Chapter Seventy: Point Of Departure

“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.

  Everyone laughed.

  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.”

  I smiled.

  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?

Chapter Sixty Six: This Is The End

So now it’s official: No more Titanium Rose.  I can’t pretend that I don’t regret the end of the band, of this phase of my life, because I do, but that regret is tinged with a huge sense of relief, which quite frequently outweighs the regret.

  Jenny celebrated her newfound freedom by embarking on a weeklong bender with Liberty Belle.  I saw them sleeping it off on the big, flat, wooden benches by the yet-to-be-switched-on fountains in Piccadilly one morning.  Nat says she saw them at Juvenile Hell a few times, but she had to evict them in the end because they had invented a particularly reckless slam dance/stagger, and too many people were getting hurt.  “They went off to the village after that, apparently, where they performed a spirited but not particularly accurate rendition of ‘I Know What Boys Like’ at a karaoke bar, before staggering around Canal Street for several hours, roaring ‘I Am The Fly’ and ‘Totally Wired’ by turns,” she shook her head in mock sadness, “It’s always the quiet ones you have to watch…” I didn’t see Jenny properly until the week after, when Flora and I met her for dinner at Afflecks Palace.  She was clutching a mug of coffee and shivering, even though it’s not even September yet, and was wearing jeans, a ‘Keep It Peel’ t-shirt, and a hoodie with the hood up.  Tangled magenta hair stuck out at angles from inside the hood, and her eyes were so bloodshot they were almost red: She looked very poorly.

  Flora was on her dinner hour when we met Jenny that day.  After the band split, she went home to Scotland for a few weeks to stay with her mum and dad, leaving Debbie in charge of the shop; and the break seems to have done her good.  She is drinking less, and the shop is busier than ever now.

  “What will you do now?” asked Jenny when we left that day.

  “I don’t know,” I admitted.

  Since Fliss left, I’ve been staying with Fergus, thinking about my life, and worrying.  I am twenty-three, and all I have to show for my life are a couple of CD’s, I haven’t even got a job anymore, my last waitressing job having dried up.  All I can do is wander around this dark, deserted house, thinking and brooding, worrying and waiting for Fergus to come home from work each night.  I don’t like this feeling, this sense of being on the edge of misery, feeling hopeless and tearful, I have no control over my life, or my feelings; I am useless.

  Fergus works late a lot, there are a lot of bands recording at Twilight at the moment, and the studio are one engineer short, so he often doesn’t get home until nine or ten.  He leaves food out for me to cook, simple things that he’s prepared beforehand, that I just have to put in to heat.  When he is there, he lavishes attention on me, holding me, and kissing me, making love to me…  It isn’t anything to do with sex that makes me miserable, I’m over that now, or am getting over it, I trust him implicitly, and I know he would never hurt me.  We talk for hours, and I know he senses there is something wrong, that I am keeping things from him, but if I am, it’s because I love him.  I don’t want to hurt him again.

  I spent a long time yesterday gazing at my arms, at those faint white scars.  I wasn’t tempted to cut myself, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it all the same; all those scars… do drug addicts feel like that when they look at the needle tracks on their arms?

  He asked me last night what was wrong, and I said, “Nothing.”  I don’t know what’s wrong; I just know that there is something wrong, and that it will only get worse.

  I was happy a few weeks ago when Fliss phoned.  She is with Adrienne in France, and has no definite plans, but I know she is happy now, and I would rather see her smile again than still be in Titanium Rose.

  I am writing this entry whilst sitting on the edge of Fergus’ bed.  When I moved my right foot just now, I stubbed my toes on something just under the bed.  I am going to stop and take a look, see what’s under there.

  (Later)

I feel a kind of numb detachment as regards what I have just read; both nothingness and despair, anger and embarrassment, fear and apprehension… so many things at once, second by second, something different, so that it feels as if I feel nothing at all.  Too many things to process, and now I’m afraid; because I know… I realise the truth at last.

  Underneath the bed was a small cardboard box, full of books and scribbled notes in Fergus’ handwriting.  Two Mind books were on top, ‘The Complete Guide To Mental Health: The comprehensive guide to choosing therapy, counselling and psychiatric care’ and ‘The Complete Guide To Psychiatric Drugs: A layman’s guide to anti-depressants, tranquillisers and other prescription drugs.’  He had flagged up the sections on anxiety, depression, manic depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and self-harm in the first book.  Certain words or phrases were underlined, and further notes had been made on anti-depressants and tranquillisers, and from the third book in the pile, ‘Essential Psychopharmacology of Depression and Bi Polar Disorder.’  There were articles about self-harm, and about eating disorders, along with phone numbers for MIND, the Samaritans, the Eating Disorders Association, 42nd Street, stuff from internet sites… Part of me was amazed that he had had time to research the area so thoroughly, but most of me was appalled.  What worried me most of all was a scrap of paper with a series of questions on it:

  1.) How do I talk to her about her illness?

2.) How can I stop her from hurting herself?

3.) Can post-traumatic stress disorder have a sexual cause?

4.) Could I bring myself to seek treatment for her without her knowledge or consent?

It was the last one that hurt the most, in fact, it didn’t just hurt, it scared me, for I knew what lay behind it, not just pills and counselling, but the full weight of the Mental Health Act, and the power to section those who are deemed to be at risk to themselves, or to those around them.

  I have sat quietly for over an hour now, just thinking.  The books and their notes are back in their box now, and are hidden under the bed once more, but they are far from being out of sight, out of mind.  I have been thinking, and I have made a decision.  I realise that it will always be like this, I will always be angry and unhappy, I will always be afraid, and I will always feel powerless in this constant struggle, trying to understand how and why I feel this way, and always failing, always letting people down.  Letting him down, and I know, I know, that he deserves better.  Despite my chronic indecisiveness, for once I have made a decision.  I know what I must do.

Chapter Fifty Six: Denouement

The dark mancunian streets were filled with the stale remains of Christmas as I walked along the damply shining pavements. The huge tree, hung with lights, which had dominated Piccadilly for the past month or so, gleamed in the misty mancunian drizzle, and the illuminations on Oldham Street also remained.  I walked along Moseley Street to Saint Peters Square, my head bowed against the rain, my hands shoved deep into my pockets against the cold, which clung to me as persistently as the damp.

  The Central Library building loomed in the distance, and I crossed the road by the Metrolink with relief, running the last few feet up the greyish white stone steps.  Stained glass dominated the interior, lending the white building, with its high ceiling, an extra majesty and gravitas.  I swallowed, nervously, as I made my way downstairs to the basement, and to the rather less intimidating intimate glow of the red and white formica café by the Library Theatre.  I had messed up my timings I realised, and had arrived forty-five minutes before curtain up.  The café was largely deserted, save for an earnest seeming man in a black wool coat, whose white wool scarf hung long and unravelling outside his coat, despite having been wrapped twice around his neck.  He was surrounded by books and scribbled notes, and was writing furiously; a cup of coffee lay in front of him, neglected and forgotten, as I made my way over to the counter.  I felt uneasy as I sat down a few minutes later at one of the little tables with a pot of tea and a slice of stollen, I knew that I was doing what I was doing for a good reason, but I still couldn’t decide if it was right or not.  I was still agonising over it when the call to take my seat came, and I made my way across and into the theatre still undecided.  As I sat down on one of the red plush seats, and listened to the hum of the audience and music from the stage, I thought, Please let it be right, and when the lights went down, the music and the murmurs ceased, I allowed myself to be distracted by the play.

  Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull’ isn’t a usual choice for me, give me a Tom Stoppard or period comedy any day, but in the softly lit, intimate warmth of the theatre, I watched, absolutely rapt, as the actors unfolded their story.  The two young leads, playing Constantine and Nina, held my attention the most.  I watched as these two naïve young characters progressed from idealistic lovers to irretrievably damaged, older, world-weary strangers.  In her final scene, I watched the young, dark, lively actress as she conveyed, with heart wrenching accuracy, the suffering Nina.  As she moved, and as she spoke, I sensed the subtle insinuations of Chekhov’s words, and I saw what lay beneath them.  This girl had such little self-awareness, but there was so much tragedy in her life, so much of which had been brought about through her own mistakes.  A failed actress who ran away with a writer, to be his muse and have (and lose) his child, who was destroyed by him, looks melodramatic on paper yet, on stage, she was fascinatingly real, I believed in her, and I believed in her attempt to get out of the trap that she was so irretrievably caught in.  I sensed her selfishness, her inability to see Constantine’s misery.  I sensed her frailty of mind, her stubbornness, her misery… When the curtain came down, and the cast lined up and took their bows, I applauded with genuine appreciation.  Nina was in the middle of the line up, applauding, along with the rest of the cast, as the shows director emerged from the wings, and took a bow.  My eyes rested on her as I took in her features, now that she was playing herself again.  The long, dark brown hair, which had been neatly contained throughout most of the play, hung wet and wild across her face, as it had in her final scene. Her dark brown eyes were shining, but, I sensed a wrongness there; the unhappiness, which had been expressed so eloquently in her final scene, had not entirely left her, I realised; it was a part of her, and Adrienne, like Nina, could no longer be the ingénue she once was.  If she had tried to be, then it would be an act, for that which is changed cannot be unchanged.

  The restaurant was a luxurious four star Italian eatery near Deansgate; the kind of plush carpeted, expensively lit, lavishly decorated place that I could never get a job at, let alone be served in.  It was very busy that night, and the black and white uniforms of the waiters and waitresses flitted around us and past us in the pale pink soft light.  I watched with a wary, critical eye as she ordered from the menu with an ease born of experience. Her hair had been tidied since her curtain call, and she had changed from her ragged dress into loose black trousers, and a white linen shirt, which made her look both sophisticated and self possessed.  As we waited for our food to arrive, I asked her politely about her life in France, and she talked prettily but vaguely about her Paris apartment, and the lifestyle of the French actress.  In turn, she enquired about Titanium Rose, and I gave her a general overview of our career over the past two years.  It was natural, I suppose, that we be wary of each other, and that we be hesitant in terms of what was said, but it was more than that. I suspect that each of us had picked up on the shadows around the other, and that we were both too sensitive and well behaved to pry.

  Neither of us chose to drink, which might have oiled the wheels a little and, perhaps, have ensured that things were less awkward.  The ice was never really broken, and we ate amidst carefully phrased conversations, which melted away as quickly as they had begun, the ensuing silences swallowed up by those dining and working around us.  I mentioned, as the remains of our main course was being taken away, that the second single from our album has just been released, and that Katy is in London, doing promotion for the single and album whilst producing some tracks for The Flirts and Molotov Cocktail, “A regular superwoman,” I concluded with a trace of disgust.

  Adrienne raised an eyebrow quizzically, “I’d ask you about it,” she said as she raised a glass of water to her lips, “but I suspect that isn’t why you wanted to meet up.”

  I heaved a sigh; now that we had got to the business at hand I had more doubts than ever.  Still, I had come this far; it would be silly to back out now, so… as she drank her water, I began to tell her about Emily, and more specifically, about Fliss’ feelings for her.  “The thing is,” I said reticently, “she needs closure before she can move on.”

  I watched, warily, as she nodded, but I sensed puzzlement on her part, her brow was creased as she said, “I thought I’d made the situation clear to Fliss two years ago, when I left.”

  “I don’t think it seemed that way to Fliss,” I explained cautiously, “In fact, I know it didn’t, it’s always seemed as though she expected you to come back.”

  “I see,” I heard the tension in her voice as she picked up the dessert menu.

  I waited, but nothing further was going to be said, I could tell.  She had shielded her face with the menu, so it was impossible to tell what she was thinking.

  Throughout the final course, she concentrated on her food, and kept her thoughts, and her feelings, to herself.  As the table was cleared, once more, she asked, pensively, “What’s Emily like?”

  “Shy,” I said, succinctly, “and younger than Fliss, very awkward and quiet.”

  She nodded unhappily to herself as she reached for her credit card; she wouldn’t look at me even after she had found it, and I became increasingly apprehensive.  Eventually, she murmured, “It’s the easiest thing in the world for Fliss to just flutter her eyelashes and wait for someone to make the first move, but it doesn’t sound as though that would happen in this case…” She looked up at last, and her face was an unreadable mask as she said, “It’ll be good for her, she’ll have to do all the work for a change, be a bit more butch.”  She frowned, “Is this girl gay though?”

  I grimaced, “I don’t know,” I admitted, “and I’m pretty sure that no one else I know does either, including Fliss.”

  Adrienne grew thoughtful, “Well,” she began, “I can talk to her, if you think it’s necessary, but I don’t think it’ll help.  I’d much rather write her a letter…”

  I agonised for a few moments as to which would be the least painful for Fliss, and Adrienne must have sensed my uncertainty, for she said, with an unhappy sigh, “No, I’d better see her, if I don’t,” she sounded tired, “she would come to me, it’s best I go to her before she decides to come to me.”

  Fliss was in the kitchen when I arrived home, she was wearing one of her oldest, most worn, nighties, which was pale pink and had teddy bears patterned all over it.  Her long fair hair hung loose, to just past her shoulders, and she was making herself a drink before heading off to bed.  As Adrienne emerged from the shadows behind me, she froze.  In the awful, taut silence, I saw the stricken look in her eyes, and the pain in her face; it was so silent that I could almost hear her heart beating faster as she stood, absolutely stock still, her eyes glistening as the tears dripped slowly down her face.  I hurt for her, but it was the pain of sympathy, and, probably, the pain caused by guilt.  What on earth had possessed me to do this to her? Adrienne walked slowly past me as though she were in a trance, her eyes were distant, and her face was unreadable as she took Fliss in her slim arms, and held her.

  The phone was ringing, it had been ringing for a while I realised as Fliss began to sob into Adrienne’s shirt, but it was only now that I had heard it.  I walked along the hallway, to the stand by the stairs, in a trance, and picked up the receiver with heavy, clumsy hands.  The voice on the other end of the line jolted me back to reality, “Happy fucking New Year,” growled Nat, in a dull monotone, “I sure as hell hope its going better for you so far than it is for me.”

  “Not really,” I sighed, “not tonight anyway…”

  “Dylan’s filed for divorce,” she continued in that same, dull monotone, oblivious to my remarks.

  “Well,” I conceded, wryly “you can hardly blame him…”

  “I know, but…”

  “I’m surprised he waited this long…”

  “He’s met someone else,” she droned.

  “Oh…”

  “Yeah… and as if being given the kiss off by my now very ex-husband wasn’t bad enough, Amber’s been romancing Sabine from The Gates, and she’s been lapping it up.”

  “So I gathered.”

  Once again, she didn’t appear to hear me, “So, as well as all that, there’s this big Valentines Day shin dig at Juvenile Hell to organise, with yourselves of course, and everyone there is going to be in a couple except me.”

  “Surely not everyone,” I reasoned.

  “Yes, everyone!” she snapped, and I could sense her despair as well as her exasperation as she continued, “Amber’s going to have Sabine there, you’ll be with Fergus, and Fliss is drooling over Emily, so I can’t borrow her…”

  “Nat,” I reasoned, “you’d eat the poor girl alive…”

  “Fliss!” she snapped, “Not Emily!”

  “Sorry.”  There was an awkward pause, then my heart leapt as I remembered something, “What about Shahina?”

  “Don’t talk to me about that snake,” she said, in withering tones, “She’s in London, sharing Shanti with Violet, or Violet with Shanti… I lost track of that particular ménage á trois…”

  “Borrow Katy,” I said, quickly, before Nat could start in on reminding me about the time Shahina slept with her girlfriend, Jasmine, four years ago.

  “Please…” I could feel her shudder down the phone, “I’d rather go alone, which I will be doing…”

  “Ask Violet.”

