An after-party at a London penthouse
The fifth instalment of an imagined story from the weekend – this time from a swanky apartment overlooking The Thames. How the hell did we wind up here?
A fictional story from the weekend. Same time, same characters, different place, come back every week. Catch up here.
You know those nights when you look around and wonder how the fuck you ended up here? Tonight we’ve somehow made it to “a penthouse on The Thames”.
It’s owned by one of Fizz’s friends from Bristol, who claims to be a DJ/producer/promoter – the kind of guy who makes himself the headliner of his own night. His name, inevitably, is Charlie, and his chatty model-actress girlfriend is called Eliza and it’s Eliza – inevitably – who’s invited us back to his. Charlie hasn’t had much say in the matter, and in the Uber here kept looking over his shoulder to cast suspicious glances at Jay.
“It’s stunning,” Fizz had gushed in the toilets of this bar we’d been at in Hackney Wick. “Like, next level. We should definitely go.”
It was only 2am – it’s just gone three now – and the music was pretty decent, but already we were restless; already there was a sense of, what next? I’m not gonna lie, something does feel strange about tonight. We’ve finally left the EU, and though these lot would never talk about it there’s a silent, unspoken chaos in the air.
I’ve never been to a penthouse before, I don’t think any of us have – though Risky’s always banging on about this one squat party back in 2015 that was “basically a penthouse”. Thankfully, Risky’s stayed in tonight because he’s convinced he has coronavirus – obviously it’s just a comedown.
Anyway, I’ve imagined something like that apartment in The Wolf of Wall Street and it’s not far off. It’s 17 stories up – which makes for a long, painful journey in the achingly-bright lift – and when we get inside, there’s Scandinavian furniture everywhere – not IKEA – Scandinavian, “Scandi” Scandinavian – as well as shitloads of black lacquer and chrome and a fuck-off Grand Piano with mother-of-pearl inlay. There’s a home studio, obviously, and there’s even a Sterling Ruby on the wall.
“Isn’t it insane,” says Eliza. She throws back a knowing smile as she says this, as though she is breaking the fourth wall. I know she sees herself as Fleabag and the world her very own stage.
Her hair is long and shiny and TRESemmé-thick, but if it wasn’t for that she’d look the spit of Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction, right down to the open white shirt. She also looks like the kind of girl who kisses her yoga teacher on the cheek as she walks into class, but I reckon she fucks Insta-rappers on the sly.
I don’t blame her – Charlie is distinctly uninteresting. He’s textbook-handsome, sure, and I bet he’s The Guy among his friends – the big shot with the penthouse and the studio and the maybe-model girlfriend – but now he just looks lost, out of place in his own home. Or maybe he’s just working out how to get us to leave.
Eliza’s just come running out of a corner waving two bottles of Moët, a coy smile on her face. She pops one with a flourish and then offers it round for us to drink from the bottle. As though we are savages. Lacey gives me a look. She finds some crystal glasses in the sleek chrome cabinet that lines the walls and starts pouring.
Despite all the glamour, it’s still a bit of a sad afters and I can see everyone’s disappointed. Not worth the £40 Uber, after all.
Jay’s already racking the CK though, heavier on the Calvin than the Klein. Eliza’s sat next to him, legs pressed close, pretending not to look over his shoulder at the length of lines on offer. Charlie’s on his decks playing bad techno, pretending not to notice.
Lacey’s cross-legged on the breakfast bar, coat still on, flicking through the pages of Madonna’s Sex book. There are books like this everywhere – tokens of cool that look like they’ve never been opened, likely inspired by the lobby of some swanky hotel.
Maya’s dancing with a zoot hanging out her mouth, half-smoked but unlit, like a prop in an old film. Wig on the floor.
Fizz is floating about – being floaty, being Fizz – but I know she’s keeping an eye on things, making sure we’re behaving.
Somewhere along the night we’ve also adopted this sweet, cuddly Spanish girl that I think Maya’s got a crush on. As far as I remember – which is usually more than most – we found her in the smoker’s with a box of foreign cigarettes, a dead iPhone and no mates, so decided to take her under our wing. Lacey quite literally tucked her into Jack’s white Goose (still in her possession). I like her: she’s more drawn to us than the boys, which always speaks volumes to me. I think her name’s Maria.
