We could hold hands for fifteen minutes in the sauna
We could hold hands for a pool length underwater
Nick Nelson, 31st December
My mate Harry has organised parties at his giant town house regularly since he was about fifteen. Harry Greene is probably the most notorious individual out of everyone who attends Higgs and Truham. Everyone knows his name because it’s almost exactly the same as the name of the girls’ school, Harvey Greene Grammar School, aka Higgs. In Year 9 Harry made up a rumour that his great-great-grandmother was the founder of Higgs. Every time we went there for whatever reason – certificate presentations or to watch our friend Sai in the brass band concerts – he would touch the painting of the actual founder and say, “Rest in peace, great-great-gran.” Total bollocks.
I asked my boyfriend Charlie what he was doing for New Year’s Eve last week but I honestly didn’t think his parents would let him go out at night to Harry’s – a place well-known by parents as a site of stereotypical teen chaos. Charlie said his family usually stayed at home and didn't really do much.
So I asked if he wanted to go to Harry’s party, and he was like, yes.
He was only allowed to go if his sister went with him, which was fine for Tori, apparently, because all her friends were going anyway. So we planned to meet there at around ten. Harry makes sure his parties start late so they finish late and he knows people get tired and fucked out of their brains after a couple of hours. Harry might be a slimy little dickhead but he at least knows the science of throwing a fucking rage of a party.
Anyway, yeah, basically, what I’ve been trying to get to is the fact that it’s quarter past ten and Charlie is nowhere to be found. This wouldn’t be so worrying if it weren’t for the fact that Charlie is never late to anything ever.
I’m sitting on a sofa with one of my other mates, Sai Verma. The house is packed – it always is at Harry’s, since he knows everyone. His playlists are always the best too – a mix of club classics and remixed chart-toppers. Everyone’s always dancing like idiots in his giant basement by eleven o’clock.
Harry saunters up to us with a beer in each hand, holding them out to me and Sai.
Sai takes his but I shake my head.
“You not drinking, Nicky?” he asks with a confused frown. Normally I’d be the first to crack open the beer.
“Nah, mate,” I say, “I’m driving.” I don’t mention the fact that I’ve decided not to drink while Charlie can’t drink because of his medication, and Sai doesn’t say that either. Sai’s my closest friend, probably because he’s the least dickhead-ish person I know, so it’s usually him I tell stuff like that.
“Oh, fair.” Harry nods. He withdraws what appears to be a bottle of pure vodka from his back jeans pocket and takes a swig. I think Harry’s going to end up as some sort of eccentric old man who has a billion stories to tell. He already looks the part in a white button-up shirt. “Where’s your boy?”
“Charlie? He’s on his way.”
“Hm. Would have thought you’d arrive together.”
I chuckle. “Nope, sometimes we do things separately.”
“Well that’s absolutely news to me, Nicky.”
I laugh again. “That’s harsh.”
He shrugs and takes another swig of vodka. “It’s true, my friend. How often have you seen him this holiday?”
“Well... like every day.”
Harry throws out his arms in an ‘I told you so’ gesture.
“Come on, Harry,” says Sai from his seat next to me. “If you had a girlfriend, you’d be all over that non-stop.”
“But I would remain my own man. We’d love each other but we’d love ourselves too.”
Sai splutters a laugh. “You twat.”
“I’m just saying.” Harry turns back to me. “I seriously think you might be too obsessed with each other.”
I grin at him. “Is that even possible?”
He pauses and then points a finger at me, raising his eyebrows. “You just wait. I think you’re too obsessed.” And then he slinks away, heading towards a group of Higgs girls, a few of which I recognise, including Harry’s ultimate crush, Lauren Romilly.
“What the fuck’s Harry on about now?” I ask Sai, shaking my head.
“Fuck knows,” Sai replies. “Actually, I think he might be a bit jealous of you, mate.”
“I don’t know why,” I laugh. “Who’s his girlfriend at the moment?”
“Well it was some girl called Cara but I think she dumped him.” Sai folds his arms. “He’s only ever really liked Lauren, anyway.”
I wait a while longer, continually checking my phone, but by the time it hits half ten, I decide it’s time to call Charlie. Just to make sure he hasn’t died in a car crash or something.
