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It Only Happens in the Movies, Page 2

Holly Bourne

  The hard work didn’t finish once the screens emptied of people, dabbing their eyes and saying it was Dick’s best yet. It was almost midnight when Ma handed me a bin bag and sent me in to clean the screens up.

  I instantly felt guilty for every time I’d dropped popcorn on a cinema floor. The place was a mess – like feral pigs on acid had just held a house party. I checked my phone.

  Two missed calls and three messages.

  Mum: What time will you be back?

  Mum: Did you see my message?

  Mum: I can’t believe he’s doing this to us.

  I put it back into my jeans pocket and dropped to my knees to scrape popcorn from under the seats.

  Harry burst through the double doors wielding a giant roaring Hoover. “You’re doing it wrong, Audrey,” he yelled over the noise. “You need this.”

  I stood up, brushing eight trillion kernels off my shirt. “No one told me there was a Hoover.”

  “We call him Magic Mike. You collect up all the empties, I’ll do the carpet.”


  I started plucking stray wine glasses out from the nooks and crannies, trying not to yawn. I’d been on my feet for hours and I was still nowhere near my bed. Harry, however, fizzed with energy, like his aura was made of popping candy. He hummed as he sucked up the debris, smiling the whole time. When he shut off the Hoover, the silence engulfed us. I grinned goofily, hating that he was the sort of guy that made you instantly goofy.

  He gathered up the lead as I picked up all the boxes previously containing seventy-per-cent-cocoa chocolate buttons.

  “This is the most middle class cinema in the world,” I found myself saying.

  Harry burst out laughing. “And that offends you?”

  I shoved another box into the plastic liner. “I just think this place is taking it a bit far. I feel like I’m in a parody.”

  He perched on the arm of one of the purple seats, his arms crossed, his mouth twitching. “And it’s not like you’re middle class or anything.”

  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  He looked me up and down. “Well, no offence, but I don’t exactly think you’re Eliza fucking Doolittle.”

  I liked the way he casually swore. “Yeah, but I’m not middle class—”

  “Please!” he interrupted, gesturing at me. “You’re so middle class I’m surprised you didn’t buy your disdain for this job in Waitrose.”

  I narrowed my eyes at him – taking in his artfully-crafted messy hair, his ripped jeans that you know he bought like that.

  “Yeah, well, you can talk,” I replied. “I bet your hair putty is organic.”

  “You’re so middle class, I bet you had the Sylvanian treehouse as a child.”

  I opened my mouth. “How did you know that?”

  And we both pissed ourselves laughing, which was kind of cool considering we’d only just met each other. I collapsed on a chair next to Harry and I figured it would be okay working here if he was. Yeah he had player carved into his dimples, but he was funny and I’d already learned my lesson about boys like him.

  “I know where I know you from now.” He turned to me. “You’re Dougie’s sister.”

  “How do you know Dougie?”

  “Your mum knows my mum. Dougie and I went to baby massage together apparently.”

  I giggled. “Now that really IS middle class.”

  Harry stood and picked up my bin bag. “Guilty as charged. But I’d much rather work here than CineUniverse – the pay’s better, the customers are nicer…”

  I opened my mouth to protest.

  “I said nicer, not nice. And Ma will calm down once she knows you’re not totally incompetent. How’s Dougie finding uni? He’s at Sussex, right?”

  “Yeah, he’s enjoying it, I think. We don’t hear from him much.”

  In fact, he’d not come home once yet, leaving me with Mum and her newest drama. I was about to ask him why he wasn’t at uni when Ma pushed through the double doors, saw me relaxing, and totally activated.

  It was well gone midnight when Ma finally let us out.

  “You should go too, it’s late,” Harry said, but she waved him away with a hefty martyr sigh.

  Harry and I emerged onto the empty frozen street together. Our breath crystallized instantly and mingled before floating off into the air. The town was dead and silent. The cinema overlooked a normally crammed crossroads but now the traffic lights flickered from red, to amber, to green, conducting invisible cars.

  “So, how was your first shift?”

  I heard the unmistakable click and hiss of a lighter. Harry took a breath of his cigarette, plucked it from his mouth, then exhaled, careful not to get his smoke on me.

  “It was fine. I need the job.”

  “Saving up for travelling or something?” He took another drag.

  “Something like that.”

