Since it’s going to be published in six days, (still currently only in e-book form, paperback will be released on an unspecified future date) I decided I would share the prologue and a short snippet from the first chapter of The Night Belongs To Us. Links to pre-order a copy can be found here: The Night Belongs To Us.
There isn’t one defining moment that forces Connie to notice the glaring differences between her and all the other girls she knows. Looking back, she’ll realize it probably first strikes her when she’s still very young; when she still abides by all the rules set out before her and her only friends are uptight and pedantic. She has never had a lot of time for the boys in her circle, regardless of how hard they try to befriend her. They bore her, mostly, when they show off by saying stupid things and making stupid jokes. But then secondary school swings around and with secondary school comes popularity and new friends, discos at the local the Gaelic Athletics Association club, and the boys she always happily ignored become points of interest for the girls she considers her friends.
She doesn’t fully understand it. The boys they take to fawning over are eejits; they’re rude, and they smell. It’s not as if there is anyone she can talk to about it, either. The other girls will laugh, she’s sure, and she’d rather drop dead than ask her sister- or, God forbid, her mother. She decides she’s just a bit slow on the uptake, and that all the feelings her friends talk about will come to her in time. And yet… still it niggles at the back of her mind, just why she doesn’t understand all of this—boys, crushes, dates, kisses, discos—and why it’s such a big deal for everyone else.
But then Roisin Murphy sits down next to her in Irish when school starts back after Christmas in First Year, and she figures she might finally be starting to understand.
There’s nothing particularly special about Roisin. She’s not popular, really, and not a part of her circle of friends, but she’s sweet, and she’s smart, and when she offers to help Connie out with her verb conjugations her steadily drumming heart swells up in her chest. And she becomes the focus of Connie’s attention, her favorite thing to talk about. She tells Molly and Orla all about her, eyes twinkling in adoration, every day at lunch, even though neither of them pays her much heed. When she thinks about her, her heart picks up speed and it’s like her mind, always so calm and rational before, goes into overdrive. It’s a new, exciting feeling and Connie loves the thrill it gives her, the rush. Everything the other girls have said—it all starts to make sense.
But then just after Easter Roisin begins to date some loser boy from Belvedere named Brian. Connie no longer wants her help in Irish. She was still failing the stupid class, anyway. She’s sullen and moody at lunch. She doesn’t want to hang out with her friends anymore.
That is, until Jessica Lane asks if she can borrow a pencil one afternoon in French, and the way her lips twitch into a smile, and the way her soft brown eyes pour into Connie’s across her desk—Connie could almost swear it must be love.
Everyone does stupid things to get boys to notice them. Connie joins after school choir even though it clashes with hockey and she hasn’t a note in her head when she finds out Jessica is their best singer. That infatuation lasts until Molly shows up at her house one afternoon in the shortest pair of denim shorts she has ever seen and it takes Connie the rest of the day to pick her jaw up off the floor. Her bizarre interest in Molly only drags on for a week or so, thank Christ. Molly’s pretty, sure, and fun to be around, but Connie can’t imagine a worse person to have feelings for.
Ciara Dowling moves to sit beside her in Art sometime in Second Year, and Connie’s grades fall from an A to a C. She takes to hating her teacher, moaning to her friends how unfair and unjust such a score is, but deep down she knows that she can only blame herself. She knows, deep, deep, down, that her results have plummeted purely because she spends almost every class whispering and giggling with the girl next to her, whatever portrait or painting she’s supposed to be working on thrown to the side and forgotten.
And so it goes on. Every week another girl catches her eye and before the week is over, she’s on to someone else. Attuned to their every movement and ensnared by every word they say.
Nobody ever has to tell Connie that she ought to keep these thoughts, these feelings, a secret. She wouldn’t dare ever speak them aloud. She knows, as soon as she’s old enough to piece it all together, that the thoughts she has just aren’t going to fly with anyone. Not with her friends, not with her classmates—not with her family. Connie knows as soon as she is old enough to understand, boys, girls, love, sex, that she doesn’t feel the way anyone else in Halford does. That the things she wants, she just shouldn’t want. That the person she is, she just shouldn’t be. And it’s something she locks away and buries deep down in the crevices of her brain, out of sight and out of mind. It’s trivial. It’s inconsequential. It’s irrelevant.
