"Where you goin'?"
Turning back, I almost didn't hear Jon's voice over the blaring music.
"Where you goin', mun?" He called to me again. "You gonna try the foam pit or what?"
He was soaked through from head to foot, the large blobs of foam still clinging to his hair and musting up his glasses. Looking behind him at all of the beautifully tanned people with huge beaming faces and neon coloured clothes, I hid the disdain in my voice as best I could.
"I'm not feeling well!" I called over the thumping bass. "I'm just going to get some fresh air!"
Not quite as inebriated as the rest of our friends, he raised an eyebrow in concern, his characteristic grin fading a fraction. Moving closer, he shouted into my ear still a tad too quietly.
"Want me to come with 'ew?"
But I shook my head; I wanted to be alone.
"I won't be long!" I forced a smile onto my face. "Go on - I think Rachel's trying to get you to wear her fairy wings!"
And with that, the manic grin returned.
"She don't 'av to try, mun!" Jon laughed. "I'm well up for it!"
And turning back towards the throb of pulsing bodies, Jon was lost beneath a tangle of waving arms clutching at cocktail glasses. I watched him go back into the foam cloud with a heaviness in my chest, the smile falling from my lips as I stood there in the twinkling of galactic starlight from the lights above. Holding my hands up to my face I turned the palms over, watching the colours dance over the surface like petrol-puddle ripples. A group of women passed me in tiny pink minidresses, their brows furrowing in a mixture of distaste and wariness as they saw me. They didn't speak to me, but I knew exactly what the would've said if they had. Throwing my hands down in a rage, I put my head down as low as I could manage and turned towards the exit. Storming through the door, I barged my way hurriedly past a group of women decked in feather boa's and hen night attire. They shouted after me, stumbling about and laughing in their deadly-tipped stiletto's and swearing in nasally voices.
"Er! Wass' that on your face?"
"Go have a wash, love! You look 'anging!"
Climbing down the steps that led out of The Purple Pear Club and back out into the crowded street, I let my hair fall over my face and walked hurriedly away with my hands crossed over my chest. Though I tried to go unnoticed, a few passing drunkards and party goers did a double-take as they saw me and I kept my eyes on the floor and averted the left side of my face.
"Oi love!" Someone called. "It's not Halloween yet! Take the mask off!"
I didn't look up. Walking a hundred feet down the road, I shoved my back up against the wall of a bank beside an alleyway and shoved my hands in my pockets in search of my cigarettes. Luckily the spot was dark enough for me to go mostly unnoticed and I fumbled around until I found my cigarettes. Angrily shoving one in my mouth, I lit up and took in a long drag, slumping up against the wall. I didn't look out into the streets full of people but up at the sky. The arching fingers of brightly lit buildings stretched up into the heavens as if they were desperate for someone to pick them up and carry them away from this place and letting out a sad sigh, I felt much the same.
Startled, I almost dropped my cigarette as I looked back down to ground level. Lowering my gaze to the floor, I let my hair fall over my face as much as I could when I realised that the owner of the voice had stopped beside me.
"How's it going?"
I had hoped it was just one of my friends come to find me, but I wasn't so lucky. Slightly taken aback, I looked up to meet the owner of the voice. Standing over a foot taller than me, a strikingly obscure young man with bright green eyes looked back at me through my curtain of hair. He was oddly attractive looking though I wasn't sure why. Matted blonde dreadlocks hung out of the back of the bandanna he wore around his head to his shoulders. Muscular but slightly gangly looking, his jaw was hard and defined, but there was a softness to the rest of his features that made him look slightly baby-faced. Though he was dressed much the same as the other party goers in the street, his wrists were almost covered with thick leather armbands of every colour and for some reason, he was barefoot. I assumed it was because like Jon, he too had made his way into a foam pit and he still had patches of little bubbles clinging to his matted blonde locks. Seeing him looking down at me, I immediately retreated into myself, turning my face away from him and wishing that he would just leave me alone.
"What do you want?" I asked, my voice hard.
His hands in his pockets, the young man stepped forward and slumped against the wall beside me. Flinching inwardly, I looked away and tried to keep my focus on the floor.
"Just thought you could use some company." he shrugged. "Don't think I've ever seen someone look so miserable in a foam pit before until tonight. I'm guessing club isn't your scene?"
He nodded at my clothes and I wrapped an arm consciously around myself, wondering just how long he'd been watching me. I hadn't even seen him back at The Purple Pear. Had he followed me out here?
"I'm not out here because I hate club music." I grumbled and the man held his hands up sheepishly.
"Hey, I'm not judging!" he smiled boyishly. "Nothing wrong with metalheads or their music! And you can like more than one music scene, right?"
