The first chapter in my Nanowrimo novel. It's completely unedited, 'cause Nanowrimo novelists don't have any time for spellcheckers or patching up plot holes on the go ;)
The rain lashed October rain against the window.
The black branches of trees outside the suburbian home cast black shadows through the second-story bedroom window and over the mobile phone that began to buzz, vibrating in crooked little circles.
Tim groaned under his sheets.
He reached out a hand to smack the phone into silence but it kept whirring resolutely until he gave up, tossed his blanket beside, and lumbered to his feet. He grabbed the phone and rubbing his eyes, took a look at the blinking screen.
11 missed calls. Shustack.
Tim groaned, but another sort of groan, the sort of groan he reserved for when he knew he’d have to spend hours listening to his girlfriend spout nonsense that would bore him to the brink of death. But he knew that if the missed calls reached a relatively dire amount (which they would in approximately 15 minutes or so) he’d have to listen to her to death and beyond so he picked up his call and pressed the green button.
“It’s about time, Tim.”
“I’m sorry baby. I was sleeping.”
“Sleeping? At this time?” There was a little high-pitched, mocking snort from the end of the line. “You do know what time it is, don’t you? I’ve been getting ready for two hours already.”
The amount of time it took for Sandy to get ready never ceased to amaze Tim. “I didn’t realize you had that much hair.”
“We’re meant to be going as a couple, Tim. That means you have to be in your costume. And you need to pick me up for the party!”
Tim wasn’t looking forward to dressing up like John Travolta.
“Yea, I’ll be there. See you soon.”
“You don’t sound too happy about that.”
Tim corrected his tone. “You’ll look beautiful, babe.”
“Don’t be late.”
The line died.
Tim sighed and let the phone tumble from his hands onto his bed. He would’ve loved to throw himself back on his bed and turn up the velvet underground to drown out the annoying drone of hordes of diminutive trick-or-treaters. But that wouldn’t do, his hair wouldn’t slick itself back by itself, not that he would’ve wanted it to anyway. He lumbered over to the mirror and allowed himself a moment to exhale as he stared at his reflection.
Tim had dark hair that was shaved at the sides and a bit longer at the front – Sandy only bore with it because the style popped up once in a while in her tumblr newsfeed. He had a permanently morose expression which made him look like a miserable bastard according to his sister Betsy but seemed to make him look like a broody band-member to his classmates – the fact that he was with the queen bee of the school obviously only added to his air of mystery. It helped that he wasn’t too bad with a guitar.
After he’d slathered hair gel over to hold his dark hair back Tim lumbered down the stairs, still shrugging off his leather jacket. At the root of the steps he caught the judgemental eyes of Betsy watching him, sucking on a marshmallow in the way that gooey strands of it stretched between her fingers and lips.
“You look like a moron, toyboy.”
“Wow. You’ve never used that one before.” Tim raised a brow, taking in his sisters costume. She was dressed in a military-style, cherry-red jacket with golden bucklers and tassels and a black tophat was perched over her dirty-blonde hair. Tim hoped faintly that his father hadn’t seen the whip she had gripped in a hand she was resting on her hip. “Are you ever going to stop with the carnival theme?”
“No,” Betsy said, and took a step up to him. She was almost three years junior but she’d always been particularly headstrong. Tim had a surprising revelation that maybe she hadn’t been waiting at the bottom of the stairs just to insult her. Or not really that surprising, seeing as what day it was.
“Tim, we need to go to the playground.”
“Betsy, we don’t have to be a we. And we, or rather I, don’t definitely have to do anything. Especially hang around some kiddie playground all night, waiting for something to happen.”
“It could though, that’s the point isn’t it! If there’s even the slightest chance that it could happen….”
Tim pretended to glance at his wristwatch which failed because he’d forgotten to strap it on. He assumed a snobby expression, like he’d done the act on purpose, which didn’t seem like such a fetch anyway. “I’m going. Not to the playground. Away from you.”
Betsy rolled her eyes. “Have fun serving Shustacky.”
“Her name’s Sandy. And it’s Shustack.”
Tim dodged into the kitchen to grab a bite to eat on his way out. There was a loaf of pumpkin bread cooling down on the counter and he cut himself a thick slab, eyeing the three carved pumpkins lying over the counters. They weren’t particularly brilliant, not even this year. While he was chewing on the bread the door went and his mother stepped into the kitchen, glancing over her shoulder as the door closed with a slam.
“And there goes your sister again, off to Mrs Spiderwebs. I did think she’d get bored of it eventually, but I do suppose it’s nice that she’s helping out.”
Tim made a noncommittal grunt and kept chewing on his bread, averting eye contact.
“Aha, m’boy!” Tim’s father bellowed out, stepping into the kitchen. “Doing the ol’ Danny I see! Always a popular choice with the ladies, but only if you have the dance moves to go with it!”
Tim looked up to see what his dad had dressed and regretted it instantly.
“Are you dressed as Kim-Jong Il?”
His mother tutted. “He’s that Korean singer, the one that’s been all over the radio. He’s been practicing his horseriding dance a good month for this.”
On cue, his father crossed out two hands in front of him and did a few hops.
Tim hadn’t even stepped out of the door and he already felt like memories of this Halloween were going to haunt him for some time to come.
Tim made the decision to leave instantly. He grabbed his backpack off the floor and headed for the door.
“Tim!” his mother said, walking him up to the door and holding her hand across so he couldn’t get out before hearing her out. He assumed a bored expression which wasn’t very hard – he didn’t seem to remember how to do any other expressions. “You’re making it difficult for me to leave, you know.”
“Tim, I just wanted to say that I hope we don’t get any calls from the principal this time around. I don’t want to hear anything about smoking, cigarettes or whatever else they talked about.”
“I don’t smoke weed, mom.”
“And be nice to Sandy, okay?”
“I’m always nice to Sandy.”
Her mom sighed. “I remember the times when Lexi and Quinn used to pick you up for trick-or-treating. Quinn had the biggest, roundest glasses… I wish you’d ask them to visit once in a while.”
“Mom, I told you, we don’t really talk anymore. We move around different circles.”
“'We' don’t talk, or you don’t?”
Not wanting to have to listen to a lecture from either his mother or his girlfriend, Tim dodged under her arms and was out of the door before she could get in another word. She tried, though. It might’ve been “use protection” or possibly "watch the election". Tim chose to believe it was the latter.
He walked down the rainy street, pulling out a wooly hat from his bag and putting on his head to protect his hair. The leaves were slippery under his sneakers and the air smelt of rain and pumpkin pie. He could see the capes of little children flutter in the wind as they dodged between houses, orange buckets dangling from the crooks of their elbows. Their giggles rang in the air. Tim dug out his iPod and stuck the headphones in his ears, and listened to the Velvet Underground all the way to Sandy’s house.
She opened the door, her blonde hair all curled up and dressed in tight black leather leggings and an off-the shoulder top. She did have an amazing figure, and an amazing push-up bra. Tim stepped inside and they kissed, although not much more than a peck, because Sandy didn’t want to ruin her lipstick. She let him kiss her neck for a while though until she waved him off.
“Uh, you taste like cigarette,” Sandy moaned.
“I need you to give me one. Grab my coat, will you?”
Tim picked up her leather jacket from a hook off the wall while Sandy tousled her sandy locks in the hall mirror. She gave it a little pout, turned on her red heels and waited for Tim to open the door before she snatched the jacket from his arms. “Mom, Tim’s got me, I’ll be back whenever.”
“Have fun honeys!” Sandy’s mom sopranoed from the other room, before her voice gave way to the rhythmic drone of the latest, trendiest soap.
Tim took his time rolling her a cigarette on the porch. The rain had slowed to a drizzle by the time he handed the thin roll to Sandy.
“I thought you didn’t smoke.”
“Ug, I don’t. But Sandy did, and I want to smell like cigarettes.”
“Are you telling me cigarette stench is an accessory now?”
“Uh, I won’t stench.”
“As far as I know, cigarette smells pretty much the same on everyone.”