  The roar of a car engine interrupted the quiet. A beat-up Peugeot skidded around the corner and slammed to a stop before us. Harry grinned as the door opened to reveal a very crowded car – like that circus trick when all the clowns cram into a Mini. Obscenely loud rock music hit me through the open door.

  “HE’S A FREE MAN,” the driver shouted, and the rest of the car cheered. It was all boys rammed in there, bar one girl. The sort of girl who, even through the dirty window, I could see would always be effortlessly cool. I stood there awkwardly, watching as she smiled at Harry from under her faux-fur coat. I wondered briefly if she was his girlfriend.

  Harry dropped his still-lit cigarette and punched the air. “FOR TWELVE WHOLE HOURS I’M A FREE MAN.”

  “LET’S GET WASTED,” yelled the driver.

  Harry went to climb in, and I wondered how he’d get his long body into such a cramped space. Just as he did though, he stopped, and turned.

  “You got a lift home?”

  I shook my head. “I’m walking. I’m good.”

  “You want a lift? Where do you live?”

  I shook my head again. “I’m happy walking.”

  “Harry, come on,” the girl shouted from inside the car.

  Harry hesitated. “You sure? It’s late and it’s dark.”

  I raised both my eyebrows. “It’s Bridgely-upon-Thames.”

  Also, if I walk it will take longer to get home…

  “Fair point. See you around.”

  “See you around,” I said, but the car door was already closed, Harry’s body folded inside. It took off around the corner, running the red light.

  And the town fell quiet again.

  The lights were on when I got home, even though it was late. I’d assumed she’d still be up but I tried to sneak in without her hearing. I turned the front door handle slowly to stop it squeaking. Our family home was Victorian – all high ceilings and bay windows and things that made noises. Sneaking in was practically impossible.

  I took my shoes off on the doormat and tiptoed into the hallway in my socks.

  I heard voices, the clattering of glasses.

  Sandra must be round.

  I rolled my eyes up to the ceiling, wanting bed, craving bed. I needed a glass of water but the clattering came from the kitchen. I’d just have to drink out of the bathroom tap.

  I crept upstairs, brushing my teeth and rubbing my make-up off, before I tiptoed to bed. I chucked my new uniform on the floor and climbed into one of Milo’s old T-shirts. He’d asked for it back and I kept claiming it was lost. Then, without reading or anything, I turned off my light and lay back in bed.

  I could hear the rumble of their voices through the thin floorboards. The shrieking of laughter, the pop and clink and glug of another bottle of Prosecco being opened. It was Thursday, she had work tomorrow. I was stupid for getting my hopes up that she was doing better. As my eyelids fluttered downwards, I thought back to that line from the film.

  “Every feeling I have, every inch of my heart – it’s yours. It always has been…”

  I shook my head into my pillow and someho
w found sleep…

  A thump. My body shook on the mattress.

  A howl.

  My eyes flickered open. I smelled her breath before I heard her. Oh God. Not again. She hadn’t done this in so long.

  “You didn’t come and say hiiiiii,” she wailed.

  I rubbed my eyes to adjust to the light streaming in from the hallway.

  “Hi, Mum.” My voice so full of sleep I could hardly get the words out. I rolled over to face her. She’d flopped fully backwards onto my bed, her legs straight out in front of her, like she was lying in a coffin. Her pupils were everywhere, her everywhere stank of stale wine. “I was asleep.”

  “Did you get my message?” she asked, not apologizing.

  “I’ve got college tomorrow.”

  “The house.” Her voice cracked. “Your father’s taking away our house.”

  She began to sob then, just as her words, and what they meant, hit me in my stomach – each one like a separate sucker punch. Dad had destroyed everything two years ago when he announced he was leaving us for a new family. Just like that. He’d been secretly laying the foundations for months, even getting Jessie nice and pregnant with twins – ready to be delivered only weeks after he slammed the door of our family home behind him and let us combust into ash. I didn’t think it could get worse, but now he was taking our house too?

  “I gave him everything, Audrey. Everything. It’s our house. It’s our home…” Her sobbing morphed into ubersobs. She curled herself up into a ball, like a woodlouse – a really traumatized woodlouse. I reached out in the semi-darkness and stroked her hair.

