He wondered how he could ever forget how to fly. It was so simple when he was up there, soaring among the clouds towards whichever compass point he picked. He just had to avoid looking down. Should he look down at the earth far below –
‘I am awake,’ Adam said with his eyes closed. He still felt the momentum but the bed was beneath him, the covers above, and gravity was forcing him down, pressing him heavy and useless into the mattress. He struggled to breathe.
‘Come on, get up!’ Greg bounced on the bed desperately. ‘Mum’s made pancakes!’
Adam forced his eyes open and looked at the clock. It was four minutes before his alarm would go off. Those four minutes were precious beyond anything Greg would understand. Adam rubbed his eyes and Greg pulled the covers off him, cold morning air rushed in. ‘Hey!’ Adam managed grumpily but Greg was already out the door.
The family waited for him in the living room adjoining the kitchen. Adam looked outside, the sun slowly climbing into the grey sky. ‘Happy birthday, Adam,’ his mother said, rising from her seat and hugging him awkwardly. ‘We’ve got breakfast ready for you. Here, you sit in the armchair.’ She sat him down and slipped out to the kitchen.
‘Happy birthday, son,’ Adam’s father said from across the room. The newspaper was resting in his lap, open to the business pages. ‘All the best, and many happy returns of the day.’
‘Open my present first,’ Greg insisted. He thrust at Adam a small parcel, obviously wrapped by their mother.
Adam smiled. ‘Thanks Greg.’
‘Open it faster!’
‘How does it open?’ Adam searched for the end of the sticky tape.
‘You unwrap like a girl,’ Michael said, managing to show contempt for both his older and his younger brother in the same curled lip.
‘Nothing wrong with being methodical,’ Mr Curtis said approvingly.
It was a ceramic mug with a Batman logo. ‘See, Adam? Because you like those movies!’
‘Now we can put hot chocolate in it! That’s why it had to go first, see? Give it!’ Greg snatched the present and ran into the kitchen. Adam yawned, bemused.
‘Here,’ Michael said, passing over his gift.
Adam unwrapped the book, the first part of a science-fantasy trilogy of the kind Adam and Michael both enjoyed. ‘Thanks, Michael.’
‘I think the next one’s coming out next month, too.’ Michael’s birthday was in August. There was something of an arrangement between them, most years.
The three elder Curtis males sat in silence as Adam read the back cover. Mr Curtis shifted the newspaper to one side. ‘What book is that then?’ He paid attention as Michael attempted to explain. ‘I see. Very nice. Books are wonderful gifts, aren’t they. You don’t read as much as you used to, do you Adam?’
‘I’m busier than I used to be,’ Adam said.
Greg crashed back into the room carrying a large tray laden with pancakes, maple syrup, cream and jam. Mrs Curtis handed Adam his Batman mug, which was now full of steaming hot chocolate. ‘You first, Adam. You like syrup, don’t you?’ Mrs Curtis poured warm syrup all over one of the cakes then rolled it up and put it on a plate. Greg’s eyes were enormous.
‘So, Adam,’ Mr Curtis said, ‘eighteen now, hmm? Well well. My number one son.’ He laughed at his reference.
‘Why, I just can’t believe you’re all grown up,’ Mrs Curtis added. ‘It seems like just yesterday we had you in the crib.’
‘You know, eighteen is adulthood now, son. Of course it used to be twenty-one, back in my day, or even before that really, but times change and now it’s only eighteen. So it’s a good point to take stock. And you’ve got a successful life ahead of you.’
‘Perhaps I should go and get the photo album, do you think? Remember your yellow train? You had that yellow train when you turned three. It clacked as it ran and you wouldn’t let it out of your sight, you were the sweetest thing.’
‘Well, Adam, we’re very proud of you and what you’ve achieved so far, and now you’ll face a whole new set of challenges.’
‘Oh, I suppose I should take a picture. You were such a chubby baby and now look at you!’
‘Naturally we’ll pay all your university fees. Personal entertainment expenses will be your own responsibility. Earning money and studying hard – I hope you’re paying attention, Michael and Greg, Adam is a great example for you two. You ought to be very proud of your older brother.’
‘Have another pancake, dear. Jam or syrup?’
Adam took jam this time.
‘Well then.’ Mr Curtis produced a large bag from behind his seat. It was leather and nicely finished, somewhere between a briefcase and a rucksack. ‘Happy birthday.’
‘Wow!’ Adam was genuinely surprised as he held the gift. ‘Thanks! This is really nice.’ It was stylish and sturdy and actually something he would be pleased to use. Against all odds his parents had got it right this year.
‘For university,’ Mr Curtis said. ‘Law books and suchlike. I’m told there are a lot of books. Paul’s daughter ended up renting a locker space at the campus because of the number of books she had to refer to.’
‘It’s a good university bag, don’t you think, Adam?’ asked Mrs Curtis.
‘You’ll find it’s very well-made and should last a long time. Not that you’ll be subjecting it to roughhousing, not at university! I imagine that mostly it will sit next to you in the library!’ He laughed again.
‘Oh, there are some other things inside it, dear.’
The scent of new leather emerged as he opened the zip and pulled out a plush appointment diary, some elegant notepaper stationery and an expensive ink pen. ‘These are really nice,’ Adam said. ‘Thanks.’
Mrs Curtis smiled. ‘You’re all kitted up!’
‘Have you been visited by the university liaison yet?’ Mr Curtis asked.
‘Uh, someone came a while ago.’
‘Is that right? I don’t remember it.’
‘I did tell you about it. It was pretty boring.’
‘Regardless of how boring it is, when someone comes you have to talk to the faculty representative. That’s really important, Adam. Talk to the faculty representative so he knows who you are. University is a big place with lots of people, and if you just sit in the back row and say nothing then it will be that much harder. Especially the law faculty, which is so competitive, with all the best young men and women there.’
Adam zipped up the bag and sat it on his lap and looked at the floor. ‘I’m not sure I want to do law.’
Mr Curtis hesitated. He recovered quickly, smiling. ‘Now, Adam. Why do you say that?’
Adam didn’t need to check to know that both his brothers were looking at him and his mother was looking at his father. ‘Uh, I just don’t know if I want to do law.’
‘And what’s wrong with law?’
‘Nothing. I just don’t know for sure that I want to do law and not something else.’
‘Well, that’s true. You shouldn’t limit yourself. All the capable students do double degrees in commerce or science, I understand, alongside.’
‘Yeah. And maybe I’ll not do law at all. I haven’t made a decision yet.’
Mr Curtis folded up the newspaper and put it on the table beside his chair. ‘Now, Adam, I thought we made a decision when we discussed this at the start of the year. You’d be cheating yourself if you don’t take a subject like law. You have a responsibility not to let your ability go to waste. You need to be industrious, Adam, and you can’t let opportunities slide by.’
This was all happening far too early in the morning. ‘I didn’t say anything about letting opportunities slide by. I just haven’t finished thinking yet.’
‘Why, if I had your intelligence I would have leapt at the chance to do law. I would have been determined to make the very best of what God gave me. Now, you have that opportunity and you really have to take it, Adam, you’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t. Law will prepare you for a great number of excellent employment opportunities, and we have to be realistic, that’s the most important thing nowadays. You mustn’t throw away your tertiary education for no good reason.’
Adam’s voice rose. ‘Look, I just said I was still thinking.’
There was a long silence.
In a flurry of movement Mr Curtis disappeared behind his newspaper.
Adam ate his pancakes in silence.
Adam and Dennis walked in step. They were heading to a pool hall Dennis knew about and Adam’s legs were aching. Slightly behind them were Richard and Scott, talking about the NBA finals. Adam figured that was as good an angle as any to break the silence. ‘Uh, have you been watching the finals, Dennis? We’ve been seeing them at Richard’s place. Jordan is amazing. Chicago won again today.’
‘I’m more of a player than a watcher,’ Dennis said.
Some men in suits guffawed past and Dennis gave them a dark look. ‘Lord protect me from that,’ he murmured.
‘From what?’ Adam asked.
Dennis just shook his head.
‘You weren’t there last night,’ Adam said.
‘Yeah. Sorry about that. Stuff came up.’
‘It’s okay,’ Adam said. As he said it, he felt that it was okay.
‘Are you going to stay in the team?’
‘Yeah. Yeah, I think so.’
Dennis grinned. ‘Good. How’s the rest of the team doing, anyway?’
‘Oh, not bad. Scott’s doing well too, he’s getting a lot of court time.’
‘Yeah, he’s great. I guess he’s just one of those people who can just pick up sports real well. Like you, I guess. I wish I could do that.’
‘Den!’ Scott called from behind. ‘How far are we walking? Fucking hell!’
‘Let’s get a taxi! Fuck, I can’t feel my toes!’
Dennis looked at Adam, who shrugged. ‘I don’t mind walking.’
‘We walk,’ Dennis said. ‘No more moaning.’
‘But my ears are gonna drop off!’
‘Shoulda worn earmuffs.’
‘I didn’t dress for a blizzard!’
Richard laughed. ‘Hey, I’ve been in a blizzard. That was cold. This is nothing.’
‘I bet you got hungry in your blizzard,’ Scott said. ‘Let’s stop and get some food. Pizza! Hot, tasty pizza. Come on, guys, how about it?’
Richard shrugged. ‘Adam?’
Scott wasn’t patient. ‘Come on Adam, yes or no? Lovely hot tasty pizza…’
‘Well, uh, where would we go?’
‘Look, birthday boy, give a call, positive or negative, let us take care of the details!’
‘Well, yeah. I guess that’d be all right.’
‘Cool!’ Scott veered on to the road, turning white under the headlights of an oncoming car and darting in front as it sounded a horn. ‘After me!’
‘I’m not paying for pizza,’ Dennis said as he followed Scott across the road.
Adam and Richard waited for a better gap in the traffic. ‘Why didn’t he eat before coming in?’ Adam asked.
‘It’s Scott,’ Richard replied. ‘So, Adam. Good week?’
‘I guess. How about yours?’
Richard made a face. ‘It’s weird. I’m gone in, what, seven weeks. I figured I’d be pretty busy getting ready for that, but no, as it happens. Just not that much to do right now.’
‘Oh? How come?’
‘I mean, I’m going to school with all of you, but it’s a bit of a joke now because I’m leaving. I don’t have to do any work. So I just do what interests me.’
Adam smiled. ‘If it was me, I wouldn’t even do that.’
‘Luckily it isn’t you. It’s a pain, having to go.’
‘Yeah, but you’re going home. That’s got to be okay, right? And it’ll be fine. You’ll be fine wherever.’
‘Thanks for the confidence.’
They passed a restaurant where well-dressed diners conversed like animated mannequins. Adam felt it as a woman in red stared out at them for a moment. She was with a man, also well-dressed, table for two and candlelight. Adam furrowed his brow and coughed. ‘So, um, could I ask something?’
‘I was just wondering what happened last week at Jacob’s. I mean, you don’t have to tell me, but… yeah. What happened?’
Richard clammed up. ‘Not much.’
‘Did you have a fight with Kirsty?’
‘No, nothing like that. Things were fine, really.’
Adam didn’t reply. The near-accident in the car had scared him, and he knew Richard could tell.
‘It’s just hard to know what to say to her,’ Richard said suddenly. He shook his head. ‘I don’t know. I did what seemed right, but maybe it wasn’t the right thing. Maybe I thought too much about it.’
Adam nodded. ‘Well, it is a bit unfair though, that you weren’t able to have a chance with her.’
‘But that’s life,’ Richard said. ‘I just need to fucking cope with it. I’m getting better, I think. I’m trying to.’
This conversation made Adam happier. Ahead, Scott was dancing around the pavement with Dennis bouncing off him. This was how it should be, the four of them, just like old times. Scott was chanting something up ahead, shouting out ‘Boom!’ and punching the air. Dennis was laughing, and now and then a ‘Boom!’ punch would be aimed at him instead of the air, but he always batted them away and kept laughing. Then Scott stopped short, spun and yelled back: ‘Right here! I’ll order!’
‘You know Scott won’t have the money,’ Adam said, realising.
Richard nodded fondly. ‘That’s right. Scott is God’s way of teaching us it’s better to give than to receive.’
‘There was definitely something in that pizza,’ Scott said as they went back down the grungy stairs. ‘Did you see how well Adam was playing? That proves it, you know, the whole damn world is upside down.’ Wood creaked beneath them. The building wasn’t much to look at, but the tables had been good and as Dennis had promised there was no crowd.
‘That was fun,’ Adam said, happy. The muzak from the neighbouring car-yard mixed eerily with the flap-flap of pennants as they emerged. ‘We should play pool more often.’
‘Glad you enjoyed yourself,’ Dennis said.
‘Ah, this was still a fucked-up place to take us, Den,’ Scott replied. ‘I think the crazy odour put me off my game. There are other pool places, you know?’
‘So which was it, Scott, the fault of the place or the pizza? Or didn’t you say before it was the cold?’
‘It was something!’ Scott spread his arms like a boasting fisherman, strutting good-naturedly. ‘I’m at least as good a player as Rich, really.’
‘Never in a million years,’ Richard said.
‘Damn straight I am, Rich! Don’t give me that back, what is this? Do you all want a mock at me then?’
Adam shook his head. ‘I won’t mock at you, Scott.’
‘Thank you, Adam. Thank you very much. See, at least one of you three clowns got brought up right.’
Richard snorted. ‘Adam’s just better at suffering fools.’
‘Oh, Richard King, you wound me! Your rapier wit – another aspect we shall miss on your departure.’ Scott was grinning, happily set to spiel. ‘Not to mention our impending inability to make up four for doubles!’
‘There hasn’t been four lately anyway,’ Adam said.
Dennis turned his head slightly to watch Adam.
Scott waved his hands and leaned over. ‘Adam, silly kid, Dennis is a busy man now, we can’t monopolise him, he’s much too popular for the likes us…’ Scott tried to shove Dennis off the kerb but Den stepped clear and flipped up his middle finger at Scott.
‘Kids!’ Richard called, laughing.
Scott elbowed Richard gamely. ‘Just a pity it’s not Adam in demand, huh? Then we wouldn’t have to put up with that skinny chump so often.’
Richard responded fast. ‘It’s a pity it isn’t Scott going to America, huh? Because then we wouldn’t have to put up with that bigass fuckwit so often.’
‘It is a pity,’ Scott continued without hesitating, ‘because then I could get away from all three of you at once and start again with people who are more my level of fun-osity.’
‘What, the Amish?’ Dennis asked.
‘Hell yeah, I’m aching for a barn-build. But instead, damn the luck, I’m gonna be stuck here babysitting Adam, oh Christ please kill me now…’
Dennis waited for Scott to finish. ‘You know, if you’re going to be spending so much time with Adam, maybe you shouldn’t run him down quite so much.’
Adam didn’t know where that had come from. Dennis’ serious tone stalled Scott for just a moment. ‘Aww, Adam knows I’m just playing with his head. Right Adam?’
‘Right,’ Adam said. Dennis walked a bit faster, smiling curiously, and Scott jogged up a few paces to fall in with him. Adam was thoughtful as Richard joined him. ‘He’s right, you know. When you go, that’ll be it for us and Dennis. It’ll just be me and Scott.’
Richard didn’t sound convinced. ‘Scott’s all full of shit.’
‘But he’s always right about that kind of stuff.’ Adam watched Dennis, who was chatting contentedly with Scott. Gone was the floppy brown hair that Adam had once tried to emulate. Dennis was even walking differently, straight-backed, less of a slouch. ‘It just seems weird. I mean, he’s our friend.’
They walked in silence for a while, getting steadily closer to the bustling Courtenay Place strip. ‘Have you given much thought to the Ball?’ Richard asked eventually.
Adam had to think about the new subject. ‘Not really, I don’t think. Have you?’
‘You’ve got to go, all right? It’ll be almost my last night here.’
‘Yeah, I guess.’
‘Yes, for sure.’ Richard considered a moment. ‘I’m not going to take a partner.’
‘I don’t want to worry about a partner, I just want to be able to say goodbye to everyone equally.’
‘Will they let you do that? Go alone, I mean?’
‘Sure. So, I was thinking, because I’m going alone, do you have anyone to go with? Because if you don’t yet, I don’t know, maybe you have someone in mind. But if you don’t, I was thinking you’d maybe like to ask Kirsty?’
Adam almost stopped in his tracks. ‘Kirsty?’
‘Yeah.’ Richard nodded firmly. ‘I’d definitely like her to be there, but I just said how I don’t want a partner. And from what I’ve seen you two get on well.’
‘Uh, do we?’
‘Sure. I reckon she’d be happy to go with you.’
‘Uh…’ Adam’s left hand flailed about as though trying to grab words from the air. ‘But wouldn’t that be a bit awkward?’
‘But…’ Adam shook his head. ‘If you don’t think it would be awkward.’
Richard patted him on the back. ‘There you go. Ball problem solved.’
Adam’s mind was racing.
Courtenay Place was an endless stream of red-lipped women in short-tight dresses and gel-haired men in white shirts, laughing and boasting and always closed-off. Smiles were worn to repel.
Adam looked down at his clothes. He didn’t see anyone else wearing anything like what he was wearing. The shirt was wrong and the tie wasn’t much better. He felt obvious. He was no good with clothes. Dennis and Richard always looked so good, and Scott could pull off anything just with attitude. He needed them to go shopping with him sometime. Good clothes didn’t usually come in long and thin.
Scott whacked Adam’s chest. ‘You look fine. How many times?’ Adam nodded sheepishly. ‘Where we going again, Rich?’
‘It’s called Haven. Dennis knows where.’
Dennis nodded. ‘It’s just down here.’
‘Might have known, near the strip clubs,’ Scott said.
‘Where?’ asked Adam. ‘Strip clubs?’
Scott pointed at a lurid poster in a window and the beckoning lights of the casino-space beyond. ‘It looks so enticing, I can hardly resist.’
‘It’s quite good in there,’ Dennis said casually.
Scott guffawed. ‘Want to go in, Adam? You’re legal for porn now, you know?’
‘Oh, I don’t think so.’
‘You are, you’re eighteen. Legal for porn. And you’re just the kind of man to benefit from a healthy serving of both.’
Adam shook his head. ‘Uh, maybe later.’
They reached a queue for a single door. Beneath a green neon sign saying Haven was a single bouncer in an immense wine-red blazer. Scott looked doubtful. ‘This is it?’
‘Best places are always holes in the wall,’ Dennis said.
Adam fumbled in his wallet to check on his fake ID. He’d never been into a nightclub before, but maybe the others hadn’t realised that. He’d certainly never used the fake ID before, even though Richard had sorted them out way back in February. It was an ID card for a university up-country, and Richard had reassured them all that they looked just like the real thing. Adam was a bit surprised that university identification could look so amateurish but the others had gone along with it. He checked that it was there, his name, he turned twenty in early April... shit, what if they asked him his star sign? Isn’t that what they did if they wanted to catch you out?
He leaned over to Scott. ‘Scott, what star sign is April?’
‘Fucking hell, Adam, relax,’ Scott said.
‘But they ask sometimes, right?’
‘No bouncer’s going to fuck around asking your star sign. You either get in or you don’t, and we all will, so relax okay?’
The rest of the queue were older, late twenties and up in blacks and gowns and discretion. The bouncer waved people in and soon the foursome were at the front, and Adam felt his heart beating nervously. The wave came. Dennis and Scott strolled in unimpeded but for Adam the bouncer shifted a hand up. ‘Excuse me, sir. Do you have any identification?’
‘Uh,’ said Adam, producing his wallet and rifling through it furiously. ‘Yes, it’s in here…’
‘That’s fine, sir,’ said the bouncer. Adam wondered if that meant he should stop searching, so he paused. The bouncer took his shoulder and guided him through. ‘Enjoy your evening.’ Adam felt foolish, struggling to hide his wallet again, but he was inside and suddenly the music hit him like a physical blast. It was louder than anything Adam had heard in a long time. The beat was punching at his ears and for a moment Adam remembered his mother warning him about hearing loss. Richard appeared from behind and led him deeper in. People pressed on all sides and Adam realised they were passing through a dance floor. It was impossible to move without touching people. Bodies brushed and pressed, sliding and squeezing and pushing. A woman coming the other way jammed her cleavage hard up against him. Adam thought he should have apologised, but the music was too loud.
Dennis had a pair of shots in hand when they reached him, one for Adam. ‘For the birthday boy!’ he yelled through the noise, and smiled as he knocked his one back. Adam imitated and the shot leapt sweet and tart down his throat. Dennis ordered another round and this time all four joined the toast. Adam rubbed his chin happily.
Scott leaned in so he could be heard. ‘Hey, did you guys hear about Phil? About how he stopped this girl from getting raped?’
‘Really?’ asked Richard. ‘He broke up a rape?’
‘You know how Phil’s place is real near that park? It was in there.’
Dennis nodded confirmation, leaning in so he could be heard. ‘It’s true. He was with Kane. They heard her calling out. The guy took off.’
‘Kane was there?’ Scott was surprised.
‘Irony,’ Richard said. Adam knew what was being referenced. Kane’s loud proclamation in Religious Ed that ‘some girls want to be raped eh’ had resulted in the entire seventh form being signed up to a lunchtime communication skills workshop.
Dennis continued. ‘Kane was there, but Phil’s the hero of the hour. They’re both going to testify in court.’
‘What, they catch the guy then?’ asked Scott.
‘They know who he is.’
This whole conversation made Adam feel glum. It was so easy to forget that things like that actually happened. He lived a privileged life, when it came down to it, and his problems didn’t count for much compared to what some people had to deal with. At least Kane and Phil had stopped it, but it would still have been horrible for the girl and she might end up all messed up anyway. It was just so wrong. He wished he could do something about it. ‘Poor girl,’ he said.
Richard nodded agreement.
‘It gets worse,’ Scott said. ‘She was just a kid. What a fucking asshole, man.’
‘Thirteen,’ said Dennis.
‘Thirteen,’ Adam repeated. It was beyond anything he could understand.
‘Hey, don’t look so sad,’ Richard said. ‘The good guys won.’
Adam nodded, and Dennis bought him another drink.
The queue for the Black Orchid Room was even longer than that for Haven. ‘We’ve hit it at busy time, looks like,’ Richard said, joining the end of the line. The crowd was a bit more in tune with them than at Haven, where the mass of thirty-somethings had made them all feel a bit out of place. Here, it was mostly early-twenties in pretty outlandish gear. The predominant style seemed to be a watered-down Goth look, with heavy black eyeliner and black dresses everywhere.
Adam fell in behind Scott, at the back of the foursome. He was feeling quite tipsy from the drink, but it was a good feeling. Everything was going right. Scott was leaning forward to talk to Richard and Dennis, who were all smiling, and it was just like old times. He was having a good time. It was going to get better.
A large, bare arm eased in between Adam and Scott, followed by a lean face with a fat grin, ‘Scuse me mate, you won’t mind that I’m coming through right? Only I need to get in, okay?’
Adam gave the man some room. He was a big guy, a few inches over six foot, and obviously strong. Tattoos on his arm, a skull and a rose.
‘You won’t mind mate, good shit, what’s your name mate?’
‘Adam,’ Adam said without reflecting on whether speaking was a good idea.
‘Adam, mate, you having a good night?’
‘Good shit, Adam. Thanks mate, I appreciate you letting me through. Have a good night eh?’ He turned his back on Adam, who furrowed his brow. The guy was obviously trouble. He was almost scary. Almost, because Adam hadn’t exactly been scared.
Scott didn’t even try to block the guy, so he came up next to Dennis. Dennis was standing rod-straight with his back to the guy, and Adam watched how he was behaving and felt something sink inside. This had the potential to go very, very wrong. The man leaned in to Dennis and started his spiel, moving forward, and he stepped through and right into Dennis’ shoulder and elbow. Dennis didn’t even move an inch.
The guy tried again, dropping a heavy hand on Dennis’ shoulder. This time he spoke to the audience. ‘You won’t mind if I step through would you mate?’ Adam couldn’t see his face from behind but he knew the guy was grinning.
Don’t do anything stupid, Adam thought fiercely, surprising himself with the strength of his feeling.
Dennis didn’t react to the guy’s hand or address. The guy took this silence as acceptance and went forward again, this time taking exaggerated care not to contact Dennis. He made his way past Den and to the next in the queue.
Scott leaned over to Adam. ‘Fuckwit.’
‘It isn’t worth the hassle,’ Adam said.
Up in front, there was a sudden uncertain movement, the guy with the tattoo was reeling back, he caught Dennis hard and Dennis almost stumbled into Adam. Beyond him, stepping closer, was a heavyset man with a clean-shaven rugby-captain face. ‘Yeah, I fucking mind,’ he was saying. ‘Wait your turn, you prick.’
The guy with tattoos regained his footing and stepped right into the other guy, who didn’t give. He was still smiling. A circle had formed around them to watch, no-one giving their full intention for fear of igniting something.
‘You won’t mind if I step through though? But if you do that’s okay. I’ll just be here right behind you right, is that okay? I’ll just be right behind you.’
Adam was right beside both of them. He felt a rush of involvement, but he didn’t know what he could do to help matters now. The guy with the tattoo was talking non-stop and smiling, repeating himself endlessly, apparently not that interested in the feedback he was getting. The other guy was still taking umbrage from this behaviour, and he pushed the tattooed guy in the chest, hard.
The bouncers had seen enough. ‘Oi! Knock it off or you’ll both be turned away, all right?’
The rugby-captain guy was upset by this prospect. ‘Hey, don’t you start, this fuckwit came at me!’
‘Both of you turned away if you don’t shut it! I saw you pushing him, haven’t seen him pushing anyone around. Just let it go mate.’
The tattooed guy was pleased with this. ‘Thanks guys, it’s all under control eh.’
‘No more bullshit from you,’ the bouncer siad. He and his friend were both very wide, Polynesian, and clearly sick of the night already. Their faces betrayed their determintion to take no shit from anyone, any time, ever.
As soon as Adam was close enough they asked him for ID. Adam fished out the card and handed it over. The bouncer glared at it, then at Adam. ‘What star sign are you?’
Adam’s mouth hung open.
Back on the strip, the vibe had picked up. The shiny cover on everyone had been worn away by the alcohol, real faces could sometimes be seen, drunken people messing themselves up to find whatever the hell it is that matters.
‘Well, that was a big fucking waste of time,’ Scott said.
Richard was philosophical. ‘The bouncers were pissed off by those other guys. It was just bad timing. We’re going to Ecstasy now, anyway. That okay with everyone?’
Ecstasy was one of the old-reliable clubs, where you would always guarantee a good bunch of people dancing to a good music selection. So Adam had heard, anyway. He wasn’t sure if this clubbing thing was really him, but he couldn’t deny he was having a great time. Which was especially odd considering he’d just been humiliated. He still didn’t know the star sign of his fake birthday. Now that he’d been rumbled, and nothing seemed to have changed, he didn’t even care.
Adam and Scott were side by side. ‘Hey,’ Adam began, making the effort to focus and be serious through a pleasant haze of intoxication. ‘Um, I was talking to Richard before. About Dennis, you know? And how he’s not going to be around when Richard goes? You know, he won’t… the four of us won’t be? Well, I don’t get why that is. I thought Dennis was our friend. Is our friend. Isn’t he? But still…’
Scott nodded. ‘Fuck, Adam, I don’t know. It’s complicated.’
Adam thought that might be all. He shrugged, not quite sure what he’d even been asking.
Eventually Scott began again. ‘Being friends isn’t like being relations. It’s like, we lock together in pretty complex ways. It gets convoluted and messed up, it has to, because that’s how friendships work. When Richard goes, that’ll break up the balance, and when the balance goes, we all get shaken up. We can’t fight that, we just have to find the right new balance.’
‘Can’t fight that,’ Adam agreed.
‘And I guess Dennis doesn’t want to be involved in a shake-up.’
Adam thought it through. ‘What if we don’t find the balance?’
‘Maybe that’s what Dennis is afraid of. Or maybe he’s worried that we will.’
Adam hadn’t been sure of any of this that he was talking about now, but with some drinks inside him it all seemed very certain. He went with it while the feeling lasted, and said something he had never expected to say. ‘I think he’s angry at Richard for leaving.’
Scott thought about this. His voice was low when he spoke. ‘Sometimes, he reminds me a lot of Richard.’
Adam nodded seriously. ‘Yeah. Me too.’