Laura could not concentrate on anything as she got ready for Jason's party. Jade called her up at least four times in one hour, asking for her friend's opinion on each of the different dresses she was describing. Laura assured Jade that she would look great in any dress she wore, and hung up the phone on the fifth call before Jade could change her mind. Alone in her room, she laid three dresses out on her bed and stared at them for a long time. There was still another two hours until the party, but she could not picture herself in any of the dresses. In the end, she gave up and rang Jade.
'Jade, help me,' she said.
'I don't have anything to wear for tonight.'
Jade immediately snapped into action, promising to come round as soon as she was ready, bringing a selection of outfits with her. Laura sat in front of her mirror and stared at her reflection. For the first time she felt completely exposed. A boy, and not just any boy, but a very special one wanted to meet her, at a party! She was so used to them coming up to her and asking for Jade's number that she hadn't even bothered to contemplate what to do when it was her turn to get the attention. Her reflection showed a reasonably pretty girl looking back at her, but with bags under her eyes. It seemed she had aged over the last few days. Her auburn hair hung limply past her shoulders and her freckles were hardly visible against her drab skin.
That was it. Laura turned on the shower and hopped in, scrubbing and exfoliating her body as if it was the last thing she could do. She slapped on a face mask and rubbed scented cream all over her body so that it glistened under the bathroom light. Carefully, she dried her hair and curled it so it bounced past her shoulders. She took off the mask and moisturised; her skin already looked a million times better. Make-up was next. Laura dabbed foundation on her skin and after a few attempts, artfully outlined her eyes with liquid liner. She smiled at her appearance when she was finished, already feeling a million more times confident. Jade arrived just in time, carrying about five different dresses and tops with her. She looked amazing with natural make-up that brought out her features and wavy hair that ran past her shoulders, even without extensions.
'Laura, you look amazing!' she breathed, smiling at her friend. 'Although the towel has to go,' she said laughing. After a lot of debate, they settled on a tight, but not too short, blue dress that contrasted nicely with her hair. Jade went home, promising to meet Laura at the party as she didn't want to get there too early in case Jason thought she was too eager to see him.
At seven o'clock the doorbell rang. Laura's heart jumped and she went downstairs, fighting to keep her breathing under control. She opened it to Joel, who looked handsome in jeans, a smart shirt and his leather jacket. His blue eyes widened when he saw her. 'Wow,' he muttered, taking in her appearance.
Laura blushed and shifted on the spot. 'Come in, I'm just getting a drink before we go.'
He took off his shoes and looked around her house. 'Nice place,' he grinned. She poured them both some coke and sat down at the kitchen table. Michelle was staying late at work, but that didn't bother Laura, who was quietly relieved that she didn't have to introduce Joel to her mother just yet. Joel set down his drink.
'I've been thinking, that note-'
'Shh,' Laura interrupted, 'not tonight. We're going to have fun and forget about everything, just for one night.'
Joel looked thoughtful for a moment and then stood up, holding out his hand. 'Let's go and have the best night we can, even if we hate everyone going to this party.'
Laura grinned, taking his hand and following him out of the door. They talked as he drove, and Laura caught herself looking at him more often than she should have. A few times he stole a few glances away from the road, grinning at her as she gave him directions. When they arrived at Jason's house Laura felt quite sorry to get out of the car.
It seemed as though the whole school had arrived at the party. It was quite lucky, Laura thought, that Jason's house had a big garden that wasn't too close to the neighbours' because someone would have complained of the noise by now. Her classmates were everywhere, drinking and smoking, laughing and shouting. Joel noticed how uncomfortable she was and held out his hand for the second time that night.
'Aren't you worried about what people will think?' she asked nervously.
Joel raised his eyebrows. 'Are you?'
She blushed and hastily took his hand. As they walked through the door a few people, mainly girls in her classes, turned to stare, but Laura kept a straight face as Joel led her to kitchen. Bottles of alcohol had been left on the side. He opened one for her but instead of handing her the bottle he rummaged through the cupboards as though he lived there and drew out a glass, pouring the contents in. 'Bit more classy,' he said. Laura laughed and took a sip.
She turned around to see Jade tottering up to her with a bottle already in her hand. In her attempt to give Laura a sloppy kiss on the cheek, Jade tripped and it was only because Joel was standing near Laura that she didn't fall to the ground. Jade squinted up at Joel. 'It's you,' she said, straightening up and looking from Laura to Joel. Finally, it twigged. 'Get you, Laura!' she grinned, slapping her friend on the arm. Without giving her a chance to answer, Jade backed away, giving Laura a very obvious wink as she stumbled out of the kitchen.
Laura turned towards Joel to apologise but at that moment, Jason walked in. 'Hey Laura, have you seen Jade?' he asked. He was so drunk that the words came out as a slur.
'Bathroom probably,' said Joel. Jason nodded clumsily and left the room. 'Jesus,' chuckled Joel.
'Yeah don't let me get that bad,' said Laura, suddenly wary of the drink in her hand.
'Don't worry, you're safe with me.'
