‘I don’t think Sapphy’s going to want to see me tonight.’
Maxxy, gunner Maxxy, Maxxy the Lad, Maxxy Boy Jr., King of the World and Lord of the Kings, who had been the only one brave enough to take the dare to get with Fat Kate at school, who had climbed into the DJ box at Lakota and become an instant Bristol star in fresher’s week, who had walked the whole distance from Bunker back to Stoke Bishop completely naked on the coldest night of October, was in love. He wouldn’t admit it, but he was. Sitting with Swag the night before, they had looked up the effects of MDMA online and found the following paragraph in a New Scientist article:
“MDMA causes the release of oxytocin, the love chemical. Oxytocin helps bond mothers to their children and causes people to fall in love. The amount of oxytocin released by MDMA depends on the strength and amount taken of the drug, and the effect can last for several days, in some cases even weeks.”
Swag, of course, had immediately informed Doogie, Nick and Tommo that Maxxy was in love with Sapphy, and they had laughed in his hilarious face. Maxxy denied all charges.
It was now almost a week after Maxxy had taken the pill and got high for the first time, and, if he was totally honest with himself, he was still feeling the after-effects. His hands shook continuously, and his thoughts had been wild and digressing like sand in a hurricane. Every time he tried to communicate with someone he had difficulty finding the correct words. What on earth had happened to him, he wondered? He felt miserable, because he was in love. And what a drag love is!
‘Aw, Maxxy,’ crooned Tommo, ‘I’m sure Sapphy will want to see you again. You only vomited on her shoes and called her a filthy slut.’
The lads, amongst the music and chatter of Badock bar, laughed as loudly as they could to make everyone aware that they were there en-masse.
‘I didn’t call her a filthy slut, I said that to… Bella… Seriously, mate, I don’t actually care about her. I had a great night without her and without you guys, so, really I’m the one that’s winning here.’
He took another long gulp of his beer, his fifth of the night in preparation for going out to Motion. Tonight was the biggest night of November at Motion, Blonde Sugar – or was it Iguana? Or was it Re-Track? Or Judas Iscariot? He couldn’t remember what the night was called. And which DJs were playing?
‘Remind us what you did again once you got kicked out?’
‘Went and saw my mates at UWE.’
He actually hadn’t. In reality Maxxy had spent several hours dancing around the dark streets of Bristol, celebrating his beautiful solitude and swinging in the descant circles of the city. But it would be gay to admit that, so he claimed he’d visited some of his friends at UWE who his Bristol friends hadn’t yet met, and most likely never would.
Before coming into the bar the lads had worked their way through two joints, and this together with the alcohol had left Maxxy feeling rather as if his senses had sharpened. All around him he could hear sounds and conversations pulsing in and out of his consciousness, and he singled out and focussed on each one. Behind him he overheard a drunk girl explaining to her friend something about herself…
‘…but, it’s not, like, I don’t fit in, but I feel like I don’t, like I bought these leggings today because I didn’t have a pair before and everyone here seems to have some, but I don’t know if I got the right pair, and, I dunno, it’s kinda like I can never find exactly what I want to wear ‘cos I always feel exactly the same… I’ve spent over £500 on clothes since I’ve been here… My parents are like old-school hippy ravers… I found them taking NOS balloons on their wedding anniversary…’
She was trying to keep her speech flat and conversational, but was only thinly disguising the tension she felt underneath because really she wanted her friend to notice it and comfort her. Maxxy began listening to a group of boys to his right-hand side all talking to one girl…
‘…so if a guy’s really not that good looking, but is still really confident and everything, would you still fancy him?’
‘What about Will? He’s really confident, but he’s really ugly.’
‘Shut up!’ said Will, and the group laughed.
‘I don’t know,’ said the girl, and Maxxy imagined her pressing her tongue to the corner of her mouth. ‘Maybe. As long as they’re confident, and they can make up for not being that good looking by having a good body.’
