Episode 6: The Bop
The Sunday Serial continues with a traumatic bop…
Catch up on last week’s episode here
From the outside, Trinity seemed unusually quiet for 6pm on a Saturday. The bells rang out across a Great Court which was empty save for a single porter – Eddie – making his unhurried way to the plodge. Eddie knew, of course, where the students were. It was the college’s biannual bop, and they were all getting ready. The freshers had barely been able to conceal their excitement throughout the day, but everyone else was allowing themselves an ironic enjoyment only. Eddie hated that. ‘Mind you,’ he thought, ‘the theme is terrible.’ The theme was ‘Underwater.’ Eddie thought back fondly to the only theme he’d ever approved of: ‘Tigers and Missiles.’ It had been the autumn of ’98 and he’d had to confiscate two guns. He sighed. Bops these days were just glitter and hats, weren’t they. Glitter and hats and sea-lions.
50 metres away, however, in Anna’s room, there was not a sea-lion or ironic smile in sight. Anna had decided to go as seaweed, and Zoe was plaiting her hair in a complicated ‘seaweed plait’ which involved lots of little loose tendrils, her own clam costume being, fortunately, reasonably minimalist. The conversation, as it always seemed to do these days, had turned to Billy.
‘Remind me again why you didn’t reply to any of his texts?’ Sophie was staring at her hard.
‘I told you. He likes me too much.’
‘What an outrageously privileged thing to say.’
‘He looks at me as if I’m really special.’ Anna spread her hands. ‘It’s too much. It makes me feel uncomfortable. His texts were really….sincere.’
‘Oh, I’m Anna and a boy likes me. My life is so difficult.’
‘You know what’s also difficult, Anna?’ Zoe stepped in.
When no boys like you.’
‘What about Neville…from Spoons?’ Anna suggested lamely. Zoe tugged the brush in Anna’s hair.
‘You know Neville never texted me back.’
‘I think he gave you a fake name, too,’ offered Sophie.
‘Thank you, Sophie. Anyway – ’ Zoe pulled out a tendril. ‘Anyway, tonight is not about Neville.’
‘Tonight is about Billy and Anna. Anna and Billy.’
‘Promise me you’re not going to ignore Billy and go back with Horrible Rob.’ She pointed the brush at Anna. ‘Promise me. I spent a long time on your hair and Horrible Rob wouldn’t appreciate it.’ She patted Anna’s head. ‘He’s too horrible.’
Another 50 metres away, Billy Franklin was so drunk he couldn’t even see his hands.
‘I can’t see them Jed,’ he whispered in his friend’s ear. ‘I mean, I can see them, but I can’t count them. How many, Jed – how many – ’ He waved them in the air in front of Jed’s face.
Unfortunately, Jed was unable to hear Billy’s quiet slurring because his speakers were blasting out ‘Galvanize’. He assumed Billy was just dancing excitably, and so grinned and offered him another beer. He felt proud. This whole pre-drinks had been part of his plan to muster up some courage for Billy, and he was glad that he was finally entering into the spirit of things. If he had to listen to one more Anna whinge – well, sometimes he was only too thankful he’d left his dad’s gun at home.
‘Come on, champion,’ he said, pulling down one of Billy’s hands. ‘Let’s go and show the people this anenome costume.’
The bop somehow managed to be at once packed-out and lifeless. Billy spotted Anna immediately.
‘There she is,’ he breathed to Jed. ‘The angel of the sea.’
‘Steady,’ Jed whispered back, noticing Anna’s body language – she’d stiffened and angled herself towards her friends. ‘Hang around with us for a bit first, yeah?’
And so Billy let himself be led towards the bar, and be bought his ninth pint of the night.
In the years to come, Billy would look back on the night of the 15th November, and blame its outcome on a chain of unfortunate incidents. The first would be Jed’s ‘party’, the second the ninth pint, and the third would be pinned down to 9pm when Ali, the resident DJ, put on ‘The Safety Dance’.
It was, regrettably, one of Billy’s favourite songs.
Telling himself that yes, actually it was more than safe to dance, Billy launched into a complex and energetic routine.
Oh we can dance if we want to
We can leave your friends behind
His dancing was fast, aggressive and involved lots of small movements with his hands. He had a sudden flashback to the dance floor at Cousin Rachel’s wedding when Maisy told him that it was better when he was still.
And god, Billy knew he loved this song, but tonight it was really speaking to him:
We can go if we want to
The night is young and so am I
‘The night is young’ – Billy said forcefully to no one. ‘And so are all of us.’ He swung his arm around the room – ‘the night is young and all of us are young.’
Jed was choking in the corner of the room
‘Oh my god – Billy.’
Billy swung the point over to him, at which point Jed moved behind the tall girl next to him.
We can dance, we can dance, everything’s out of control
Billy started rotating on the spot, competently.
We can dance, we can dance, everyone look at your hands
Billy started clapping his hands, rhythmically.
Fifteen metres away, Anna stood mesmerised. Zoe whispered in her ear.
‘Ok. You win.’ She pointed to the corner. ‘Rob’s over there.’
‘That is the strangest hand dance I have ever seen,’ said Sophie.
It was only at 11pm that things finally started to seem as bad to Billy as they would the next day. Jed had eventually taken pity on him and tried to steer him to sit down but this process had enabled Billy to take the room in properly for the first time. He saw Anna talking to a tall dark-haired boy in the corner. He seized Jed’s sleeve.
‘Jed no – ’
‘Mate, it’s fine, they’re just talking.’
But they weren’t just talking. The boy leaned in –
Bily’s cry was loud and urgent and reached Anna across the room. She turned to him and anger, impatience and – was that hurt? – shone out of her face. She didn’t say anything but Billy bravado collapsed. He put his hand out but whether it was a gesture to apologise or seek assurance, neither were sure. They stood, looking at each other, before Anna gave him the briefest of shrugs.
‘Come on, Bill.’ Jed gently manoeuvred him out of the room.
Billy’s memories of the night turned hazy after that. He knew that he’d started to run around Trinity, and had tried to shred his anemone costume but everything apart from that was darkness…
Eddie found Billy gently snoring on the ramp leading into Great Court at 6am the next day. He was lying in some kind of glittery tattered costume. Eddie could have told him that starting a night dressed like that would end badly. He lent down and gently nudged the boy awake, quickly retreating when Billy began to stretch and yawn.
‘Good luck to you, son,’ he thought, heading into the plodge. ‘You’ve obviously had quite the night.’