A Kiss in the Dark, p.1Cat Clarke
First published in Great Britain in 2014 by
Quercus Editions Ltd
55 Baker Street
7th Floor, South Block
Copyright © Cat Clarke, 2014
The moral right of Cat Clarke to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
A CIP catalogue reference for this book is available from the British Library
eBook ISBN 978 1 78087 048 9
Print ISBN 978 1 78087 047 2
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Cat Clarke was born in Zambia and brought up in Scotland and Yorkshire, which has given her an accent that tends to confuse people. Cat has written non-fiction books about exciting things like cowboys, sharks and pirates, and now writes YA novels, usually about teenagers being mean to each other. Her first novel, Entangled, won the Redbridge Teenage Book Award and was long-listed for the Branford Boase Award.
Also by Cat Clarke
I saw her before she saw me. It was better that way. I watched her looking for me, craning her neck to see over the crowd. Trying to match the faces in front of her against my profile picture. That was all she had to go on. No bigger than a passport photo and you couldn’t even see my face properly. Half-turned away from the camera, fringe flopping down over my eyes. It was one of the only photos of me I didn’t hate. She must have liked it too, I guess.
Jonni and Fitz had abandoned me in favour of the mosh-pit with vague promises to catch up with me later. I was glad to be rid of them; I didn’t want them embarrassing me in front of her. Jonni especially had the tendency to say exactly the wrong thing at exactly the wrong time. He didn’t mean to – his brain just worked differently from the rest of us.
I put down my drink and rubbed my palms on the back of my jeans but they were sweaty again a couple of seconds later. I could feel sweat trickling down my back too. It was way too hot to be wearing my hoodie, but I wasn’t going to tie it round my waist like Dad does with his golf jumper. Plus I’d been wearing it in my profile picture, so I thought it might help her recognize me.
I lost sight of her for a little while and for a second there I thought I’d screwed up and she’d left because she couldn’t find me. But she appeared again a minute later – right in front of me. It reminded me of when Jamie used to dive under the sea and then pop up underneath me or grab my leg, pretending to be some kind of sea monster. This was scarier though.
‘Hi! Alex?’ Her voice was bright and clear, exactly how I imagined it would sound. Hers was more of an Edinburgh accent than mine.
She was waiting for me to say something. To confirm that I was actually Alex. She cocked her head to the side like an inquisitive bird in a gesture I’ve seen her do a hundred times since that night.
Somehow I managed to unglue my tongue from the roof of my mouth. ‘Yeah, hi.’ I cleared my throat because my voice sounded strange. She smiled and I’d never been on the receiving end of a smile like that in my entire life. No one had ever looked that happy to see me. There was no sign that I was anything other than exactly what she was expecting. I had no idea how to feel about that.
Sometimes I close my eyes and picture her at that exact moment. Before.
Her hair was long and blonde and shiny, just like in her profile picture. I’d spent so long looking at the picture I’d have recognized her anywhere. Her eyes were blue – cornflower blue if I was going to try being all poetic about it – and they were fixed on me in a way that made me even more nervous.
She was wearing grey skinny jeans and a band T-shirt that you could tell was brand new. Bright white Converse on her feet, contrasting nicely with my scruffy old black ones. In her profile picture she was wearing some kind of flowery top that looked a bit like something my mum would wear. It made me wonder if she’d bought a whole new outfit just for tonight. It made me wonder if she wanted to impress me. And it made me wonder if I wanted that to be true.
She didn’t seem to be wearing any make-up, but maybe she was wearing the kind of make-up girls wear when they want to look like they’re not wearing any. Her cheeks were flushed red, which could have just been down to the fact that the place was a total sweatbox. But it also could have been something to do with me. I knew she was shy; she’d told me in one of our very first messages. I’d said I was shy too.
‘I can’t believe it’s you! In real life! I wasn’t sure you’d show up. My friends think I’m completely crazy, by the way – coming here by myself to meet some random … not that you’re random or anything! Oh God, I’m babbling, aren’t I? Sorry! I’m so nervous. I don’t … do this sort of thing … please tell me to shut up before I embarrass myself even more.’
She talked so fast it was hard to follow, and the support act had just come onstage so there was even more for my ears to contend with. ‘Shut up, Kate.’
Her eyes widened before she caught on and laughed. ‘I’m not normally like this. Honestly. I’m usually much more … normal.’
