Mariella Thompson was a girl who very seldom felt stress about anything, but this year she had fought long and hard for the privilege of throwing one of the most important non-birthday related social events of the school year: the Halloween house party. As one of the most popular girls in sixth year, Mariella had cunningly torpedoed any rival party ideas as far back as July, when she had "casually" suggested to Anastasia, her group's uncontested queen bee, that she should throw this year's Halloween blow-out fiesta. And once Anastasia had given her permission with a graceful shrug, Mariella had worked hard to make sure no-one in the senior school popular groups organised a rival party. To ensure she remained unchallenged, she had traded a new year's pre-drinks with Olivia-Grace Wallace, pleaded with Lavinia Barrington, negotiated with Meredith Harper and flat-out bullied Tangela Henton-Worley, Sarah-Jane Rogan and Celeste Fitzpatrick. Now, with only one day left until Halloween, Mariella was gazing at her own reflection in the first-floor girls' bathroom and silently praying that she would successfully throw the party of the year. After all, the social committee elections were coming up next term and now definitely wasn't the time to be dropping the ball when it came to party planning.
Halloween is a difficult time in any socialite's calendar and throwing a party for it is, without doubt, a double-edged sword. Unlike birthdays, new year's or Christmas, Halloween has no set rules to monitor your guests' behaviour and, as a result, a Halloween party can end up being magical, irritating, tacky, fantastic or just plain embarrassing. It's a v. useful time for girls to figure out who the closeted whores in their extended social circles are. Anyone who puts the word "sexy" in their costume title is almost certainly just looking for an excuse to turn up in public dressed as Whoregasma, Queen of the Tramps. At the other extreme from the chlamydia parade are the people who go to frustratingly minimal effort with their costumes. For the last couple of years, it has become very difficult to avoid seeing someone on Halloween who's just lazily dunked themselves face-first into a vat of talcum powder, put on a leather jacket and called themselves a vampire. That's fine if you're trying to go as one of the hotties from True Blood, but if it's Twilight or Vampire Diaries-inspired, it becomes a good deal less sexier. (Seriously, Edward? She has the personality of a cactus and you want to live with her forever?!) Mariella, who had actually embraced the vampire craze to go to last year's (awful) Halloween party at Louise Mahaffy's as Lorena Krasiki, had spent twelve weeks planning what to go to her own party as, eventually settling on Cleopatra, which she felt was glamorous and, with the right amount of bling, might just avoid being tacky.
Sweeping out of the girls' bathroom and ignoring a friendly wave from Cristyn "clingy" Evans, Mariella nearly collided with Imogen Dawson and Cameron Matthews. "Hey, you two!" she beamed. "Looking forward to tomorrow night and stuff?"
"Yeah, so much," smiled Cameron. "How're preparations going?"
"Super-stressful, but nothing I can't handle. What are you guys going as?"
"A Tudor ghost," Cameron answered.
"It's so erotic," Imogen said, enthusiastically. "He's got these leather trousers and one of those pirate shirts. It's all very Jonathan Rhys Meyer, circa season 1."
"Beau!" gasped Mariella. "I totes love it. What about the rest of you?"
"Well, I was going to come as Evita," Imogen said, "but I'm not allowed to, apparently, in case I bitch-slap everyone at the party until they agree to listen to me singing Don't cry for me, Argentina. Again. Then I considered Kimora - obvi. But finally, I've decided to go as Venus. Which I think is appropriate. Kerry's going as a mermaid and Meredith's going as Jackie O. What about you?"
"Oh, I'm going as Cleopatra. Natch. Anastasia's going as Kate Moss and Natasha, Lavinia and Tangela are all going as shady bitch hunters. You know, to hunt down shady bitches and their shady ways."
"So cool," nodded Imogen. "Okay, well, we'll see you later."
Mariella smiled, hugged them both and swept off down the corridors, in her never-ending quest for fresh gossip. As she walked away, Imogen turned towards Cameron and arched her eyebrow: "I really hope this thing isn't a train-wreck, like her sweet sixteenth."
The rain was pounding down on Belfast that night, as Cameron Matthews sat staring out of his bedroom window. Gingerly opening the door to his balcony, Cameron stepped out and was hit in the face by a blast of cold, cruel wind. Wrapping his arms tightly around himself, he stepped forward and inhaled. From here, he could see leaves being ripped off the trees that lined either side of the road in Malone Park and the hedges that lined his family's garden were bending slightly with the force of the gale. The middle three fingers of Cameron's right hand rubbed slowly in a small circle on the navy-blue cashmere sleeve of his left arm. This was nice, he thought; pleasantly dramatic and weirdly soothing. He felt some of his own thoughts and feelings drain out of him, as if they were getting swept away with the weather. For a brief moment in his overly-cerebral life, Cameron Matthews had managed to stop thinking. He was brought crashing back to reality by the vibrations of his phone in his back pocket. Reaching in, lifting it out and staring at the screen, he saw the caller ID, Blake Hartman (school), and a sudden bolt of pleasurable panic shot through him. Moving quickly across the balcony and back into his room, he clicked answer before he had closed the door behind him, nervous of missing the call.
"Hello?" he asked, in a voice that he knew sounded far too questioning. No-one answered phones with that level of curiosity since the invention of caller ID.
"Hey, it's me. It's Blake." Another piece of redundant conversation, but whatever. Cameron slammed himself back against his balcony door and locked it.
"Em, yeah, hi." Blake laughed a little on the other end of the phone at the awkwardness of his own sentence. "How are you? Are you ... Is this a bad time?"
"No! No," Cameron said, trying to keep the slight breathlessness caused by the door body-slam out of his voice. "No, now's fine. Good, actually. I'm not doing anything. I stayed in tonight. How are you?"
"I'm good. I stayed in, too. How are you?"
"Fine," Cameron said, slightly more calmly. "You?"
"Yeah, really good," Blake answered. Cameron thought he heard him sit down. Or maybe stand up. Either way, he'd moved. "So, what are you doing tomorrow night?" Blake's voice sounded almost theatrically casual on the other end of the line.
"Yes for Halloween, dinkus!" Blake laughed. "That is what tomorrow night is, isn't it?"
"Okay, jerk," Cameron smiled. "I was just checking! Ehm... well... I'm supposed to be going to this house party that Mariella Thompson's having. Do you know her? She's one of our friends in the year above. Her little sister Jenny is best friends with my sister. So... yeah. We're going there. I'm going as a ghost. That's stupid, I know. But it's actually a really good outfit. I think. Imogen thinks it is. But a ghost is dumb, right? I dunno. Anyway, yeah, I'm supposed to be going to Mariella's. Why?"
"Oh, okay. Cool."
"Did you ... I mean, did you want to do something?"
If he could have seen him, Cameron was almost certain Blake would be shrugging for the next sentence. "No, it's okay. I mean, yeah, I wanted to see if you wanted to do something. But it was nothing big. It's fine. I should've assumed you had plans. It's really short notice. It's fine."
If it's fine, then why do I feel so bad for going to Mariella's now? Cameron hated guilt more than Kerry hated work or Imogen hated sobriety. "What was it?"
"What did I want to do?"
"There's a fireworks display over Belfast Lough and I thought that maybe we could go. Fireworks are cool and Halloween's like a big thing in America. And this is the first... But it's fine. I'll get Jack to go with me. Don't worry about it."
Oh god, spending Halloween with your 11 year-old brother. Tragic! "Well, you should do something fun. I'd like to do something with ... It'd be cool to hang out, I mean! I could ask Mariella if you could come? I'm sure she wouldn't mind."
Cameron bit his lip and silently groaned at his own stupidity. In the first place, of course Mariella would mind. She'd arranged this guest list with the same care and consideration that most people put into arranging their last will and testaments and, even if she didn't mind, nothing was worse than being the plus-one pity-recipient of a party invite. Mercifully, a soft chuckle came down the phone, "No, that's okay, Cameron. Seriously, don't worry about it."
"I feel bad, though. It's your first Halloween here."
"I told you, it's fine."
"I could go late to Mariella's?"
There was a pause and then Blake sighed. "But..."
"See, it sort of seems like you owe me."
Cameron smiled. "Oh, really? Don't you think I'm giving you enough by gracing you with my friendship?"
"Oh, it's a friendship now?"
"Well, sort of. More of a community outreach programme, to be honest. To the impoverished. It feels good to give back, you know? Like Brangelina. Only not annoying."
"So how do I owe you, then?"
"Well, you did promise that we'd hang out on the regular and since movie night at your house, we haven't. Which basically means you broke your word, Cameron. Which means that you're a liar and you are not a gentleman. And now you're leaving me stranded in a new country on Halloween."
"Haha. Ouch. What do you want, ass-face?"
"I wanna hang-out!"
"Well, so do I! I'm just... busy."
"Because you're like so popular and stuff?" teased Blake, doing a worryingly good impression of the Malone accent. Cameron sensed this skill was going to be used to haunt him.
"Well, I don't like to brag, but yes. And anyway, what are you doing celebrating Halloween? Aren't you the pastor's son? Shouldn't you be staying in and praying for all the little pagans?"
"You're so funny, Cameron. So. Funny. Can you meet me tomorrow afternoon?"
"That was a quick response. I didn't even tell you what time."
Cameron felt himself start to blush. "Oh. I..."
"I'm teasing you. Remember, it's okay to actually show feelings sometimes."
"You're annoying me."
"Tough. Front of city hall, tomorrow, 2 p.m.?"