  “In London, with Shanti Nair and Shahina, I already told you!”

  “There must be someone…” her despair was infecting me by that point.

  “No, there’s not…” a note of sadness had crept into her voice, “There just aren’t enough confirmed queer girls, or semi queer girls, on our little scene to go around, and trying to pull in the village is fraught with too many difficulties; I don’t like lairy middle aged women leering at me…”

  “You’re lairy sometimes.”

  “That’s different,” she said with crushing finality.  A note of defeat entered her voice as she said, “Oh, never mind… I’m going to go and watch ‘Rosemary and Thyme’…”

  “And write slash/fiction online after?” I enquired, sweetly.

  “You know me too well…” she grumbled, before abruptly hanging up.

  As I got my breakfast the next morning, it occurred to me that Shahina and Violet, whatever their relationship was, couldn’t both take Shanti to Juvenile Hell on Valentines Day, and that, anyway, Shanti might be in London recording still, or be busy with other things.  Surely Shahina would be free if Violet wasn’t? Yes, Cinders, I thought, wryly, to myself, you shall go to the ball… A very curious picture began to form in my head as I reflected on this, and I smiled despite myself.

  Just then, Adrienne made her way into the kitchen.  She walked slowly, as though she had a lot on her mind; her hair was loose and seemingly un-brushed, and the previous nights clothes were badly creased and wrinkled.  “Don’t look at me like that,” she said, sharply, as I stared across at her from the table.  I saw her wince as she looked away from me, “Yes,” she admitted, wearily, “I slept with her, but nothing happened.”  Her voice turned bitter as she poured herself a coffee, “I did what you asked me to do.”  She sat down opposite me, and nursed the mug of black coffee, her dark eyes were angry, and the tension showed in her face.

  “Has there been anyone since Fliss?” I asked in the stony silence.

  She wouldn’t answer; she wouldn’t even look at me.

  “Well?” I prompted.

  But she still wouldn’t answer.

  “There must have been a queue of girls in Holland and France,” I observed lightly, “all dying to…”

  She brought the half empty mug down onto the table with a crash, “There’s been no one,” she snapped as she glared at me, her eyes ablaze with rage. 

  I wasn’t intimidated by her anger, in fact, I felt as though I’d achieved something; I had made her realise the truth, however painful it was, “You still love her, don’t you?” I said, softly.  I took no pleasure in discovering this, it had been the last thing that I had expected to find out, but I had to know, “Why didn’t you come back? She’s waited for you, she’s waited for you for two years, and if you still love her…” I was beginning to feel angry myself then.

  “It won’t work!” her rage was stronger now, “Do you know how many times I’ve been followed since I came back to the U.K?” she clenched her fists, “Twenty times! Twenty times in a fortnight! I’ve had reporters sneak into rehearsals, and that really makes me mad, because then my work’s being affected, and my jobs potentially on the line.  I’ve three different tabloids staying at my hotel, the paparazzi following me everywhere, and I get chat shows calling my agent, wanting me to go on their shows and talk about my ‘comeback’.”  She spat the last word with visible contempt.  There was a pause, and when she next spoke, I sensed her falter as she admitted, “You were right to bring me back here last night, I can’t drag Fliss into my world, not again; it would ruin her life.”

  I was alarmed at this summary of my actions, “That wasn’t why…” I began.

  “But it’s the truth,” she stated hollowly.

  She looked so sad, and it was probably that as much as the desire to defend my own motives, that made me say, “Fliss would run away to France in an instant if she thought you still loved her.”

  She nodded without, I suspect, really hearing what I was saying.  Her voice cracked a little as she said, “You can’t base a relationship on occasional nights in hotel rooms.”

  Fliss entered the room just as Adrienne spoke this last line, she was still in her nightie, and she looked absolutely wretched as she watched her get up to leave.  In the doorway, Adrienne put her arms around her and held her until Fliss began to cry. It was a long, lingering clinch and, as she emerged from the kiss, I heard her say, kindly and quietly, “I’m setting you free.”

  She walked away without looking back.  I heard her feet on the stairs, heard the door slam shut, and then… she was gone.

  Fliss was crying silently in the doorway.  Her eyes were scrunched up, her lips were trembling, and her shoulders were racked with silent sobs.  She staggered, blindly, along the corridor.  I felt terrible as I got up to follow her, but before I reached the corridor, I heard the door to her bedroom slam, and her bed creak.  Through the walls, I could hear her crying, and it was an angry, despairing, ugly sound.  I could hear her fear as well as her despair, and I wished that I hadn’t done what I’d done.

Chapter Thirty Seven: Across The Years

 Mum was on the phone when Katy and I burst in, and I paused in the hallway, uncertain as to whether I was intruding; Katy, however, had no such qualms, “You’ve got the Beauty Queens L.P, Rachel, haven’t you?” she called breezily as she ran upstairs, not even waiting for a reply.  Mum raised her eyebrows in the direction Katy had run, and I saw her shake her head slowly in mild irritation as she turned around, and noticed me standing there.  “I’ll have to call you back,” she murmured into the mouthpiece, “I’ve just been invaded…” From upstairs, we could hear the sound of the ladder being put up, and the creak of feet, climbing… “Doesn’t hang about, does she?” remarked mum, in distinctly narked tones. 

  I shook my head; I felt that I should apologise for the behaviour of a friend, so I explained, “She’s not used to asking first.”  She opened her mouth to speak, but I got in first, “Who were you speaking to?”

  “Thomas.”

  My sense of awkwardness returned, as I asked, “How’s it going with him?”

  “Well, I think,” she said, not meeting my eyes.

  An invisible weight seemed to settle on me as I nodded, almost to myself; I hadn’t met him, but I’d heard her mention him a lot lately and, whilst she’s had boyfriends before, this one sounded different; for one thing, he had lasted longer than they usually do.

  There was a long, painfully tense silence before she said, rather quietly, “I would always put you first,” she gazed up at me “you know that, don’t you?”

  But it is no longer right for her to do that, not now.  “You don’t have to do that,” I told her, “not anymore.”

  The conversation ended then because Katy emerged at the top of the stairs, carrying a huge cardboard box full of vinyl.  “Give me a hand!” she yelled down to me, and I ran up the stairs to assist, my mood lightening with each step as I recalled the task at hand.

  As we hauled the last box down to the living room, mum hovered in the doorway, her hands on her hips, an expression of annoyed confusion on her face, as she demanded, rhetorically, “Do you mind telling me what this is all about?”

  “The Beauty Queens have reformed!” called back me and Katy in stereo.

  “They’re going on tour!”  Called Katy

  “…playing Manchester in a fortnight” I added, equally excitedly.

  “Oh,” said Mum, facetiously as she joined us, “is that all…”

  The Beauty Queens haven’t toured since July 1980, they split up five months later when Iona Black, Chantel Jones, Serena Llewellyn and Keeley Myerscough left and formed The Playgirls.  Mum saw them live five times in 1979, supporting various more high profile names, and she’s also the only person I know who happens to own their L.P.

  “Come on, Rachel,” protested Katy as she lifted the L.P out of the second box, “you must be at least a little bit excited; you’re talking one off experience here, it’d be like The Slits reforming…”

  Mum shook her head; she seemed a little dazed as she asked, “Original line-up?”

  “Yes,” confirmed Katy, “all seven of them.”

  She shook her head again, “I’m amazed they’ve agreed to do it; I didn’t think there was any love lost between The Playgirls and the other three when they split… I saw them supporting Rip, Rig and Panic in 1980, just before they split, and you could tell it was all about to go pear shaped…”

  “So, you’re not coming to the gig then?” demanded Katy.

