner shop for the best gay porn mags in all of the land!”
Dexter appeared in the doorframe after having exited the bathroom, a towel tied around his waist. “What was that about gay porn?”
“Nothing, Castle’s just being weird.” Journey elbowed me in the ribs as she turned to face Dexter, and I elbowed her back. “Why, are you interested in it?”
“No, no, it’s just that I found some the other day. I was trying to find my birth certificate - ‘cos I’m applying to that job - and so I looked under mum and dad’s bed and found a load of those magazines. I’ll show you, hang on.” He went to leave but Journey stopped him.
“It’s fine, I don’t want to see them. Do you think they’re dad’s?” She exclaimed, her voice dripping with disgust.
Dexter shrugged. “I don’t know, I put them back where I found them. I didn’t want to see them either, my poor innocent eyes!”
“Could dad be gay?” I asked, seeing as no one else had yet.
“Don’t be stupid,” Journey flopped down onto her bed, which was across the room from mine. “He’s married to mum, and now has five kids. You wouldn’t marry a woman if you’re gay.”
Maybe she was right. Maybe there was an explanation for what Dexter found. I pushed it to the back of my mind and focused on the disco. My alarm clock read 7:26pm, and it started at 8pm, so there were maybe ten more minutes before I needed to leave. I pressed play on my CD player and flicked through the songs until I came across one I was in the mood for - some cheesy 80’s hit from one of my mum’s old ‘best of’ albums.. All synthesised and made for the explicit purpose of dance. I never knew how to dance, and I didn’t know if I was going to dance at the disco, but as soon as the first few upbeat notes drifted from the speakers to my ears, I felt myself move. Jerky movements that echoed the awkward, gangling youth that was my body. Elbows and knees and sharp hips, thrusting around the room to the beat. Journey erupted into a fit of laughter, and so I kept dancing.
“Cas, that is the worst dancing I have ever seen!”
When I arrived at the school, everyone else seemed to be dressed in their most grown-up outfits - little fitted dresses and cheap tailored jackets. For the first few minutes, I felt rather self-conscious of my oversized shirt and gay pirate jeans, but as the time passed I realised that they were the ones who looked ridiculous. Poet and I seemed to be the most casually dressed people there. He was a tad more casual looking than me, in his grey joggers and a large black button up shirt.
His face lit up as he saw me approaching him. “Castle! You look amazing!”
I blushed. I hadn’t been expecting a compliment. “Er, you look…”
“Like I’ve come straight from a P.E teacher’s funeral? I know.” He grinned like an idiot before asking “Do you want to dance?”
Poet and I danced together to what seemed like the 100th song the DJ blasted into our ears, though they all blended into one to me. The repetitive chord sequences and lyrics of love meant nothing to me, yet in this circumstance I didn’t grow angry about it. I let loose, stuffed my face with sugary sweets and drowned in my own sweat and lemonade. The sports hall was dark, with the constant flashing of the colourful spotlights giving the room an overall cramped feeling, but it felt like it was just Poet and I dancing together.
A song came to an unsatisfying end - I couldn’t have told you the name of the song or who sung it if I’d tried - and the pair of us came to a halt, panting for air as the stuffiness of the room suddenly caught up with us. He stepped closer to me as the next song started. In fact, he was practically pressed against me, and I could feel his breath on my cheeks. And then he kissed me.
It only lasted a second, barely that, and I immediately pulled back. The room was suddenly filled with hysterical laughter. I turned my head to see the circle of laughs that had gathered round us, the smirks and giggles hidden behind phones. We’d been so enthralled in the dance that we’d failed to notice the gap that had been slowly building between us and the other students in attendance. They’d been filming us, and we’d been too distracted by the drum machine beats and boosted bass.
“Not even girls like Castle want to kiss fat boys!” Someone yelled over the music, and everyone started laughing even louder.
I glanced at Poet, whose face was as red as I could feel mine growing. Everyone was still laughing, a collective rumble that only seemed to be growing more deafening, pounding at my brain. As I spun round, it seemed as though the crowd was growing bigger and bigger, all laughing in unison like some choreographed routine. There was no escape from them as they closed in with their vicious teeth and cheap aftershave. Poet pushed through a group of them and stormed out of the double doors into the concrete jungle of a carpark, and I quickly joined him. I didn’t care who I shoved or hit on the way. The shirt that had made me feel so confident before now looked hideous as I spied my reflection in a car window - ridiculously large on my stick-insect body. Poet looked ridiculous too, except his shirt was too small, the buttons barely able to contain his stomach. I couldn’t believe I’d just been dancing with him. I couldn’t believe he’d just kissed me.