I didn't answer. I'd thought when I'd headed out with my friends that I'd managed to really tone down the black look - apparently not enough. Peering at me with his lip sticking out, the man tried and failed to catch my eye. Feeling immensely uncomfortable under his scrutiny, I flicked my cigarette away and tried to brush the hair further over my face. Couldn't he see I just wanted to be alone?
"You sure picked a crappy spot." the man nodded to the alley. "Think the public toilets in the park probably smell better. Plus I'm pretty sure I saw some guy take a dump down there earlier."
Staring straight down at the floor, I said nothing.
"Don't say a lot, do you?" the man asked, surprisingly cheerful. "Is there actually a girl under all that hair or am I talking to Cousin It?"
Shame brought an angry red to my cheeks and I grit my teeth.
"Go away!" I snapped. "You've had your laugh and now you can go back to your friends and say you did their stupid dare! I don't know if you're blind or just an asshole, but just go away and leave me alone!"
I let out an angry breath, waiting to hear a string of retorts and spiteful laughter. But they didn't come. The man didn't move, his hands still casually in his pockets as he leant against the wall. Calmly he crossed his feet over themselves and I caught a glimpse of the underside of his feet - they were practically black with dirt.
"Hey! There we go!" he chirped. "Just to let you know, I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about, love. But I can tell you that no, I'm not blind. Yes, I can be an asshole - but only when it comes to public transport and guys who hit girls. I think truth or dare is for ten year olds and finally, I'm not with anyone else. The whole 'scheduled guys night' thing just stops you from meeting people, you know? Too loud, too messy. It's just little old me here."
A long moment of silence hung in the air and for a second, I was completely at a loss of what to say. If I'd been expecting him to say anything, that certainly hadn't been it.
"So then, what?" I mumbled. "You just trying to get laid or something? Because I'm not interested."
Looking contentedly up at the twinkling lights of the buildings above, the young man looked for a moment as if he hadn't even heard me.
"No." he replied. "Just figured it's a nice night, we're young, broke and stupid. The night's full of possibilities and everyone's living it up - might as well make a friend in the process."
Completely at a loss for words, I let myself look at him for the first time. I couldn't stop the bewildered frown from creasing my brow, but quickly looked away again when he flashed me a manic grin and I felt myself going red.
"I look that bad, huh?" the man laughed. "I know - it's the excessive hair, right? You get used to it after a while. I think most girls I meet are a tad jealous to be honest."
He was joking, not in the least bit malicious, but at the mention of his words I felt myself growing angry again.
"Who are you anyway?"
An energetic bounce in his step, he pushed himself off of the wall.
"Ah, now." He grinned, shaking his head. "That, I can't tell you. Because then you have all the power. How do I know you won't just go find the nearest copper and tell them I'm harassing you?"
"You are harassing me." I huffed, folding my arms over my chest.
But he was unperturbed.
"In that case," he smiled. "I'm definately not saying. But if we're going to keep going, who do you think I am?"
Raising an eyebrow, I looked at him through my hair in disbelief. Was he serious? Were we really still doing this? What was with this guy? Looking him up and down, I had no idea what he wanted me to say. How could he possibly expect me to know that? Looking at him, I would have guessed a student. Or a surfer. Or given the state of his feet, maybe even a homeless man. But this didn't seem to be the type of answer he was expecting so before I could stop myself, I said the first thing that came to mind.
A huge grin split over his face, not at all bothered that I had basically insulted him. Uncrossing his arms, he stepped back and swept one arm behind him as he bowed his head low in an overexaggerated and hugely embarrassing fashion.
"If that's what you think, dear lady," he said most grandly. "then that is what I'll be - you can call me 'Loon'."
He straightened himself up again and I saw several passers by sniggering as they walked past us, pointing towards us and whispering amongst themselves. Mortified, I slunk into myself even more, moving one side of my face as far into the shadows as I possibly could. But the man I only knew as 'Loon' didn't even seem to notice.
"Stop that!" I whispered embarrassedly. "Everyone's looking! Just how drunk are you?"
But Loon simply shook his head.
"I'm not." he replied. "I don't drink - why bother when you can get high off life and good conversation with attractive strangers?"
Flushing with anger, I looked ashamedly away as I clenched my teeth together to stop the tears.
"So what about you?" Loon winked, unaware of my discomfort. "What am I to call you?"
Feeling the gazes of passers by searing into the side of my face, I closed my eyes quickly to stop the tears from falling and before things could get the better of me, I barged past him and back towards The Purple Pear.
"Monster!" I sniffed. "You can call me a goddamn monster!"
I was barely two steps away when I felt him grab onto my wrist. Looking back for a second, I blinked stupidly as Loon hopped in front of me and placed his hand on my shoulder to stop me going any further. The grin was wiped from his face, replaced instead a pitying look of worry. It ill-suited him and I thought suddenly that this was one of those rare types of men that just seemed to have been born to smile.
