Chapter Twenty Eight: Every Day, And Night

After weeks, nay months, of various interested parties worrying about her behaviour, Fliss surprised us all last week by announcing her intention to attend last nights Girl Trouble live extravaganza at the M.E.N Arena. She was really excited about it, screaming and running around the flat like she used to, with Marmalade chasing after her, trying to keep up.  “I’m going!” she shrieked as she jumped up and down, waving her ticket at me “I’m going, I’m going, I’m going!”  Marmalade had finally caught up with her, and was yowling at her feet; Fliss scooped her up and gazed into the bemused cats eyes then, she did a little dance, waltzing her around the room as she sang ‘Baby It’s You’ the cat wriggled, and Fliss let her go; she was still singing as she danced out of the room.

  Mum happened to be visiting at the time and, as she opened her mouth to speak I shook my head, saying “Don’t ask.”

  On the night of the gig Fergus arrived at the flat at about half six, fresh from work.  “Where’s Fliss?” he asked from the kitchen doorway as I poured water from the kettle into three mugs; “I thought tonight was her big night out?”

  “It is” I replied as I walked past him.  Fliss hadn’t left yet, but I could hear her getting ready and as I drew closer to her bedroom, I could hear the sounds of drawers slamming, jewellery rattling, and ‘She’s Your Cocaine’ blaring out from Fliss’ stereo.  I knocked on the door.

  “Not now!” called Fliss, not aggressively as such, more impatiently than anything.

  “I brought you a drink!” I called clearly through the door.

  “I’m going out, I haven’t time; I’ll be late!”

  “I’ll leave it outside the door then!” I called to her as I fled.

  Fergus and I were ensconced on the sofa with a bag of popcorn and ‘Velvet Goldmine’ on video by the time Fliss finally emerged; as the opening credits rolled, I looked up at her as she hovered nervously in the doorway: She seemed to be waiting for something, so I asked “Sure you want to go?”

  She nodded emphatically, but I could sense her apprehension as she asked, “Do I look alright?” there was a nervous inflection to her voice as she fussed and fidgeted with her hair, which was hanging loose and straight like a golden waterfall down her back: I never realised how long it was before.  She was wearing her black backless dress with flesh coloured fishnet tights, and black stilettos, and was wearing a little makeup: lip gloss, foundation, and eyeliner.

  “You look very pretty,” said Fergus kindly.

  “Only pretty?” she pouted in disappointment.

  “Sex goddess” he said quickly, over compensating.

  “Brigitte Bardot” I said, at the same time as Fergus said “Michelle Pfeiffer.”

  Fliss smiled “Thank you.” she turned to leave, “enjoy the film.”

  “Enjoy Girl Trouble” said Fergus wryly.

    Minutes, hours passed and after the film had finished, I lay in his arms, somewhere between consciousness and sleep.  I don’t know what time it was when Fergus nudged me awake; I only know that it had been dark for a long time.  “Recycling day tomorrow” he reminded me.

  I groaned “I’ll do it in the morning…”

  “You’ll forget again if you do,” he cautioned.

  “I won’t” he nudged me again “O.K” I drawled, sleepily “I’m getting up now.”

  “Where do you keep your paper sack?”

  This was a good question.

  “Oh” I waved my arms vaguely “it’s around, somewhere…” 

  We had a stack of music mags that we’d accumulated over the past few months, and we’d forgotten to put the sack out last time the council came round so they were still piled up in the kitchen, being used as an extra seat when we had a lot of people round.  It took us about half an hour to round all the paper up, and when we had, there was enough for the sack and for four carrier bags; Fergus took the sack, I took the carrier bags, and we lugged them along the hall and down the stairs.  It was a dark cloudy night, with a harsh chilly wind. I shivered in my jeans and t-shirt as I plonked my bags down on the pavement and turned around to go back to the house.  Fergus was waiting for me by the door, seemingly not in any hurry to go back inside; he seemed to be straining to hear something, something faint yet insistent… Over the noise of the cars on the road, I hadn’t heard it, but now…

  “Can you hear it?” he hissed urgently.

  I listened again.  There it was, faint yet insistent… “I think it’s coming from the garden” I whispered.

  “Come on then.”

  As we tiptoed round the side of the house, the darkness grew blacker and more sinister; I felt a little afraid as we walked because I couldn’t really see, or feel, where I was going, and it was an eerie sound, a high pitched, thin wail, full of despair.  It was lighter when we got to the garden, but it was still hard to see; we had to follow the sound.

  Fliss was lying spread-eagled and face down on the lawn; she was shaking with the cold and with the crying as she wept, noisily and emotionally, into the long, damp grass.  I knelt down beside her and whispered, “Come on in Fliss, whatever’s happened; it can’t be that bad…” But she just sobbed even harder.

  I spent a good fifteen minutes or so kneeling beside her, talking to her, asking her what was wrong, asking her to come inside, but it was all to no avail.  The temperature was dropping, and we were all growing colder and colder, but she wouldn’t move.  “Leave me here” she sobbed, then hiccupped “Just… leave me alone!”  Fergus motioned for me to come away, and, not knowing what else I could do, I got to my feet and stepped back a bit.  Then, before I realised what he was going to do, he had crouched down and picked her up. I saw him wince as he, somehow, slung her over his shoulder in a fireman’s lift.  “Don’t fight me,” he warned as she began to lash out and scream “or I’ll end up dropping you, and none of us want that.”

  As soon as we got upstairs, he deposited her carefully onto the sofa, where she immediately covered her blotchy, tear stained and make-up streaked face with her hands as her knees folded up to her chest.  I smoothed the strands of hair that had stuck to her face, and she began to whimper like a fractious child.  By the time Fergus had returned, bearing hot, sugary, milky tea, she was sitting up and biting her lip to stop from crying as fresh tears hovered in the corners of her eyes, waiting to fall.

  As he sat down in the armchair opposite us, Fliss spoke at last “She doesn’t love me” it emerged as a hoarse, taut whisper.  She blinked her pink swollen eyelids, and the tears fell in silence. 

  At last I asked “Who? Who doesn’t love you?”

  She shook her head tiredly.

  “Come on Fliss” I coaxed quietly “If she’s upset you this much, isn’t it time you told someone her name?”

  There was a long, long silence.  Fliss sipped her tea pensively as we waited.  “Adrienne” she said at last.

  Somehow, it didn’t register with me “Adrienne who?”

  “Adrienne Du Shanne!”

  “But Fliss” I said urgently “Why should she love you? You only met her once and…”

  “No!” she interrupted, shaking her head so vigorously that I feared she would drop her drink.  “You don’t understand!” and that was when she told us the truth at last.