Jack swipes the zoot out of Maya’s mouth, lights it, takes a draw and walks over to stand in front of Lace. He offers it to her.
Lace shakes her head – “nah I’m cool” – then uncrosses her legs and jumps down. For a moment they face each other, Lace barely coming up to Jack’s collarbone. Then she takes off his coat, folds it butler-style over his arm and walks over to the gleaming Bosch fridge as though it’s her rider.
“I’m mad hungry. Do you reckon I could make some toast?” she asks, already illuminated by the interior glow. She’s up on her tiptoes to see what’s on the top shelf.
“Nothing but top shelf for Lacey Jackson,” says Jack. He’s watching her hips, and I know she knows it. I’m happy to report that Lacey’s got the power tonight, and when she turns around she’s got a delicious smile on her face.
She’s also got two avocados in her hands. Fizz jumps up to tell us that eating them is ethically irresponsible, that avocados are the new cocaine, that people in Mexico are dying…
“Swear down? Jay we better get to Mexico bruv. Link up with the avocado cartel.”
Jay grunts in response. He’s finally finished sorting the lines.
Eliza leans over his shoulder. “Thanks babe. Is that one for me?” and she’s pointing at a big slug.
Jay looks over at Jack. I told you. Then he looks up at Eliza and goes, “Nah, that one’s for your man.”
It’s not ridiculously peak – Charlie hasn’t even heard – but it’s enough. Eliza tucks in her bottom lip like a naughty child. “I see.”
It all feels a bit weird so I leave them to their avocados and head for a wander – when’s the next time I’m gonna be in a penthouse?
The master bedroom is simultaneously ostentatious and boring. Looks gold, feels beige – I can’t help but think about all the beige sex Charlie and Eliza must have.
There’s a spare room with a four-poster bed that looks insanely comfortable, and I’m tempted to lie down – just for a moment – but I know I won’t get back up again. Somehow I don’t feel like this is one of those nights where we all end up curled up in bed together in a cuddle puddle, talking shit ‘til dawn. But I could be wrong.
In the bathroom, I stand fully-clothed in the rainfall shower and imagine what it would be like to turn it on. How I’d shiver; how my eyes would run, and run. Eliza would probably find a big fluffy robe for me to put on afterwards though – and it’s at this moment, thinking of how she would offer this to me, and how Charlie would bristle as she did it, that I realise I actually quite like her.
Lacey slides in the door. Her eyes go wide when she sees me.
“Mate. Not the shower thing again.”
“You wanna do a cheeky one in here?”
“Isn’t Jay doing CK?”
“Yeah but it’s a weird vibe.”
I nod in response. She pulls me out of the shower by both hands and sits me down on the toilet.
“Ohmygod. Guess what Fizz just said to Eliza.”
“She goes, ‘I’m going to be honest with you, Eliza, I’m a MoonCup half-full kind of woman.’”
“I was crying. The boys were so baffled which made it even funnier. And Maria – is her name Maria? – was just nodding along and saying stuff about the moon in Spanish.”
“That’s fucking jokes. My MoonCup is half-full you’know.”
“Innit. I was like, to be honest, I’m more of a lost tampon girl myself.”
“You know them ones when you’re three days into a festival and you can’t remember if it’s even still there or not?”
“Yeah. I’m that one.”
“I know, right?”
We’re properly giggling by this point. I watch Lace in the mirror, still bright-eyed and beaming, and just want to stay in the bathroom with this idiot. Sometimes I feel like Lacey is the source of all our energy as a group, the sun around which we all orbit.
She gives me a kiss on the cheek and then holds up her hand, where a tiny mound of fairy dust awaits me. I inhale myself another hour of the night.
Back in the living room – or is it a lounge? – Eliza’s sat, effortlessly, in the lotus position, and she’s looking through a Dictionary. Someone’s got Scrabble out. This can only go one way. I know for a fact Jack is secretly mad clever and has a bone-deep chip on his shoulder about it. Jay’s half as bright but the chip’s twice as deep.
There are only three words on the board: “FROG”, “BOX” and “LUBE”.
