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?

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Chapter Fifty Seven: Cherchez La Femme

It’s been over a month now since Adrienne met with Fliss.  The Library Theatre’s run of ‘The Seagull’ finished a fortnight ago, taking with it any chance of Fliss seeing Adrienne again.  I wish that I could say that I’d done the right thing, but… I’m still not sure.  The day Adrienne left her for the last time, Fliss cried most of the day, and I listened to her sobs as one serves penance as I performed odd jobs around the flat.  She cried like a child who had been abandoned, I heard it in her voice, in the thin wails and hiccupping sobs, but I knew because of her face.  When she finally left her room around seven p.m, she looked so lost that I hurt on her behalf, and when I, stupidly, asked if she was alright, she stared through me with puffy, swollen eyes that seemed to see nothing as she said, dully, “No, not really… I don’t think I can ever be alright again.”  Then she traipsed back to her room, still in her nightshirt and slippers.  I had expected her to scream at me, but this, if anything, was worse.  I had committed an unthinkable, unforgivable act: I had kicked Bambi.

  Things were no better yesterday at band practice, for, although the tears have stopped, Fliss was still very subdued when we arrived at Twilight.  We practice very early these days, before work, and before Flora has to open up at Afflecks.  Fliss and I always arrive first, carefully lugging the drums across the carpark from Fergus’ car, and then into the lift and upstairs to the fifth floor where our practice room is.  He goes and gets his breakfast at the café down the road, and I meet him there for coffee after we’ve finished, then I help him load the drums into the car again before shooting off to work.  It’s a ritual I’m getting to love.

  It was just getting light as we climbed out of the car at six a.m and, in the dim light of the new day, Fliss stood on the damp tarmac, her grubby jeans ragged and wet at the cuffs, her arms folded across her pale blue shapeless t-shirt.  Her hair was hanging loose, tangled, and unwashed, but she didn’t seem to care.

  We practiced some new songs yesterday, nearly all ones that Katy has written because, lately, Flora hasn’t the time and Fliss doesn’t seem to have the inclination to write.  They’re O.K songs, I suppose, but I have mixed feelings about them; they seem to lack the anger and spikiness of her usual stuff, still, it was inevitable I suppose.  We rattled through band practice quite quickly, with little discussion between songs, each of us preoccupied by different things. I kept an eye on Fliss as we worked, but there was little evidence that her heart was broken, not unless you knew.

  As we packed up, talk turned to our gig that night and Katy, who had been eyeing Fliss with thinly veiled contempt, said with a curl of her lip, “I hope you’re not wearing that tonight.”

  “Why not?” asked Fliss, in seemingly genuine puzzlement.

  “Because Jenny and Angel Smith will be there,” said Katy, far more gently than if she had been speaking to Flora or me.

  “Jenny doesn’t care what I wear.”

  “Angel will,” Angel is our new A&R, replacing Alan Mitchelman now that RMC International has bought out Sandra Dee.  “Wear a mini dress, or a mini skirt.”

  “No!” shouted Fliss.

  We all froze.  Fliss never lost her temper.

  Katy said nothing at first; she just stood there in the stark practice room amidst the leads and guitars, her eyebrows raised in surprise.  “Please Fliss,” she reasoned, “it’ll look better, for all of us…”

  “Let her wear what she wants, Katy,” I murmured, “If they want to drop us, they will.”

  Katy didn’t deign to answer me, so I joined Flora in the doorway, and we waited.  Waited and watched.

  “I won’t wear a dress!” snapped Fliss, “Or a skirt! Not now I know how many boys have been looking up my skirt for the past three years!” her eyes flashed with defiance, and I could tell that she meant it.  It was Liberty who had told her about boys looking up her skirt, and Fliss had listened with a faintly outraged expression on her face.  She’d since told Angel and the Razorblades, but it hadn’t stopped Kit or Kylie from wearing mini dresses or skirts on stage, they’d just taken to wearing jeans underneath.

  In the café later, after Fliss had stormed off to work and Katy had stormed off to the studio, Flora had let Fergus and me in on a bit of gossip, which explained Katy’s obsession with clothes a little bit.  “It was something Jenny said to us at the Christmas party,” she said as she stirred her milkshake, thoughtfully, with her straw, “Just after Sandra Dee got bought out, Jenny heard something Angel Smith allegedly said about us, something about dykes and anorexics who cut themselves.”  I felt myself stiffen in anger, Fergus placed his hand over mine, “Sorry, Maggie,” she said, apologetically, “but that’s what Jenny heard, she thinks we’re loose canons, she thinks we’re unsellable, unrelateable.”