  “Girl Trouble were in Manchester around the time of Fliss’ birthday,” said Fergus later when we were in bed, “they were recording their new album here, remember I told you.  They were in a hotel somewhere in or around the city centre…” There was a note of amazed wonder in his voice as he said, “It all fits together, the more and more you think about it, the more sense it makes.”

  “It’s not that I don’t believe her” I murmured, “It’s just… I can’t believe her, it’s so far fetched”

  He kissed me “Let’s talk about it in the morning, it’s too late now.”

  “When I met her,” Fliss had confessed earlier, her voice hoarse from crying; her face blotchy and sad “All either of us wanted was a little fun.”  She had been with Adrienne almost every night that the band had been in Manchester.  Sometimes there would be nights when the band had to be seen around town, or publicity was needed, but Adrienne had always made time for Fliss; she had taken her around the Village, showed her clubs that Fliss had never been to, but that Adrienne seemed to know very well; she had taken her clothes shopping, and showered her with gifts.  Even if they couldn’t see each other during the day, even if they couldn’t go clubbing together, Fliss was always there, sleeping with her, tiptoeing out of the room at five or six in the morning, sneaking up or down fire escapes and out of windows, being sure not to get caught.  If anyone came into the room when Fliss was there, she would hide in the bathroom, or under the bed; once, Adrienne hid her under the covers when one of her band mates barged in one night unannounced, luckily it was dark…  “She always locked the door after that,” observed Fliss softly.  “She was so… careful, about everything…” She broke off as she stared up at me, her eyes were full of regret as she said “But she took so many risks” her eyes filled with tears again as she sobbed “Far, far more than I did!” We waited until she had regained her composure, and then Fergus asked “What happened tonight Fliss? What went wrong?” she shook her head sadly, but he was determined “What happened?”

  “We… talked” she said, guardedly “When she went back to London; I thought that that was it.  I was sad, and I missed her, but… I never dreamt for one moment that she felt the same way.” She looked up at me “I’m not stupid, Maggie, I know the difference between a fling and a relationship, or” she paused as confusion clouded her face “at least, I thought I did…”

  “What happened?” pressed Fergus, gently.

  She regained her composure a little “I was angry” she stated “We had been phoning and texting each other every day since she went home, and she told me that it was a lie, that she didn’t have a boyfriend, that the press were making it up about her and the guy from Dangerous! She said that his publicity people had made it all up; to cover up that he’s gay, and her record label told her to play along with it.  She told me it was like acting, like playing a part, and I believed her…” She put her head in her hands, and we waited.

  “Tonight was going to be our grand reunion” she said sadly, tears in her eyes “She got me a ticket and an access all areas pass.  She said I could go backstage, and we could disappear somewhere, we could be together, and no one would know.”  She sniffed a little, and her voice wobbled as she continued, “I went backstage, but it was no use, I could see her, but I couldn’t get close to her.  They were surrounded by press, management, photographer’s… people… I kept waiting for them to leave, so that she and I could go somewhere, but when they did, other people come in, I managed to sit near her, near enough for her to see me, but she just looked through me like she didn’t know me.  She was sat on a sofa opposite me, with the other three, and she was in her stage clothes, talking in her stage voice.  I felt as though I didn’t know her, like I’d never known her… she was a stranger to me then.”  I passed her a tissue, and she wiped her eyes, and then blew her nose.  “There were bottles of champagne everywhere.”  She continued “So I helped myself to some of it, as that’s what it seemed to be there for.  People kept topping my glass up, and I kept on drinking it, and” she smiled wryly “I suppose I drank too much, and that I got drunk or embarrassing, so… someone phoned for a taxi for me, and it took me home.”

  We persuaded her to go to bed and try and get some sleep; we had recording work in the morning, and she was worn out.  She nodded dully in agreement, and got to her feet.  The expensive, slinky, backless dress was crumpled and covered in grass stains, and her tights were ruined.  “I don’t care” she snuffled, “I never want to wear this dress again.” 

  “You don’t really mean that, Fliss” I said soothingly.

  “Yes I do,” she muttered, her eyes blank, her tone listless as she shuffled out of the room, and along the corridor to her room.

Advertisements

Chapter Twenty Seven: Natural, Sensual Thing

My concern for Fliss tends to waver according to whether she appears to be having a good day or a bad day. Some days she mopes in her room, and is quiet and subdued, but other days she has Meelan and Kylie round, or they go out in Chorlton or Bolton together. They hold noisy, girly, sleepovers every few weeks or so, and on those nights, I know that I can relax and not worry about her. When I am not worrying about Fliss I seem to spend almost every minute of every day thinking about Fergus; have I ever loved anyone as intensely, as urgently, as happily as I love him? I don’t think so, and yet, I know, deep down, that there is risk attached, as there is every time. I love the way he touches me… it took so long for me to reach a point whereby I felt safe enough with him to let him so much as take hold of my hand, and every touch, every caress, means so much to me now. Ours is a slow relationship in some ways, perhaps, because of me, but I am a girl who obsesses over the little details, and his hands on my skin, his lips on mine, his breath on my face, mean more than I can ever say; he isn’t just touching me; he is teaching me to trust, and to love, again.

  Christmas was quiet this year, with everyone going their separate ways once more before re-convening in the New Year. 2003 promises to be a lively year, and for the first time that I can remember, it was Flora and Katy who were distracted at our band meeting last week, not Fliss. We were supposed to be meeting to discuss our next round of recording sessions, but Flora and Katy, naturally, felt that the war in Iraq was more important.  Fliss had made the mistake of saying, quite early into the proceedings, that America would bomb Iraq even if Britain didn’t; protests or no protests.  Katy had gazed at her with an expression of pity, and Fliss and I had lapsed into a guilty silence; a silence that did not lift, even once we had left the house.

  On the Sunday, Fergus and I watched the news with gloomy expressions.  When the report on the Anti-War march in London was shown, we fell silent; despite the downbeat narration, I found myself feeling strangely moved by the sheer number of people who had turned out for it, and yet… why didn’t I march against the war? I don’t trust George Bush, or Tony Blair, I don’t believe that the war in Iraq will be a war against terrorism, or that it has much to do with any alleged weapons of mass destruction… yet, I cannot find it within myself to go out and publicly proclaim my disapproval.  Fliss, I believe, feels something similar: Both of us would rather not see this war take place, yet we feel utterly powerless to stop it.