‘That’s Will out of the equation then.’
The group laughed again. Maxxy overheard the drunk girl once more, her eyes now built of tears: ‘I always get this feeling that the floor’s going to eat me up… I don’t get the point of getting up and doing my degree, I’m not even going to get a job, I’m not good looking, I’m not going to be rich, I’m not that clever, I’m so ugly, I look like an ugly Kate Moss…’
‘Still with us Maxxy?’ said Nick, waving his hand in front of Maxxy’s face and laughing.
Maxxy looked up and nodded. Doogie had seen Nikki, a girl the boys had befriended in halls and whom they knew had a thing for Doogie, and he was leaning nonchalantly against the bar and smirking his cocky smirk while they talked. She was wearing a short red dress that stopped halfway down her thighs, and her legs streamed down out of it as if they’d been sanded and varnished. When she spoke to Doogie, Maxxy noticed, she always smiled in this playful way, her hands always waving between adjusting her hair and hovering around her midriff, and her feet always dancing quietly over a space of inches as if really she wanted to get closer but wouldn’t allow herself to. He watched fixedly the way she smiled at him, and the way she laughed at his careless jokes that only seemed funny in the hot light of the bar, that were only funny to her because she was helpless in the gaze of his low, egotistical wit.
He wished that a girl would smile at him like that, and make him feel special with the way she looked at him. He wondered if girls ever truly understood how attractive they are. Do they know what they are doing, he wondered? Do they know what they do to boys when they walk together, and when they talk to other people? Do they understand how much they make a boy feel as if he is in the sea, surrounded by water but without a drop to drink? Do they understand the way they make boys feel?
Maxxy tightened his grip around his pint glass. He wished that Sapphy were here right now.
Before he could think anything else, however, a hand slapped itself around Maxxy’s face. He jumped to the side and threw a hand over his cheek, then swung around to see who had done it. Perhaps predictably, it was Bella – but she wasn’t looking too normal.
The first thing that Maxxy, Nick, Tommo and Swag thought was that Bella was in Goldney, a first-year hall almost two miles away, and as far as they were aware she didn’t know anyone else in Badock apart from Maxxy. Was she there just to find him? She was with two of her friends, who were as non-descript as ever. And she was looking strange; her skin was pale and her pupils were enormous and black like poison.
Her friend leaned over. ‘Are you Maxxy?’ she said.
‘Er, yeah?’ said Maxxy disdainfully.
‘We’ve heard all about you.’
The lads scoffed in unison, and Maxxy smirked dismissively at them.
‘You deserved that slap. Bella’s taken 2-CB, she’s a bit out of it, but if she wasn’t then she’d slap you again and you’d still deserve it.’
The boys laughed even harder this time and watched the waving, hallucinating Bella as she began to giggle at the ceiling.
‘You mean she’s taken it by herself?’
‘Yeah. We didn’t want to.’
‘And she’s never taken it before?’
Swag began to crack up.
‘Why are you even in Badock?’
The two girls looked at each other.
‘She wanted to come here.’
That was enough for the lads, who screamed with laughter and pounded the nearest table with their fists. The hapless Bella knew no better. In tears, Maxxy turned to the other three and said, ‘Right, I’ve had enough of this. When’s our taxi getting here?’
‘It’s just got here, we need to go.’
‘Tell Doogie to stop chirpsing his bird and get a move on.’
‘You guys got your pills?’
‘Yeah, what are you taking again?’
‘Heineken, you’ve got a domino right?’
‘Yes mate, we’re gonna be pinging so hard!’
Swag smacked Doogie gently round the head and informed him that their taxi was here, and the five of them began shifting loudly and noticeably through the noisy masses in the bar. Maxxy felt his fingers close around the pill in his pocket, the same as the one he’d had the week before. He couldn’t wait to get that feeling back again.