  She shook her head, “As much as I loved them at the time, there are some areas of my past I think its best I not revisit.” Her expression grew thoughtful as she added, “But if they make a new record I might be cautiously interested…”

  Katy handed me the L.P, and I gazed for a few moments at the cheap black and pink sleeve, before flipping it over and gazing at the picture of the band on the back.  As is often the case with reluctant geniuses, Iona Black was hidden away towards the back of the picture, on the right side.  The more obvious charms of Lalita James, Chantel Jones, and Keeley Myserscough were posed in the centre of the picture; pretty punkettes in fishnets and stilettos, with P.V.C mini skirts and ripped t-shirts, naively slutty in their vamping.  Iona was blonde then, but her hair was short, and although she was wearing similarly slutty garb, there was something in her posture, in her expression, that suggested she was different.  She was already a minor legend by then, thanks to a brief, ill advised, marriage to Seth Kent, bassist in The Wars, when she was seventeen; it ended six months later when she woke up next to his corpse, the needle sticking out of his arm still.  Maybe that was what made her appear wary, or maybe the demons were already at work by then…

  Katy snatched the L.P from my hands, and marched over to the Hi-Fi with it. As she placed the L.P down on the deck, I noticed mum slip out through the door, and it wasn’t long before I heard her feet on the stairs, retreating, escaping… maybe she would phone Thomas again.

  Later, the three of us watched the video for our next single, ‘My Heart Is In Your Hands’.  It was shot mainly in a light, luxuriously elegant suite at one of the big Manchester hotels.  Fliss is very much the star of the piece, and is featured sitting on a white windowsill, her feet bare and resting on the sill, her knees pulled up towards her chest.  She is wearing a light sundress, and gazes out of the window wistfully as she lip synchs to the track.  She looks very sad, but very pretty, which I think is the mood that the director was going for.  It was shot in black and white, with lots of grey, lots of dissolves.  Rumour has it that it was shot at the hotel that Girl Trouble stayed in last summer, in the room that Adrienne surreptitiously seduced Fliss in.  Sandra Dee have been keen to encourage the story, but Fliss says it isn’t true.

  “It reminds me of the video to Siouxsie and the Banshees ‘The Last Beat Of My Heart’,” remarked mum.  Her expression was thoughtful and calculating as she added, “Still, she looks very pretty I must say…I only hope that Sandra Dee know what they’re doing.  Is it about Adrienne?”

  “It might be” I conceded, cautiously, as Katy scowled.  I haven’t really discussed the lyrics to ‘My Heart Is In Your Hands’ with Fliss; she’s been too busy working, or else being interviewed, or hanging out with Angel and the Razorblades in Chorlton. 

  “Poor Fliss,” she shook her head.

  Katy had her guitar with her, so we travelled back to Heaton Chapel together and I played her some new drum patterns I’d written.  The neighbours, who live below us, are away on holiday at the moment, and no one seemed inclined to complain about the noise as we played together, trying out ideas, but not jamming: We are not a band who jam.

  It seemed to work well, and the energy flowed through me as we worked, the windows in the room open against the intense summer heat.  Hours passed without us noticing, and it was nearly dark when Fliss joined us, she was humming a melody quietly to herself, but broke off to ask, “Can I join in?” We nodded enthusiastically, and she went off to find her own guitar.  We didn’t stop this informal exchange of ideas until midnight or so, and by then we had two almost complete new songs, plus the beginnings of a third.  Fliss was beaming as she lifted off her guitar; her face was flushed with the heat, and her yellow sundress crumpled and damp.  “That was good,” she said happily, “that was fun,” Something about the way she said it made me smile in turn, for I fear that Fliss hasn’t been having an awful lot of fun lately.

  I went to see ‘Igby Goes Down’ at the Cornerhouse last week, and when I left my mind was racing with thoughts and possibilities in the claustrophobic summer heat.  I was thinking about Iraq, wondering how a war can really be over when the guerrilla warfare seems to be only beginning; I feel guilty about Iraq still, and I have a sensitivity to all that’s going on; I hunger to know everything that is going on in the world, I want to know all the pain and fear, all the truth and violence; I feel as though I’m a sponge, soaking up everything I find out, yet both wanting and needing to know more, about everything: In the intense heat I feel as though my brain is on fast forward, the ideas pouring out of me like sweat… it’s exciting, but it worries me; I’m afraid that I’ll lose the ideas before I can make proper use of them.

  I was anxious about The Beauty Queens gig, but for a different set of reasons.  I spent so long getting ready that night that Katy had arrived to pick me up long before I was ready.  As I stood in front of the mirror, fretting a little as I toyed with my studded wristbands, a kind of fluttery nervous excitement welled up inside me.  From the doorway, I heard Fergus say, “Will you tell her, or shall I? You look fine.”

  “He’s right,” said Katy, truculently, “you look sickeningly fantastic, as always…”

  I pulled at the skin tight plain black t-shirt, which insisted on riding up over my P.V.C mini skirt, “I’m still not sure about this top…”

  “It’s fine…” Katy pulled at my arm, “we’ll be late if we leave it any longer, let’s go”  She averted her eyes as Fergus kissed me, and then pulled at my arm again, “come on…”

  The gig… Oh, the gig, the gig, the gig… How can you describe your fantasy gig? How can you describe your most eagerly anticipated event, the highlight of your life? It was so, so good… it was everything I had hoped for, and yet, it was completely different, both wonderfully familiar and strangely brilliant; a cacophony of noise and jagged guitars, played better, and tighter than on that old L.P… Part of me had half expected to see the audience and the band wearing bondage kecks and P.V.C, like some time transported seventies period piece… I had half expected it, half dreaded it, because it would have been predictable and depressing, yet I needn’t have worried; there were some mohicaned punters in the audience, but less than I expected, and the band were dressed down in black, hair possibly dyed yet only shades of blonde, brown, and black, make-up minimal and muted.  And at the centre of it all, for me anyway, was Iona Black, hiding behind her drum kit and a loose waterfall of jet-black hair.  She seemed largely unaware of her surroundings, or of the audience, and she wore a long brown and black top, with loose flowing sleeves, which hung well below her waist; underneath it she wore black jeans.

  Afterwards, we met up with Nat and, still feverishly excited, made our way towards the backstage area, chatting excitedly.  A tall, stockily built man planted himself in our path, “Passes?” he asked.

  I watched as Katy attempted to spin some blag about us working for ‘NME’, and I could tell by his utterly unmoved expression that he’d heard it all before.  I began to wish that I’d asked Jenny to blag me something I could use.  After a few minutes of stalemate, Nat sighed and produced a piece of paper from her pocket, “I was kind of hoping I wouldn’t have to use this,” she murmured, handing him the paper.  “My name’s Natalie James,” Katy and I frowned; Nat never used her married name, “Lalita’s my sister in law,” he looked up from the piece of paper, nodded, and then handed it back to her. 

  Soon we were flying up the stairs towards the dressing room, chattering and giggling excitedly, without a clue as to what would happen next…  “What the hell was on that piece of paper?” asked Katy, amazed admiration in her voice.

  “Me with no clothes on,” said Nat, cheerfully.

  “Seriously…”

  “Something Dylan got me,” she turned to face us as we reached the top of the stairs, “She really is his sister, you know, well, his half sister anyway… she was at our wedding, you,” she gestured to me, “sat next to her, but I didn’t talk to her until later.”

  Our nerves returned in force once we reached the dressing room.  None of us felt entirely sure as to what we should do, I mean, what do you do? Knock on the door? We couldn’t do it, none of us could, not even Katy, for all her attitude and swagger, not even Nat, for all her family connections.  Katy got down on her knees and peered through the keyhole, “What’s happening?” I half hissed, half whispered.

  “I don’t know,” muttered Katy, “I can’t actually see very much… Oh, hang on, Chantel’s having a fag, and Keeley’s putting nail varnish on a run in her tights…”

  “What’s Iona doing?” I asked.

  “Looking out of the window, she’s got her back to me… Oh, damn, I can’t see…” she trailed off, and then clambered guiltily to her feet as the door swung open, revealing Lalita.

