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Things like this don’t happen to me.
As we swayed slightly awkwardly in time with the warblings of a ballad being sung by one of those manufactured boybands, I tried to enjoy the moment for what it was: me, Cass Jones, dancing with Rob Meadows at the Sixth Form Christmas party.
Rob Meadows, star of the school rugby team.
Rob Meadows, blonde god of gorgeousness.
The evening was coming to an end and, after the rowdy jump-dancing of earlier, the DJ was playing the compulsory slow numbers that signalled the end of the party for some but just the start of the evening for others. And there I was, still dancing.
The Sixth Form Christmas party was a highlight of the school social calendar, especially as it usually provided significant fodder for the yearbook. All of Year 13 had started to think about lives beyond school, our small town, even our friends, as part of the university application process. Consequently, there was a sense of desperation to our attempts to create some happy memories to take with us. There we were, on the cusp of legal adulthood, yet not really sure of our place in the world.
Neve and I had debated whether or not to even bother going to the party. As habitual residents of the social periphery, we didn’t really belong to any of the usual cliques found in most high schools. And we were OK with that, enjoying the sense of irony in watching those cliques shift and re-shape, occasionally even imploding.
I’m not trying to suggest that the evening was some sort of Ugly Duckling transformation story. I am definitely not Cinderella.
But it was clear that others, as well as me, were surprised to see me there, doing that. I was dressed in some black lace concoction that Neve had assured me was ‘a little bit sexy, but definitely not slutty’, opaque tights and a pair of ballet flats. It had been a nightmare trying to find something to wear that looked dressy enough, covered enough and didn’t look like it should be worn by my mum. Neve had managed to cajole my hair into a side sweep of loose waves and hide the couple of spots that had appeared, as if on cue, that morning. I knew I didn’t look like most of the other girls, especially those with their fake tans, fake hair and fake nails, but I was OK with that.
Usually I was happy with the office-wear rules that made up the dress code for Sixth Form: black trousers, a plain tee shirt and a cardigan had become my own unofficial uniform. So maybe people were surprised to see me in a dress. Or maybe it was because Rob was dancing with me.
That was more likely the cause.
About half an hour earlier, Rob Meadows had come over to our table, drink in hand, sat down and started chatting like we were long-time friends. He joked about some of the teachers, and recalled some of the funny moments from when we had lessons together in main school. As the conversation continued, he had moved his chair closer to mine, as though he was struggling to hear what I was saying. At one point, when he touched my arm to point out the drunken antics of one of the other rugby team players, I finally got the message.
Rob was flirting with me.
When he asked me to dance, I looked across at Neve, who was bravely trying not to look like a fifth wheel. I knew she was as surprised as me at what was happening; this had not even been considered in the endless discussions we had had about the evening before tonight. She shrugged her shoulders and I got up to follow Rob to the area where a few couples were in varying stages of becoming physically acquainted with each other. My heart was pounding. I had never danced with anyone other than Neve, and never like this! I decided that I just had to follow his lead; clearly this wasn’t going to be his first time.
As we moved together in time with the music, I felt the tautness of Rob’s waist beneath my hands. I had worried about what to do with my hands but he had gently taken them and placed them on his hips before gathering his own around my neck, pulling me close. His thumb was softly rubbing my nape, the tiny movement sending shivers up and down my spine. My breath became shallower with each tingle.
Was this what all the fuss was about? If so, I finally got it.
One sway brought us closer together and I was sure that I could feel him pressing into my hip. I’d never been that close to a boy before, well, not in that way, and I didn’t have the foggiest about what to do. I was sure that most of the girls would be able to laugh it off with some innuendo-laden joke, some might even have moved in closer. But I wasn’t one of those girls and the last thing I wanted was to mess up what could be the best night of my life by handling it wrong. What if he ended up laughing at me?
Within seconds though his one hand ran down my spine, leaving a line of warmth that went straight to my very core. Of course I’d been turned on before but never like this; never from the real-life touch of a real-life boy. The tingling feeling spread through me, taking my disbelief hostage along the way. Rob’s hand lingered at the curve of my bum and pulled me closer to him. There was no way I could pretend not to know what it was pressed against me.
“Can I cut in?” What? I was convinced it must be a joke; Neve’s brother Flynn was trying to ruin my perfect moment? I gave him a withering look and held on tight to Rob. “Can I have this dance?” Flynn persisted, like he was a character out of a bloody Jane Austen novel.
“Uh, sure mate. I’ll go get us another drink, Cass.” Rob gave me a long look, full of meaning I couldn’t decipher, and walked to the end of the room where his friends were rowdily clustered around the bar. Meanwhile I was stood like a statue in the middle of the dancing couples. When Flynn tried to take hold of me, in a bizarre repeat of Rob’s earlier move, I squirmed away.
“What the hell are you doing?” I demanded, unsure whether I was angry, frustrated or both. Flynn’s shoulder shrug added to my fury. “Can’t you see that the last thing I want at this precise moment is what has just happened?” Flynn smirked and put his arms on my shoulders. “I mean it, Flynn!” I didn’t want to make even more of a spectacle of myself but I couldn’t remember feeling that angry before.
“Just hold me and pretend that you’re having the best time of your life,” he whispered into my ear, so close I felt him inhale.