To put it into easier terms, Michelle Mallon’s life is nothing short of tumultuous. There’s a lot of uncertainty that engulfs her like a tsunami from all sides: she’s got no idea what she’ll wake up to, frankly, given how Derry’s always on the cusp of collapsing in on itself like a deflating balloon. Some days, she isn’t even sure of who she is anymore; she reckons that it’s just her brain playing an intricate trick on her, but it’s hard, trying to shrug the supposed joke off like it’s nothing.
But if there’s one thing that Michelle is sure of, it’s the fact that she’s been the very life and soul of any party that she’s ever gone to, be that Bridie’s… eventful wake or Jenny Joyce’s little soiree for the Russians– well, Ukrainians, but Michelle doesn’t really give a fuck. The main thing is that she’s a bit of a party animal, so to speak; she’s always alert, like a sixty-watt, colour-changing lightbulb that doesn’t have an off switch.
So when her eighteenth birthday rolls around, Michelle pleads and pleads with her ma to let her have a party– Michelle doesn’t even care where. She just wants to be able to host a wild, wild night, one that reeks of alcohol and sweat and fun .
“It’ll be absolutely grand,” Michelle begs, trailing after Deirdre like a lost puppy. “I’ve already got the theme, you know?” She waves her hands around in front of her chest, before exclaiming, “Hot. Rides.”
“I just don’t know, Michelle,” Deirdre sighs, turning on the stove. “I mean–”
“Erin and Orla have already booked out the church hall for their party,” Michelle wheedles. “And I haven’t seen Clare in ages –”
“It’s been a week,” her ma says, an eyebrow raised. “It’s been six days, Michelle.”
“Aye, but it’s felt like a feckin’ year !” she argues, throwing her hands up. Upon realising that it’s not going to do her any good, Michelle quickly drops the impassioned approach; she’s got to get into her ma’s good graces, and getting fired up– well, she’s not really doing herself any favours here. “Please, mammy? You only turn eighteen once .”
It’s funny, but Michelle can see the reluctance on her ma’s face dissolve like baking soda in water. With a heavy breath, Deirdre says, “I s’pose that it’ll be alright. But,” she adds sternly, just as Michelle pumps her fist in the air and hisses a quiet “yes,” “No funny carry-on until then, you hear me? And you’ll be doing all the bookin’ on your own.” There’s a smile on Deirdre’s face, though; Michelle slowly notices that she hasn’t seen her ma smile in a while.
“I will! I’ll get everything done myself, decorations and all. Fuck, this is going to be cracker ! Thank you so much, mammy,” Michelle gushes, and she leans forward, planting a sound kiss on her ma’s cheek. “You won’t regret this, I promise.”
“I’ll discuss the budget with your daddy when he gets home,” her ma says, but Michelle doesn’t hear her; she’s already running up the stairs, skidding down the hall in her school socks until she’s knocking frantically on James’ door.
“Open up!” she exclaims, pounding against the wood. When it doesn’t budge, she pounds harder, the thumping resounding through the house. “I will kick the door down, dick features, so–”
The door finally opens, revealing her cousin, who doesn't look at all happy. “What is it now , Michelle?” James groans, clearly irked. “If you’re going to ask about borrowing my camera again, I swear —”
“I don’t give a shit about your camera, James! We’ve got a party to plan!” Michelle interjects, a grin splitting across her face, and James returns it before opening his door wide enough for Michelle to barrel through.
“So here’s what I want you to do when you get to the library,” Michelle says, her back flat against James’ bed. “I need you to go and find a bunch of photos of like, the hottest rides you’ve ever seen; and don’t just stop at fellas, James. I want girls, too. Lots of girls. And after you’ve found these photos, slap them all onto an invite, and label it,” she pauses briefly for breath, “Michelle’s eighteenth. The theme: hot rides.”
James swerves around in his chair, incredulity flooding his features. “The theme for your party is hot rides ?”
“Yes,” Michelle says rather defensively. “Have you got a problem with that?”
“Not really,” James says. “But how’re you going to get people to dress up for it? You can’t just ask them to turn up looking like,” he swallows, “hot rides.”
“It’s my party,” Michelle says, sitting up in bed and looking at James like he’s the stupidest person she’s ever met, “so I think that kind of gives me the right to dictate what they wear, yeah.”
“Honestly,” he mutters under his breath, exhaling through his nose. “Fine.”
“Thanks a million, dickface,” she chirps, ignoring James’ scowl. “And the RSVPs…” Michelle trails off, the realisation slamming into her like an army truck; it’s a sudden ambush, one that sends her plunking back onto the bed, the springs creaking underneath her weight. “ Shit ! The phone ,” she wails.
And to think that there’d still be a functioning telephone in the Mallon house if she hadn’t repeatedly dialled the horoscope hotline, but she’d been so desperate to know if she’d be able to potentially ride Johnny Kells. Michelle can only curse her past self for this one, despair surging through her veins like some twisted sort of adrenaline.
“It’s ruined,” she says. “The party’s fucking ruined, and–”
“You could try asking Mrs Quinn if she’d be willing to lend her number to take your RSVPs,” James says slowly, as if it's the most obvious thing in the world. “I’m sure she’d be willing to help.”