"Hey, hey." he said gently. "Monster? No need to say that, love. You worried just because of the burn on your face?"
Biting down hard on my lip, I looked down at the floor through my hair. Pushing back the tears, I cringed ashamedly as I tried to hide my face from him.
"Don't downplay it." I sniffed. "I know exactly what it looks like. I'm hideous."
It had been six months since the house fire that destroyed my flat complex. I'd been living with my parents since and this was the first time since the accident that I'd left the house. Jon and the others had spent weeks trying to get me to come and have a drink with them, saying that it'd be good for me to get back to normal and that I couldn't let what happened stop me from living my life. I expected Loon to move away and leave at the awkwardness of the situation, but he didn't. Instead he straightened up, letting go of me as he tried to catch my eye again.
I swallowed the lump in my throat. I hadn't talked about it to anyone but the police and for a moment, I was tempted to just walk away. But something compelled me not to. There was something about Loon that made me feel as if he would actually listen because he cared - not just because he felt obliged to.
"My building caught fire." I whispered. "I ran to get out, but then I remembered my neighbour. She was old and couldn't really walk that well. I found her and we almost got out. But then there was an explosion and..."
Limply, I gestured to my face.
An awful quiet hung in the air as I let my hand drop. Feeling small and stupid, I waited to hear the barrage of words telling me how terrible it all was. But when I looked up, there wasn't a trace of pity on Loon's face. His mouth split into a dazzlingly white grin, he folded his arms across his chest and looked down at me as if he were almost...proud!
"Man!" he laughed. "And here I was thinking I was just talking to a pretty girl! But now I find myself in the presence of a national hero!"
Blinking stupidly up at him with bleary eyes, I was speechless as Loon placed his large hand on my shoulder.
"Risking your own life to save a sweet old lady like a guardian angel" he beamed. "You do something as amazing as that and you're sat out here in the cold as if it was all for nothing? Gets me why you're not celebrating, love. Don't think I'll ever understand the metalhead culture."
He hadn't even asked if she'd survived, but something told me that he already knew the answer just from looking at me.
"Nope!" Loon grinned. "'Monster' isn't your name! Don't know why you've got that in your head, but that's not your name at all! Like it or lump it, I'm calling you 'Angel'!"
Angel. Utterly bewildered, I didn't know what to say. It was horribly cheesy and tacky and stupid, but...he didn't care? He didn't care that I looked like this? Rubbing at the back of his neck with that same manic smile, Loon was like a light in the darkness of the street. I'd never met anyone like him in my entire life. He was just so happy. So...alive!
"Now," he shrugged cheerfully. "I know a badass rock chick like yourself probably doesn't care a dot about what a total lunatic like me thinks..."
Gingerly, he moved some of the hair away from my face with his finger.
"...but I think you should get a drink in your hand, a smile on your face and come dive in a heap of chemically dangerous foam with me until we find my shoes."
Moving his hand away from my face, he stepped back and dropped back into another over-the-top bow, his open hand extended toward me like he'd come right out of a fairytale.
"What say you, my Angel?" he grinned. "You ready to flip Death the bird and have some fun?"
Stupefied, I stood there for a second, looking back at Loon's mad green eyes like a deer in the headlights. He stood in place, his leg trembling slightly with the effort of keeping up his theatrical bow and as the strain of it began to spread over his face, I couldn't keep it in any longer. The corner of my lips tugging upwards, I forgot about the hideous burn for a second as I laughed and I felt the grin spread over my face. Lighting up like an explosion in the night sky, Loon laughed back at the sight of me, still struggling to stay upright as he wobbled in place.
"Is that a yes?" he asked. "Because I really can't keep this up for much longer."
Feeling the colour rise in my face, everything that had been me for the last six months told me not to. That this was all just some kind of cruel joke and that I should just go back home and forget the whole thing. But looking at the giant, rugged lunatic so full of life and laughter, for the first time since the fire, I began to feel like my old self again. Like I could smile again.
"Yes." I smiled sheepishly. "It's a yes."
Stepping forward, I took Loon's hand and he pulled himself upright with a relieved groan. His unusually warm hand tight around my own, Loon beamed the same crazy smile as we walked back towards The Purple Pear together.
"So," I asked. "are you going to tell me your name now?"
Shoving me playfully with his shoulders, Loon shook his head with a sly wink.
"Sorry, Angel." he replied. "But I think that's more of a second date thing. Don't you?"
Squeezing my hand, he pulled me towards the pulsing music at the doors to The Purple Pear and as the music enveloped us, I watched the glittering lights sweep over his skin.
"You know what?" I smiled. "I think it is!"