Jay’s hunched over it now, carefully laying out his pieces. There’s already a look of frustration on his face, a readiness to be pissed off, and when he leans back to reveal his masterpiece – “ENDS”– it takes every effort to keep a straight face.
Charlie’s clearly been biting his lip – how did they get away with “LUBE”? – but now he can’t help it. “That’s just not a word.”
“How is ‘ends’ not a word?”
“You’re not allowed plurals, mate.” He pauses. “When it’s more than one thing.” I wince.
“How is that plural? My ends, your ends. The ends. How is that not one word?”
Charlie says nothing at first, and I’m hoping we’re going to move on. Jay’s swilling champagne around his glass as though it’s apple juice. Shit apple juice.
“This shit is rigged,” Jay sighs.
Charlie’s had enough. “The English language is rigged, mate?” Lacey rolls her eyes. So he’s cool with his girlfriend outrageously flirting in front of him, but this – this – is too much to bear?
“Yeah it is man,” says Jay. “That’s not how people talk?”
Somehow this all feels painfully close to the bone.
Jay’s moving around in his seat, restless and uncomfortable, but Jack’s enjoying himself too much here to let us leave. Him and Lacey are actually being nice to each other.
“Bruv, relax,” he says. “Every day’s a school day.”
There’s no one else in the world who could tell Jay Adams to relax and not get boxed in the mouth for it. Jay starts collecting the letters off the board, but his fingers are too fat and the letters are too fiddly, so he struggles to get them out and keeps dropping them. It’s proper comedy gold.
Annoyed, he gets up for some more champagne, but he’s moving too quickly and instead of reaching his glass he ends up knocking it off the surface. It smashes against the marble floor in a spray of ocean-glitter.
There’s a silence. Lacey sucks the air back between her teeth.
“Oops. Sorry bro,” says Jay. It’s not sarcastic, but it’s not really sorry either.
Fizz looks mortified. Charlie’s fuming and wants to say something but he’s scared we’ll steal the Moët, I can tell.
Eliza looks over with a snotty confidence. “Um, I’m not being funny but like, I bought those, and they were like, really expensive.”
Fizz is practically hyperventilating. “Eliza, I’m so sorry. Jay will definitely buy you a new one.”
Jay raises an eyebrow. “Yeah sure. Or maybe I’ll just pay for it with all my coke you’ve already sniffed.”
So you’d think this is provocative – threatening, even – but it’s so bold and so Jay and it’s all been so tense that everyone just bursts out laughing. Instead of amplifying the latent tension, it completely dissolves it. Everybody’s creasing, even Charlie. “Alright mate. Touché.”
Things get better from here. Jay helps Charlie sweep up the crystal. Fizz convinces Eliza to get a MoonCup. Lacey makes toast.
Scrabble descends into a team effort, with everyone trying to get as many words on the board as possible. It’s also that point in the night when everyone – bar Jay, obviously – stops doing coke and sticks to long slugs of K that leave you diagonal on the floor with a warmth in your head where anxiety used to be.
I try to take Jay out on the balcony for a word – he just needs some love, Jay Adams – but Fizz is oblivious to subtlety and comes too. It doesn’t matter though – it’s beautiful out here, and says everything I wanted to say.
I don’t think we anticipated the penthouse actually being on The Thames. Hovering over it. There’s a feeling of weightlessness, and in the floating black – migrant stars escaping from the linear glitter of the London skyline – it feels as though we’ve stepped out into space. The K helps.
“It’s a new moon!” cries Fizz.
“Looks like a clipped toenail,” says Jay. Fizz rolls her eyes but personally I think it’s pretty apt. It makes me wish that “ends” was a word.
After a while, Eliza appears at the door with a woozy look on her face, an empty bottle of Moët in her hand. I look at Lace: Jack’s? She nods.
Eliza shows us out. She takes us all the way down the lift – all 17 stories – in bare feet and a red silk kimono. At the door she leans against the frame, Madame-like. Across the street, there’s a fox lingering by a bus stop.
Before anyone can stop her, Eliza goes: “Oh my god. Girls. It’s just like that bit at the end of Fleabag!”
Lacey and I groan. The boys just look confused.