“Huh,” Michelle says. “Looks like you’re not as dumb as you look.”
“I’ll drop by Erin’s on my way to the library, then,” he says; Michelle doesn’t miss the way his eyes twinkle when he says her name. James must’ve noticed it too, because he hurriedly adds, “Haven’t you got something to give Orla?”
“I gave my leggings to them yesterday,” Michelle drawls, inspecting her acrylics. “Remember? You were the one who dropped them off at step aerobics, prick.”
James blushes bright red, evidently flustered underneath the weight of Michelle’s scrutinising gaze. She exhales quietly out of her nose, running a hand through her hair. He’s got it bad for Erin, James, and to put things simply, Michelle doesn’t know what to do.
She’d been able to put a stop to their budding relationship in that haunted house in Donegal, but Michelle feels like a poorly constructed dam, struggling to block out a wall of roaring water that’s rising steadily day by day; there’s only so long until she can’t hold them back any longer, until the mortar cracks. Michelle would be lying if she’s saying that this whole incident hasn’t drawn a rift between her and James; it’s molecular, but it’s still there.
And it’s not like Michelle doesn’t want them to be happy, either; she loves both of them something fierce, but she doesn’t want to choose between Erin and James, in case of a tragic breakup that typically befalls most teenage couples; that’s simply not a decision that she can make on the fly, as spontaneous as she is.
Awkwardly, James says, “Right. I’ll be off, then. I’ll print out a copy of the initial design that I’ve got in mind, and you can–”
“Make edits, I know,” Michelle says, rolling her eyes. James stands and turns to leave; just before he’s out the door, she calls out, “Don’t be too long, aye? That stupid creep show of yours is on tonight, and there’s microwave popcorn to be had, so–”
“Alright,” James says, offering her a smile and a dorky little wave. “See you, Michelle.”
“Christ,” she mutters under her breath, just as the door closes behind him. She can hear him trot down the stairs, his socked feet connecting gently against the wooden steps. Michelle’s begrudgingly grown to love her stupid English prick of a cousin, but she can’t help but perpetually feel the urge to sock him in the face.
She guesses that that’s just familial love, though.
“Hot rides? Seriously, Michelle?” Clare asks, her voice tinny and pitched as it comes through the receiver. “That’s the theme for your party? You couldn’t come up with anything better?”
“Oh, shut up, Clare,” Michelle scoffs, twisting the phone cord around her fingers as if it were a strand of hair. “It’s a great theme.” She pauses momentarily to cram a marshmallow into her mouth, tilting her head to squash the phone between her head and shoulder.
“Well, it’s your party,” Clare concedes, though she doesn’t sound all that happy. “Just– what am I supposed to wear, Michelle?”
“Just wear what you usually wear,” Michelle replies, rolling her eyes. “I mean, I’m technically riding you, Clare, so–”
“ Okay ,” Clare squeaks, and Michelle just knows that Clare’s blushing as they speak, her cheeks tinted a shade of fleshy pink.
Here’s another thing that Michelle doesn’t know what to do; the list is growing as she speaks, but that’s beside the point.
What remained of the Devlin family had packed up and moved to Strabane following Sean’s untimely and quite frankly extremely abrupt passing. Michelle hadn’t taken that all too well, especially since she’d properly asked Clare out just days before the Fatboy Slim concert, but she’d managed to secure a bottle of vodka, so she’s fairly okay now.
They’ve committed to a long-distance relationship ever since, but Michelle doesn’t know if Clare even wants to come to her eighteenth. After all, it’s only been a few months since her da passed away, and even Michelle knows that it’s insensitive to ask someone to have fun so soon after something so life-altering and painfully tragic.
“Michelle?” Clare asks, and Michelle can hear the concern radiating through the phone. “Is everything alright? You’ve been, you know, quiet, and that’s… unusual for you.”
“Just grand,” she replies, biting her lower lip.
“Well?” Clare says. “Are you going to tell me what’s bothering you, or not?”
“It’s just– do you even want to come to my rave?” When Clare doesn’t reply, Michelle hastily adds, “I mean, if you’re feeling up to it or not, because well, you know…” Michelle trails off, cringing involuntarily at the crackling silence that she’s created.
“That’s really thoughtful of you, Michelle,” Clare says; she sounds sincere, and Michelle would’ve cracked a joke if the moment wasn’t so sombre. “But I’ll be okay. I’d love to come to your party, even though the theme–”
“Enough with the feckin’ theme,” Michelle whines. “Look– just see if you can come to Derry next weekend, alright? We’ll go to the stores again, pick out some dresses that really show off our tits, and–”
“Sounds great,” Clare rushes in. “I’ve got to go, Michelle; there’s a pile of maths homework on my desk that I need to get to.”
“Nerd,” Michelle says, but there’s no venom in the half-hearted insult. “Alright, then. I’ll talk to you later.” Hesitating before she slams the phone at Erin’s back into the receiver, Michelle says, “Love you,” before blushing like a first-year who’s just had her first kiss.
“Love you too,” her girlfriend replies, and Michelle doesn’t stop smiling for the rest of the afternoon.