  Perhaps the reason why I can’t do is, at least partly, because I have had other things to worry about lately. Money has become an issue once again, mainly because I was forced to leave my job last month. I shouldn’t have done, I know, but I just couldn’t cope with it anymore. I had been keeping my increasingly prevalent migraines at bay for about a month when they began to escalate in frequency and severity, and I had to move onto stronger, and more frequent, medication. I was discussing this, and the endemic nature of the bullying and sexual harassment culture at work, one dinnertime, when I suddenly began to experience that familiar pounding headache, and blurred vision that I know so well. Nat found my pills for me, and I was just about to take them when I started to hyperventilate, and the dizziness got worse; what followed, according to Nat and my G.P, was a full scale panic attack. Nat drove me home and stayed with me until I was calm again, and she also phoned work to inform them that I wouldn’t be in the office that afternoon, or, indeed, for the rest of the week. She wanted to phone Fergus, but I didn’t want to worry him, so she stayed with me until the pain and dizziness receded. When I was at last able to see and think clearly, we talked. The first thing she said was, “I’m worried about you, Maggie May, you shouldn’t be putting yourself through this, even if you and Fliss need the money, there’s got to be a better way to earn some.”

  I shook my head; I felt limp and exhausted as I lay on the sofa, covered in sweat, and my eyes and head still hurt. “What else can I do? I don’t have qualifications; all I can do is unskilled work.”

  “Why don’t you go back to Catering or market research?”

  “I will, when we’ve enough money to stay here for another six months.”

  “Can’t you get some money from Sandra Dee?”

  “Why? It’d be like getting a bank loan.”

  She smoothed the limp, sweat darkened strands of hair away from my face, as she advised, “Let Fergus take care of you tonight, and don’t go back to work tomorrow, go and see your doctor instead. I’ll go with you.” She added, seeing my reluctance.

  I did as she said. My G.P signed me off with stress for a month, and I posted my resignation letter the same day. Nat took me to the Flea and Firkin, and I met Tasha, the bar girl who used to work at the same firm as me. We exchanged horror stories as Nat quietly sipped her pint of Guinness, and I left feeling strangely free. But the next day reality kicked in, and I had to face the fact that I was unemployed again. It’s not even like I can sign on for Jobseekers Allowance – you can’t if you leave a job voluntarily.

  What has made life so strangely wonderful, despite it all, has been Fergus, and his constant place in my thoughts. Nat never told him about my panic attack, and I only gave him the vaguest details, but he has been wonderful about it. He stayed with me the night after it had happened, and was very attentive and loving, very gentle and kind.

    “You’re very lucky,” commented Jenny one evening last week as he left the room to make drinks.

  “Hhmm?” I hadn’t really been listening.

“You and Fergus, anyone with half an eye could see he’s devoted to you.”

  I blushed, but I didn’t say anything; I’m never quite sure how to take that kind of remark, and if he is devoted to me, there’s a part of me that wonders if that’s right or not. There’s a part of me that thinks I don’t merit that degree of love, not from him, not from anyone.

  Jenny had chosen to come round to the flat on band business, but she’d done so out of hours, and on a night when Fliss was out with Kylie and Meelan and their friends in Chorlton, supposedly raiding skips, or “skipping” as it’s also known, an activity that has recently supplanted charity shopping in their collective list of enthusiasms. “I came to talk about Fliss really,” she confessed as she sipped her tea. “I’m a little worried about her, she doesn’t seem very focused at the moment, and I was wondering if her flakiness was a recent thing or not, or whether she’s always been a bit dizzy.”

  “Fliss is usually very focused,” I confessed, “and she’s usually very good as regards the band, but she’s been up in the clouds for months now.”

  “Any idea why?” probed Jenny, keenly.

  I hesitated, “Well…”

  “Fliss has a secret girlfriend,” said Fergus, with a weary sigh, “that’s why.”

  “Why a secret girlfriend?” pondered Jenny, mainly for her own benefit.

  “Erm, because whoever it is doesn’t want anyone finding out?” I ventured, before going on to relate our experience of the girl on our drainpipe, and how we had given chase but failed to catch her. 

  “Closeted then,” sighed Jenny, “oh dear…” she seemed to be thinking as she let the information sink in. Then, she got to her feet, saying briskly as she did so, “Right, I must be off.” She turned to me, “You will keep me up to speed on this, won’t you?” It wasn’t really a question.

  I hesitated, and she leapt on it.  “Well?”

  “It’s like spying,” I said at last, “Fliss said it was none of my business, and I’m inclined to think she’s right.”

  “She was two hours late for a photo shoot last week,” said Jenny, with a trace of exasperation, “and she’s regularly an hour or so late for band practice as well, from what Flora’s told me, so I’d say it’s become band business, wouldn’t you?”

  I nodded gloomily, “Well, when you put it like that…”

  We parted on an agreement that I would let her know anything important, but I was very uneasy in my role of spy.

  As I lay in Fergus’ arms later that night, I asked him, “Would you talk to Jenny about me, if I was Fliss?”

  There was a long silence, and then he said, “You mean, if I were you?”

  “Yes, I think so.”

  “I don’t know, I don’t think it’s that straightforward.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Well, I think you feel naturally protective of Fliss simply because she’s Fliss, and you think she would be particularly easily hurt. If it were Nat…”

  “Nat’s different,” I said firmly, “she can take care of herself.”

  “Yes, that’s what I meant.”

  There was a long silence, and then I said, “If I told you I loved you, would you be surprised?”

  “No,” he absently kissed my nose, “but I’d be very pleased.”

  I snuggled up against him, “I wonder what will happen,” I murmured drowsily.

  “Hopefully Fliss’ mystery girl will come to her senses.” He replied.

  But it wasn’t Fliss that I had meant.