I step out the house into the front garden, past the smokers, and sit down on a brick wall. I hardly ever get cold but I do sort of wish I’d brought a jumper.
Charlie picks up after a couple of rings. “Nick?”
“Charles, where you at?”
“I’ve just arrived, I’m in the hallway!”
I frown and spin around. “What? I literally just walked that way.”
“Yeah, I’m in the front garden!”
“Oh... that’s weird!”
“Hang on, I’ll come back inside.”
“Yeah I’m just- oh hi, yeah I’m good thanks- I’m just in the kitchen- no, no, I’m not drinking-”
I stand up and walk swiftly back towards the house.
“Nick, my phone’s about to run out of battery- yeah it’s just Nick, wait a sec-”
“Just stay in the kitchen and I’ll meet you there.”
“Nick? You still there?”
“Charlie, I’ll meet you in the-”
“Oh my god, it’s so loud. Nick? I’m just- oh hey, Harry, you alright- Nick, I’m just-”
His voice stops. I look at my phone screen. It says ‘Call Ended’. I call him back but it just goes to voicemail. His battery must have run out.
Ten minutes later and I’m wandering around the house, looking for him, straining my eyes in the dim light for a sweep of black hair and that slightly rigid way he stands. Of course, he wasn’t in the kitchen when I went there. And I’ve already walked in on two different couples making out. I head back to the kitchen and get a glass of lemonade, really sort of wishing I could have a shot just to calm down.
Back in the lounge, Sai is in literally the exact same position as when I left him, which is unsurprising, except now he’s in conversation with Becky Allen, Charlie’s sister Tori’s best friend. And on Becky’s other side on the sofa is Tori herself, her chin resting in one hand, blinking slowly as if she’s about to fall asleep. As usual, she seems to be trying to bury herself inside an enormous jumper.
She raises her head as I walk over to her, and she shoots me a small smile and waves.
“Did Charlie find you?” she asks.
“No. Have you seen him?”
“Like fifteen minutes ago, yeah. He said he was going to find you. Then he got dragged away by Harry Greene.”
“Harry Greene?” I start to laugh. “Oh fucking hell.”
Tori says nothing. She just looks at me.
“If you see him, can you tell him to meet me here?” I say, gesturing to the lounge around us.
“Yeah, sure.” Tori smiles a little again with the corner of her mouth. “Good luck.”
Harry obviously wasn’t joking when he started going on about me and Charlie being obsessed with each other. I know Harry Greene. I have done for years. Harry Greene likes games. He likes testing people. And that’s what he wants to do tonight – he wants to test us by separating us on the one night of the year where you really do want to be with your boyfriend or girlfriend.
He’s my friend, but I said he was a dickhead, didn’t I?
By half past eleven, I’m pretty much ready to kill a person. Most people are drunk by now – Harry’s massive supply of spirits saw to that – and loads of people have filtered off into the basement to dance. I’ve circled the house at least ten times, not even finding any of Charlie’s friends, let alone Charlie himself. I’ve asked dozens of people if they’ve seen him, but most people say they haven’t. Some of Harry’s friends laugh a little when they say that, which makes me think that I’m probably right, and this whole thing is Harry’s doing.
It’s such a typical Harry thing to do – it’s probably hilarious to everyone Harry has helping him hide Charlie from me, but he doesn’t give a shit that maybe, actually, me and Charlie kind of do want to hang out on the first New Year’s Eve that we’ve been a couple.
Back in the basement, I finally find someone else who might help me – Tao Xu, Charlie’s best friend. Tao Xu doesn’t really like me because he accuses me of constantly taking Charlie away from him, and also I find his whole filmmaker-indie-kid image absolutely fucking hysterical.
Tao's sat on the floor against a wall with his girlfriend Elle Argent. Despite the fact that it’s basically a sauna in this basement, he’s wearing a bright red knitted beanie and a tartan scarf. Elle is also wearing a beanie. It’s scary how they dress almost identically all of the time. If Harry wants to talk about couples being obsessed with each other, he needs to look at Tao and Elle, not me and Charlie.
I barge through the dancers and kneel down next to Tao, who looks up at me with mild alarm. I never talk to him when Charlie’s not around.
“Tao, you seen Charlie!?” I shout in his ear.