“Can we stop talking about this, I don’t really get you,” Sandy said, which was polite Schustackian for Shut the Fuck up.
They walked the rest of the way to the school in silence.
The gymnasium was decorated with orange and black streamers with tacky pumpkins and boil-nosed, hunchbacked witches. Pop and fizzy drinks as well as bowls of popcorn and candy apples were being optimistically placed on display by the student union and their preppy crew. All this was delightfully contrasted by teenage girls who were dressed as what Tim could only take to be witches who had given up magic in favor of prostitution or who had little more than toilet paper around their torsos. (Tim decided to offer the first of their dates who appeared dressed as toilets a drink.) All of them were consciously taking efforts to ignore the student union table and were, not too inconspicuously, taking sips from hipflasks hidden on garter belts, backpockets, or from under pirate hats.
Sandy veered him here and there on her arm, making him as much of an accessory as the cigarette-perfume that clung to her. Since he wasn’t expected to do much more than look stylish-yet-miserable in his leather jacket and swept back hair, he wasn’t much missed when he slipped away and wondered a little way off. He found sanctuary under the branches of a black cardboard tree, purple fairy lights wrapped all around its twigs and piles of candy-wrappers and empty cans of pop already littered at its roots. He leaned against the wall and put on his shades so that he wouldn’t have to form eye-contact with anyone.
He glanced to his left, and there she was, black bob-cut and all. She was wearing a tuxedo with a dark blue sash wrapped around her waist and there were thick round goggles strapped over her eyes, under her thick black bangs. She didn’t pull them off and he didn’t remove his shades so there was no way either of them could see each others eyes. So when Lexi leaned against the wall beside him, he felt like they were two agents having a secret discussion.
They listened in silence to half a pop-song pump through the gymnasium stereos. Little bat-shapes and orange spotlights whirred around the dancefloor in circles, demonstrating considerably more refined choreography than the majority of the dancers on it.
“You shouldn’t call her that.”
“Why? You used to, all the time.”
Tim didn’t have a rebuff so he decided to change the subject. “How’s the theatre troup going?”
“Good. We did the Rocky Horror picture show today. Pity you missed it.”
“It’s not really my thing, you know.”
“Yea I know. That’s why I didn’t invite you.”
Tim braved a glance at her. She was staring at the dancefloor, immobile, light-effects making the sheen of her hair change colour and dancers and glitter reflecting from the surface of her goggles. He imagined her for a moment in her vampire costume, flashing her fangs at Sandy. This amused him for some odd reason, and his mouth curled up a bit in a smile.
“What’re you smirking at?” Lexi asked with a curious smile.
“Quinn’s over there, you know.”
Tim stopped smiling. “Okay.”
“He has something for you.”
Tim didn’t really know what to say but it turned out he didn’t have to, because at that moment Sandy found her way back to his side.
“Timmy!” she half-hissed, half-mewled. It seemed she’d found a canteen somewhere. She draped her arms over his shoulders protectively and gave Lexi the evils.
“Shustack,” Lexi acknowledged neutrally.
“Shustack,” Sandy repeated in a mock-Lexi tone, (which meant she said it with a slightly countryish-twang), rolling her eyes. “So elaborate from a transvestite oompa-loompa.”
“See ya around Tim,” Lexi said, and headed off through the dancefloor.
“Uh, what’s her deal?” Sandy said and detatched herself from Tim. “Why were you even talking to her?”
“We used to be friends, you know.”
“Yes, past-tense. Very good Sandy.”
“You are such a jerk Tim!” Sandy said, slapping him a bit.
Tim pulled the sunglasses off his face. “Sorry.”
Tim was dragged through the dancefloor and pulled against Sandy. He didn’t really notice what she was doing. Probably some sort of dance move. He absent-mindedly supported her with his arms so she wouldn’t stumble over (she seemed to have had something other than Dr Pepper to drink) when he noticed someone standing there behind her, watching him.
Quinn nodded at him. “Hello Tim.”
Quinn was wearing a buttoned up evening jacket and a bright red bowtie. He also had round glasses but half of his face was painted green and there was an odd, eerie curve painted up from the side of his mouth.
