Home > Don't You Forget About Me(2)

Don't You Forget About Me(2)
Author: Mhairi McFarlane

I had a second’s confusion as my sight settled on the rogue sentence, then a warmth swept up my neck and down my arms.

I love your laugh. X

It was there, in Bic blue, an unexpected page footer. It was so casual, I’d almost missed it. Why didn’t he text me? (We’d exchanged numbers, in case pressing, Brontë-related questions arose.) I knew why. A direct message was unequivocal. This could be denied if necessary.

So it was mutual, this newfound obsession with the company of Lucas McCarthy. I’d never had a spark like this before, and certainly not with a male, whose skin, I’d noticed, was like the inside of a seashell.

I’d gone from not noticing Lucas ever to being consumed by noticing him constantly. I developed the sensory awareness of an apex predator: at any time I could tell you where Lucas was in the common room, without you ever seeing my eyes flicker toward him.

Eventually, I had printed shakily underneath:

I love yours too. X

I handed the folder back to Lucas at the end of the next lesson, our eyes darting guiltily towards each other and away again. When it was once more in my possession, that page had gone missing.

I didn’t know what falling love felt like, I’d never done it before. I discovered you recognise it easily when it arrives.

We found every excuse to revise, out of hours, and the weather meant we could use the excuse of meeting outdoors, in the Botanical Gardens.

We were going on dates, but the revision aids strewn around the grass provided a fig leaf. Truly, I could’ve hugged Mrs Pemberton.

At first, we talked incessantly, devouring information. His life in Dublin, our families, our plans for the future, favourite music, films, books. This dark, serious, laconic Irish boy was an ongoing surprise. He put nothing on show, you had to find it out for yourself: not the deadpan quick humour, not the good looks he could’ve worn conspicuously simply by walking tall, not the sharp intelligence. He was self-contained. By contrast, I felt uncontained.

When I spoke, he concentrated on me intently. Through Lucas’s fascination, I saw myself differently. I was worthy. I didn’t have to try so hard.

The third time we met, in about five days, Lucas leaned over to whisper something in my ear about a group nearby, and I shivered. It was a ruse, he didn’t need to get so close, and I felt us move up a gear.

Lucas said, as he tentatively smoothed the wisps from my ponytail back into place: ‘Is your hair real?’

We collapsed in hysterics.

‘Is that the real colour! Colour! That’s what I meant. Ah, God …’

I wiped tears away. ‘Yes this wig is my real colour. I get my wiggist to match them up.’

Lucas said, unguarded and weak from the mirth: ‘It’s beautiful.’

We both gulped and looked at each other heavily and that was it, we were kissing.

After that, we started revising every day. Barrier broken with that kiss, our feelings spilled out more each time we met. Secrets were whispered between us, fears and desires, the risky intimacies piled up. He had a pet name for me. I had never been seen like this before. I had never dared to be seen like this before.

Before I met Lucas, my body had been something to angst over and regret: not thin enough, chest too big, thighs too much in contact. When grappling with him, I learned to love it. Despite being fully clothed, I couldn’t miss the dramatic effect it had on him: the heat between us, his heart rate, our rapid breathing. I pushed myself against him so I could feel the lump in his jeans and think: I caused that. The thought of being some place private where we could properly clash pelvises was almost too thrilling for me to contemplate.

We kept it all a secret. I don’t quite know why, there was no moment we agreed to it. It was simply an understanding.

There was still this giant ridiculous stigma at school about anybody getting together with anyone. I couldn’t face the whooping and applause in the corridors, the nudging, the smirking, the questions about what we’d done that would make both our faces burn. And I knew I’d get teased, more so than him. For lads, a notch was a notch, and, brutally, I was well liked and Lucas wasn’t. The boys would caw and mock and the girls would say ‘ewwww?’

It was much easier to wait, because soon the captivity, school and its cruel rules, would be over.

It’s factually accurate to say the first male to see my outfit for the leavers’ party was stunned, and his jaw dropped. Sadly, he was eight years old, and a right little toerag.

As I stepped out into the balmy early evening, dolled not up to the nines but the tens, the next-door neighbour’s son was flipping the door knocker to be let in, using the tattered stick of the ice pop he’d been gnawing on. His mouth was dyed alien-raspberry.

‘Why is your face so bright?’ he said, which could sound like he’d correctly assessed my mood, but he meant the sixty-eight cosmetics I’d plastered myself with.

‘Piss off, Willard,’ I said, jovially. ‘Look at the state of yours.’

‘I can see your boobies!’ he added, and darted indoors before I could cuff him.

I adjusted my dress and fretted that Willard – despite being no Vogue intern himself, in his Elmo sweatshirt – was right, it was too much. It was deep scarlet with a sweetheart neckline that was quite low cut, and I had the kind of bosoms that tended to assert themselves. I’d been distracted getting ready because it was the first time in my life I’d put on underwear knowing I wouldn’t be the person taking it off. The thought gave me vertigo.

Lucas and I were on a promise. As clothed make-out sessions became almost as frustrating as they were exciting, I had suggested to him that we could stay over together ‘in town’ after the sixth form prom. I acted casual, as if this was an obvious thing to do. Even tried to play it off as something I might’ve done before. I didn’t know if he had.

‘Sure,’ he’d said, with a look and a smile that got me right in the heart and groin.

I was so excited I was almost floating: I know the exact day I’m going to lose my virginity, and it’s going to be with him.

I’d gone to the Holiday Inn earlier that day, checked in, left some things, gazed at the double bed in wonder, come back and reminded my indifferent parents I was staying at Jo’s. Luckily my sister was away, as Esther could smell a fib of mine a mile off.

The party was in a plastic shamrock Irish pub in the city centre, a function room with a trestle table full of beige food and troughs of cheap booze in plastic bins, filled to the brim with ice that would soon melt into a swamp.

It was strange, both Lucas and I being there, knowing the intimacy that was planned afterwards, but pretending to be distant to each other. I caught sight of him across the room, in a black corduroy shirt, sipping from a can of lager. We shared an imperceptible nod.

Up until now, keeping our involvement to ourselves had felt pragmatic. Tonight though, it finally felt off. What was there to hide? Did it imply shame, whether we meant it to or not? Would he rather have been open? Was it an insult he had tacitly accepted?

I was a little anguished, but we’d set a course we had to sail now. I could raise it later. Later. I could barely believe it’d arrive. My head swam.

I was drinking cider and black, too fast: I could feel my inhibitions dissolving in its acidic fizzle. Richard – now, Rick, I’d learned – Hardy said: ‘You look fit.’ I quivered, murmured thanks. ‘Like a high class prozzy with a heart of gold. That’s your “look”, right?’

‘Hahaha,’ I said, while everyone fell about. This was grown-up banter and I was lucky to be part of it.

As the evening wore on, I felt like I was in a circle of light and laughter, among the halo-ed ones, and I didn’t know why I’d underestimated myself until now. I mean, OK I was inebriated, but suddenly, being liked seemed a total cinch.

Jo and I shared a wondering look with each other: could school really be over? We’d survived? And we were going out on a high?

‘Hey, George.’

Rick Hardy beckoned me over. He was calling me George, now?! Oh, I had truly cracked this thing. He was leaning against a wall by a bin of tins, with the usual gaggle of sycophants around him. Rumours were he wasn’t going to bother with university: his band was getting ‘big label interest’.

‘I want to show you something,’ he said.


‘Not here.’

Rick unstuck himself from the wall in one sinuous, nascent rock star move, and handed his drink to an admirer. He outstretched a palm and gestured for mine – I could feel multiple pairs of eyes swivel towards us – and said: ‘Come with me.’

In surprise, I put my drink down with a bump, put my hand into his and let him lead me through the throng. My bets were on either a new car or a large spliff. I could style either out.

I glanced over at Lucas to reassure him this wasn’t anything, obviously. He gave me the exact same look as when I’d first been sat next to him.

How badly are you going to hurt me?



‘And the soup today is carrot and tomato,’ I conclude, with a perky note of ta-dah! flourish that orange soup doesn’t justify.

(‘Is carrot and tomato soup even a thing?’ I said to head chef Tony, as he poked a spoon into a cauldron bubbling with ripe vegetal odours. ‘It is now, Tinkerbell tits.’ I don’t think Tony graduated from the Roux Academy. Or the charm academy.)

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