  “Why?” she whimpered. “I don’t understand why he’s doing this to us. Why’s he’s doing this to me, Audrey?” I patted her head.

  “I don’t know, Mum,” I murmured. Because I didn’t. I really didn’t.

  Mum’s sobs faded into whimpers and her whimpers faded into snuffles and her snuffles faded into snores, and I – I stared up at the ceiling for a really long time.

  Maybe they’re gay. Or maybe they’re reaaaaally bad with men. Or maybe they’re just scatty. It doesn’t actually matter, they’re only here to assist the main character on their way to happily-ever-after-ville. They don’t have their own storyline, their own dimensions, their own…anything really. If they’re lucky, they get palmed off onto the love interest’s best friend in the last scene.

  Leroy was typically Leroy when I met him the next day.

  “Audrey, you look like shit.”

  I flipped him the finger. “Are you ever nice?” I complained.

  “Just being honest. That’s nice, isn’t it?”


  I yawned as we fell into step on the way to school. It was that really annoying sort of raining where it looks stupid if you put your umbrella up, but your hair frizzes like mad if you don’t.

  “So, how did it go last night?” he asked, a smidge more concern in his voice. Though, this was Leroy. His levels of empathy were limited. It was why I liked him. No bullshit.

  “It was okay, I guess. My boss has control issues. Like, huge control issues. But I don’t really care, just as long as it keeps me out of the house.”

  “Your mum still mental?”

  I smiled at Leroy’s absolute lack of sugar-coating.

  “She is indeed. She got into my bed again last night. Thus me looking like shit. To be fair to her, it’s the first time she’s done it in a while but we heard from my dad about…” My throat dried and I trailed off, not wanting to go into it.

  But any chance of sympathy vanished quickly anyway because Leroy was already distracted, his phone out, checking his messages.

  “Sucks to be you.” He said it to his phone more than me.

  He did care. He just also knew I didn’t like talking about it. And I also didn’t like talking about it. Did I mention I didn’t like talking about it?

  I nodded towards his phone. “How’s the kingdom?”

  He nodded, swiped left, tapped and then looked up. “Ahh, buggery fuckdoodles. Someone’s claimed they’ve beaten my time on Rainbow Road.”

  I faux-gasped. “Surely that’s impossible?”

  Leroy madly tapped again. “That’s what I’m telling them.”

  Leroy had this weird double life as an anonymous retro gamer. He played games that were out of date before we were even foetuses. But he was good at them, and uploaded videos of him playing onto YouTube. I didn’t even understand how it’d happened, but he had over two hundred thousand subscribers.

  “I bet that dipshit is using the feather shortcut and still claiming that’s his actual time,” Leroy muttered. “Cheating bastard.” He finished sending abuse and looked up, smiling as he put his phone back into his pocket. “Okay, I’m back, sorry. So, what’s Flicker like? The tickets are so expensive.”

  “That’s because it’s ridiculously posh!” I said. “The customers are dreadful, so up their own arseholes. And there’s no normal food…” Leroy pissed himself when I told him about the cinnamon dust. “But the money’s okay and there was this one guy there, Harry. He was friendly. Do you know him? He said he knows Dougie.”

  “What’s his surname?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “What does he look like? Is he fit?”

  I hit Leroy with my bag. “He’s not unfit. He has like longish dark hair and he gels it so it’s all sticky-uppy. Umm, maybe his eyes were green? Or brown? I’m not sure, it’s dark in cinemas. Maybe he’s Asian?”

  Leroy gave me a Look. “Maybe he’s Asian?”

  “Well, I don’t know, do I? He looks a bit like Joseph Gordon-Levitt.”

  “Audrey, for feck’s sake. He’s Jewish!”

  “Okay! I told you, I don’t know.”

  Everyone in Bridgely-upon-Thames tended to know each other somehow. We only had two secondary schools, and families hardly ever moved away.

  Leroy was quiet for a second, running through faces in his head. “Okay, let’s figure this out. So an Asian-looking, maybe Jewish guy with either brown or green eyes…”

  I laughed and hit him again. “Umm…his friends came and picked him up,” I said. “They all seemed to be into rock music. There was this girl with an undercut. He smokes…”

  “It might be Harry Lipton. Was he Catholic?”

  “Jeez, Leroy. How am I supposed to know? He didn’t shove me into a box and confess all his dirty secrets.”