Some musings on travel and borders

I had to have my ingrown toenail seen to in Hazel Grove this afternoon, so it was a case of a lie in and waiting, and shivering, in the snow at the bus stop for a 192 that could be bothered going all the way to Hazel Grove (the first 192 was going to Stepping Hill, the second 192 was going to Stockport. A case of third time lucky…) I got there half an hour early because there was a surprising lack of traffic on the A6, and – enjoying the view of the snowy pennines on the horizan, above the rooftops of shops and the civic hall, I had a forage in Cancer Research and found a Jellybean CD for £2. I didn’t think it was worth £2, only it had ‘Who Found Who’ on it, which I used to own on 7″ when I was about 10, and which I knew I would get stuck in my head within the hour, so I bought it. I’m listening to it now, and it’s surprisingly good whilst being very of its time. I also spotted The Beatles ‘Strawberry Fields…’ on 7″ for £5, which to a collector would be a bargain, but to me it didn’t seem worth it as I just don’t like it enough. I did buy the Soft Cell version of ‘Tainted Love’ on 7″ for £1 thought, but it won’t play on my record player. Further investigation has led to the discovery that the 45 rpm setting seems to have re-set itself to 33 and a third rpm. If the 33 and a third setting had re-set itself to 45 then it wouldn’t matter so much, only it hasn’t. The 78 setting is fine, so it’s obviously not the belt slipping or anything like that. I can only conclude that I probably haven’t used it since I tried to transfer Laura Branigan’s ‘Self Control’ to digital via Audacity: Can only presume the record player Didn’t Like It. Laura Branigan didn’t much either, as the file is very, very quiet…

After the podiatrist, I stood at another bus stop, shivering in the snow by Bird In Hand Yard, waiting for a Bakerbus to Poynton so I could go to Brookside for Garden Centre vouchers and thermal socks. The 391 obliged after not too long, and as I travelled through Hazel Grove, I reflected on cross border bus travel. Living on the Stockport/Manchester border, and before that the Stockport/East Cheshire border means I tend to have a duel perspective on many things, and I’ve found that whilst I didn’t appreciate this when I was growing up, I appreciate it a lot more now. There’s a balance of urban and rural, town and city. Brookside is only just in Poynton but, just as there is when I get the Buxton bus to Lyme Park, there’s the immediate border contrast when you get off the bus, with the bus stops in the blue and white colour scheme of Cheshire East, signalling that you’re coming to the end of the GMPTE zone. It’s not marked at all in Heaton Chapel because both Stockport and Manchester are in the GMPTE zone, so the signs of crossing the border are different: things like the recycle bins outside houses and flats being different, and the change in council insignia.

After Brookside, I walked back from the East Cheshire border to the terminus in Hazel Grove and caught a 192 back to Heaton Chapel. This was followed by a trudge to Heaton Moor to pick up my quilt from the launderette. Last weeks laundry soundtrack was Gregory Isaacs (including the blissful ‘Nightnurse’) and Lily Allen’s ‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’. I think it was Lily again today.

Chapter Twenty Six: Pressure

Another day… and another night out at Juvenile Hell: It can be too easy to become blasé and resigned to nightlife, especially when you end up going out as often as we do. We go out because it’s what we do, and we do it because it’s the only way we get to see our friends. Sometimes we go out to see the bands play, sometimes we go out to dance, but not as often as I would like… Too often it feels as though we go out simply to be seen. Forgive me, I am feeling sorry for myself… But I hadn’t really wanted to go to Juvenile Hell that night. I was feeling tired and irritable again, and I didn’t know why. I made myself go in the end because Fergus and Fliss both wanted to and I didn’t want to be a grouch. Nat was on fine old form when we arrived; It was a Friday night, and she was merrily tottering around her red and gold domain, assisted by a tall, black and blonde haired man in designer combat trousers.  “MAGGIE!!” she screamed when she spotted me making my way through the throng.  I waved, and she unsteadily charged and staggered her way through the crowd, dragging him behind her, and crashing to a halt directly in front of Fergus and me a few minutes later.  I could smell the alcohol as she loudly proclaimed, for his benefit, “This is my best friend in the whole world.” I smiled awkwardly “And, and also, co-conspirer in my first business enterprise, Minx Records.” She added, equally loudly, referring to the record label we had run together when we were sixteen.  I nodded to the bloke she’d towed over, but he was too busy groping her to notice.  I felt faintly embarrassed, and I could sense Fergus giving me funny looks as we stood there, watching him.  Nat was obviously preoccupied, so I was about to slip away when she turned her attention back to us.  “Oh!” she said in a voice that was still too loud “This is Dylan, you saw him last time you were here, when he was photographing me for ‘City Life’.” I looked him over: the guy with the Beckham haircut…  He was quite good looking up close.  I noted an expensive looking chain and watch in addition to the designer clothes.

  “How many do you think she’s had?” wondered Fergus as we made our way over to the bar.  I shrugged.  When I looked over a few minutes later, they’d found a discreet corner and were necking enthusiastically

  Fliss was already at the bar, talking to a suitably glamorous Violet.  But when I joined them, I discovered that it was Violet who was making all the effort.  Fliss was just listening, and nodding periodically.

  After a while, the first band of the night walked out onto the stage, and Fliss made her excuses and slipped through the crowd to the front of the stage.  Violet watched her go with a mournful expression “I was being friendly,” she protested, sadly, “but it was like she was only being polite to me.”  She turned to me, and I sensed her confusion as she said “I know I’ve been away for a few months, but, what happened to the sweet little girl I left behind?”

  “You broke her heart.” I replied, succinctly.

  She nodded regretfully, and her eyes were sad as she said “But when did she turn into such a sex kitten?”

  Fergus and I exchanged a private look.  He had been very surprised earlier in the evening when, after an hours wait, Fliss had finally emerged from her bedroom wearing a simple but slinky black backless dress and black stilettos, her hair had been curled and she was immaculately made up, with flawless foundation, pale pink lip gloss, and pale blue eye shadow. 

  “I’ve seen one of those dresses,” said Violet, quietly, her eyes still on Fliss as she continued “When I was in London.  It was on display at Selfridges, and it cost about four hundred pounds.” I could sense her lust as she said, “I’d like to know how it ended up on Fliss…”

  Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Nat weaving her way over to the bar, her clothes were awry, and her lipstick was smudged all over her face.  “Maybe it was a different dress,” I said neutrally.

  Violet shook her head “I saw the label; it looked like the real thing to me.”  She turned to Nat, who was about to knock back a shot of something pale pink that smelt vaguely of almonds and cherries, “Did you buy that dress for Fliss?”

  Nat craned her neck to get a better look at Fliss, and then snorted “No, catch me with that much spare change…” she eyed Violet warily “Why did you think it was me?”

  Violet shrugged dejectedly.

  “What’s the big deal?” I asked, “It’s only a dress”

  “Top range Harvey Nicks,” said Nat shrewdly “Unless I’m very much mistaken…” She knocked back her drink, grimacing slightly as the liquid hit the back of her throat. We lapsed into silence again, until Nat remarked, rather hoarsely, “You’re just peeved because you think she’s found herself a sugar mommy.”

  “She does have someone else,” I murmured.  I quickly wished that I hadn’t though, because they all turned on me, and the unspoken question hung in the air ‘WHO?’ As I gave a deliberately vague account of the girl I’d seen shinning down our drainpipe a few months back now, Nat choked on her second shot.  “What?” I asked suspiciously.