‘Don’t worry about it – seriously. What’s so good about normal anyway?’ My voice had this new lazy, hazy sort of quality. Like everything was under control and I wasn’t sweating profusely and my heart wasn’t hammering in my chest. I sounded like someone else. Then it hit me: I sounded like Jamie.
‘You’re right. It’s about time I was … abnormal. Hmm. That doesn’t sound so good, does it?’ She paused and I wasn’t sure what she was going to do or say next. I certainly was
It wasn’t a date. We just happened to be going to the same gig so we’d arranged to meet up. That was all. But the way Kate looked at me that night, the way she laughed at my crap jokes and touched my arm, there was no mistaking it. I kept trying to convince myself otherwise but all the signs were there. She liked me.
I got her a Coke and we stood near the back and talked through the rest of the support act. Kate relaxed pretty fast and before long we were chatting about all sorts of stuff. It was just like it had been online, except she was standing right in front of me. It seemed entirely normal and entirely not normal at the same time.
I kept an eye out for Jonni and Fitz, pretty confident that they wouldn’t come looking for me anytime soon. I spotted an empty space on the balcony and ushered Kate upstairs. We squeezed into the space, which was only really big enough for one person, earning a glare from the guy next to us. He didn’t glare at Kate though, and I was glad.
The band came on and Kate grabbed my arm and squeezed. She was surprisingly strong for a girl. ‘I can’t believe this is happening!’ It was the first gig she’d ever been to and to look at her you’d think she’d never been allowed out of the house before. She started singing along to the first song and then abruptly stopped when she noticed me staring at her. ‘Sorry, I really love this song …’ She looked sheepish.
She’d misinterpreted the look on my face. The truth is, I was in awe of her. I wondered what it was like to be the kind of person who’d happily sing in front of a stranger (or in front of anyone, for that matter). I thought it might be nice to be someone like that. But Kate didn’t sing again – not that night anyway.
It was the second time I’d seen Saving Serenity this year and the set-list had barely changed. I was more interested in the girl standing next to me than what was happening onstage. I kept looking at her hands out of the corner of my eye. Her fingernails were nicely manicured, without nail varnish. The only jewellery she wore was a slim silver band on the ring finger of her right hand. They were nice-looking hands.
A couple of times Kate looked over and our eyes met. Neither of us said anything. We didn’t have to, I suppose. Meeting in person had just confirmed things. She liked me and I liked her. It was simple.
It was anything but simple.
I only really knew the score the day before we met. It had all been fine at first. Kate had posted on the Saving Serenity forum a couple of weeks before, asking if anyone was going to the gig. I’d never seen her on the forum before. I usually just lurked on there, watching other people’s conversations and not bothering to join in, but for some reason I replied to her. I suppose I felt sorry for her – no one had replied to her post after a couple of days and I was going to the gig, so I thought I might as well say so. What harm could it do?
Kate replied with a private message and things went on from there. I kept on expecting the conversation to come to a natural stopping point, but it never did. She looked nice in her profile picture – friendly and normal and definitely not a crazy person. She told me she liked my profile picture and put one of those little blushing face emoticons. I thought that was a bit weird but I shrugged it off.
After a couple of days talking on the forum we exchanged phone numbers (her idea). Kate told me a lot about herself – more than I would have told some random I’d met on the internet. She asked me a lot of questions and I answered them. I only told one lie – when she asked what school I went to – and I’m not even sure why I did that. Maybe it just didn’t seem all that sensible to give out personal information to someone I’d never even met. I said I went to the same school as Jonni – it was the first one that came to mind. It felt like a harmless sort of lie. Maybe not a white lie, but definitely grey at least.
We talked a lot about our favourite Saving Serenity songs and music in general. I introduced her to some other bands I thought she might like and she downloaded the music and listened to it straightaway. She was massively into music, but she confessed (with another red-face emoticon) that she’d only really listened to chart stuff and classical stuff until recently. She played the piano – only grade 7, she said.
From the sounds of it, Kate’s mum was pretty full-on – way too involved in her life. Kate had lied about the gig, saying she was going to Astrid’s house and she’d be home by eleven. Astrid was one of her two ‘best’ friends; I didn’t like the sound of her.