Connie has the foresight to picture her future rather clearly, and all these silly fantasies she has, of soft lips and gentle touches and feminine curves—they’re not a part of it. ‘Stability and security’, as her father says. That’s what she imagines for herself. What she wants right now is a delusion, a distraction. What she wants and what she is meant for are two perpendicular paths that will never meet and, if she’s being honest, that doesn’t faze her as it should. Sacrificing the things she loves is nothing new. She accepts very early on that the cravings of her heart are a vice she’ll never give in to, and while she may not be the best at school or studying Connie is smart enough to know and understand the things that truly matter.
Connie knows she is gay. She has known it right from the start, right from the moment she first learned what ‘gay’ meant. But she never thinks it might be something with the power to jolt her entire world and flip her upside down; not until Alex Ryan comes creeping into her life.
Chapter 1: June 1993
I read the ‘Aeneid’ when I first moved to London. Trying to fight off that unmerciful voice at the back of my head coaxing me into submitting to my loneliness I delved into a pile of second-hand books I picked up from the bookshop around the corner, something I hadn’t done since I was a child. I loathed the ‘Aeneid’ more than any other book I had ever read, what with its one-dimensional hero, its flimsy plot, its lack of focus. If not for its portrayal of fate and destiny I imagine I would have long forgotten about it by now. Virgil’s depiction of fate still resounded in my memory for a long time afterward. Throughout those lonely months I spent my days pondering fate, and destiny, and life paths. I wondered if everything is set out before us long before it transpires, everything under the control of fate, each of us victim to a premeditated game of dice, an unknowing victim of some ice blooded god. I wondered if there was no such thing at all—if our existence truly was a mistake, a slip-up in the mechanics of the universe, and if we were all just sauntering around with no upper hand influencing our destinies and so unfathomably insignificant that our selfish, ignorant minds could never comprehend it.
It wasn’t a pleasing topic to ponder over, but I deduced eventually that when the worst things befall us in life it is so much easier to shrug all of the blame off of ourselves and accuse the cards we were dealt, firm in the belief that there was nothing we could have done to escape our personal tragedies. But when luck strikes, we boast that we alone orchestrated our fortune and that our winnings are won by our own hands—no gods, no fate, no predestination.
It would be hard, in years to come, to even remember that there once existed a version of myself before I came to know Connie O’Reilly. I suppose you could quite easily divide my life into two decidedly uneven halves; the Alex before Connie, and Alex after Connie. Two barely reconcilable figures, I suppose, who lived very different lives and embodied very different ideals. A girl who was meek and well-mannered and mundane, compared to she who flirted with trouble and blasted caution and common sense to the wind. The time that came before is hardly memorable to me now. I was plain and unassuming before there was Connie, so much so that I struggle to picture clearly what I must have been like before she catapulted into my world and transformed the very essence of who I was.
Standing on the edges of crowded rooms, blending into the background. Never speaking unless spoken to. Childhood is a time of excitement and freedom, carefree innocence that can never be recaptured. My own childhood was never something I saw as such. I was not an unhappy child; merely forgettable, even to myself. My entire childhood I was holding my breath, awaiting something that would release me from my own prescribed monotony and self-diagnosed gutlessness. That something, as it turned out, just so happened to come in the shape of Connie.
I discovered who she was rather quickly upon starting secondary school in St. Michael’s. Everybody knew her whether they were in our year or not. She usurped her elder sister to become captain of the junior hockey team by Halloween, an impressive feat for a First Year, and the fact that she was both stunningly beautiful and filthy rich ensured that half our classmates were jealous of her, unsure of whether they wanted to be her or befriend her. Sometimes I would find myself staring unabashedly at them when they walked by, invisible on the periphery of the crowd. I couldn’t imagine that they might ever notice me, that they might be aware of anything beyond themselves. That was the aura they gave off, with their boisterous laughter and their elegant gliding, elated above the rest of us.