  She was puce from coughing before she was finally able to answer, “Nothing” she spluttered; “It was the image of her shinning down the drainpipe, that’s all…”

  Violet narrowed her eyes “You know who it is, don’t you?” she said venomously.

  “I might do,” conceded Nat.

  “Then spill…”

  “Dear me, is that the time” Nat glanced at her wrist, looking for a watch she didn’t have.  I detected a faint smirk.  “I really must be getting back to…” she hesitated “what I was doing before.”

  “Check his pockets for a pack of three first,” advised Violet cattily.

  Nat smiled dreamily “First things first” she half murmured, half slurred as she got up.

  “Hetty sell-out” muttered Violet bitterly.

  “I am not a hetty sell-out,” slurred Nat “and anyway,” she hiccupped, loudly, “anyway… I have the urge upon me tonight.”  We watched as she weaved her way back through the crowds to where she had left Dylan.

  Fliss retired to her bedroom with her mobile as soon as we arrived home, leaving us to stay up and talk into the early hours.  “I never knew that you’d run a record label with Nat.” he said, interested “Why didn’t you tell me?”

  I shrugged indifferently “It was a long time ago, we were very young.  We only released two records – then we ran out of money.”

  “How old were you?”

  “We were both sixteen.  Fifteen when we had the idea, sixteen when we started releasing records though” I felt a little embarrassed “It was just a little label, Fergus, everyone does them…”

  He shook his head “You make it sound like dying your hair or something, something easy.”

  “Well” I conceded, “it wasn’t all that hard really, it was just expensive.”

  “I know,” he said.  There was a long silence before he asked, “Would you do it again?” I shook my head “With me?” he asked tentatively, but I shook my head again.

  “I don’t want to do it anymore” I explained “I wouldn’t enjoy it anymore.”

  “What about if you had the money to do something else?” he asked.

  “Like what?”

  “I don’t know, let’s think about it.”

  And we did.  We ruled out doing a festival, mainly because Ladyfest is coming to Manchester next year and, if we seriously did it, then the two events would clash.  But we both liked the idea of a one off Christmas party, and we discussed it long into the night.  We decided that it should be a theme party, with costumes, and that there should be bands as well as DJ’s, and maybe films and stalls.

  We stayed up, long into the night, one Sunday last month at his house, just talking about it all in detail, getting increasingly excited and worked up about it.  After a brief lull in the conversation, he looked at his watch, and winced.  “What?” I asked.  He told me it was two am, and added “Don’t you have to be up at six thirty?”

  I cursed.

  “You can sleep here, if you like I mean.”  He wouldn’t look at me, and I experienced one of the rare awkward silences that still occasionally occur between us.  We hadn’t slept together since the night we got together.  This was my fault, not his, and it was something that I had wanted to resolve quite badly, but had felt too awkward to do so, as unlikely as that sounds.  You must think me frigid, or incredibly inhibited at any rate, to be so awkward about it, but it’s not as simple as that.  I didn’t use to be like that, but I’ve grown wary and… out of practice, shy.  It wasn’t even as though it was about sex either, it was just about being near to him

  But by then, it didn’t matter.  I was so tired, so relaxed, and so trusting that I just said, “Yes, I would.”

  The alarm woke me at six thirty, and I opened my eyes with a moan of pain.  My head ached intensely, unbearably.  It felt as though someone had my head in a vice and was tightening the constraints, squeezing my skull, whilst at the same time malevolent elves hit my brain with mallets and stabbed me in the eyes with needles.  I lay still for a few minutes, hoping that the pain would go away.  Then, I tried to move my eyes and, as I did so, a wave of such excruciating nausea and dizziness hit me that I had to close them immediately.

  The dizziness passed and, somehow, I managed to sit up and move over to the edge of the bed.  But the pain and the dizzy nausea returned, causing me to close my eyes and rest my head in my hands as I tried not to think about how I was going to get into the office, and how I was to cope with eight hours sat in front of a flickering computer screen next to a phone that never stopped ringing.  I told myself that if I emptied my mind, closed my eyes, and kept perfectly still for about five minutes, I would be fine.

  One minute… agony.

  Second minute… I felt increasingly sick.

  Third minute… Why is my body temperature shooting up and down in that alarming way?

  Fourth minute… his hand on my shoulder, asking me if I was alright.

  Fifth minute… my answer “I’m fine.”

  Then I stood up too quickly and fell over because my balance was completely shot.

  He picked me up off the floor and put me back to bed.

  “A migraine” pronounced the doctor at nine o’clock, with rather disturbing cheerfulness “have you had them before?”

  I shook my head, and then closed my eyes as the wave of nausea crashed over me once again.

  Back at the house, I went back to bed and took the sedatives that the doctor had prescribed.  By the time Fergus returned from phoning work for me, my eyelids were already drooping, and I was sinking further and further down the pillow.  As I closed my eyes, I heard him, distantly, telling me that he would look in on me at dinner.  I was asleep before he had even left the house.

  It was dark when I woke up, and as I turned my head slightly, I realised that the pain had gone.  I felt groggy, and I still felt as though elves had been digging holes in my head, but at least they had stopped digging.  Fergus was watching me from a chair next to the bed.  “What time is it?” I asked him slowly and carefully.

  “Eight thirty, just gone.” He replied “I looked in on you at dinner, but you were still fast asleep.  I didn’t want to wake you up, so I left again.”

  “How long have you been sitting there?” I asked as I shakily hauled myself up by the arms.

  “About an hour or so, I kept looking in on you when I got home from work, and when it got to half seven, I got a bit worried.”

  I smiled, wearily “Thank you…”

  “How do you feel?” he still looked worried.

  “Much better, but groggy”

  “That’s probably the medication.”

  “Probably”

  “Would you like something to eat?”

  I nodded, and when he said that he would get me something, I said, “No, I’ll get up.  I need to anyway.”

  In bed that night, he asked me “Is something wrong?”

  “No, why?”

  “You said that the doctor said something about stress this morning, that’s all.”

  I nodded “I just hate my job so much.  I wish I could leave, but we need the money.”

  “Do you want to talk about it?” he asked gently.

  I shook my head “No” I whispered.  I felt tearful just thinking about it.

  “I wish you didn’t need the money,” he said as he turned off the light.

  I slept uneasily and fretfully that night.

  On the Saturday, Fergus slept over at our house, and we spent Sunday morning watching T.V in the living room, talking, and generally messing around.  When Fliss emerged from her bedroom around dinnertime, I was lying on the sofa, my head in his lap as he read me gossip pieces from Fliss’ copy of ‘Sugar’, interspaced with stories that he had made up.  “’It’ girl, Lalage Ferrini, whose father was recently outed as a politician, plans to launch a raunchy new career as a topless gangsta rapper…” I laughed, and he flicked forwards a few pages “Ah, here’s one for all the girls… ‘Has Jailbait’s Nyree had a bum lift?’ forget the conflict in Israel, the war in Afghanistan, or the up and coming war in Iraq, what we really want to know is whether arse is the new tits.”

  Fliss was beginning to warm to his theme as she curled up in the armchair opposite with Marmalade, “Boy band The Romford Crew announce their ongoing search for talent.”

  “Ah, well” Fergus began flicking through the pages again “If its boy bands you’re after” he stopped flicking, and his eyes scanned the print “here’s one: Dangerous!’ Jay Adams spotted out, again, with Girl Trouble’s Adrienne Du Shanne.  The blonde sex god was spotted leaving an exclusive West End party in the company of the sultry siren last week, making it the third sighting of the couple this month.”

  Fliss smiled thinly “I read somewhere else that it was a cynical ploy by their marketing teams.”

  “Well, maybe” conceded Fergus as he passed her the magazine “But they look quite friendly here.”

  Fliss inspected the centrefold dispassionately; “She doesn’t look as though she’s enjoying mashing faces with him, though, does she?”

  Fergus inspected the image, “Now you mention it, no… and he doesn’t look as happy as he should do either…”

  “Oh, so you’d like to trade places?” I teased, “I feel sordid now…”

  He kissed me, “Don’t feel sordid…”

  “But you would, wouldn’t you?” I persisted.

  “What?”

  “Snog her”

  “Well, yeah, I mean…” he looked rather sheepish, “come on…”

  Fliss giggled. We asked her what the joke was, but that just made her laugh even more, so that eventually she ran through to the kitchen, red in the face, with her fist in her mouth.

  When she came back, we were watching an entertainment show on Channel Five.  They were showing the most recent Girl Trouble video, which was all come on and cleavage, suggesting that arse hadn’t become the new tits in their case. The overall feel was of something very slick and dehumanised, something a little too perfect to be real.  Fergus pointed to a beautiful girl with dark, glossy curls as she stalked along the video’s urban street, her slim tanned legs set off by incredibly high heeled boots, “That’s Adrienne,” he said.  Her dark eyes were framed by dark make-up like a bruise, and her mouth was painted a glossy plum colour.  The camera shifted position then, it lingered on her legs as the song finished and the video drew to a close.  She stayed in my mind though… not because I had liked the song particularly, but because she had presence.  The programme cut to an interview with her at an awards ceremony or album launch of some kind, and the unseen interviewer asked her a question about her relationship with Jay Adams.  She laughed, but it seemed a bit strained, and she seemed tired as she smiled a coy little smile and peered up at the camera through her eyelashes.  “He’s a close friend.”  Her accent wasn’t as broad as I remember it being at Fliss’ party, and her voice seemed to be an octave or two higher, which struck me as odd.

  “How close?” persisted the interviewer.

  Fliss moved closer to the screen, both she and Fergus were wearing an expression best described as hypnotic longing.

  The popstar hesitated, and then said “Close… that’s all I’m prepared to say.”

  The interview finished, and the camera drew our attention back to the presenters, who appeared to be about twelve, and who sounded as though they’d ingested far too many ecstasy tablets and e-numbers that morning. “I like her t-shirt,” said Fliss suddenly, as the female half of the duo walked over to where a band was waiting to play out over the shows credits.

  “I didn’t care for his hair,” deadpanned Fergus.

  She smiled.

  As the weeks have passed, Fliss seems to have withdrawn further and further into herself. She and her mobile are currently undergoing a trial separation, interrupted by incoming calls roughly twice a day.  These conversations are marked by silence on Fliss’ part, and characterised by a tense, unhappy expression.  She spends a lot of time alone, listening to ‘They Don’t Know’, (the Tracy Ullman version) and writing songs. Sometimes at night, I hear her crying, but I don’t know what to do, or what to say. I wish I did.

Chapter Twenty Five: All She Really Wants

Any further drainpipe climbing exploits on the part of Fliss’ mystery girl have been curtailed this past week by our trip to Scotland. Perhaps it was for this reason that she was so self-absorbed during our journey north, although even once we’d arrived she displayed no outward signs of interest in the process ahead of us. Instead she remained moody and detached, uninterested in music, her appearance, and probably even the band, which made a strong contrast with the shared excitement and nervousness felt by me, Flora, and Katy. All Fliss seems to be interested in these days is her mobile, which she is glued to. When she isn’t on the phone, she is checking it, fiddling with it, texting on it, or feverishly checking it for missed calls or text messages. She refuses to switch it off when asked to, by Jenny, and she doesn’t seem to care if the rest of us feel ignored as a result. She spent most of the journey up here conversing in French, and there has been at least one night whilst we’ve been here where I have left her talking on her mobile, only to wake up the next morning and discover her still talking, having evidently not gone to bed.  I don’t know what to think.

  She was clearly both elated and exhausted on the morning that we signed to Sandra Dee. She appeared peaky and bog eyed, but extremely happy when she finally emerged for breakfast, and it was evident that, once again, she hadn’t slept. The previous day’s jeans and t-shirt, designed for slouching about in, not meetings, were crumpled and limp, and her hair had not been brushed. Despite the fact that we would be late, Jenny sent Fliss back upstairs to change her clothes. When Fliss hadn’t emerged after twenty minutes, Jenny sent Flora and me upstairs to hurry her up. When we arrived, we discovered her fast asleep on her bed, still in her jeans and t-shirt. Flora shook her, gently, and Fliss drowsily swatted her away, muttering something incomprehensible, possibly in either French or Dutch.

  I walked over to the sink, filled a glass with cold water, and squatted down in front of her sleepy head. “Fliss,” I whispered down her ear, “if you don’t show any sign of waking up in the next five seconds, I will pour this very cold water down your back.” I counted, very slowly, and on the count of five, she sat up and grabbed the water from my hand. “Drink it then,” I said, sweetly, as Jenny burst into the room.

  We were an hour late. The journey by taxi to the Sandra Dee offices was marked by acute nervousness on the part of me, Flora and Katy, and extreme agitation on Jenny’s part. Fliss, meanwhile, sulked. Upon arrival, Jenny apologised once more for our tardiness, and we formerly signed the contacts we had received weeks ago, having resolved any concerns with both sets of lawyers before arriving in Scotland. There then followed a number of meetings with various Sandra Dee people, during which we shook hands and smiled a lot. Jenny talked to the various teams, departments, and individuals that made up Sandra Dee and between them a schedule was drawn up. I enjoyed watching her work, she was calm and professional but friendly, and she was very good at remembering names and job titles, something I often have trouble with.