  Leroy grinned. “You’re crap with men.”

  I hit him for the third time.

  “If he’s Catholic, then he’s Harry Lipton. He’s a heathen who left the church. Well, that’s what Mum says anyway.”

  “How would she know?”

  He sighed. “She keeps tabs on who goes to church and how often. Actual literal tabs. I found a list once.”

  “Your mum is so weird.” I held out a length of my hair to check how badly it was frizzing in the drizzle.

  “I am more than aware of that. But, anyway, if it’s the Harry I’m thinking of…I think he slept with Cassie last year and then totally ghosted her afterwards. She was quite hung up on him.”

  “Cassie from your church, Cassie?”

  He nodded.

  “Your church has so many secret deviants.”

  He bowed with the gayest hand flourish the world has ever known. “Audrey, I have no idea what you mean.”

  Soon talk drifted away from the cinema towards complaining about coursework, complaining about school, complaining about this town – our usual bread and butter. Leroy was the cynic I’d clung onto like an oxygen mask these past few months after Milo. We’d met through Drama Club but became friends when he found me sobbing behind the stage curtains. I knew he was everything I needed in a friend when he said, “No offence, but you’re the fugliest crier I’ve ever seen.” Somehow, though my heart was throbbing with pain and humiliation, that had made me laugh.

  As we got closer to school, the trickles of other students wearing our navy uniform sloshed together until we were all trudging
in the same direction. I said goodbye to Leroy as we split off to go to our separate lessons, but he didn’t say it back. He was buried in his phone again, muttering about feathers and Rainbow Roads. I wandered through the cramped corridors towards my Media Studies lesson, trying to rub the tiredness out of my eyes without messing up my mascara. Alice was sitting in our normal spot. She waved, showing off a freshly painted set of long nails, and I went and dumped my stuff next to her.

  “New colour?” I nodded towards her hands.

  “Yep. It arrived in the post yesterday. It’s from America and it has real gold leaf in it – see?” She shoved her fingers practically in my face.

  “I see.” There was an obvious lack of enthusiasm in my voice but she pretended not to notice it.

  “How was your first shift?”

  “Okay.” Last night felt like a dream. I couldn’t believe I had to go back the next night and do it all over again. “You going to come visit me? With the others?” I attempted a smile. I attempted more enthusiasm. Both attempts crash-dived.

  Alice pretended again she hadn’t noticed. “Oooh, yes, we totally should! Can you get us a discount?” Her attempt at a normal friendship interaction was much more successful – or maybe it was just more genuine. Maybe it was just me who felt the gaping chasm between us that never used to be there.

  “I’ve not asked yet.”

  “Hang on” – Alice twirled her hair around her finger – “isn’t the new Dick Curtisfield out? We can come to that. We love his movies!”

  “Sure! Sounds great!” I tried to chirp. “I’m working tomorrow.”

  “Perfect! I’ll ask the others at lunch.” Her smile was real but her voice was forced and I felt a jolt of pain. For what I’d done to us, for what I’d done to our friendship.

  I was relieved when Mr Simmons bowled into the room and started the lesson. Relieved to not have to make small talk with the girl who used to be my best friend – the girl who probably still thought we were best friends. I didn’t understand how everything that had happened with Milo had changed how I felt about my friends when they’d been nothing but great – but it had.

  I’d grown up with it being me and Alice, Becky and Charlie. Two pairs of best friends – the “girlie gang” as our parents called us. We’d made it through primary school, puberty and exams, and all crammed into a caravan together in Newquay after our GCSEs for a crazy holiday. And our friendship had managed to survive the first earthquake that hit me, of Dad leaving and Mum imploding. They held me as I cried, they came over with chocolate – for Mum as well as for me. But then, at the start of the summer after our first year of sixth form, the Milo thing happened and it felt like everything in my life broke. Even my friendships. I was too humiliated to even tell them what had happened. I found spending time with them difficult. What do you think of this dress? Isn’t Russell so good-looking? Don’t you think Sarah looked so much better before that haircut? Do you want to go shopping this weekend, I saw this coat, but I’m not sure if it will suit me? Their cutesy oh-Audrey-it-will-all-be-okay positivity turned my stomach and I fled from them, into Leroy’s no-nonsense arms. Something inside of me had hardened, while they were the same as ever.