As they reached the exit, however, Maxxy took one last affected look over the crowd to see if Sapphy had come down to Badock bar from her halls. She often did, especially before nights out at Motion. In the week that he hadn’t spoken to her he had hoped to catch glimpses of her everywhere, and had been disappointed every time he thought he saw her and it turned out to be another girl altogether.
But then, as he cast his hopeful eyes up and down through the range of bodies, a spark glinted inside him. Was that her? He glimpsed for just a moment a face that looked like hers. What if it was? What would he do? Speak to her? But it would be too embarrassing – he couldn’t do that. He decided he needed to know whether it was her first.
Doogie, Nick, Tommo and Swag all proceeded out of the bar to the car park to get the taxi, and Maxxy subtly slipped out of their group and dropped back into the bar. Like a secret agent, drunk and stoned, he picked his way tactfully through the crowd, spending some minutes trying to sidle past the girl to see if it was Sapphy. He got near, and the girl turned in his direction, and he experienced that cold flush of anticipation at the sighting of one’s crush, and – it wasn’t her.
He felt more disappointed than he had expected at the fact that it wasn’t her, and turned to go and catch up with the others when a hand landed on his shoulder. Turning around, he found that it was Al Tatler, an enormous brick wall of a man who had become notorious around Badock for his endless drug-taking. Maxxy had never spoken to him before. There had been rumours that he had once got so high on tizzies and shrooms that he’d walked around Badock asking people for sex – both boys and girls – and ended up sleeping with a girl who subsequently dropped out of university with drug problems of her own, and had nearly accepted a similar invitation from a gay boy who since had chosen to spend the majority of his time outside Badock. The next day, he punched his bedroom door and broke it in two places.
Al and his group of lads were the kind to take Class A drugs on a daily basis and hang around smoking in obvious places. They almost all wore their trousers low around their thighs, with cheap sports clothes and chain necklaces, and, interestingly, they had almost all been to Eton and Harrow.
‘Oi bruv, I think I recognise you,’ said Al in his affected accent he had designed to disguise his Eton education. ‘Weren’t you the guy who chundered at Lakota and got kicked out last week?’
‘Yeah, mate, that was me,’ said Maxxy, uncertain as to where this conversation might go.
‘Ah mate, that was bare jokes! What did you take? Were you mixin’ and matchin’?’
‘Er, I took mandy.’
‘What, just plain mandy?’ said another one of the gang, sporting a loudly done-up top button and an irregular rat-tail.
‘Yeah, a domino.’
‘Bruv, that is bare funny, you should come hang out with us sometime.’
‘Yeah maybe, mate, I think I’d better go-‘
‘We’re taking acid tonight, you want some?’
‘Not really mate, I’ve gotta-‘
‘Mate, what are you sayin’?’ said Al. ‘You wanna stop talkin’ to us or summin?’
‘Well, yeah, my mates are getting a taxi and I don’t want to miss-‘
‘What school you go to?’
‘Bruv, you are bare dizzy.’
Maxxy wondered what drug they were all high on at the moment.
‘Yeah, I’ve got to go.’
‘Oi, Al mate,’ Maxxy heard one of them say, ‘you all tizzied up again or what?’
‘I am not tizzied mate,’ replied the disgruntled Tatler, ‘if you say that again I will deck you.’
As Maxxy tried to sidle out of the crowd, Bella and her two friends appeared again beside him. Bella, without a moment’s hesitation, slapped him decisively in the face.
‘Oh my god, get off me!’ said Maxxy, pushing her arms away.
One of her friends decided she would get involved as well, and also slapped him in the face.
‘You deserve it for the way you treated Bella!’
‘I’m in love, alright, leave me alone!’ replied Maxxy, for a moment allowing his inebriated condition to wash him.
‘What the hell?’
‘Did he say he’s in love?’
‘You’re a weirdo.’
‘In love with who?’
‘Is that why you’ve been treating her so badly?’
‘Aww, that’s so cute!’