For a moment, I can see him considering not helping me, which would be fair enough, the amount I’ve teased him. But he’s a good guy at heart.
“Harry and his lot are trying to keep you two apart until midnight,” Tao shouts back. “They’ve got everyone betting on it.”
My suspicions were correct. Harry’s playing a game.
“What have they done with Charlie?” I start to panic a little, seeing images of Charlie being locked in a cupboard somewhere or forced into a car and driven away.
“They just keep moving him from room to room when they see you coming,” Tao shouts. “I don’t think he even figured out it was happening until like twenty minutes ago.”
“Why aren’t you stopping it!?”
“Nick, I’ve tried, you know what Harry’s lot are like.”
Elle leans over Tao, her tight black ringlets narrowly missing his drink, the fairy lights flashing off her dark skin. “Nick, you need to try and corner them on the third floor. There’s only one staircase.”
*author's note: Luke's name changed to Tao for the Nick and Charlie ebook
“How do I get them up there?”
Tao's head snaps round to Elle. “We’ll help?”
Elle laughs. “Oh yeah, we’re having such fun sitting here drinking in a basement.” She jumps to her feet and pulls Tao up too. “Come on. This is so completely Wes Anderson.”
I don’t know who Wes Anderson is but I need all the help I can bloody get.
At the top of the second floor staircase, Elle jogs back towards us after scouting out the area. She’d claimed no one would suspect her, since no one directly associates her with Charlie whereas everyone knows that Charlie is Tao's only actual friend.
“Okay,” she says, adjusting her beanie as if it were Sherlock’s deerstalker. “Harry, some of his friends and Charlie are talking to some Year 11 Higgs girls in that room down there-” She points over the heads of those milling about in the corridor towards the room at the far end, which is, as far as I can remember, some kind of games room. “Charlie tried to excuse himself but Harry keeps saying that he wants everyone to talk to Charlie because he’s been missing in action for like three months.”
I frown. “Charlie wouldn’t take any of that shit. He’d just leave.”
“That’s what I thought,” nods Elle in agreement. “But apparently Harry’s told Charlie that you got super drunk and went home.”
I pause for a second, and then say, “Fuck.”
I decided the not-drinking thing while Charlie was still in the hospital. As soon as we both realised that he couldn’t drink anymore while he was on medication, I decided. I told him I didn’t want to drink if he couldn’t drink.
Harry’s just gone from being a stupid joker to being an actual piece of shit.
I groan and rub my eyes. “I can’t believe this.”
“Guys?” A voice from behind us on the stairs startles me, and I spin around. It’s Sai, still holding a beer bottle, looking almost amused. “What’s happening? Nicholas, you look like you’re about to have a panic attack.”
Since I’m kind of freaking out too much to explain anything, Tao quickly updates him on the situation.
Sai’s smile slowly drops. When Tao's finished, he gives me a long, blank look. Then he looks down the corridor. Then back at me. “Do you want me to go and sort him out?” he says, like he’s Harry’s Mum. Which he is, metaphorically.
“There’s no way he’s gonna stop now,” I say, shaking my head. “He’s come too far. You know what he’s like.”
Sai considers this, and then says, “That’s true. What’s your plan?”
Both Tao and I turn immediately to Elle.
Elle folds her arms. “Well, I reckon we just charge them. We’ve got Tao and Nick, which they’re all avoiding, so as long as one of you stays here by the staircase, and the other one moves towards them, they’ve got no option but to go up the other staircase at that end of the corridor.” She points towards the room where Harry and Charlie are. “Then we all just go upstairs and corner them there.” She looks at me. “Sound good?”
I check my phone. “It’s quarter to twelve.” Quarter to fireworks. Quarter to the New Year. I need to be with Charlie before then.
Elle doesn’t drop her gaze. “We’d better move fucking fast then, hadn’t we.” She puts her drink on the floor and pulls up her jeans. “Let’s do this.”
As soon as I make it halfway down the corridor, the door to the room where Harry is keeping Charlie hostage slams shut. I charge towards it without hesitation and burst into the room, but the group have already escaped through another door into another room, leading back the way I came. I run through it and find myself in someone’s empty bedroom, and then back out into the corridor, only for a group of guys to literally charge past me, obviously having been unable to escape down the stairs that Elle, Tao and Sai are guarding.
In the group are about six or seven guys, Harry clearly visible among the rest due to his crisp white shirt, and I can only guess that Charlie must be in the middle somewhere, hidden from me, being dragged along. Harry sees me as they run past and shrieks, “HE’S COMING!” and I watch them tear down the corridor towards the stairs at the end. I run after as each one disappears through the doorway, and just before they shut the door on me he appears – Charlie – spinning round and staring at me with confused eyes and asking, “...Nick?”
But then he’s gone, the door shut and locked.
“What a fucking prick,” says Sai as he, Tao and Elle catch up to me, and he’s not even slightly joking this time. “Is it locked?”
“Yeah,” I say, but I’m not joking anymore either, and I take a few steps backwards.
Elle realises before either of the guys do. “Oh my God, Nick, don’t-”
I run and slam my full weight into the door.
The lock makes a loud snap and the door opens inwards. I don’t look back to see whether anyone else is watching, I just walk on through, Elle, Tao and Sai on my tail, Tao mumbling “Jesus fucking Christ, he broke the fucking door.”
I go up the stairs two at a time, not sure whether I’m embarrassed or thrilled by how angry I am with Harry. I don’t know why I’m surprised, Harry always takes jokes too far – but he’s never done it to me before. I don’t know whether I feel betrayed or frustrated. Or just sad that I’ve missed a whole evening of being with Charlie. Maybe Harry’s right. Maybe I am obsessed. I don’t give a fuck.
The third floor of Harry’s house has only one short corridor and one room on either side, with a window at the far end. When we get there, the corridor is empty and both doors are shut, meaning that they must be in one of them.
“I’ll take the left,” says Elle, catching up to me. “You take the-”
But she’s interrupted by the sound of shouting coming from the room on the left, followed by scuffling, followed by the door bursting open and Charlie stumbling out of the room as if he’s just run through a hedge. He spins around on the spot, momentarily uncertain as to where he is, before seeing me again. His eyes light up and he goes to call out to me as I step forwards to go to him but before I get to him Harry and his flock of lads burst from the room and create a human barrier between me and Charlie, Harry at the front, grinning wildly at me with drunk eyes.
Before I can say anything or punch anyone, Sai steps in front of me.
“Harry, mate, this has gone a bit far, hasn’t it?”
Harry lets out a loud laugh. He seems to be having a bit of trouble staying upright. “Oh Sai, don’t be a pussy.” All of the guys laugh. “It’s just a joke, isn’t it Nicky?”
I step forward, but Sai swings out an arm to stop me, aware that if I get too close to Harry, I probably will do something I regret.
“Ha ha ha, hilarious, we’re all dying,” says Sai, completely deadpan, and I hear Elle snort out a laugh. Sai continues, “Can Nick just spend at least five minutes of New Year’s Eve with his boyfriend now?”
Harry pouts. “Aw, I was just trying to make a point.” He points at me. “They’re literally obsessed with each other. They can’t do anything without each other, for fuck’s sake! It’s got to be unhealthy.”
“Oh come on, mate, don’t pull the psychology crap.”
“Excuse me.” Harry and Sai turn as Elle steps forward. “Sorry, is it Harry?” she says. Harry frowns. “Harry, you’re drunk and you’re being a twat. Could you please move out of the way, babe.”
Several of the guys laugh, but Harry only says, “Who the fucking hell are you?”
“I’m Elle,” says Elle, and then she grins widely. “If you don’t move within the next five seconds, I’m telling everyone at Higgs that you have a tiny penis.”
All the guys burst into cries of “Ooooo”, but that quickly ends when Elle looks at them and says, “That goes for the rest of you as well, dickheads.”
Harry squints but doesn’t back down. “They’d never believe you.”
Elle twirls her hair in one finger. “All it’ll take is another crazy Harry story where he gets naked while drunk. Everyone would believe that. You’ve got a bit of a reputation already, babe.”
Harry grits his teeth, and finally locks eyes with me again. “Fine,” he snaps. “Fine. I was just working for the greater good, but fine. You would have thanked me in the future when you realised I was the one to make you strong, independent men.”
I shake my head. And then I find myself laughing at him. “You have literally no fucking clue about any of this stuff, do you?”