We messaged each other non-stop as soon as we got home from school. It was amazing to me how quickly that connection developed. Because that’s what it was – a genuine connection between two people who had never met before. Mum’s always going on about the dangers of the internet and ‘weirdos whose only friends are on their computer screens’, but she just doesn’t get it. It’s entirely possible to get to know someone without actually seeing them in person. In fact, it’s better like that because none of the superficial stuff gets in the way. You really get to know a person. And it’s easier to express yourself when you’re writing things down. At least it is for me. I like to order my thoughts, and delete them if they don’t make any sense. You can’t do that in real life.
A few days before the gig, Kate asked if I wanted to meet her there. My heart did a little jump. I didn’t want to think about what it meant, my body reacting like that. Things were confusing enough already.
I told her I was going with Jonni and Fitz, but I’d be up for meeting her. She was really happy about that. Then I sat back and tried to picture what it would be like, meeting her in person. Talking to her. Looking at a real person instead of a tiny profile picture. I could kind of get my head around me looking at her, but as soon as I started thinking about her looking at me, well … that’s when it all got a little hazy. Would she be disappointed? Had she built up some false idea of me based on what I’d told her?
We texted each other constantly after I got back from running the night before the gig. We always texted, never called. The thought of a phone call was terrifying to me. I never even called Jonni and he was sort of my best mate (not to say that I was necessarily his best mate). Anyway, I was just about to say I was off to bed when Kate texted something that confirmed the suspicion that had been lurking at the back of my brain. I stared at my phone and tried to work out if there was any other way to interpret her words, but I was kidding myself.
I went to reply, to set her straight, but none of the words were right. I kept on typing and deleting them, trying to find a way to say it – a way that would make her still want to see me at the gig. But I couldn’t do it. There was no way out. In the end I turned off my phone without replying.
I couldn’t sleep that night. All I could think about was Kate’s message and what the hell I was going to do about the gig. It was the kind of text Jamie probably gets at least once a week from his various conquests.
You’re really different from other boys.
In a parallel universe, a different version of me was thrilled to bits.
In this universe, I was mostly devastated. Kate was right: I was different from other boys.
I was a girl. I am a girl.
The most embarrassing moment of my entire life was when Mum came up to my room a couple of years ago, acting all suspicious. I was sitting at my desk doing some homework and she hovered next to me. Then she asked me if my bin needed emptying, before perching on the edge of the bed.
‘Yes? Can I help you with something?’ I was busy colouring in a chart for my geography assignment. Any subject that involves colouring in instead of thinking is OK by me.
Mum didn’t reply so I had to turn to look at her. She was fiddling with her wedding r
I narrowed my eyes. ‘Fine … why?!’
She sighed and tucked a stray bit of hair behind her ears. ‘OK, fine. You got me. I’m not here to ask about your homework. Not that it looks particularly arduous!’ I gave her a look which she obviously interpreted correctly because she went on, ‘OK, OK! I’ll say what I’ve got to say and leave you to it.’ More fiddling with the wedding ring – twisting it round and round her finger. ‘There’s something I’ve wanted to say to you for a while now, but it never seems like the right time and I know what a private person you are … but I’m still your mother. And it’s my job to be grown-up about this stuff, I suppose. So I’m just going to say it and we’ll go from there, OK?’
I knew, I think. At least, I suspected. There weren’t many subjects that would cause this level of awkwardness in my normally calm, level-headed mother. I said, ‘OK,’ but I didn’t mean it.
A big deep breath and then she launched into it. ‘Alex, you know how much we love you and how proud we are of you, yes? Well … we’ll love you and accept you no matter what. It’s really important that you never forget that. I’m not going to ask you or embarrass you so please stop looking at me like that, but if you’re confused about your sexuality–’ We both winced when she said that word, ‘–or if you’re worried or want to talk about anything at all, I’m here. And your dad is too. Even though he’s not here right now. Obviously. So. To sum up, we don’t care if you like boys or girls or both or neither or … anyway. You understand what I’m trying to say, don’t you?’
I was horrified. ‘Muuuum! I’m not … why would you think I was …? Can you just leave me to get on with my work? Please?’ I wanted her gone. I wanted to forget we’d ever had this conversation, if you could even call it a conversation.
She held up her hands. ‘Fine! I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I had to say it. I’m sure you can understand that.’
A Kiss in the Dark by Cat Clarke / Young Adult / History & Fiction / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes