Boy Red is a story about identity, about where you come from and where you belong.
The day after his sixteenth birthday, Red discovers that the man he calls ‘Dad’ is not his biological father. Will Red be able to track down the anonymous sperm donor who gave him life? What will he learn about himself along the way? And just what else are his parents hiding?
It was Saturday night, and Mum was up on the makeshift stage doing a classy number—that is to say Tina Turner complete with big h air and five-inch red heels. The booths were taken by the karaoke regulars clutching their song sheets and medallions. A throng of studded students drank cheap German beer at the bar, disappearing outside every few minutes for a smoke. Tourists dripping with backpacks chatted in a zillion different languages.
A few weeks ago, I told Mum I wanted low key, meaning a night out down the Lock with Si—no wigs, microphones, or other parental contributions in sight. But she would have none of it.
“Red, baby, you only turn sixteen once,” she’d said. “You’ve got to mark it in style. You’ve got to have a party.”
My name’s actually Jed, but everyone calls me Red. I share two things with Mick Hucknall: mad orange hair and a slightly odd face. Sadly, I don’t have his musical talents. Not like Mum. She wins a lot of prizes. It’s embarrassing to see her in her Cher wig and polka dot dress, but it could be worse. She could be something really boring like an accountant. Dad’s an academic. He’s a professor of science. They make for a strange combo, but Camden caters for all sorts. The posh and the rough rub shoulders every day. Not that I’m saying Mum’s rough or anything, but her Madonna impersonations can make for scary viewing.
So there I was down at the local pub, staring at the purple swirly carpet, starting to feel nauseous. My sixteenth birthday party. It may as well have been musical chairs and pin the tail on the donkey. It was that bad. My six-year-old brother, Freddie, sat smirking in the corner while Mum warbled out her rendition of City Limits. Dave, the karaoke organiser, all burly biceps in a frilly pink shirt, tapped his right foot in time to the music. Dad smiled amiably at the bar as he downed an orange juice. That man lacked the capacity for embarrassment. He must have a gene missing or something.
“Your mum’s reading the lines off a television. Where’s the harm in it?” he reasoned. He could be so rational, it was maddening.
Si was chatting up a pair of Asian twins who’d just finished their version of The Cheeky Girls’ “Touch My Bum.” He winked at me to join him, while Mum carried on gyrating in red polyester as she reached the climax.
“Dad. Dad!” Freddie tugged at Dad’s jeans.
Dad checked his watch, stood up, and cleared his throat. Uh-oh.
“Oh, yes. Thank you, Freddie. Gaye!”
Mum smiled at Dave as she gripped the microphone. “Thank you, everybody. I have a little announcement to make,” she said. The shrieks and applause died down, leaving a low hum of conversation. The Cheeky Girls stopped drinking their Barcardi Breezers and looked expectantly at Mum. They wore white PVC hot pants and matching kneehigh boots. They were hot all right. Not the type of girls I wanted around to witness this kind of embarrassment. I looked on in horror and considered my options. This would have been a good time to escape to the bog, but Dad had already covered that one by asking Dave’s brother, Stu, to keep guard. Dad’s best mate, Phil, stood to my right, smiling inanely at me. There was nowhere to run. So I downed half of Stu’s pint instead. He didn’t seem to mind. Just winked.
“Okay, guys and girls,” continued Mum, running her hands through her wig. “I hope you’ll all join me in wishing our Red a very happy sixteenth birthday.”
I’d never get served alcohol in here after that. It was all right for girls, they always got served. The Cheeky Girls couldn’t have been much older than I was, and they were knocking them back.
Stu waved manically over my head for the benefit of anyone who might not know who the lucky boy was. The Cheeky Girls whispered to each other and raised their collective eyebrows as I fixed a boomerang smile on my face.
“Ha-a-a-a-ppy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you…” Mum had gone into Marilyn Monroe mode, all silly girly voice, while Dave brought out a blue football cake fit for a five year old, complete with sixteen flaming candles. It was excruciating.
When the humiliation was over, Mum came over and kissed me on the forehead and ruffled my already wild hair, just to add insult to injury.
“I think that needs a cut, mister,” she said.
I looked at Freddie’s smooth pudding basin cut performed by Mum the day before and shuddered. I didn’t think so.
I’d always been the odd one out with my orange mane. Jokes about the milkman were rife.
I blew out my candles and cut the cake as a million digital cameras flashed in my face. Another one for the family album.
It was all so normal. Well, normal as far as my family went anyway.
There were even napkins.
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Want to know more about S. D. Everingtion? You can find her at http://www.shantaeverington.co.uk/ or on Twitter @ShantaEverAfter.