‘No holding back now!’ cried Alice Baxter as she pushed another egg box against the wall of her sitting room. ‘Tomorrow we leave university, so tonight is our last chance to be irresponsible, stupid and crazy! Tonight is gonna be the best night of our lives!’
‘Whoop, whoop!’ came the reply from her housemates.
She finished with her egg box and reached for another from the pile beside the chair she was standing on. On the other side of the room her housemates Lily and Harry were almost done with cling-filming the floor to protect it from shoe stains and spilled drinks. Elsewhere in the house the other two residents, Max and Georgia, were writing ‘ASH TRAY’ on the side of cardboard cups and placing two in every room.
‘Should we use two layers of clingfilm or three?’
‘Two, we’re leaving tomorrow anyway so it doesn’t really matter how badly it gets damaged as long as it’s not enough to fine us. Save some clingfilm as well.’
‘Safe. Ciggy stains won’t get through two either will they?’
‘We’ve got ashtrays, it’s fine.’
Suddenly there was a ring at the door – it was their mate Jamie, who’d agreed to be one of the DJs for the night. A few of his friends were helping to carry his speakers. Baxter let them in and watched delightedly as they began to set up the decks in the sitting room, her face lighting up in anticipation of her friends all praising the professionalism of the party. Then, biting her lip with excitement, she flurried out the room to see how the others were getting on with ashtrays and soundproofing.
She found Max and Georgia clearing the kitchen of anything that could be broken or stolen. ‘What else is there to do?’ she asked, though more to herself than to them. She ticked things off on her fingers. ‘Soundproof the sitting room, clear Georgia’s bedroom for second set of speakers, put chairs in the back garden-‘
‘Did you sort out the deal with the rugby boys?’ asked Georgia as she pushed the bread knives to the back of the cupboard.
‘Yeah, that’s all sorted.’
‘What deal?’ asked Harry.
‘Basically we’re giving the rugby boys free beer in return for sorting out anyone who causes trouble.’
‘Brilliant,’ laughed Harry. ‘Is Sam coming? He’d knock someone out just by looking at them.’ Baxter and Lily exchanged a furtive glance, and her lips curved into a secretive smile. ‘Sam certainly is coming, on special request of one Lily McNeil.’
‘He’s SO FIT!’ squealed Lily, and they all laughed. ‘How have I gone the whole three years without getting with him? Like, seriously!’
‘Haven’t you invited Joe Sargeant for exactly the same reason, Baxter?’
‘Yes, absolutely!’ she giggled. ‘As if we’ve gone three years without getting with them, Lily.’
‘I know. And Joe Sargeant is the most beautiful human being I think I have ever seen.’
‘I’ve heard he’s a bit of a dick,’ said Harry. ‘He’s a massive player. And apparently something bad happened between him and Suzie Pearcy, though I don’t know what.’
‘I don’t like Suzie Pearcy,’ said Baxter. ‘She’s got issues. And to be perfectly honest if I sleep with Joe Sargeant I can die a happy woman.’
‘I wish you luck on your quest.’
‘What about you Harry?’ said Baxter. ‘Got your eye on anyone?’
‘Maybe, maybe not.’
‘Sarah Gogol,’ said Lily immediately. ‘I know exactly why you want her to come.’
‘What, big nosed Sarah Gogol?’ said Baxter in surprise. She suddenly realised she sounded as if she was scoffing at the suggestion. ‘Oh my God, I’m so sorry, that didn’t mean to come out like that!’
‘Her nose is very adequately proportioned, thank you.’
‘Mate, if she swam backstroke you’d think she was a shark!’
Baxter found this hilarious and cried with laughter. ‘Lily, you can’t say that!’
‘Yep, brilliant,’ sulked Harry. ‘I’ll be getting with a shark tonight, thanks.’
‘Watch out for her teeth.’
‘Who says you’re gonna get with her?’
‘It’s because they slept with each other in second year,’ said Lily. ‘She’s already one of his conquests.’
‘Yeah, and also it’s the last house party of uni. Everyone’s going to get with everyone! We’ve got nothing to lose. It’s all over tomorrow.’
Lily made a sound as if she’d been physically hurt. ‘Can people please stop saying that? It’s scaring me. I’m terrified of graduating.’
‘Yeah, so am I,’ said Harry. ‘We all are. None of us have a clue what we’re going to do apart from Baxter.’
‘Yeah,’ whispered Baxter, her eyes falling to the floor. ‘I dunno…’
‘It’s only a grad scheme,’ said Lily.
