By 9 o clock the house was ready to go. Music decks were set up in the downstairs sitting room and Lily’s upstairs bedroom, and a bar for selling NOS balloons established in the kitchen. Baxter, Lily, Georgia, Harry and Max continued to scour the house for things they might have missed, discussing what drugs they were all taking and how many guests they were expecting. Word had got around that they were throwing the final house party of the year, and they were concerned that more than they might be able to handle would arrive. The facebook event currently said one hundred were attending, but they all told themselves it would be more like eighty or ninety.
During the interval between the end of preparation and the beginning of the party, Baxter experienced something similar to the emotions of a soldier before going into battle. Her heart was beating violently and she could not fix her thoughts on anything. She skipped around the house, checking her phone every thirty seconds and waiting for the minutes to tick by until the first guests arrived. Lily had managed to procure her a bomb of MDMA, which she fingered anxiously in her pocket along with the 2C-B.
She had invited a boy called Joe Sargeant, whom she had fancied since first year. Joe was a brilliant and terribly good-looking young man, a Politics student, with a face that brought girls to their knees at barely a glance. Everywhere he went he seemed always to have a girl either by his side or gazing at him from afar. But this made him contemptuous of women. He was one of those aloof young men whose own sense of desirability had caused him to be terribly bored of the world. He would start relationships with girls, then discard them at the first moment he became disinterested, and move immediately onto the next one. The next girl was never more than a night out away from him. Naturally he was the envy of all his male friends, but he never laboured to tell them what a prison such indifference could be.
Baxter was upstairs checking herself over in the mirror when Georgia came and told her Joe and his housemates had arrived. With a flutter of panic in her stomach, she stared at herself in the mirror, and convinced herself that she was looking beautiful. Something inside her told her otherwise, however; she knew she was not feeling confident. Conscious however that Joe might start speaking to another girl, she took a deep breath and rushed downstairs, slowing down only as she entered the sitting room where Joe stood talking with his friends.
‘Hey Joe,’ she half-sang, trying simultaneously to appear both cool and excited to see him. She needed him to know she was interested, but not desperate. ‘How are you?’
Joe glanced up from the cigarette he was rolling, observed her for a second, then put his attention back on the cigarette until he finished it and slid it behind his ear. ‘Alright?’ he said, with a glance at his housemates who all smirked for some reason. Baxter ignored them.
‘Yeah, I’m good thanks. What do you think? Do you like the party?’
‘It’s a nice set-up.’
‘Thanks, we’ve tried to make it a big one, last of uni and everything!’
‘Yeah, seems sick.’
There was a pause. Baxter struggled for what to say.
‘Are you taking anything tonight?’
‘Yeah, I’ve got some 2C-B. How about you?’
‘Yeah, same. And some MD. I might drop now, actually.’
‘I might join you.’
Baxter collected two cans of beer for them from the kitchen, and together they swallowed their 2C-B pills. Then she fished out her bomb of MDMA and took that as well. Joe’s housemates, meanwhile, had rolled a joint, which they were now passing between them, and they both shared some.
By 11 the party was in full swing. Everyone they had known the last three years at university seemed to be there. A lot of people were there from their first year halls. There was Elly Granger and Sarah Towson, two girls who’d been in Baxter’s friendship group in first term but had subsequently drifted apart, and Josh Twee, Sam Under and Will Vargas, and Charlie Porter and Georgie Parsons, who had both cheated on their ex’s when they got together during an acid trip. And Will Buster, Harry Halfpenny and Max Falklands, the hockey players, who were there with the rest of their team, and Jordan Webb, Joey Upton and Rob Millidge, and Suzie Pearcy, who was the first girl Baxter had heard of to get depression at university, though of course it had started some years before, then Scarlett Roe, Elsa Delaney, Harriet Vaughan, Hugh Peters and Peter Humbert, the editor of the university paper.
Of Lily’s theatre friends (Lily had done a lot of acting at uni), there was Anthony Florence and Jack Charlotte, and Katy Shears, and Alice Eastop and Erika Hardy, and James Dickins and Sharon Bridges, the latter of whom had a habit of sleeping with men far older than herself then digging herself into holes by continuing to text them when she wasn’t interested. And there was also Jimmy Patching, Danny Carpenter, Rowena Whelan and George Stott, the English student who had infamously taken so many drugs in one day that he walked into the University Library stark naked and demanded a copy of Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mrs Dalloway’ repeatedly until being forcefully escorted from the premises.