  Lalita James, née Cain, peered down her nose at us, imperiously; there was a touch of amusement in her eyes though, and a smile twitched at the corners of her mouth.  She had been pretty, despite herself, in the picture from 1978, with messy white blonde hair, and angry, piercing blue eyes.  Now the eyes, whilst equally piercing, lacked that disdainful ferocity, and her hair was light brown.  What few lines there were on her face were fairly well disguised, and her hair appeared to be natural, not dyed.  Nat smiled, broadly, “Hello.”

  She and Lalita hugged, and as she emerged from the embrace, Lalita spoke at last, “You didn’t tell me you were coming…” her voice was as it had been at the wedding, largely accentless, but with a faint hint of estuary, eager and interested.  She turned her attention to Katy and me, “Aha, two of the bridesmaids,” she ushered us into the dressing room, “come in, come in…”

  Things moved quite quickly once we were inside, cans of beer were produced and handed around, but when Lalita offered one to me, I shook my head.  “She doesn’t drink,” said Nat, succinctly.  Lalita walked over to the corner where Iona Black stood, still staring out of the window, and gestured to a much smaller stack of smaller cans.  Iona nodded, distractedly, as she handed one to her, and Lalita retraced her steps, “Here you go,” she handed me a can of lemonade.  I reached for it, but my fingers were trembling with nervousness, and I fumbled it, Nat caught it as it fell from my fingers, and passed it back to me.  She has touched this, I thought, reverently, as I pulled back the ring pull.  I slurped the froth from the top of the can, and looked over at her.  She had turned away from the window now, and I was able to see her in profile.  Her dark hair still hung across her face, and as she reached up to brush it out of her eyes, I was able to see that her hands were pale, and that she had long, thin fingers.  My heart began to beat too fast as I was filled with sheer excited joy.  I was so close to her, so close…

  We talked mainly to Lalita, although once she had introduced us, the others began to take a polite interest and became drawn into the conversation.  Only Iona Black stayed in the background, her dark brown eyes seemed wary, her body language defensive.  I found myself staring, openly and blatantly, at her, hoping she would look up, hoping she would meet my eyes with hers, even if only to glare at me, to respond in some way… But she didn’t.  At one point Lalita glanced, quickly, from me to Iona, and I could tell that she had noticed what I was doing, even if she didn’t understand why; it was incredibly rude, I know now, to stare at her like that, but it was like I couldn’t help it.  I don’t know what was with me that night; it was like I was pushing myself, pushing the situation, to see what would happen next.

  The elation didn’t leave me as we left, I still felt very high and emotional, but it was tinged with a kind of vague disappointment, a disappointment that was as tied up with my admiration for Iona Black as my other emotions were.  When I tried to explain how I felt to Katy, she didn’t understand, but when I mentioned it to Nat, her answer was curiously straightforward, “I think she was just shy,” she said, with surprising sensitivity, “she strikes me as someone not entirely comfortable with herself.”

  Katy snorted, “What does she have to be unhappy about?” she made reference to the Renaissance Girls, Iona’s most recent band, “That album was huge! The woman can’t want for money…”

 In the awkward silence that followed, Nat said, rather quietly and pensively, “Has it occurred to you that we put these people on pedestals, and that maybe we shouldn’t?” There was no answer, and in the silence she grew more fierce, “Maybe we shouldn’t make these people our gods, because, one day, inevitably, they come unstuck, and fall off, or reveal themselves to be so breathtakingly ordinary, disappointingly ordinary, that we can’t help but feel utterly disillusioned, disappointed, rejected…”

  Katy giggled, nervously, “God, Nat… lighten up, can’t you?”

  None of us were ready to go home yet, so we headed along Oxford Road until we got to Charles Street, our destination being Retro Bar, and the last few hours of Mass Teens On The Run.  The neon lighting was particularly bright as we made our way out onto the dancefloor, and we threw ourselves into the dancing mêlée as the DJ began to play the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s ‘Date With The Night’.  Katy and Nat were soon tired of the heat, but I kept on going, driven by an inner pool of energy that helped me forget my confusion as I threw myself into the dancing.  After about an hour, I returned to the table Katy and Nat had retired to.  Nat pushed a half pint glass of lemonade towards me, and remarked, wistfully, “You know, it’s a pity you had to give up dancing…”

  My energy and sheer need to dance didn’t abate.  When the club finished at two a.m, I danced my way out, up the stairs, and along the streets to the bus stop.  It felt good, it felt more than good: it felt amazing.

  It was around three a.m when I got back to Fergus’, and the euphoria hadn’t left me by the time I climbed into bed.  He was lying with his back to me, and I was feeling particularly amorous as I kissed his neck, “I’m back,” I whispered, enticingly, and he rolled over, groaning a little as he blinked, sleepily, up at me, “Hello,” he murmured, drowsily.

  I kissed his lips, “Were you asleep?”

 He paused to consider this, before replying, “I think so… I’m awake now though.”

  “I’m not sleepy,” I whispered, huskily, as I touched and stroked him. 

  He yawned, “Work in the morning,” he reminded me.

  “I know,” I replied neutrally.

  His eyes flickered closed again, and it wasn’t long before he was asleep.  With a little disappointed sigh, I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.

Chapter Thirty Six: Not Talking About It

 The Saturday after the wedding was a warm and breezy sunny day.  I lay in bed with my head on Fergus’ chest, feeling his breath on my face. He stroked my hair, very slightly, very gently, but his eyes were worried as he murmured, “I wish you would tell me what he did to you.”  My heart began to beat a little faster as I looked away from him, “I can’t” I whispered.

He stopped stroking my hair, and I turned my back on him, my thoughts a jumbled mess as I buried my head in the pillow.  After a few minutes, I sensed his fingers on my spine, and I found myself flinching involuntarily, for the first time in nearly a year.  He had wanted to have sex with me the night before, and I had stopped him. He hadn’t questioned me then, just rolled off me and gone to sleep, but I had known that he was losing patience; I could sense it, in every inch of his body.

  “I know he hurt you,” began Fergus, carefully, “but,” he hesitated, “You would tell me, wouldn’t you? If it was sexual as well, if he hurt you in a sexual way?”

  The implied question interrupted my thoughts, and it confused me because I didn’t have an answer for it.  Then I began to ask myself if he had raped me, if consenting only because he wasn’t going to leave me in peace otherwise, was rape, if I had consented because I was frightened of him, and if that was rape, if I had let him do things to me because I was too scared to say no.  So many scenarios, so many situations where he had had the upper hand, and where I had wanted to say no to him, but hadn’t done.  What did that make him? And what did it make me? I didn’t like to think of the relationship I’d had with Terry as being like that, but that was how he was making me feel…  A familiar, fierce, insistent pain was beginning to throb in my left temple as I closed my eyes once more; I was tenser than I had realised “I really don’t want to talk about this now.” I whispered, “Could you get me a glass of water and my migraine pills?”

  I heard the bed creak, then the floorboards as he climbed out of bed.  I rolled over to face him.  He seemed to tower over me, and there was an edge to his voice as he asked, “Do you want your other pills as well?”

  “What other pills?” I asked, quietly.

  “The ones you can’t drink with”

  I flushed, “My anti-depressants,” I admitted, “I came off them last month.”  Then, in case the significance had bypassed him somehow, I added, “I’m clean, Fergus.”

  He stared at me for a long time; it was as though he was studying me.  Not because he didn’t believe me I don’t think, but because he was trying to see inside my head.  He was reading me, like he used to do when we first met; I thought we were past all that now.

