So I went to a house party last night, being as it was New Year’s Eve and everything, and having come back from my first term at university it was a chance to see all my old friends again and get quite hilariously pissed in the process. That was the idea anyway, and being adults it’s fantastic that we can all purchase our own alcohol to bring, not that I’m the biggest drinker, and I tend to just scrounge off others. Adulthood also means lots of us can drive, and as the location for the party was a house right out in the sticks (I’m talking proper country, you wouldn’t get mobile signal here for miles) it was helpful that we could negotiate lifts. Although I can drive, I caught a lift with three other guys and a girl, and we joked about serial killers and car accidents driving through the dark wooded lanes. We all left sober – the girl would be vomiting within 4 hours. It was, after all, New Year’s Eve and everything.

The party was really good and so was reconnecting with old friends, many of whom I hadn’t seen in several months. The girlfriend was there too, which was a bonus. The music was loud, old classics (I would call it “cheese” to be honest, but it was a party and we needed to dance), and the bottles chinked as the minutes counted down towards New Year. Of course, people over-did it, but it was the end of 2012 (possibly my best year yet), so why not push it out in style? I’m still unconvinced that one of my friends did see the New Year in (he promises he passed out after the countdown, but he wasn’t with us!) With two bathrooms in the house, soon the chundering meant that the garden was the only other destination for men who needed the toilet, although it was so freezing out there I avoided it (plus drunk people at our house parties tend to head outside. Is that a normal thing? Does alcohol have a tendency toward gardens?) I also had a girlfriend to look after. But mainly I didn’t want to freeze as I pissed.

This morning when my dad had picked me up from town to take me to our house, he’d lost his keys. We were locked out of the house for a good ten minutes as my mum drove back to let us in. Sat in the car, feeling uncomfortably tired and distracted, I wasn’t particularly bothered, assuming they’d just be lying on a side somewhere inside, but I could sense his nervousness. It grows, that feeling, when you’ve lost something, the anxiety that builds. When we got in he rushed to all the usual key haunts – by the door, on the hook, on his bedside table – but no luck. He’s an organised man, my dad, so that put him right out. I was too tired to care.

I was so tired because sleeping on the floor was not much fun. Luckily I wasn’t too uncomfortable – I had my girlfriend – though the chatting lasted to the slightly-less-than-early hours. It turns out passed out friends can snore quite horrendously loudly too. 3am and several people wandered into the lounge laughing about having just eaten a loaf of bread. Another bloke slipped out saying he wanted to be alone but also with people. This is the kind of nutter who embarks on walks at midnight, so the fact he wasn’t speaking sense when drunk, and I was half asleep anyway, meant we ignored him.

My dad soon started searching the less conspicuous places for his keys. Dining room table? Window sill? By the sink in the kitchen? He checked his pockets again. I offered him a cup of tea, but you could tell the restless feeling, the nagging worry was with him, he wouldn’t be able to settle till he’d found it. I’d had that feeling with a mobile phone before, spending a whole train journey home panicking, desperate to get home and start searching.

Pleasingly, my hangover in the morning was not too horrendous (the same cannot be said for the girlfriend, nor for anyone who vomited). Tea and toast got me going a bit around mid-morning, as various less-than-fresh faces appeared and continued sleeping bag chats, or filled in the gaps in others memories, The Hangover style. Being as most of us were in the lounge, but some others were spread round the house wherever they could find kip space, heads soon started appearing saying things which reminded us of what had been a good night. “Happy New Year”, they said, and we asked them how much of the 10 hours of the New Year they remembered, and laughed.

My dad was peeling off sofa cushions now, ringing the friends he had visited last night, ringing up his place of work. Re-checking the obvious key places. Re-checking the less obvious places for keys. It’s a sort of calm panic, that feeling – you know, logically, they must be around here, and you know, logically, that they will turn up and you don’t need them right now anyway, but God damn it do you want them now please, and where are they and WHAT DID I DO WHY CAN’T I THINK no no it’s fine, calm down check your pockets again, they must be here somewhere…

We noticed our friend was missing early on, but people were still emerging from different rooms from this country house, he was bound to turn up. Admittedly, he should have been sleeping in the lounge with us, but people were moving about all night – hadn’t people been in the kitchen eating bread at 3am? Hadn’t he gone out saying something nonsensical, like he wanted to be alone, or with people – or were we half-asleep, half-drunk imagining that? He would turn up, anyway, that was for sure, before we drove back to town.

Dad couldn’t even sit down to watch TV now, he was panicking. “A great way to start 2013”, I’d joked, sat in the car, and he’d grinned, but now he was grimacing. They weren’t just house keys, they were to his work and other important places. He ever so slightly needed these keys. There was no chance that they would be in the spare bedroom under the bed, but should he check anyway? Worth a try…

Most people had emerged now, and some had even started to leave. “Let us know when you find him!” they grinned, referring to the missing friend, and we joked, before pulling a face because someone was being sick in a bucket behind them. Still, there was some concern now. His sleeping bag was untouched in the hall. And soon everyone was present and correct, if lopsided and headache-y, but there was no sign of him, one of the blokes who got a lift down with me. A simple search of the rooms should turn him up – but this was no mansion and he wasn’t there. Had he left early with some of the others? No one had phone signal to check – we were out in the sticks.

My driver was anxious to leave, but we couldn’t leave without a full car. The girl who was in our car took another lift because she was so ill, but we still needed to take our other friend home. The nutter who sometimes took off for walks at midnight, couldn’t have considered that last night could he? When it was so cold last night, and we were 18 miles from his home, in a strange empty country village?

We used the landline to ring friends who’d left earlier in the morning – was he in your car when you left? Did you see him at all? How much had he had to drink? Other people found mobile signal and rang him, but got no answer. To say we were worried is putting too much of it, but it was that rising feeling of just wanting to know he was okay. We had all been quite drunk.

As we’d driven there, sober, we’d joked about serial killers.

Eventually we left the house out in the country in the sticks, leaving the hostess with assurances, empty ones, that he would turn up I’m sure. Her hangover had disappeared as she’d got more worried. We still kept our eyes peeled as we drove back through the village and the frosty, flooded country lanes. When we got signal we phoned him again and each other, over and over to find out if there was any news, because that feeling was building as we headed to the afternoon that yes, everything was probably fine but it would be a lot nicer if he turned up.

Dad ended up driving into work to check for his keys, but still no luck. It was a fruitless exercise anyway, as I could have told him, as he must have had them to unlock the door last night.

They’d turn up soon enough.


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