His eyes were rubbed raw, his cheeks streaked with tears that glistened in the pale moonlight. For a moment, I thought he looked like he was going to be sick, but he straightened up and walked towards me. “They filmed us, Castle! They were-” He burst out into a shower of tears again, wiping his nose on the sleeve of his ugly shirt. A trail of snot was left clinging to the fibres. “Everybody saw us.”
“No shit!” They’d immortalised our embarrassment through videos, videos that were sure to make their way around the school by Monday. There were only three weeks left until summer. This morning that had seemed like such a short amount of time, but now it stretched out in front of me, like a new tarmac road under the scorching sun. By the time we reached our six week break, our feet would be burnt. “Why would you do that? I can’t believe that you kissed me, Poet!”
“I just thought that, that -” He was crying too much to finish his sentence. I’d never seen him cry before, and I didn’t know what to do. “I’m sorry, you just looked so pretty in there that I thought, I thought-”
“You didn’t think! You didn’t-” but now I was crying too, unable to vocalise the frustration I felt towards him.
Once Monday morning rolled around, everyone in the school had seen the video. A group of boys were imitating my moves as I walked into tutor. They’d stolen them from me, and turned them into a mockery. It left me frozen in the doorway, unable to move now they’d stolen my ability to do so.
“Give us a kiss, Castle!” one of them batted his eyelids at me. “If you’ll kiss Poet Conners then I don’t see why you wouldn’t kiss me too!”
I couldn’t look Poet in the eye as he joined me at our usual table at lunch. His appearance was oddly disheveled, and I could tell he’d been crying again. A trail of bright red blood had dribbled from his nose down to his lips, and he nervously licked it away, no doubt feeling the metallic taste on his tongue.
He raised his arm and scrubbed at his face with the sleeve of his blazer. “Ryan Green, and some of his mates.” The blood had now stained the sleeve, and he furiously rubbed at it with the palm of his other hand. “He punched me when I told him to delete the video.”
“You knew they weren’t going to listen to you! What was the point of even trying?” A part of me was desperately trying to have sympathy for my only friend, yet the rest of me was so consumed by anger for everyone else. “Everyone’s seen the video anyway, there’s no point in trying to get anyone to delete it now.”
“I was doing it to try and stop them laughing at you, Castle! They were calling you all sorts of names and making fun of your hair and your family and I couldn’t stand it!”
“Don’t go round defending me, I’m quite capable of doing it myself, thanks.” I leant down to pick up my bag from the floor, ready to storm out, but Poet grabbed my wrist with his sweaty, blood-stained palms. “Let go of me!”
“Castle, I was just trying to help, I - I,” He stuttered over his words, something I’d never known him to do, aside from that night. He’d always seemed so calm and posed, like a true poet - he’d always had form and structure. “I liked you - I still like you! You’re my only friend. I don’t know why you’re acting like this! I’m sorry I kissed you, I know I shouldn’t have. But you can’t just start hating me for that! I’m your only friend, too!”
I pulled my arm away from him with force and stood up, pushing the chair back with my legs. “I don’t need your help. I don’t need your friendship, and I don’t need you.”
The words came out like venom from a viper, spat out in a hiss of disgust. They didn’t sound like my words, and I could barely believe that I was saying them. Poet was a good friend, my only friend. Yet I felt the need to push him away, to hate him, and to make him hate me. I’d tried so hard to be alone in some tall turret of my own castle, and he’d worked so hard to tear the walls all down. I felt no sympathy towards him for taking a punch in my name. It was my name he was defending. It was down to me, Castle Graham, to defend myself. He’d scaled the side of my turret using my hair like Rupunzel, and so I had to snip it all off at the roots.
He sat there, stunned into silence by the venom. I could see it seeping through his veins, spreading as the true meaning of the words became apparent to him. His mind was busy searching for an antidote, but I’d already gone, the library doors slamming shut behind me.
The three weeks passed, and we didn’t exchange a single look. I could feel his eyes burning holes in the back of my neck during our classes together, but I didn’t dare turn around.
Poet didn’t return to school after the summer holidays. I never saw him again.