‘Bella, he’s in love with you!’
‘Leave me alone!’ wailed Maxxy, and made a final decisive effort to get to the exit of the bar. He checked his phone and found he had four missed calls from Swag, and a text saying: ‘Mate taxis here where u at x’.
Maxxy swung out of the bar and down the corridors that lead out into the car-park. As he brought his phone to his ear to call Swag, however, he received an incoming call from Nick.
‘Mate what are you playing at, we’ve had to leave!’ said Nick through the electric warble of static and the movement of the car.
‘You left without me? Seriously?’
‘Yes mate, the cabbie said he couldn’t wait any longer ‘cos it’s such a busy night.’
‘Oh my god…’
‘So sorry mate, you’re gonna have to get in a taxi with someone else.’
Maxxy was about to reply when the sound of the taxi’s radio boomed on and covered Nick’s voice. He ended the call and slid his phone angrily into his pocket. Another taxi! The odds of him finding another taxi of people going to Motion with space enough for him were tiny. But there were a lot of taxis filing through the car park, so he strutted over to find a space.
As he approached the line of cabs he saw a group of people enter an eight-seater, and ran to the door to catch them.
‘Excuse me,’ he said, poking his head in through the door, ‘are you guys going to Motion?’
‘Yeah we are.’
‘Do you have space for one more?’
‘Yeah we do actually, there are seven of us so there’s one seat left.’
Maxxy jumped in the left-hand seat behind the front passenger seat and slid the door closed, and the taxi started moving.
‘I’m Maxxy by the way,’ he said, turning his head to see if he could identify any familiar faces in the secret darkness. He didn’t recognise the girl sitting next to him, or the two boys in the back or the boy sitting in front of him. He leaned his head to try and see who was sitting in the seat two places to his right, but it was too dark to tell without streetlights. It looked as much like a girl as he could make out in the darkness, though she was turned away and facing out the window.
Then, as the taxi rolled out onto Stoke Road, the girl turned to face the front in the fraction of a second in which the car passed a streetlamp – and in that fraction of a second, Maxxy recognised her as none other than Sapphy.
The following ten minutes of the taxi journey were one of the most uncomfortable of Maxxy’s life. As he continued to make small talk with the other members of the cab, his heart thumped until it was sweating with panic, and his world felt very much as if it was retreating into his head. If it was oxytocin that was forcing him to be in love with Sapphy, then it was making an immaculate job of his ordeal. The girl he was in love with was sitting two spaces away from him in the cab, and Maxxy had never been more terrified at the thought that someone might hate him. And of course she was aware that he was present too, and continued to stare out the window in drunken and defiant silence.
At length – at real length – the taxi rolled to a halt outside Motion. The bumbling, thudding queue of estranged students ran at a distance from the club’s entrance, waving and tangling in the filthy night as more of their drunken friends joined. The cabbie flicked the interior lights on to collect his fare, and as he did so Maxxy tried desperately to continue looking straight ahead so as to avoid seeing Sapphy. But even that seemed to be against the absolute nature in his body that was telling him to TURN RIGHT! THE GIRL YOU ARE IN LOVE WITH IS ON YOUR RIGHT!
With dry mouth and the feeling of sickness wallowing inside him, Maxxy left the cab, then felt the horrible cold frenzy grip his heart as he saw the back of Sapphy as she exited the cab and made for the queue. She did not so much as turn around. All he wanted to do was see her face, even if just for a second’s length, just so he could study it and remember it more clearly. In the last week he had forgotten so many times what her face looked like, and it only made it sweeter every time he remembered. My god, what was he doing? He had to talk to her!
‘Sapphy!’ he shouted, though he was unsure why. ‘Sapphy!’
Sapphy slighted her head in his direction, evidently having been aware of his presence but unwilling to acknowledge it. She pretended to look surprised.
‘Oh, Maxxy,’ she said.
