When I was sixteen, a tumour started growing above my left hip. My grandma told me that people got sick when they sinned, and so I knew that being in love with Annabel was my sin.
When I turned up to Harry Curwell’s end-of-year party, I just sat in the corner and watched Annabel from afar. She was one year older than me, and she went to high school with my brother. Her dark brown hair fell just below her shoulders, and she was wearing enough makeup to conceal her freckles.
Annabel’s head tilted to the side whenever she laughed, and her teeth were perfectly white but not perfectly straight. She was beautiful. When she was laughing just to be polite, her left cheek lifted ever so slightly. But when Annabel truly thought that something was funny, both of her cheeks lifted and they dragged her lips into a wide smile.
I felt the lump above my hip; it was vibrating in my hand. I could feel it growing a little bigger. It stuck out from my stomach and I could always feel it when I rested my arm against my side. The lump was soft, with blue veins stretched over the bulge.
I heard someone’s footsteps beside me, so I adjusted my top. I stretched it away from me so that when it fell against my sides again, it was baggier than before.
It was Annabel. I glanced up at her as she walked past me.
“Hey,” I said. She turned towards me and smiled. Only one cheek lifted.
“Hey,” she said.
I stood up and leaned into her. She placed her arms around my neck in a light hug. I wrapped my arms around her waist and squeezed tight. Her hair smelt like summer and home. I felt her waist as I gripped her back, and then I panicked. What if she could feel the lump? What if she saw my tumour? I pulled away.
“How is your brother?” she said.
I shrugged. “Fine. He’s here tonight. You’ll probably see him at some point.”
Annabel nodded, but then shifted her weight. “This is Haley.”
She pointed to a short blonde girl standing beside her. Haley nodded and lifted her hand to wave at me halfheartedly. I reciprocated.
“Nice to meet you,” I said.
Haley nudged her arm.
“I’ll see you around,” Annabel said. They walked away.
Annabel’s grey skirt confined her strides, but she looked perfect. My stomach hurt, and as I gripped the lump above my left hip, I felt it grow again.
Harry walked past me and paused, looking at me with a quizzical expression. “You aren’t drinking tonight?”
“I didn’t know Annabel was gay,” I said, ignoring his question. I pointed to the other room where Annabel and Haley were now standing, deep in conversation with some people I didn’t know.
Lying was also a sin, or so Grandma told me. It fed my tumour. Harry glanced at Annabel and then back at me. He shrugged.
“She’s always been gay,” he said. He went to walk away, but I reached out and halted him before he could get too far.
“Where’s the bathroom?” I said.
He led me down a small set of steps to the basement of his house. He pointed to a white door in the corner of the room.
“It doesn’t lock,” he said. He walked away from me and back up to his party.
When I walked in, I held my nose and breathed through my mouth. There was vomit beside the toilet bowl, and I stepped over it to get to the mirror. I stared at my reflection, and then I lifted up my shirt and examined my tumour. It was getting bigger; it was the size of a tennis ball. I started to pinch it, but then I stopped because it hurt. Somebody knocked on the door.
“I’m in here,” I called out.
There was a scuffle. “Hurry up,” someone called back. I didn’t recognise their voice.
I looked back in the mirror at the tumour. I ran my finger over it, and then I pulled my shirt back over it and flushed the toilet. I opened the door and left. The music stopped for a moment, and I heard Annabel laugh. Even over all the chatter I could still hear her laugh travel down the steps.
After I’d rejoined the party, I looked for someone I knew. But the whole time I walked around the room, I snuck glances at Annabel. She was laughing with her friends, and Haley had her arm around her. I was waiting for them to kiss; I wanted to judge their intimacy. I wanted to know if their relationship was serious. But they never kissed, and I convinced myself that it was because their relationship was stale. Annabel no longer loved Haley. She was waiting for someone to else to come along.
The drinks table had an assortment of mixes and liquors. I couldn’t tell what anything was, so I just poured a cup of the spirit closest to me. I drank it like water, and then I crushed the paper cup in my hand and threw it on the floor.
My brother was standing in the corner of the room, and I shuffled towards him.
“I didn’t know Annabel was gay,” I said.
He frowned and as he looked over at Annabel, I ran the tips of my fingers over the tumour. It had grown.
“So?” he said.
I looked at my feet. “I’m just surprised, that’s all.”
He said nothing.
“Grandma will be out the front at ten,” I said. “Don’t forget.”
He rolled his eyes and sculled the rest of his drink. “How could I forget? She only reminded us every five minutes in the car on the way here.”
“I mean it, Brett. Don’t disappear on me. I can’t go searching for you all night again.”
“Yeah yeah okay. I got it. Stay close, and be ready for ten.”
I let out a breath. “Thanks.”
I saw Annabel walk out of the room with Haley. I turned and followed. They weren’t holdings hands, but they were laughing together. I watched them for a few minutes, but their conversations were void of intimate touches. They were sitting beside each other, talking amongst themselves. I pretended to be texting someone on my phone, but every few seconds I would raise my head above the crowd.
“Who you looking for?” Harry said.
“No one,” I said, turning to him. “Is that Annabel’s girlfriend?”
Harry shrugged again. “Yeah, I think so.”
I glanced back down at my phone and when I looked back up, Harry had shuffled off again.
My hip ached, and I felt the tumour grow a little bigger. People would start to notice soon. What if somebody said something? A drunk boy stumbled past me, and he knocked into my left side. The buckle on his belt clipped my hip, and I clenched my teeth.
“Sorry,” the boy said. He put a hand on my shoulder and patted it. I nodded and pushed it off me, and he staggered into the next room.
I clutched my hip, the pain still vibrating through my stomach. I groaned and tilted my head back to lean on the wall behind me.
“Are you alright?” Annabel said, walking past me. She nodded at my hand.
“I’m good. Just a bruise,” I said.
She smiled — one cheek lifting — and kept walking. Haley followed.