“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
It had taken this long for Sandy to recover. “Oh, it’s nerd-face, the student-union president.”
Quinn frowned. “Is she alright?”
Tim would’ve shrugged if Sandy wasn’t draped all over him and in danger of toppling in her heels. “She’s fine. What was in those drinks you sell?”
“Tim, this isn’t my doing. Your girlfriends gone and smuggled in some drink. I should report her, really.”
“You wouldn’t dare, jerk-eyes.”
Tim and Quinn exchanged a look.
“I have something for you,” Quinn said, reaching into his backpack.
“Quinn, I don’t think-“
“No, just take it.” Quinn was holding out a book. With a strange sense of familiarity, Tim accepted the book in his free hand and looked at the cover. Cook book.
A wave of memories washed over him. How many times had he, Quinn and Lexi been cooped up in that room of his, writing in it, recording everything that had happened on that fateful Halloween so long ago? He already remembered how it had started – their very first mission, to win the candy-loot competition. They had won it too, but by no means in any traditional way. They’d arrived with lollypops the sizes of heads and no-one, not even the adults, had gotten out of them where they’d got the curious candy. They’d told no-one. Every year they’d held hope that they’d re-experience the fantastic adventure of the year before.
But no other Halloween afterwards had ever been the same.
Tim gulped and opened his mouth to say something, though he wasn’t quite sure what, when Sandy snatched the notebook from his hands. “Cookbook?” she shrieked, holding it from Tim’s reach and stumbling a little way off. “What is this?”
“Sandy, no, give it back-“
Sandy peered at the first page and let out a little suffocated, disbelieving giggle. “First club mission – candy loot competition? Oh, you are a little queer freak aren’t you, Quinnie? Losers don’t come much more four-eyed than you.”
Quinn was standing frigidly a little way off. “I just thought you might like it,” he said quietly.
Tim was trying to reach over to Sandy to pick the book off her but she waved him off with it and, afraid that it might tear, he was trying to snatch it off strategically.
“He’s not friends with you anymore. He’s with me now, and he doesn’t want lame nothings hanging around him, okay?” She strode off towards the buffet table where slices of oranges and strawberries drifted through a sea of acid green punch in a big bowl. “Whoops!”
The notebook slipped through her fingers and landed in the bowl with a splash. There was a whoop of applause and laughter from some of Sandy’s friends and people who didn’t give much respect to the student union.
Quinn just sort of stared at the notebook flapping its pages around the bowl for a few seconds and then turned around and walked out.
Tim was frozen to the spot. He moved his eyes and caught his own, widened eyes in the round ellipses of Lexi’s goggles that eclipsed any of her own emotions. He could sense, though, a thick, almost painful disapproval. Then she sunk backwards into the crowd and was gone, too.
Tim turned and walked to the punch bowl. He fished out the notebook and set it with a flop on the single-use table cloth where the pumpkins were shadowed by a spreading patch of moisture. He peeled the cover carefully from the first page and stared at his own letters start to bleed off the page.
Sandy was holding out her hand to him on the dancefloor. Tim just looked at her and, not for the first-time, realized that he didn’t really like her very much at all.
She rolled her eyes at his blank expression. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that lame-o’s loveletter meant so much to you. Do you go and bang him after school?”
“No Sandy. No I don’t.”
“Yea, so, get over it.”
“No Sandy,” Tim said wearily, “I won’t. You are a pampered and irritating almost-woman who talks too much, whether it be in person, on the phone, or during sex. You don’t like people but you care too much about what they think, anyway. You talk too much. You reek of perfume or cigarettes or hair products. Your fake-tan rivals a Satsuma. You use lipstick the colour of a wet pig. Frankly, I think the only reason I stand you is because I’m in a phase in my life where I enjoy anguished thoughts, and you are possibly the worst form of torture this suburb could provide me with. “
There was a stunned silence.
“Also, the sex was good.” Tim was holding on to the soggy journal as he turned to leave. He took a few steps and turned around again.
“Actually, it was okay.”
Then he walked out of the gymnasium with more finality.