Maxxy felt disappointed. Where was that tonic-like grin, that spectacular smile that seemed to promise you that all she wanted in the world was you and all your best qualities that would come sailing out of you when you were in her presence? It grated him that she seemed disappointed to see him, when all he wanted in the world was to see her smile.
As he thought this, he took a brief glance up the queue, and spotted Doogie, Nick, Tommo and Swag all a bit further in the queue, looking at him. He decided to ignore them for a moment more.
‘Sapphy, can I talk to you?’ he said, walking closer. Her friends judged him with their looks.
‘About what, Maxxy?’
‘About last week… I don’t know, I feel like I’ve got so much to say to you.’
Perhaps any other girl would have dismissed him there and then, but Sapphy was a better breed of human than that.
‘I feel like a dick.’
‘You certainly weren’t very nice to that girl.’
‘No, no I wasn’t…’
God, she was so beautiful.
‘Well, what are you going to say?’
‘Let me apologise-‘
‘Maxxy, really, it’s fine, you don’t need to apologise-‘
‘No really I promise you, I need to say something.’
‘Seriously, Maxxy, it’s fine, I’ve seen and done way worse things when I’ve been on drugs, I promise you it’s fine.’
Every time she used his name it was like being pinched.
‘No, it’s not just that…’
‘So what is it?’
‘What is it Maxxy?’
Her friends stood by her side waiting for the crazy boy to explain himself.
‘Can I talk to you alone?’
‘What is it that you can’t say it to me here?’
‘I want to speak to you in private.’
‘Just say it here Maxxy!’
‘Seriously, what is it!? You’re freaking me out now.’
‘Okay fine, I’ll just say it…’
‘I just think…’
‘You just think what, Maxxy?’
‘I just think… I think… I think I might be-‘
‘I think I’m in-‘
At that moment Maxxy experienced a bump and was pushed to the side. A big lad and his friend, who looked much like rugby players, walked past him and entered the queue with Sapphy, and, before Maxxy’s own horrific eyes, the boy leaned in to kiss Sapphy, and she kissed him back, and it was the single most heart-breaking moment of Maxxy’s life to date.
‘I think I’m in…’
‘Sorry, Maxxy, what are you saying?’ said Sapphy, her hand curved loosely around the lad’s suggestive neck.
‘I think…. I think…’ Tears buckled his eyes.
‘Maxxy I’m worried you’re going to lose your friends? Don’t you need to join the queue?’
Even at the moment she had broken Maxxy’s heart her faint glimpse of kindness showed like daybreak in the nighttime.
‘No, it’s fine.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘I think he’s just taken something,’ said one of her friends.
‘Who’s this guy?’ said the boy who had kissed Sapphy. ‘Isn’t this the guy who threw up on your shoes last week?’
‘Ssh, leave him alone, ‘ said Sapphy, watching Maxxy with careful eyes. ‘He’s not having a good night.’
‘Ah FUCK!’ screamed Maxxy, and before anything else had a chance to persuade him he took off in the opposite direction of Motion, leaving them all behind, Sapphy, her boyfriend, Doogie, Tommo, Nick, Swag, Sapphy’s idiotic friends, every single last goddamn soul that was piling into Motion to take drugs and lose themselves from the earth for those few pious hours of a Friday night. Where he was going to he had no idea, just as long as it was away from them, all of them, and as he walked he reached into his pocket and pulled out the pill he had been planning to take at Motion, that sweet, innocent little core of MDMA that blossomed in his hand like a rosebud.
And, before reason could seize onto his too-fast hand, Maxxy lifted it to his mouth and swallowed it. He couldn’t care less that he was by himself in the darkest streets of St Philip’s, or that he had abandoned his friends once again. He just wanted to get high and experience that incredible release once more.
And, within the hour, Maxxy, gunner Maxxy, Maxxy the Lad, Maxxy Boy Jr., King of the World and Lord of the Kings, was up in the air and screaming: