Home > How To Talk To Girls At Parties

How To Talk To Girls At Parties
Author: Neil Gaiman

‘Come on,’ said Vic. ‘It’ll be great.’

‘No, it won’t,’ I said, although I’d lost this fight hours ago, and I knew it.

‘It’ll be brilliant,’ said Vic, for the hundredth time. ‘Girls! Girls! Girls!’ He grinned with white teeth.

We both attended an all-boys’ school in south London. While it would be a lie to say that we had no experience with girls – Vic seemed to have had many girlfriends, while I had kissed three of my sister’s friends – it would, I think, be perfectly true to say that we both chiefly spoke to, interacted with and only truly understood other boys. Well, I did, anyway. It’s hard to speak for someone else, and I’ve not seen Vic for thirty years. I’m not sure that I would know what to say to him now if I did.

We were walking the back-streets that used to twine in a grimy maze behind East Croydon station – a friend had told Vic about a party, and Vic was determined to go whether I liked it or not, and I didn’t. But my parents were away that week at a conference, and I was Vic’s guest at his house, so I was trailing along beside him.

‘It’ll be the same as it always is,’ I said. ‘After an hour you’ll be off somewhere snogging the prettiest girl at the party, and I’ll be in the kitchen listening to somebody’s mum going on about politics or poetry or something.’

‘You just have to talk to them,’ he said. ‘I think it’s probably that road at the end here.’ He gestured cheerfully, swinging the bag with the bottle in it.

‘Don’t you know?’

‘Alison gave me directions and I wrote them on a bit of paper, but I left it on the hall table. ’Sokay. I can find it.’

‘How?’ Hope welled slowly up inside me.

‘We walk down the road,’ he said, as if speaking to an idiot child. ‘And we look for the party. Easy.’

I looked, but saw no party: just narrow houses with rusting cars or bikes in their concreted front gardens; and the dusty glass fronts of newsagents, which smelled of alien spices and sold everything from birthday cards and second-hand comics to the kind of magazines that were so  p**n ographic they were sold already sealed in plastic bags. I had been there when Vic had slipped one of those magazines beneath his sweater, but the owner caught him on the pavement outside and made him give it back.

We reached the end of the road and turned into a narrow street of terraced houses. Everything looked very still and empty in the summer’s evening. ‘It’s all right for you,’ I said. ‘They fancy you. You don’t actually have to talk to them.’ It was true: one urchin grin from Vic and he could have his pick of the room.

‘Nah. ’S not like that. You’ve just got to talk.’

The times I had kissed my sister’s friends I had not spoken to them. They had been around while my sister was off doing something elsewhere, and they had drifted into my orbit, and so I had kissed them. I do not remember any talking. I did not know what to say to girls, and I told him so.

‘They’re just girls,’ said Vic. ‘They don’t come from another planet.’

As we followed the curve of the road around, my hopes that the party would prove unfindable began to fade: a low pulsing noise, music muffled by walls and doors, could be heard from a house up ahead. It was eight in the evening, not that early if you aren’t yet sixteen, and we weren’t. Not quite.

I had parents who liked to know where I was, but I don’t think Vic’s parents cared that much. He was the youngest of five boys. That in itself seemed magical to me: I merely had two sisters, both younger than I was, and I felt both unique and lonely. I had wanted a brother as far back as I could remember. When I turned thirteen, I stopped wishing on falling stars or first stars, but back when I did, a brother was what I had wished for.

We went up the garden path, crazy paving leading us past a hedge and a solitary rose bush to a pebble-dashed façade. We rang the doorbell, and the door was opened by a girl. I could not have told you how old she was, which was one of the things about girls I had begun to hate: when you start out as kids you’re just boys and girls, going through time at the same speed, and you’re all five, or seven, or eleven together. And then one day there’s a lurch and the girls just sort of sprint off into the future ahead of you, and they know all about everything, and they have periods and br**sts and makeup and God-only-knew-what-else – for I certainly didn’t. The diagrams in biology textbooks were no substitute for being, in a very real sense, young adults. And the girls of our age were.

Vic and I weren’t young adults, and I was beginning to suspect that even when I started needing to shave every day, instead of once every couple of weeks, I would still be way behind.

The girl said, ‘Hello?’

Vic said, ‘We’re friends of Alison’s.’ We had met Alison, all freckles and orange hair and a wicked smile, in Hamburg, on a German exchange. The exchange organisers had sent some girls with us, from a local girls’ school, to balance the sexes. The girls, our age, more or less, were raucous and funny, and had more or less adult boyfriends with cars and jobs and motorbikes and – in the case of one girl with crooked teeth and a raccoon coat, who spoke to me about it sadly at the end of a party in Hamburg, in, of course, the kitchen – a wife and kids.

‘She isn’t here,’ said the girl at the door. ‘No Alison.’

‘Not to worry,’ said Vic, with an easy grin. ‘I’m Vic. This is Enn.’ A beat, and then the girl smiled back at him. Vic had a bottle of white wine in a plastic bag, removed from his parents’ kitchen cabinet. ‘Where should I put this, then?’

She stood out of the way, letting us enter. ‘There’s a kitchen in the back,’ she said. ‘Put it on the table there, with the other bottles.’ She had golden, wavy hair, and she was very beautiful. The hall was dim in the twilight, but I could see that she was beautiful.

‘What’s your name, then?’ said Vic.

She told him it was Stella, and he grinned his crooked white grin and told her that that had to be the prettiest name he had ever heard. Smooth bastard. And what was worse was that he said it like he meant it.

Vic headed back to drop off the wine in the kitchen, and I looked into the front room, where the music was coming from. There were people dancing in there. Stella walked in, and she started to dance, swaying to the music all alone, and I watched her.

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