  We went to the pub afterwards and talked, and it was nice not to have to think about contracts and schedules for a few hours. Jenny regaled us with tales of her youth in Liverpool, of riot grrrls and gigs, fanzines and parties, and the various exploits of the enigmatic Liberty Belle. We listened earnestly like wide eyed children.

  After the pub, Jenny went back to her room to work on some pieces for ‘NME’, and we all drifted off into separate camps. Fliss wandered off somewhere with her mobile, whilst Flora, Katy and I talked in their room. “What the hell is going on with Fliss?” muttered Katy as she threw herself down into an armchair. Flora and I more quietly claimed the bed. “Search me,” shrugged Flora, “but if she has that phone switched on tomorrow, when we have our gig and photo shoot, I shall ram it down her pretty little throat.” I winced. “I mean it,” she turned to me, “I’m sick of it.”

  Katy nodded, fiercely, in agreement. “Aren’t you?” she asked.

  I admitted that I was, “but she’s in love,” I explained, “don’t be too hard on her.”

  “When she was with Violet she wasn’t like this,” Flora pointed out, “she never let her interfere with the band anymore than Violet let her interfere with The Girls From Mars. Why should whoever it is this time be any different?”

  “Who is it anyway?” demanded Katy.

  “I don’t know,” I confessed “she won’t tell me anything – she never does – even with Violet, she never told me anything.”

  Jenny confiscated Fliss’ mobile as we set out for Glasgow the following morning. “You can have it back after the gig tonight.” She said briskly as she put the phone on silent and switched it off. Fliss began to argue, and Jenny gave her a look. It wasn’t a threatening look, as such, but it was the kind of look that spelled out, most clearly, that any further discussion would be futile. Fliss shut up, and began to pout sulkily instead. Jenny ignored her.

  The photo shoot posed no problems for Fliss, used as she is to earning the odd bit of extra cash by modelling wedding dresses for ‘Brides’. She enjoyed the attention, and was obliging and cooperative throughout, something which no doubt helped to smooth over her earlier disastrous behaviour at the record label. Both Katy and Flora were nervous and gauche in front of the lens, but with much coaxing, they eventually came out of their shells. I have always been notoriously camera shy, so I suffered and tried to console myself with the fact that the only shots of me that were likely to be used were the group shots. 

  The showcase gig in Glasgow went much better, despite our continued nervousness. It was made all the more nerve wracking by the knowledge that not just Alan the A&R man would be in the audience, but also the famed Alice Benson, our label boss. Jenny gave the still slightly sulky Fliss a pep talk before we went on stage, during which she expressed in no uncertain terms, just how important the gig was, and how disastrous things would be if Fliss was not on full form.  Flora took charge of Fliss’ wardrobe, and made her wear a new outfit she had made especially: a loose, floaty, smoky blue mini dress of sequinned and embroidered chiffon, which Fliss wore with blue ballerina pumps, blue ribbons and sparkly butterfly hairslides in her freshly curled hair. Lip gloss and subtle use of foundation, powder, blusher, eyeshadow and concealer, completed the look, turning the increasingly bad tempered Fliss into an English rose for the evening. Katy opted for an androgynous post punk neatness, Flora for a less glitzy femininity of denim skirt and silk shirt, whereas I tried to look neat.

  The venue where we played our showcase was no bigger than The Gates, but there was the nervous excitement that comes with playing on foreign turf, as well as our knowledge of the VIP’s in the audience. It was a strange gig, slightly surreal and dreamlike in quality, and it seemed at once to be taking far too long, and to be over far too soon. Afterwards, Flora and I relaxed backstage as Jenny took Katy and Fliss to meet Alice Benson. Katy had promised to kick Fliss if she showed any signs of sulkiness, but as it was, we didn’t have to worry: Jenny reported back that both of them behaved impeccably.

  We travelled home the next day feeling weary but satisfied. Fliss, newly reunited with her phone, withdrew back into her own little world again, as the rest of us dissected our various performances. It was evening when we reached Piccadilly, and the burnt orange sun was just setting as Jenny parked the car in the back alley next to the Gates. We walked the three or four streets it took us to reach Juvenile Hell.

  Inside those dark red and glittery gold walls were herds of impeccably dressed Bright Young Things, talking, drinking, and smoking over the deafening sounds of Felix Da Housecat.  At the epicentre of it all was Nat, squeezed into a black bustier and PVC mini skirt, turning on the charm for a tallish, slight of build man in baggy designer jeans and a Diesel t-shirt.  He was sporting what is known colloquially as a ‘Beckham’: scruffily punkish blonde hair with dark roots.  A very expensive looking camera hung around his neck, and, like his non-camera carrying colleague, he appeared to be in his late twenties.

  Fergus came over as I was observing this little scene.  He kissed me hello, and led me over to the table that he and his friends had taken possession of.  “Who’s that with Nat?” I asked as I leant back into his arms.

  “’City Life’” he explained, “Journalist and photographer, come to do a piece on the club.”

  We said no more about it, and he quickly turned his attention to asking me about Scotland.  I filled him in as best as I could. 

  “Well” he said as I leant sleepily against him, “I’d have a poster of you on my wall any day.”

  I yawned, “Wouldn’t you feel weird about it?”

  “Weird?”

  “It being of me”

  “No” he kissed my neck “I might phone them up actually, ask to see the sample shots, pick the best one of you, have it made up into a poster…”

  I wanted to protest, but I was too sleepy; I only hoped that he was joking as I closed my eyes.

  “Oh dear” he sighed as he tilted me into an upright position “I think I’d better take Cinderella home.  Do you have work tomorrow?”

  “Yes, worse luck”

  “Then I’ll definitely take you home”

  “My stuff” I murmured “In… the… in… Jenny’s…”

  “I’ll sort it”

  He practically had to carry me out of there; I was that tired.  Work was awful today, and I was so tired that it seemed even worse than usual.  I wish that I could get a decent night’s sleep.

Chapter Twenty Four: Young Girls, Run Free!