But Harry doesn’t seem to hear me. He walks past me, grumbling something along the lines of “Such a fucking killjoy”, the lads following him and attempting to laugh it all off.
And then the only person left is Charlie.
He breaks out into a grin and it must be how panicked I’ve felt for the last hour and a half or something but right now he just looks so beautiful, it’s like I haven’t seen him for a year, let alone an hour. I run towards him and grab him, wrapping my arms around him, his hair brushing my cheek and his arms round my waist and we just hold each other, the feeling so familiar but still so perfect. It takes everything to not kiss him right there in front of the others, minutes before midnight, so instead I just run both my hands through his already ruffled hair and gaze at him, unable to think about anything else, Charlie’s ice eyes, the soft way he says, “Oh my god, oh my god,” my Adidas sweatshirt that he’s been wearing all holiday, his favourite checked shirt underneath, his worn-out skinny jeans and his beat-up Converse and his beautiful, contagious smile-
“I thought you went home,” he says, his hands squeezing my t-shirt. “They said you got really drunk...”
“Harry’s a lying piece of shit.” I let my hands fall from his hair and onto his shoulders. “I said I wasn’t going to drink.”
“I know, I just thought...” He glances to one side, embarrassed, and chuckles. “I don’t know. It’s a tall order, you not drinking.”
I laugh. “Harsh.”
“Are you okay? They didn’t drag you around too much, did they?”
“I’m fine, they just kept making me talk to all these random people. I didn’t really get what was happening until I saw you there.” He laughs suddenly. “Oh, and then Harry carried me up the stairs.”
“Yeah... he’s quite small, I didn’t think he’d manage it, but he was quite drunk I suppose...”
I grin. They didn’t hurt him. Charlie’s fine. I pull him into another hug, and he splutters out an exasperated laugh and says, “Nick, I’m fine!”
“I was... really fucking worried.”
“I don’t know.” I lower my voice. “I thought they might have... locked you in a cupboard somewhere...”
“Harry’s just a dumb attention-seeker, not a torturer.”
“Guys.” Elle’s voice interrupts us. We both turn towards where she stands, her arm slung around Tao's neck, Sai next to them with his arms folded. “It’s like one minute till midnight. We’d better get outside.”
I look back at Charlie, an idea springing into my head. “Harry carried you upstairs, did he?”
Charlie just has time to say, “What?” before I move one arm behind his knees and the other beneath his arms and lift him into the air. He’s not really that much shorter than me but he’s still a lot slighter, and carrying him, as I have previously found, is extremely fun.
He immediately shrieks “Nick! Oh my god-” and clings onto my neck but I just pelt down the corridor, past Elle, who’s grinning like we’re the funniest thing she’s seen all day, past Tao, who’s just looking kind of done by this point, and past Sai who raises an eyebrow in that all-knowing way of his. I run with Charlie in my arms all the way downstairs, through the corridors, through the lounge and the kitchen and out of the patio doors. Everyone’s already crowded round where Becky Allen and Lauren Romilly have got some fireworks set up and are fending off some interfering guys, flicking lighters at them like they’re part of some kind of girl gang.
He’s still mid-laugh when I drop his feet and let him stand up again. “Okay, you’re better at that than Harry.” But before I have a chance to reply, Becky Allen is screaming, “THIRTY SECONDS!” and the whole crowd is screaming too, everyone with a drink or a sparkler in their hand, everyone scrambling to grab someone to get off with.
“It’s probably because he’s an absolutely failure in relationships," says Charlie.
“That’s also what I said.”
“TWENTY SECONDS!” shrieks Becky.
“I’m extremely obsessed with you,” I say.
Charlie scrunches up his nose and looks away briefly, like what I’ve said is something he didn’t already know. “Well...” He looks back at me. “I’m extremely obsessed with you too.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I spot Tori sitting by herself on a bench by the lounge window. It looks a little bit like she’s smiling but I’m not too sure.
Charlie shivers suddenly, rubbing one arm with the opposite hand. “I am freezing. How are you not freezing?”
“Adrenaline?” I say, smiling. “I’ve been pretty fucking stressed for the past hour.”
“You’re an idiot.”
Charlie runs his hands over my arms and presses himself against me. My heart aches. There hasn’t been enough of this, enough of us, over the past few months. I want to hold him all the time just to make up for all the time we’ve missed. I pull him closer.
“I love you,” he says, and it takes me by surprise because though we’ve both said that before, we don’t say it that often, and the last time I said it might have been the day-
“I love you too,” I say, and just as Becky and Lauren set the fireworks off, I kiss him, I kiss him like I did that day in the hospital, like we want to go back and rewrite everything that’s happened so that we’re never not together. His hand tightens in my hair and my arm tightens around his waist and he draws in a breath as we change directions and kiss again, kiss until Charlie stops shivering and after, kiss until the fireworks and the teenagers stop screaming, kiss forever and ever. I pull away and kiss across his cheek and his jaw and his neck until he’s laughing and pressing his temple against mine. I kiss him one more time and say, “Happy New Year, Charles,” and he says, “Happy New Year” and kisses me back. We could play this game forever because we’re both the fucking winners.
We spend the next hour literally inseparable, talking to everyone we know. Some people have moved the speakers outside so people have started dancing again, but Charlie and I aren’t really into that, so we stick with walking around, chatting to people, chatting to each other, chatting about whatever.
At about one o’clock we find ourselves slumped back on the sofa I started on, Charlie’s legs resting on top of mine, his head on my shoulder. The music is quieter now, people having filtered off, some people gone home, some people sleeping on various chairs and sofas, some people just passed out on the floor. I wish this night would never end.
“Nick...” says Charlie after a few minutes of silence.
“You know you’re driving me home...”
“And your Mum’s out.”
He raises his head and meets my eye. “Could I stay at yours instead?”
I say nothing for a moment. Charlie wants to stay at mine. We’ve never done that before. I mean, like, we’ve done stuff but we’ve never done actual sleeping over-
“You really want to?”
“Do you want me to?”
“No, do you want to?”
“Nick, obviously I want to. I asked.”
“Well obviously I want you to.”
“So that’s a yes.” Charlie leans in, but I lean back, eyebrows raised.
Of course I want him to stay over. We've been going out for eight months and we still haven't found a way for one of us to stay a whole night at the other's house, not with Charlie's strict parents and my brother hanging around my house all summer and everything that happened in the autumn and all I want to do, all I've wanted to do since I realised I liked him, is just be with him all night and wake up with him in the morning.
"We can't," I say, my voice hoarse, but as he leans closer, his eyes pale and the corner of his mouth curling into a smile, every part of me is screaming to just say yes. "Your parents... they wanted you home by two... didn't they?"
Charlie's smile drops and he moves back a little, looking away. He stays silent for a moment, before mumbling, "We could just... break the rules or something."
And I would. I would in a second, if both me and Charlie didn't know that his parents are right, that he needs to go home and be with his family. We can't break the rules now, not so soon after Charlie's come back from the hospital, not still while he's following an eating schedule and missing school and his parents have to check his room every day for sharp objects-
"We can't," I say.
Charlie says nothing. Then he nods, not looking at me. "Yeah."
I can't afford to fuck up again. I'm not going to let anything bad happen to him. I'm going to do everything right this time.
I lean my head against the sofa and take his hand in mine. He turns back to face me, unable to conceal the sadness in his eyes.
"Kiss me," I say.
He lets out a small laugh. "Is that your answer to everything?"
"Well when it's not my Plan A, it's at least my Plan B."
"Ugh, you're so gross."
"You mean smooth."
He grins and looks away again, but it fades a little when he looks back.
"Please stop worrying about me," he says.
I squeeze his hand. "I can't."
“I’m fine now,” he says.
And I want to believe him. I really fucking want to believe him. He runs a hand through my hair and I could fall asleep right there, and he says it again, his eyes burning into mine.
“I’m fine now.”
“Okay,” I say, my voice not much more than a whisper, and then he leans in and kisses me, and I can't wait until what he's saying is actually true.
i'm sorry for being terrible at writing romance. i tried to get across the feels. hopefully you enjoyed it. people were screaming at me for a nick story and i was happy to oblige but he's not really a very developed character in solitaire so this one was a lot harder than the others (which is probably why i ended up writing more of an actual STORY rather than a snapshot like the others). hope you liked the illustrations! i now have only 45 minutes to get ready to go out because of them lol lol lol.
have a lovely new year's eve, and a happy new year!