Because she’d said, be there, and the boys are new to this, they turn up early and stand on the corner, waiting.
Expecting a late summer night, they are dressed in jeans, t-shirts, and near-identical Trimm Trab trainers. They weren’t to know that August would be turning itself inside- out, blowing and drizzling its way to autumn, pricking their skin with goose pimples.
The boys pace up and down, heel-toe off the edge of the kerb, illuminated by streetlights the colour of Lucozade.
She should be here.
Yeah. She should be here by now.
Glancing at their phones. Conversation fizzles to a spit.
This is a piss take.
She’s not even answering her phone.
Then a figure approaches with a sway in her walk, almost invisible in the distant dark except for the cat-shaped ears on her head, LED, flashing pink, orange, red.
Hey. We’ve been waiting –
I said I’d come.
Standing close, the girl slips a small packet into the hand of the nearest boy. He digs into his pocket and finds some notes which the girl takes, crumples and disappears into the folds of her clothes.
This boy finds her beautiful: her scarlet lips, brown-black eyes, clothes draped in velvety-black layers.
So, can we come? he asks.
If you want, she says.
The other boy, eyes wide, wordless. What?
To a house, repurposed, tumbledown. Bare rooms filled with music upstairs and down: bass-heavy above, skittering beats below. The girl, cat-ears flashing like a code the boys don’t understand, melts into the crowd.
This wasn’t the plan.
Too many strangers shouting, dancing.
Get a drink?
Do you want to get a –
Yeah. This is –
Outside again, in the mizzle.
We could’ve stayed.
No. It was shit.
But she was –
I wanted to –
We got what we came for. Come on.
Nope. I’m broke.
More waiting. Clothes damp against the boys’ skin now.The N29 pulls up. Strangers jostle. One boy gets on, the other holds back.
Going back to the house.
The doors hiss shut, separating them.
The boys and girls outside the house stare, make it clear he is a stranger. He brushes past them into the packed hallway. He leans into every room looking for her, asking one person, then another. Sorry, have you seen? He lifts his hands to his head, uses his fingers to make the shapes. Ears like a cat – they light up.
One stares, shakes his head. Another laughs. What? No mate.
In the back garden, fairy lights glimmer in the trees like stars. Figures in shadow lounge on the grass, drinking, smoking.
He hears her laughter, follows the sound. Halfway down the path towards a cluster of overgrown shrubbery, he accidentally kicks something, looks down. A black plastic headband with cat-ears attached, one still flashing pink, orange, red – the other, crushed and broken. He picks it up and keeps walking towards her.
Sonia Hope was a Jerwood/Arvon Mentee (Fiction) 2019/20. Her stories have appeared in magazines including Ambit, King Ludd’s Rag, and Ellipsis Zine, and she was shortlisted for the Guardian 4th Estate BAME Prize in 2019. She lives in London. Website: soniahope.co.uk Twitter: @SunRather