Having left Fliss singing in the shower that morning, it was something of a shock to arrive home from work that evening to such noisy chaos. I was feeling tired and irritable as I opened the front door, and a severely shaken ginger and white cat ran past me, almost knocking me over in the process. It was as I was still stumbling that I became aware of the shrieking; it was coming from Fliss’ room, so it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I made my way up the stairs and wearily opened her bedroom door. A half naked girl squealed, pulling Fliss’ duvet across her body, and then halfway across her face; a freckled snub nose, and a pair of mischievous grey-green eyes were all that could be made out of her face, but her long brown hair was disconcertingly familiar. On the other side of the room, Meelan, clad only in one of her long, baggy t-shirts, was laughing hysterically, whilst Fliss, in her dressing gown, flicked through her clothes, an expression of absorbed determination on her face as the Supremes blared out of her hi-fi, maintaining that you ‘Can’t Hurry Love’; I decided to leave them to it.

  About half an hour later, the three of them tumbled out of Fliss’ room, along the hall, down the stairs, and out of the door. I watched from the window as they sped down the street. Meelan was on her skateboard, clad in baggy dungarees and tight t-shirt, her usually loose hair in pigtails. The young singer, Kylie, from Angel and the Razorblades, was on her bike, peddling furiously in a very short skirt of Fliss’, a customised Girl Trouble t-shirt of Flora’s that Fliss must have borrowed, and her own Doc Martens, her hair was in long bunches, which flew out behind her as she soared past. Fliss, pink in the face from running and laughing, ran to keep up, her hair flying loose behind her. She was wearing a smoky blue velour halter-top and a pair of baby blue denim hot pants that I’d never seen before. The trainers killed it, of course, as did the Bagpuss bag and pink rhinestone tiara, but they certainly made for a colourful, not to mention eccentric, spectacle as they raced down the road. I felt rather old and nostalgic as I watched them. I would have given anything to be sixteen again then.

  I overslept slightly the next morning, by about half an hour, which wasn’t a disaster, but it did mean that I had to catch a later bus to work.  Fliss walked into the kitchen at quarter to eight, still in her hot pants and halter top, and I could tell from the way that she jumped that she wasn’t expecting to see me there “Oh,” she said, startled, “I thought you’d have left for work by now.”

  “Just about to leave” I reassured her kindly as I put my mug by the sink and picked up my bag.  I could smell cigarettes, sweat, and alcohol on her as I walked past her, and there was something else too, something sweet and strong, a sticky, vanilla, floral, cloying smell of perfume, but not her own (she normally wears Wild Rose.) Her clothes and hair seemed slightly rumpled, and she looked exhausted as she sank into one of the kitchen chairs. As she wearily tucked a strand of hair behind one ear, I saw a dark smudge of lipstick on her neck, and left for work wondering who it had belonged to.

  I went to Juvenile Hell one night after work, and watched from the bar as Nat prowled the floor, organising the evening’s entertainment.  She seemed to be everywhere at once, talking to the bands, watching them sound check, conferring with the sound and lighting crews, arranging guest lists and riders.  Amber served me as I waited.  She isn’t as pretty as Fliss, I don’t think, but she is older, and is likely to be more experienced than Fliss, which I expect is what Violet wanted.  Still, I thought, if Fliss was happy, and she certainly seems to be, does it matter what Violet wants? That hadn’t been her lipstick on Fliss’ neck that was for sure.

  “Kylie isn’t gay!” laughed Nat when I mentioned the Angel and the Razorblades singer, “There’s a boy from Chorlton Year Eleven I’ve seen her with.” She slouched against the arms of an office chair by her desk.  Her office was fairly small, and the furniture was shabby, but it wasn’t an unpleasant space by any means.  She had stuck up some Girls From Mars posters, and a Titanium Rose poster, words only, cheaply xeroxed in black and white.  “As to Meelan, I have no idea – I simply don’t know her well enough to know, although I doubt she is, I can usually tell, and I’ve had no radar like feelings about her, so far.”

  “Probably innocent fun then,” I said.

  “Probably,” agreed Nat, “and best if you keep out of it anyway – Fliss’ self esteem doesn’t need any more battering.”

  I went out with Fergus a couple of nights later. He took me to an Italian restaurant near Stockport where, because it was a Tuesday, we were almost alone. I always feel very self conscious when it comes to eating out; I think it’s because of my work history as a Catering Assistant and Waitress. I see the whole experience of eating out from too much of a staff point of view I think. But it was blissful to sit in the dimly lit room, holding his hand, and just… gazing at him… loving him.

  He drove back to our flat, and we went upstairs to the kitchen. Out of deference to my reluctance to drink, we were boiling the kettle for a post-meal cup of tea when he slipped his arms around my waist and blew, very lightly, on my neck. It sent a thrill through me, and when he kissed me I felt a surge of happiness so strong and fierce it made me dizzy. My enjoyment was short lived, however, because a few moments later there was a noise from outside the open window. Startled, we paused to look outside, and it was then that we saw the figure shinning down the drainpipe. “Hey!” yelled Fergus, indignantly. The figure looked up, and I could see now that it was a girl. She had a peaked cap pulled down over her eyes, blocking my view of her face, and as she lost her grip on the pipe and fell, I saw her long dark hair stream out behind her. She landed, noisily, next to our dustbins, and ran off, limping slightly.

  I ran down the stairs, as fast as I could in bare feet, and ran out of the door. I could hear Fergus behind me as I ran down the street. I had her in my sights, but she had a head start, ran like a cat, and was evidently an experienced garden hopper judging by the ease and carelessness with which she treated such obstacles as hedges, fences, gates and, even, at one hair raising moment, traffic. I lost sight of her far too soon, and stopped, panting for breath, on the pavement as I nursed a stitch. Fergus caught up with me at last. “Who,” he panted, “the hell…”

  I shook my head, too out of breath to speak.

  We slowly made our way back to the flat.

  Having limped back upstairs, I knocked on Fliss’ door before entering. Her light was off, and she was in bed. I switched on the light, and she turned over, moaning a little as she pulled her duvet nearer to her face in the warm late September air. “Did you hear anything just now?” I asked as I plonked myself down on her bed. “I heard two people running down the stairs like a herd of stampeding wildebeest,” she muttered through the duvet, evidently awake. “And you’re sat on my leg.”

  I adjusted my position on the bed, and Fliss sat up. She rubbed her eyes, but didn’t seem to be particularly tired as she pulled the duvet up to her bare shoulders. Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes bright, and she was wearing slightly smudged lipstick of a tea rose colour, and an expression best described as mixed. I glanced over to her wide open window, and she blushed still further as she looked away, sliding further underneath the duvet as she did so. I got up from the bed without saying another word, and limped back to the living room, and Fergus.

  He laughed when I told him of Fliss’ reaction to my questions and, after a moment or two, I did too. As I leant back into his arms and closed my eyes, I wondered what Fliss’ girl had to be afraid of.