Then there was Sam Burrows, the rugby player Lily had invited, and his teammates, among whom were Morgan MacDonald, Jordan Basra and Tristram Hobson, all of whom were known for their drinking habits, and Ben Troup, who’s sister studying Liberal Arts in the year above had thrown herself from a 14th floor balcony and died last year. There was a boy called Felix Thripp, an Economics student and known coke addict who seemed set for a career in the City, or certainly as some kind of businessman. Then there was May Reever and Charlie Simmonds, and Christian Parkes, whose father was a Labour MP and was being investigated for expenses abuse. Christian asserted he would never go into politics, but he’d already been lined up a job researching for a Labour Party think-tank. Then there was Lindsay Howard and Lucy Rickman and Nathalie Kemp and Rosie McKenzie, and Naomi van Oyen and Benji Slade and Sadiq Attar and Chris Tidd, and the Medicine students Claire Angus, Antonio Bame and Caeleb Wells, all of whom resented entirely the fact they were studying Medicine and had developed the sheerest desire to break free and totally lose their minds.
In the downstairs sitting room and upstairs bedroom people blew about to the music like dandelion seeds, whilst in the kitchen they poured beer and mixed drinks and rolled joints, and in the garden they smoked and spoke earnestly about the past and the future. Baxter continued to flirt with Joe, who appeared to be bored of making conversation but nevertheless continued to make an effort. He was secretly remembering that, under the influence of 2C-B, women became an awful lot more attractive. He strung Baxter along just in case he felt he needed a girl. Baxter all the while flitted her eyes constantly around the house, wondering whether Joe was interested enough, whether there were too many people at the party, and when her combination of drugs would hit her.
They moved out to the garden for a smoke, and were immediately approached by Lily, Sam Burrows the rugby player and a boy Baxter recognised but didn’t know the name of, who seemed always to be alone.
‘We were just discussing what the hell we’re going to do with our futures,’ said Lily. She waved a can of beer around before her to demonstrate how drunk she was. Sam furtively placed his hand on the small of her back, and she allowed it to stay there. ‘Don’t you think we’re all just screwed!?’
‘Screwed? How are we screwed?’ said Joe. ‘We’re no more screwed than anyone has ever been in the past.’
‘Because there are no jobs anywhere and no one can afford anywhere to live. And because uni is your last chance to have fun before you grow up and face the real world.’
Baxter inhaled loudly.
‘Can we not talk about this, the whole point of tonight is that we don’t have to think about tomorrow and I’d rather just concentrate on what’s going on now-‘
‘There are jobs if you’re willing to work for it,’ Joe interrupted coolly. ‘It seems as if our whole generation of students is too lazy to make anything work for them. If you think you’re screwed after graduating then it’s because you’re lazy and you deserve it.’
‘That’s completely untrue!’ cried the other boy. ‘The only jobs you can ‘succeed’ in are those corporate ones where you work obscene hours for obscene money and get your soul sucked out as a result.’
‘That’s a stupid way of seeing it, jobs are jobs whatever they are.’
‘Please can we talk about something else-‘
‘What about you, Sam?’ said Lily. ‘What are you going to do after graduating?’
Sam, who had come to university primarily to play rugby, clicked his great, round neck and looked at the floor.
‘I don’t know to be honest,’ he said gruffly. ‘Might go work for my Dad at home…’
‘Christ!’ said Lily. ‘Is Baxter the only one who’s not going to be living with her parents after uni?’
‘Why, what are you doing next?’ said Joe, who seemed suddenly more interested in Baxter than he had done up til now.
‘Grad job,’ she almost whispered. ‘In the City.’
‘Is that so?’ Joe nodded approvingly, a quiet smile spreading over his lips.
‘Wish I was doing that,’ huffed Sam.
‘Really?’ said the anonymous boy. ‘To be honest I don’t know if I’d rather be living with my parents or working at job I hate. I think I’ll probably be doing both.’
‘Well, at least I won’t be living with my parents,’ muttered Baxter to herself. Again that vision of the future blacked her mind; again she saw the lonely commute, the mindless office, the angst-ridden flat where she would slowly lose her mind over what she was doing with her life. She breathed deeply once more and brought herself back to the moment. Here she was, with her friends, drunk, stoned and with substances in her body waiting to hit her, people all around her having the time of their life before growing up for good. She glanced at her phone: 11.45. If she stayed awake, she had maybe six hours left.