  The next morning, after a fraught and sleepless night, I staggered along the corridor, wincing as the bright sunlight hurt my eyes.  Despite my weariness, my mind was in turmoil, preoccupied by thoughts that I couldn’t control.  I found myself dwelling on Terry, despite myself, and I found myself reliving some of the things that he had done to me, things that I had not forgotten, but which I had driven back into the furthest recesses of my mind, where I wouldn’t have to deal with them.  I had spent a sizeable amount of the previous night arguing with myself as to what, if anything, I should tell Fergus, and he had been fast asleep next to me the whole time, blissfully unaware of my restlessness.  At least he had slept, and wasn’t that better than telling him? Wasn’t it better to let him believe a lie if that gave him peace of mind? Wasn’t it better if he believed that nothing really that bad had happened to me? That I wasn’t broken, or damaged, or… or… or any of those other adjectives that people would use to describe someone in my situation: I couldn’t find an answer that morning, and I still can’t find an answer now.  As I walked towards the living room, I could hear Fliss singing:

            She packed her case

            And kissed goodbye

            Then flew away from me.

The melody seemed to have been lifted from an old Doris Day song that Fliss had on tape somewhere, but the lyrics were new, and sad, so very sad.

  She jerked her head up in surprise as I entered the room, and blushed fiercely as she hastily folded up the piece of paper she had been reading.  I made to leave, but she stopped me and motioned for me to join her on the sofa.  I guessed that the letter was from Adrienne, though I didn’t want to ask because I could sense her awkwardness.  In the end, Fliss brought it up.  “She’s in France,” she said pensively, “I think she means to stay.”  Tears were shining in her eyes as she looked up at me, “I miss her,” there was a tremor in her voice now, “I miss her so much…” she began to cry, softly at first, and then harder.  The letter fell to the floor, forgotten.

  Nat and Dylan returned from their Russian honeymoon a few days ago now, and I saw them last night at Juvenile Hell.  Nat was holding court to a number of press people and miner celebrities when I arrived, and Dylan was gazing at her adoringly.  Once the schmoozing was over with, she returned to his side, and didn’t leave it once all evening; whenever I saw her she was smiling and smiling; she seemed so alive. .

  I saw Fergus almost as soon as I arrived; he was by the bar, chatting to some friends from work who I don’t know very well.  After our last meeting, I was wary of approaching him lest he was still angry with me, so I waited instead for him to come looking for me.

  We didn’t talk about our conversation that morning until we were in the car, travelling home.  “Do you love me?” he asked once there was a lull in our conversation.  “Of course I love you” I replied, a little startled.

  “Like Nat loves Dylan?” he persisted.

  “More than that,” I insisted.

  When we reached the flat, he stopped but didn’t switch off the engine.  “I won’t come in,” he said, tensely, “I think its best I don’t.”

  I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I just nodded and then got out of the car.  I stood on the pavement for what felt like a long time, watching him drive away into the summer sunset.

Chapter Thirty Three: A love like this…

On the day that we moved here, over a year ago now, Fliss brought with her some packs of neon glow stars, and arranged them, with painstaking care and precision, on her bedroom ceiling in the shape of the night sky.  She liked to watch the sky at night, she said, and having her own artificial sky to gaze at was something that seemed to soothe her in the fractious months after Violet left her.  On the night of Adrienne’s arrival, I had walked through the shadows along the corridor to my own room and, as I passed her bedroom, had heard her describing and naming the various stars in a sleepy murmur.  I don’t imagine that Adrienne was any more interested in astrology than Violet had been that night at the coach park, but she appeared to be making vaguely interested noises as Fliss blithely continued her commentary.

  The pale sun shone weakly on me the following morning as I made my way along that same corridor, and the pale light was complimented by a girls voice, low and faintly husky, slightly breathy in quality, singing Blondie’s ‘Pretty Baby.’  As I drew closer to the kitchen, the singing grew louder, and I could hear the unmistakable, joyful sound of Fliss’ giggle.  Both the singing and the giggling suddenly ceased as I rounded the corner, and in the outline of the kitchen doorway, I saw Fliss lean forwards, quite suddenly, and pull her towards her with a kind of fierce passion, Adrienne stopped singing, and gazed into her eyes for a few moments, and then they kissed, not gently and softly, but with that same fierce passion, pressed closely against each other, holding onto each other as though they were afraid to let go.

  I prolonged my entrance into the kitchen for as long as possible, but still felt as though I was intruding as I crossed that threshold and saw them spring apart, almost as though it was a reflex.  Their shared expression was furtive as they gazed off into space, and as Fliss moved over to the table, and Adrienne returned to the coffee she’d been making, both seemed a little flushed and flustered.  “Don’t mind me,” I murmured, trying to sound natural rather than peevish, as I grabbed a glass of milk.  The atmosphere was heavy with unsaid words and unexpressed feelings, unbearably so, I felt, so I tiptoed out of the room without another word, feeling… not jealous, for what have I to be jealous of? But… I don’t know, sad perhaps, a thread of melancholy seems, even now, to weave its way through my heart just to remember that morning.

  I watched Adrienne from the kitchen table as she made coffee for herself and Fliss the morning after our night out at X-Offender.  She had traded the previous night’s glamour for her usual denim rags, and her plaid shirt was, as usual, tied around her waist.  She was wearing one of Fliss’ t-shirts, which was pale yellow in colour, and had a picture of Miffy on the front; it was as tight on her as it was on Fliss, and was stretched a little across her chest, finishing a few inches short of the waistband of her jeans, and revealing a wide band of pale, toned flesh.  She had brushed out her hair, and the previous nights ringlets had all but vanished under the assault as it hung, loose and ruffled, down her back.  She murmured, almost to herself, as she stirred the water, “I don’t know where this is going to lead…”

  “Nor do I,” I confessed, ruefully.

  I saw the confusion in her face as she turned to me, “I love her,” she said, a little unnecessarily, “I love her so much, but,” she sighed, “everything’s happened so quickly, and…” She rubbed her eyes, tiredly, “I feel as though I’m losing the threads of my life almost… I don’t know who I am anymore, or what I am, or… what I’m going to be.”  Her expression became clouded by guilt as she confessed, “I feel lost.”

  Just how lost didn’t become apparent until the Monday night, when I arrived home from work to find them both in tears, having argued.  Adrienne, it transpired, needed some time and space to think.  “You’re leaving me,” wailed Fliss, “you’re leaving me because you’re too scared to stay and give us a chance!”

  “I’m not leaving you” Adrienne’s voice was taut, her expression pained, and her eyes tired, “I need space, I need peace and quiet; I can’t think here…”

  “Let me go with you!” pleaded Fliss.

  “No,” moaned Adrienne “you’re needed here; I won’t let you leave Titanium Rose because of me”

  “Let me come with you!” Fliss’ pleading became increasingly insistent and desperate, “We could go abroad, or we could…”

  “No!” she shouted, and in the awful, repressive silence that followed, she said, in a voice so taut it could snap, “I have to be alone.”

  Fliss snuffled, pathetically, “You don’t love me.”

  “I do love you, Fliss,” murmured Adrienne, sadly, “it’s because I love you that I have to go… I have a lot of thinking to do, I’ve a lot of decisions to make, choices I have to make, and I can’t afford to make a mistake… I can’t decide here, because you’re here and…”

  “But what about me?” wailed Fliss, tears running down her cheeks.

  Adrienne was crying as she took her in her arms, she kissed her and their tears merged and melted together.  “You deserve better than this,” she whispered, “You know you do.”

  In the cool rationality of the evening, when Fliss had cried herself into exhaustion and sleep, Adrienne tiptoed, cautiously, and warily, into the kitchen.  “Can we talk?” she asked, a little nervously.

  I set down my book, and nodded.

  “I have to go abroad,” she confessed, a minute or two later as we watched the last rays of sunlight disappear behind the dark clouds.  “I need to be somewhere where the press won’t be so interested in me…” Tiredly, she rubbed her forehead with the palm of her hand, “I was thinking Holland; I’ve always wanted to visit Amsterdam…”

  I nodded in the shadowy half-light; I felt both sad and somehow relieved, “When will you go?”

  “At the end of the week, I think,” she said, wearily, “the longer I leave it, the harder it’s going to be.”

  “You’ve thought about this?” I cautioned.

  She nodded unhappily.

  That was on the Monday; by Tuesday the atmosphere in the flat had defused or altered in some way so that when I left for work the mood wasn’t of despair anymore, but of weary resignation.  That was the day that they went into town and got tattoos; Fliss had the initial ‘A’ tattooed over her heart, and Adrienne had ‘F’ tattooed over her heart.  Both were very pale and quiet upon their return, and I watched with a sinking heart as they lay in each other’s arms on the sofa, holding each other tight, their eyes shiny with tears.

  At one am on Friday morning, Fergus drove Fliss, Adrienne and I to terminal one of Manchester Airport.  We stood some distance away from them, quietly observing as they sat next to each other amidst the sea of white, on the hard airport seating, holding hands and leaning against each other, isolated against the world.  All too soon, the 3:25 KLM flight to Amsterdam was announced, and they both got to their feet.  I took Fergus by the hand, and led him away towards the entrance so that they could say goodbye.

  Fliss caught up with us a few minutes later, looking so small and lost that I hurt for her.  “Take me home,” she said, dully, her face a mask of misery, and we did.

  She cried all the way home, and was still crying when I put her to bed.  I could hear her sobbing still, even as I lay down next to Fergus in my own bed, even as I closed my eyes and drifted into sleep.

Chapter Thirty Two: Adrienne

As a favour to Fliss and me Fergus had arranged for me to become the new receptionist at Twilight Studios; I had done phone work before, and Nat had explained the switchboard to me once she heard of Fergus’ plan, but, despite this preparation, there were some things that no one could have prepared me for, like the pipe cleaner thin, shaggy haired singer/guitarist recording with his band in one of the studios that week.  He sauntered over to me around twelve ish, with the predatory tread of the born hunter, and attempted to pull a stunt known to regulars at The Gates and other small mancunian music venues as ‘Hey-Babe-I’m-The-Singer-In-The-Band-Lets-Get-It-On’ syndrome.

  I suppressed a yawn “I’m in a band as well.” I said, casually.

  He feigned interest “Are you the singer then?”

“No” I said warily “I’m the drummer.”

  He laughed, as I had known he would; they always do.  At last, he stopped, but he was smirking as he asked “So, did you, like, form through auditions then?”

  “No” I replied icily “We did it the old fashioned way.”

  “All girl band?” he leered.

  “Yeees…” I could see where this was heading.

  He nodded, no longer confused “Yeah, punk band…”

  “Well, sort…”

  “…into Courtney Love and Avril Lavigne.”

  “No” I scowled “not at all.”

  An end to the conversation arrived in the form of Fergus, fresh from the lift; he came striding over, planted a kiss on my cheek, and announced that he was taking me to dinner.  As we watched the singer/guitarist depart, Fergus remarked, “He was chatting you up, wasn’t he?”

  I sighed wearily, “Of course he was, darling, he’s a rock star, he thinks every woman he meets should automatically fall to their knees and go down on him; it’s what he thinks we’re here for…” I was tired, which always makes me irritable, or I wouldn’t have been so all encompassing in my statement.  It’s only certain men and certain musicians who behave that way, not all of them.

  After work, he drove me home.  Fliss had gone to the supermarket to do the weekly shop, but she had cooked tea before she left.  I took it out of the oven, and had just sat down on the sofa with it on a tray, when there was a knock at the door.

  Cursing extensively, I put the tray down on the table, where Marmalade would be less likely to eat it, and traipsed down the stairs to the door.

  I was confronted by a slightly pallid and crumpled looking girl; she had long brown hair and dark eyes, and was wearing a pair of battered and ripped bleach washed jeans, her trainers were falling apart, and she wore a baggy, shapeless, t-shirt that may once have been black, but which was now a faded dark grey.  Her hair hung loose, almost to her waist, and needed washing.  She looked as though she hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep for weeks.  “You don’t know me” she blurted in her thick, Lancashire accent “but I need to see Fliss, I’m Adrienne.”  She extended a pale slim arm, but I didn’t take her hand, and she drew back, her eyes wary as she said quietly “I know; you must hate me, but…” her eyes were pleading “I have to see her, I have to explain…”

  “She’s not here,” I said, unhelpfully.

  “Then may I wait?”

  Something in her expression and manner made me say yes; there was an anxiety, and… there was something that I couldn’t quite pin down, something that couldn’t be faked: humility, or… love.  As soon as I realised it, I knew just what it was that had attracted Fliss to her: She had fallen in love with the girl, not the star.

  I stepped aside, and motioned for her to go upstairs; she didn’t have much luggage with her, just a small travelling bag, as battered and worn as her clothes; it was heavy yet not unbearably so.

  When she saw that I was in the middle of my tea, she was most apologetic, and I watched from the sofa as she sat down nervously in one of the armchairs.  It was only when Marmalade jumped up and settled down on her lap that she began to relax; I noticed her body lose its tension as she stroked the cat, but she couldn’t smile.  After I had eaten, we talked.  That is to say, she talked and I asked the occasional question.

  “I won’t whinge and try to make myself look good” she began, harshly “because I brought this all on myself, and I have to take responsibility for that as much as anything else, but I think things could have been different if there’d been even one person in my life who I could trust not to be a self serving wanker…” She sighed, and leant back in the chair.  She seemed exhausted.  “But now I’m just feeling sorry for myself.”

   “What happened?”  I asked softly.

  “You know what happened” her voice was thick with tiredness “You know from Fliss what happened, how we met, how we were caught out…”

  “But I don’t know your side of things” I pointed out, gently “I don’t understand why you acted like you did to Fliss at the concert, after you were caught out…”

  “I wanted to see her so badly, both times.”  She said fiercely “I nearly got caught before that weekend, I had to put a baseball cap on, pull it right down over my eyes, before I could put her in the cab and send her home.  No one saw me leave, but I was sure the driver saw me kiss her goodnight… I naively thought that we could sneak off together backstage…”

  “For a quick one?”

  She winced “It was never like that”

  “Fliss said it was” I murmured “In the beginning at least.”

  She nodded tensely “For the first few weeks, yes, but… it quickly became more than that.”  She locked eyes with me, and I could sense her discomfort as she confessed “I never intended it to happen, or for any of this” I assume she meant the scandal “to happen.  I wanted a bit of fun, a diversion from work, only it became something else.”

  I asked her why she had turned on Fliss when the press found out, and she told me that she had been angry, and that she had thought that Fliss had set her up as a revenge for treating her so badly at the concert.

  “Fliss would never do that,” I told her.

  “I know” she admitted pensively “I know that now, it’s why I came, or it’s partly why I came; I need to explain to her, why I’ve done what I’ve done.”  Her voice was bitter as she continued, “I was so angry, so ready to believe everything they told me…”

  “They?” I probed.

  She sighed and made a dismissive gesture with her free hand “Management, marketing, all those people at our record company; it was all their idea, first to ignore all the press coverage and hope it went away, then, when it wasn’t dying down, to issue the statement; that shitty, lying, statement…” She gazed up at me with clear, weary, sad eyes “I never wrote that statement, I swear, but I gave permission for it to be issued; if there’s anything I regret above all else, it’s that.”

  “Why did you agree?” I asked her, softly.

  “Because I was told that Fliss would out me in ‘Diva’ this month otherwise.”  She smiled bleakly “I read the interview this morning, I should have known that she wouldn’t, and I read the interview in ‘I.D’ as well, I couldn’t resist” her smile was wistful now “She looked so pretty on the cover, and I had to buy it to remind me of what I’d lost.  She said that she still cared about me in that interview, despite what I’d said in the statement, she still loved me.  I didn’t know what to do, but… I knew that I had to see her, so I came here.  I can’t rest until I’ve seen her again.”

  Talk turned to Adrienne herself then, and to her career with Girl Trouble.  Her voice and her manner in general lost its sense of heightened emotion now that the subject was no longer Fliss, and if I had ever envied any of the various girl pop bands I’ve seen on posters, in papers, and on T.V over the past few years, that envy evaporated as she talked.  Adrienne had studied at a small regional drama school; neither the council nor her parents would pay the high fees required for her to study at the school, and she financed herself by working in shops and factories when she wasn’t studying.  She had seen the advertisement for Girl Trouble in ‘The Stage’ and, with rent and fees to pay, went to the audition knowing that she would have to leave drama school at the end of the term if she didn’t earn a lot of money very quickly.

  “I thought that I could be in Girl Trouble for a year and earn enough money to go back to drama school afterwards, when it was all over.  I never thought I’d pass the first audition, let alone the others, because I really can’t sing that well at all, on ‘All Night Long’, all I do are the whispered bits, I’ve never had to hit any of the high notes or do any vocal histrionics, I leave that to Bianca and Jemma; they’re the divas, not me, I’ve had it easy in that respect – I just stand there and look pretty.  Our first manager as good as told me that I was just there because I looked good, I was to be the tits’n’ass of the band basically.”  She paused, “I’m feeling sorry for myself again, aren’t I? It’s like anything else; you sell yourself with your eyes open.  The difference was that the other girls wanted to be famous, or to be solo singers, all I wanted was the money: They went to stage schools, not drama schools, and they had the look, the walk, and the attitude, from that – I don’t have any of that, but I learnt it: It was just a game at first, a new acting challenge for me; I use a different accent when I’m in Girl Trouble, wear different clothes, wear make-up so thick that it’s like wearing a mask… I didn’t have a girlfriend when I joined Girl Trouble, and everyone assumed that I was straight, so I let them believe it; it wasn’t even an issue, really, at first… I had affairs, but I managed to keep them quiet, and then…”

  Downstairs, the door opened, and was closed again; I could hear Fliss’ impatient skip-walk on the stairs.  Adrienne heard it too, and her sad eyes lit up as she jerked her head in surprise.  “Is this her?” there was an eager catch in her voice.

  The first thing that Fliss saw when she pushed open the door was Adrienne, curled up in the armchair, stroking Marmalade.  The shopping bags dropped to the floor with a crash, as she stood, stock-still and open mouthed, for a few moments.  Adrienne seemed equally mesmerised as she slowly got to her feet.  She placed Marmalade down on the floor, and then walked over to Fliss.  A sob escaped Fliss as they held onto each other, and I left the room with a lump in my throat and a lot to think about.

  When I came back, they were sat next to each other on the sofa.  Both faces bore the evidence of a tearful reunion, and Adrienne was being held, loosely but lovingly, by Fliss.  I didn’t want to ask what they were going to do, so instead I stayed and talked for a while of things that didn’t matter, but as soon as I could, I tiptoed quietly away, leaving them to say what needed to be said.

  I tried to read, but I couldn’t concentrate; it was as though the words kept slipping away from me so that, after a while, I gave up altogether and went to bed. My dreams were haunted by dark haired girls dressed in long, white, old-fashioned style nightdresses, who shinned down drainpipes and ran away into forests and woodland, and I woke up with the lyrics to ‘Scarborough Fair’ stuck in my head. There was a soft give in the mattress as the cat jumped up; she mewed pitifully as she walked across my stomach, “Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme,” I murmured drowsily, and then groaned as she meowed down my ear and began to pummel my shoulder with her paws. With great care, I turned over, and she jumped down onto the carpet. As I prepared to get up, other lines bled through from the lingering subconscious of my dreams, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember: and there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.”

  I opened the front door to go out to work, and was nearly blinded by a volley of flashbulbs.  I somehow barged, elbowed and shoved my way through the congregation on the doorstep and path and emerged from the scrimmage not too much the worse for wear just as Fergus arrived to pick me up.  I ran to him, and threw myself into the car, slamming the door so hard that he winced.  “GO!” I shouted, “FAST AS YOU CAN, GO!”

  He was so startled by the whole spectacle that he did just that.  It was only as we waited at the traffic lights that he asked mildly “Mind telling me what that was all about?”

  “Adrienne” I replied, and quickly relayed the whole story.

  “It was on Key 103 this morning that she’d been sacked from Girl Trouble” he said once I had finished “The label issued a statement about an hour ago, something about her just walking out, not telling anyone where she was going.”

  “She read Fliss’ interview in ‘I.D’” I said quietly “Fliss told them that she still loved her.”

  He shook his head “It’s going to get nasty…”

  “Get nasty? I have the tabloid press camped out on my doorstep! Can it get worse?”

  He nodded “Oh yes, it’ll definitely get worse…”

  At dinner, he emerged from the lift with the ominous statement “I’ve phoned Jenny, I think we’re going to need her.”

  “We?”

  He sighed, sounding almost as weary as Adrienne had, “You, me, Fliss, Adrienne, Flora, and Katy: That’s us.”  He explained, patiently, “Girl Trouble, SKM Records, Dave Nelson Management, the tabloids… they’re them.”

  “And what do you intend us to do?” I enquired.

  “Well” he admitted, “that depends on Adrienne.”

  But Adrienne was clearly weary of the lies.  “Let’s get it over with,” she announced to Fliss, Fergus, Jenny and me that evening, her eyes deadly serious, her face set in a stubborn expression, “I’m ready.”

  The plan was for Adrienne to write a statement in which she effectively outed herself, and in which she clarified and gave a short account of her relationship with Fliss.  Once she had written it, Fliss typed it for her on Jenny’s laptop, and it was promptly emailed to every paper, magazine, fanzine, T.V and radio station that we could think of, both those who had expressed an interest in Titanium Rose, and those who religiously ran even the most trivial Girl Trouble gossip pieces.  From the 3am Girls to the ‘NME’, from Radio One to Silk F.M, ‘The Face’ to ‘The F Word’, it was sent.

  From far and wide they read, and from far and wide they came, seeking interviews, pictures, and details… Some wanted to interview Fliss, some wanted to interview both Adrienne and Fliss, but mostly it was Adrienne that they wanted.

  In the space of a fortnight, Adrienne did over two hundred interviews.  Her three biggest, and most important, were given to ‘City Life’, ‘NME’, and ‘Diva’.  In-between interviews, she and Fliss spent as much time together as possible.

  On the second Thursday, Adrienne was persuaded by Fliss to go with us on our monthly pilgrimage to X-Offender; Fliss evidently wanted to show her off, and although I could sense that Adrienne would rather not go, she complied, swapping her usual denim rags for a lycra mini skirt and red velour halter-top.  Her hair was washed and styled into glossy ringlets, and she wore red lipstick and dark eye shadow.  “Scrubs up quite nicely, doesn’t she?” grinned Fliss, affectionately, but I could sense Adrienne’s discomfort.  Though there was no question that she looked anything other than gorgeous, I could tell by the way that she stood, and by the way she wouldn’t meet my eyes, that she hated it.

  Whilst we waited upstairs in the crowded bar for the club to start, I noticed a number of people glance, speculatively, in our direction as we drank our drinks and watched T.V.  Adrienne noticed it too, and I sensed her shift, uncomfortably, under their gaze.  After a few minutes of this, a couple of youngish men with Beckham haircuts and designer clothes came over, “Are you Adrienne Du Shanne?” asked one of them.

  “Yes,” she replied, warily.

  He relaxed, and I saw him nudge his companion, “Told you, you owe me a pint.”

  The other boy became very excited then, he seemed to tremble with a nervous energy as he asked, in quivering tones, “Can, can, can I have your autograph?”

  As he handed her a piece of paper and a pen, she let go of Fliss’ hand, and moved away from her as she said, in the smooth tones of her stage voice, “Who am I writing it to?”  I saw her frown to herself, and then she added, in her Burnley accent, “What’s your name?”

  “Craig,” he whispered, adoringly.

  “Craig,” she nodded as she signed, and I saw her take hold of Fliss’ hand once more as she handed the paper and pen back to him.

  In the tiny, dingy, neon tinged club, I observed them dancing to the Tatu version of ‘How Soon Is Now?’ a treasonable offence this close to the M60.  On the way home, they clung to each other as though they would never let go, and yet… I somehow knew.

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