“I still can’t believe I let Fliss talk me into this,” murmured Adrienne as she stood just outside Manchester Registry Office that chilly December morning. The wind ruffled the white chiffon mini-dress that she was wearing over white jeans and white patent doc marten boots, and I could see the ‘F’ tattoo through the thin fabric of the dress. Her dark hair was loose, and the wind was blowing it across her face in thin strands. Next to her, holding her hand, was Fliss, in a white princess line chiffon dress which fell to her knees. The neckline was low, and I could see her tattoo, the ‘A’ written across her heart in the same permanent script as Adrienne’s ‘F’, carved and seared into the skin forever. Both were holding bouquets of red roses, and Fliss’ hair was loose.
The Registry Office was ringed with press, some from the gay and lesbian press, but many more from the tabloids and gossip sheets. We blinked through the constant, relentless, volley of flashbulbs, and then someone called from the crowd, “HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE A MARRIED WOMAN ADRIENNE?”
“BLOODY MARVELLOUS!” called back Adrienne immediately. Her smile was a perfect vision of white enamel against scarlet lipstick. The cameras drew closer then, and she and Fliss posed together for their benefit, taking great care to display those matching silver rings, which shone out, prettily, from the middle fingers of their right hands.
“We weren’t really expecting much press interest,” confessed Adrienne. A low chuckle ran through the crowd, and she smiled, “we thought you’d all be over in Windsor, covering Elton John and David Furnish.”
“We weren’t invited!” someone called back.
Someone asked if they weren’t perhaps a bit young to be getting married, and Adrienne said, with calm dignity, “No, because if I was marrying a man, twenty wouldn’t be too young, so why should it be too young for us?” She took a deep breath before she continued, “We’re not here today to argue the toss about civil partnerships and the validity of gay marriage, we’re here, essentially, because we love each other and we wanted to do this, not to prove anything to the world, or for publicity or anything that cynical, but because we wanted to do this. There’s been a partnerships register in Manchester since 2002, so if we’d wanted to, we could have got married before this, but we didn’t want to. We’re here now because now felt like the right time…” I sensed her awkwardness, “that’s all I can say really…” She shot an agonized glance at Fliss, who responded heroically.
“I’ve never considered myself to be a fully paid up member of the Pink Pound,” she announced, slightly apologetically, “that isn’t a lifestyle, or stereotype, that I feel very comfortable with. I firmly believe that the gay community shouldn’t be complacent, and that it needs to take a good hard look at the various divisions and elitist cliques within it’s own ranks, but, at the same time, I believe in gay marriage for the same reason that I believe in heterosexual marriage, because, despite it’s faults, and many of my friends have highlighted its faults to me, one way or another.” I saw Nat grin, sheepishly as she looked away, Fliss continued, in her slightly apologetic way, “I’m not good at speeches, but, I suppose what I mean is that, like a lot of girls, fortunately or unfortunately, I grew up with a desire to walk down the aisle, laden with flowers, in a white dress, and, to be honest, I never saw any reason why I shouldn’t do it.”
A fresh onslaught of flashbulbs went off as she finished her speech, then the press began to depart, their story gained.
Fliss sagged a little in relief, “Was I O.K?” she asked, her eyes wide with anxiety, “I’m not used to justifying myself to the worlds press, and I don’t know if I did it very well, I’ve had some arguments with some of my mates at the Basement about it, but I never actually won any of them…”
Adrienne hugged her, “You were perfect.” They kissed, softly and lingeringly, no longer caring, or noticing if anyone was watching.
The intensity of their relationship had not been in any doubt, for me, since they had come home; they not only looked right together, they were right together. The marriage had been Fliss’ idea originally, she had wanted to marry Adrienne quietly in Paris, but gay marriage is illegal in France. This didn’t put Fliss off, however, it simply made her set her heart on a Manchester wedding, which would be more special, and which would mean having all her friends around her. Adrienne was more sceptical, and I suspect that she shares some of my opinions about marriage ceremonies being bizarre and anachronistic, but she conceded to Fliss because; “I could tell how much it meant to her. Fliss has a very romantic streak and, whilst I don’t always understand the way it manifests itself, I love and respect her too much to just ignore her feelings, besides” she smiled, sheepishly, “I really do love her enough to marry her, it’s just the actual marrying part of the deal I have issues with…”
As the press departed, I spotted a small, mousy figure, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, she was standing at a slight distance, away from the crowd, she wasn’t with the wedding party, but she was watching just the same. I walked towards her and, as I drew closer, I saw the damp streaks on her face, “Shouldn’t you be in Uni today?” I asked her.
She nodded, “But I had to be here,” her voice was choked with emotion, but she was done with crying I think, “I’m not bitter or anything, Maggie, because it would never have worked between us, there would always be Adrienne….”
“She did love you,” I told her, “she wasn’t lying about that, it’s just…”
“She loves Adrienne more,” she finished for me. Her brown eyes were full of pain as she said, “I’ve learnt from it all though, next time I’ll be stronger, next time I’ll not hold back, I’ll be a better girlfriend.”
I just nodded. I didn’t trust myself to speak. As she walked away, and headed back to University, and back to her student pals, my heart travelled with her. She would have to go to her lectures, to her seminars, see her friends, and pretend that everything was fine. Or else she would concoct a false story about a feckless boyfriend, and everyone would be incredibly well meaning and sympathetic. Not for one moment would they think of Emily Garcia; that mousy, quiet, shy girl, one of the very few girls in the engineering department, in connection with Fliss Keale; the pretty, blonde, celebrity wife of Adrienne Du Shanne. I wanted to help her, but I knew I couldn’t, especially since the pain she was in was partly my fault. She would have to make her own decisions; I couldn’t make them for her.
If Adrienne and Fliss had remained in France, it may have been less painful for Emily, but there were more complex reasons for their return than simply being eligible for the partnerships register. There have been unkind suggestions in the press that they fled Adrienne’s “luxury penthouse apartment” (read: modest flat.) in order to escape the riots in Paris, but that’s not true, and the truth is that they were ready to leave. As well as tentatively exploring the idea of a solo career, Fliss has been approached by a new digital radio station, based in Manchester, who have picked up on the Djing that she’s done, and will continue to do, for Nat at Girl Night, and they’ve offered her her own show. She doesn’t get complete control over her playlist, but she does have some influence. Adrienne, meanwhile, has some acting work; the BBC have hired her to read Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Mary Barton’ for Radio 4’s ‘Book At Bedtime’, and there are some T.V and film companies sniffing around, many of whom she is very suspicious of. There’s a small film being made in Manchester about the cities “Gunchester” years though, and she’s very interested in that. The writers sent her agent a script, and if the project goes ahead, she’ll be playing a very scary gang girl with sociopathic tendencies, which she says will be much more challenging than any role involving pole dancing or girl popstars who’ve fallen from grace, which makes up the bulk of what she gets offered.
From the wedding, we moved on to The Twilight, where Violet is showing her art exhibition, entitled: ‘Friends And Lovers’. Whether Violet and Nat scheduled the opening of the exhibition deliberately or not, it certainly resolved the problem of a wedding reception for Fliss and Adrienne, given that most of their friends were there. A massive cheer went up when they arrived, still in their wedding clothes, having led a strange procession of paparazzi, curious onlookers, and friends on a pilgrimage through Manchester city centre en route.
The mood was more orderly and relaxed than is common at The Twilight, possibly because it was dinnertime and not the evening. Drinks were being poured and drunk, but in a more restrained manner than was usual. Looking around me, I spotted some journalists and photographers from the wedding, but there were less of them now, and it was easy to ignore them when I knew they weren’t there for me. Violet was being interviewed by a tall, fair haired, and slightly earnest woman when we arrived, I recognised the interviewer as someone I’d seen on T.V, which suggested she was fairly important, “Who’s that?” I asked Liberty Belle as we queued at the bar for drinks.
Liberty obligingly gazed in the direction of Violet and her interviewer, the woman was just packing away her dictaphone, “Marie Flanagan,” Liberty is a woman of few words.
“Do you know her?”
Liberty shook her head, “Jenny met her once; she said she was nice.”
Jenny joined us at the bar, “I hope someone buys this piece off me when it’s done,” she muttered, darkly, “If I’d known there’d be so many London people here, I’d’ve not bothered.” She sloped off again, dejectedly, with Liberty in her wake, and I turned away from the crowd and began to look at the pictures. Some of them, I knew, were fairly old, and dated from Violet’s art student days in Bolton, but some were more recent. They were a mixture of photos, sketches and watercolours, but most of all, they were more than simply pretty pictures, they actually revealed something beyond that, something deeper, and more meaningful.
I stopped in front of a photograph of Fliss; it had been enlarged to poster size, and had been taken, I would guess, when she was sixteen. She appeared to be asleep, and was facing the camera; her eyes were closed, but there was a rosy glow to her face, and she was smiling slightly. Her fair hair was trailing across her face, and a ginger and white kitten was standing on her back, looking at her. The pink straps of Fliss’ nightie showed above the duvet, displaying lightly tanned shoulders, but the focus was on her face. I turned away from the picture, and watched Fliss, who was talking to Marie Flanagan with Adrienne. The photograph conveyed a certain girlish innocence that Fliss possessed then but that, I realised as I watched them, she no longer has. Some of the softness has gone too, but some of it returned when she went back to Adrienne, and Fliss is right: she isn’t a little girl anymore. That photo was taken four years ago now, when Fliss was with Violet I would suspect, a lot has happened since then.
I was surprised by the number of pictures there were of Nat, and it was something I raised with Violet later on, when she’d finished talking and schmoozing with the press, “You must have been stalking her for years…” commented Meelan, her dark eyes wide, having counted twenty pictures, of varying sizes, of Nat.
Violet looked uncharacteristically shy, as she said, “We’ve known each other for a long time…”
“So,” I said casually, “it’s not that you’ve been trying to figure out how to ask her out ever since you blundered into each other in the village when you were eighteen then?”
Violet glared at us, “I can see that you two will make a good double act now that Fliss is taken and Nat’s come over to my side…”
“I’m training her up,” I explained as Meelan smirked, “its part of her musical apprenticeship…”
“I don’t need training up,” protested Meelan, “I’ve been around, I know…”
Dotted around the room were pictures of The Girls From Mars, many taken on tour when perhaps certain members of the band were somewhat tired and emotional, as well as separate shots. There were photos of Andrea and Jasper together, and Jasper alone and apprehensive in a hotel lobby somewhere, and of them both with their baby son, Sam, who was born last month. Most interesting of all, there were pictures of the fans, and of people Violet must have met on tour. There were two girls with day-glo hairslides and bracelets, wearing short, garish dresses and fishnet tights, and a gang of male urchins with vaselined spiky hair, dressed in leather and denim, delivering Sid Vicious style sneers to the camera. There were pictures of The Flirts, of Angel and the Razorblades, of the crowds at Ladyfest Manchester, and… pictures of Titanium Rose.
There weren’t many pictures of me, fortunately, and I tried not to look too long or hard at those that there were. It was easier to look at the group shots. There was a great picture of us from four years ago, huddled together by the tourbus, all eager and expectant, about to head off on tour with The Girls From Mars. There was a great one of Flora too, spread-eagled on the floor of her shop at Afflecks Palace, pinning patterns to fabric. There was one of me on the tourbus, talking to Fergus on that first tour we did with The Girls From Mars, it was next to one of me backstage after my “comeback” gig at The Gates, in which I am staring, distractedly, into the mirror, with a very anxious expression on my face, and you can see the scars on my arms because I’ve rolled my sleeves up because of the heat. There are dark shadows under my eyes, and my face is all bones and huge, frightened eyes. Fergus came up behind me as I stared at it, “This one’s better,” he murmured, directing me over to a more recent photo. I don’t remember the occasion at all, but it showed me waiting outside The Gates, smiling slightly self consciously, but looking reasonably normal. “I’m going to ask Violet if I can buy it,” he told me. I said that I didn’t think it was that good, but he insisted that he wanted it. When I asked why, he said it was because it “captures your essence” or something. Violet was happy enough to sell it to him anyway; she had already had a request from Adrienne for the one of Fliss and her kitten, so once the exhibition is over, it’ll be ours. I suppose I shall have to get used to seeing pictures of myself.
A week after the wedding, and the exhibition opening, I had my own photo session. It had been decreed by Jasper, and agreed by Jenny, that pictures of me needed to be sent out to the press along with the press release announcing that I am joining The Girls From Mars. To make me feel more comfortable with the idea, and in order to create more natural seeming photos, the shoot took place at home. Liberty was hired to take the pictures, Flora to style me, and I had no sense of egos doing battle as the two of them worked together, in fact, they appeared to get along very well. Most of the pictures were taken in our kitchen and living room, and I wore jeans in most of the shots, with very little make-up. Whilst the shoot was taking place, I noticed Fergus take Jenny off to one side for a chat, and, when they returned, I knew that they had been talking about me. Jenny gave me a thoughtful, measuring look, before glancing back towards Fergus, and I could guess what he had said to her. He isn’t going to sit back and watch me get ill again, he said, and if I start to deteriorate, mentally or physically, on tour, he wants me home. I told him it wasn’t as straightforward as that, and he knows it, but he’s also not prepared to sit back and watch me self-destruct again.
I had several long chats with Andrea, about drumming mostly, but also about being in bands, and about fame. She believes she’s been lucky; she is a member of a reasonably well known, well respected band, with a loyal fanbase all around the world, the records sell well, the deal they have is reasonable enough to allow for creativity, but also earns them a reasonable amount of money, and because she is the drummer, she doesn’t get recognised in the street and asked for autographs like Moyra, Violet and Jane do. “I’ve been able to go about my business largely unhindered,” she told me, “whereas if I was Moyra or Violet, every little detail of my private life would be all over the press. As it is, no one cares, because I’m the drummer.”
Andrea and Jasper were absent from the party that waved Violet, Moyra, Jane and me off from Chorlton Street today. Normally Jasper would be present on the tourbus, but he wants to be with Andrea now the baby’s born, which is understandable.
As the time of our departure drew ever nearer, the coach station filled up with well-wishers, all wanting to wave us off; Flora was there, also Fliss and Adrienne, Angel and the Razorblades, Meelan, Dew, Shahina, Nat, Fergus, Jenny, and Liberty. Everyone wished us luck, and Jenny hugged me and told me she would see me soon; she’ll be joining me in London in a few days time, “Behave,” she warned, “or I’ll have Fergus and your mother on my case.”
Eventually, everyone trickled away, leaving just Nat and Fergus. Moyra and Jane very tactfully said that they had something to do, and disappeared, leaving us alone.
“Well,” said Fergus, awkwardly.
“You don’t have to say anything,” I said, “I know.”
And we didn’t say anything; we just clung to each other silently until the coach arrived. All I could think of as I held him, and as I felt his arms around me, was how much I was going to miss him, but I will come back, I will come back.
The coach was waiting for us, and Violet and I made our way over to its waiting doors and climbed aboard. As the coach pulled out of the station, we waved to our two “Rock Widows” and then watched in silence as Nat and Fergus walked slowly away. I felt sad as I watched them leave, for I know it will be months before I see him again. I know he trusts me, and I trust him, but I will miss him incredibly badly. Just now, Violet tapped me on the arm and asked if I was alright, I have been writing ever since we left Manchester, and now we are speeding down the motorway, somewhere near Milton Keynes. I know where I am going now, and I know that he will be waiting for me when I return. I am going out into the world, on an adventure, who knows where it will take me? Or what will happen along the way?