The words sent a rush though Laura and for a moment Joel looked at her intently, leaning in as if he was about to kiss her. It must have been her imagination though, because instead he put his arm around her and led her into Jason's living room where most of the party was happening. Around them, her classmates drank, played dares and took it in turns to change the music. Laura even saw one boy passed out on the sofa wearing a girl's bra and with very rude images drawn on his face with a black marker pen. Joel seemed to be enjoying himself, talking to the guys he knew whilst she stood meekly at his side. After what seemed like half an hour, Laura quickly grew bored. 'I'll be back in a minute,' she muttered, pushing her way through the crowd.
She locked herself in the bathroom and sat on the toilet. Although she had only had one drink she felt dizzy, but not sick. How were they having fun? What was the fun in getting drunk and becoming someone that does stupid things? To forget, said a voice in the back of her head. They drink to forget about school, home, relationships, drama… psychopaths…
No. She would not let that ruin her night. Lifting herself up, she stumbled out of the bathroom and right into the arms of Jason.
'Sorry,' she muttered, but Jason only smiled slyly. 'Come with me, I need to show you something,' he slurred. Laura tried to come up with another excuse but Joel was nowhere in sight, so she shrugged and followed him outside. He took her to the back of the garden.
Laura looked around blankly. 'What am I meant to be looking at?' she asked, growing impatient. The cold was beginning to bite at her skin.
Before she could do anything Jason grabbed her shoulders and kissed her hard on the mouth. She squealed but he would not budge. His lips were warm but she couldn't enjoy it. There was alcohol on his breath.
'Get…off…me!' she struggled to say, trying to shove him away but he was too strong. It was that night again, in the alley. How many times would she have to suffer because she was too weak?
Suddenly, Jason jerked backwards and fell to the floor. Joel stood behind him looking furious, and Laura really believed she was back in the alley. 'When a girl says get off,' he said angrily, 'you get off.' Jason looked at Laura, who avoided his eyes and quickly scrambled away. 'Are you ok?' asked Joel.
'Yes, thank you,' she said shortly. Joel grabbed at her hand but she snatched it away.
'What's up?' he asked, walking closer to her. He went to take his jacket off and drape it round her shoulders but she pushed him away.
'I'm fine. I just want to go home,' she said. 'I stood there for half an hour and you hardly said a word to me. I'm not prepared to waste another half hour…'
Joel grabbed her shoulders and this time she let him hold onto her. He brushed a loose strand of hair behind her ear. 'I'm sorry,' he said softly. She tried to think of a comeback but nothing came to mind. He looked so annoyed at himself that she knew he meant what he said.
'It's just…' she felt herself going red. 'That was my first kiss.'
Something flickered in Joel's eyes. Without saying anything, he took her face in both hands and slowly kissed her on the lips. She closed her eyes. It was so tender and delicate, and her mouth responded effortlessly, moving against his until she forgot where they were… that she was meant to be frustrated with him…
When they broke apart, Laura touched her lips and smiled at him.
'What was that for?'
He grinned. 'I've wanted to do that since I first saw you.' Holding on to her hand, he began to lead her back to the party. 'Let me drive you home. I've had enough of this place. You were right though, I've just met all the school's jackasses in one night.'
'Wait,' said Laura. She saw Jade standing in the corner of the kitchen with her arms wrapped around Jason, who was kissing her neck. Joel looked at her line of vision and his face visibly darkened. In two strides, he reached the spot where they were rooted and pushed Jason aside. Without speaking, he lifted Jade over his shoulder as if she was as light as a feather and carried her back to Laura.
'Let's go,' he said casually. Jade began to kick and scream, but eventually she gave up fighting, too drunk string words together. Laura and Joel tucked her up comfortably in the back seat, where she fell fast asleep.
As Joel drove them home, Laura felt a warm, fuzzy feeling in her stomach. She had only known Joel for a few weeks, but already she felt like he knew her better than anyone. He let go of the steering wheel with one hand and brushed it over hers, making her blush as his fingers stroked hers. She had had her first kiss! She squirmed at the thought of Jason's lips on hers and quickly pushed it out of her mind. Joel had kissed her, and it was the nicest feeling she had ever felt.
'Which one is Jade's house?' asked Joel as they entered Wilwood Street.
'That one there,' said Laura pointing. She froze. 'Keep driving.'
'Why?' asked Joel, glancing at her.
He did as she told and drove all the way to the end of the street. Laura made him pull up once he was around the corner.
'What the hell was that all about?' he asked, glancing back at the street behind them.
'The girl in the red coat was standing by Jade's house,' whispered Laura. She had seen her in a split second. The girl had been standing by the gate, staring at Jade's bedroom window. She had not seen them in the car as they drove by, but Laura had recognised her immediately.
Joel frowned. 'Are you sure?'
'I'm sure. Let's pull up at my house. She can stay round tonight. Why the hell is that girl there?'
A second later, that question was answered for her. In the back mirror, she saw smoke rising from the place where Jade's house stood, with a roaring fire blazing underneath.