Baxter slowed down all of a sudden. ‘Well, if I do the six months then they give me a proper job… So, yeah. Guess it is a proper job.’
‘So, what, you’ll be living in London with a City job six months after graduating?’
‘Yeah. Well, basically immediately ‘cos the grad scheme starts in a week.’
‘Bloody hell,’ said Sam, leaning against the kitchen counter and pondering the ceiling. ‘I don’t think I’ll ever be employed. If I don’t live with my parents for the rest of my life then I think I’m just gonna go bumming around South-East Asia for as long as possible. I’ll be one of those people you meet who’ve been travelling non-stop for like fifteen years.’
‘You gonna grow dreadlocks?’
‘When the time is right, yes.’
‘I think I’m just gonna be working in a restaurant at home,’ said Lily despondently. ‘Christ, I can think of nothing worse…’
‘Okay, whatever,’ snapped Baxter suddenly. ‘I can’t take this morbid chat, I don’t want to think about it. I’m gonna go clean my room out.’
‘Haven’t you already done that?’
‘I want to do it again.’
She flew out the room like a hurricane, attempting to once again bury her mind under thoughts of throwing the best party she possibly could. Cling-film the floors, set up the speakers, clear away everything that could be lost or broken, buy alcohol for herself, what else… Oh, yes! Drugs.
She ascended the stairs at double-pace – tip-tap-tip-tap-tip-tap-tip-TAP! – and swung round the corner into her room. She skipped straight over to the chest of drawers from her bed, and slowly, as if somebody might be watching – she always enjoyed the drama of pretending – she slid out the bottom drawer. A layer of underwear presented itself. Beneath this was a layer of tights and leggings, and beneath that there was a curious bundle of old t-shirts on top of a pair of cotton tracksuit bottoms. She pulled the trackies carefully to the side to reveal a small wooden box, with an image of the Buddha colourfully painted on its top. Delicately, as if it might crumble were she to move too quickly, Baxter levered open the lid of the box and peered down at what sat inside. It was a small, white and blue pill, that looked no different to a paracetemol container, lying inside a plastic baggy decorated with smiling yellow faces.
For a moment, her eyes sat on it like bricks. Then before she knew it there came a call from the stairs – ‘Baxter!’. Baxter flinched instinctively, believing as one does that it was the police about to catch her with drugs in her hand – but it was only Lily poking her head round the door.
‘Are you dropping tonight?’
‘Hmm? Oh, no. I don’t have any MD. Are you?’
‘Yeah I am. Might mix it with something though. What are you taking?’
‘Is that what that is?’
‘I might get some 2C-B off Jamie, he’s got a load. Are you sure you don’t want some MD as well?’
‘No… No I don’t think so.’
‘Fair. See you in a bit.’
She disappeared downstairs and Baxter was left with her pill.
The light coming in through the window turned a deep auburn as evening set in. Baxter got up and looked out. Through the pane was the view onto the street outside, a view she had become familiar with over the past year. The trees outside, now full with the life of summer, stroked despondently against the wind, displaying that watchful indifference that nature shows to the follies of human beings beneath it. They had watched Baxter move into this house last September, and now they were about to see her leave, and they didn’t seem to care for her at all.
She rolled the baggy around in her fingers and contemplated the capsule. This would be the last time she would be substance-abusing with her mates at uni. She knew she’d be able to do it in London – everyone took drugs in London – but it wouldn’t be the same. She’d be working a nine to five job Monday to Friday, and she’d be exhausted all the time. And at any rate she’d have less friends around her than at uni. Suddenly her heart dropped at the thought of leaving her friends. She didn’t want to graduate – she didn’t want to get a job – she didn’t want to leave her friends. Her breath caught short. All of a sudden she saw the horrendous vision she had been trying to keep down for what felt like her entire youth: the end of university, the end of childish recklessness, the abandonment of carelessness for a life of wages, work hours, offices and commuter trains, family stress and unfulfilling holidays, too little money and too few friends, stretching on for as long as she could be willing to stay alive to endure it. That she was abandoning all this that had been her youth weighed on her heart like it had been filled with lead. This was the moment that Reality set in; this was the surrender of childish optimism, the end of excitement, the end of resting happy. Ahead there was only the bleakness of surrendering her soul to the maintenance of her life; and then, she wondered, what was the point of maintaining her life if she had surrendered her soul?
She stared at the pill for one minute, two minutes. Then she took her phone from her pocket and sent a text to Lily, saying: ‘Changed my mind. Can you get me some MD?’
(To be continued…)