  “I don’t see how Fliss wearing a dress is going to make any difference,” I said, sceptically.

  Flora sighed, her eyes were weary as she said, “She thinks that if Fliss dresses up, and does her hair, and makes herself up, that she’ll look so pretty that Angel will take one look at her and forget she’s a lesbian.”  Flora scowled, “I often think that Katy would like to forget she is too, I know she hates Adrienne, she thinks she ruined her.”

  I didn’t see Fliss until our soundcheck, and when she arrived, she was wearing a blue and white knee length checked dress with a button down front and short sleeves.  Plain though the dress was, it emphasised her eyes beautifully, as well as matching the clean pair of jeans that she had, defiantly, worn underneath.  She had on a little make-up, a little lip-gloss and eyeliner, and looked crisp and fresh faced as she took to the stage.  Emily was doing the sound last night, and I saw Fliss gaze questioningly at her a couple of times as I walked over to the stage.  We often experiment with cover versions at rehearsal and soundcheck, and recently we’ve been experimenting with a number of songs, including Kenickie’s ‘Girls Best Friend,’ which is one of Flora’s favourites.  Fliss’ voice is higher than Marie Du Santiago’s, but I noticed Emily look up from the sound desk with a faintly startled expression on her face all the same.  Two lines into the second verse, her voice seemed to falter, and she broke off.  She stood there for a few moments, stock still in front of the microphone, then, I saw her carefully lift off her guitar, and lay it down on the stage. There was a slight tremor in her voice as she whispered, “I’m sorry,” then, stumbling a little, she jumped down from the stage, and ran.

  From my drums, I saw Emily stand up from behind the sound desk and run, swiftly, and practically unobserved, after Fliss.  Flora and Katy were exchanging puzzled expressions and shrugs as I followed Emily’s lead.  The trail led us down the sticky wooden stairs at Juvenile Hell, and into the flaking plaster and stone bowels of the building.  I kept my distance, for I was wary of Fliss just then, wary, and curious as to what Emily was doing.

  Sobbing could be heard from one of the offices, and I watched as Emily stealthily crept in after Fliss, closing the door behind her.  Outside, I put my ear to the flaking paintwork, and listened.  I heard Emily ask her what was wrong, and upon receiving no reply, heard her follow up question “Is it to do with Adrienne?”

  Gradually, the sobbing seemed to slow and peter out, and I heard Fliss’ voice at last, shaking as she said, “Did Maggie tell you?”

  “No,” Emily’s voice sounded further away now, and I guessed that she had moved closer to Fliss, “But I knew she was in the area, I guessed the rest.”

  The emotion poured out of her like a river, as she tearfully replied, “She said she was setting me free… I think she knew, think she knew, that, Maggie told her I’m in love with…” she broke off, and added in slow, deliberate tones, “Someone else.”

  “Who?” Emily’s voice was almost a whisper.

  “You”

  There was a long, long silence, during which I pressed myself even closer to the door.  At last, I heard Fliss again; her voice was quieter now, and calmer as she pleaded, “Please say something.”

  I could sense the shock in Emily’s voice as she stuttered her response, “I… I mean, I never thought… that, I mean, I can’t, couldn’t…Oh, God…”

  I heard sobbing.  I guessed that it was Fliss who was crying, and my guess was confirmed as Emily began to speak once more.  “Please don’t cry, please Fliss, I only meant…”

  “Are you straight?” blurted Fliss tearfully.

  “What?” she seemed genuinely surprised by the question.

  “Are you straight?” persisted Fliss, almost hysterically, “Are you heterosexual, do you have a boyfriend?”

  There was a long silence.  I guessed that Emily must have shaken her head, for it was Fliss who spoke next, and she said, rather bleakly, “Well, that’s something I suppose.”

  The door started to open, and I darted around the corner and pressed myself up against the wall.  Nat, who happened to be passing on her way to or from her own office, shot me a speculative look, and I pressed my finger to my lips.  She passed me.  In the doorway, Emily was standing with her back to Fliss, looking straight ahead, with a dazed, slightly grim expression on her face.  “I love you, Fliss,” I heard her say, so quietly that it was almost a whisper, “but I’m not good enough for you.”  And she walked away, slowly and steadily, up the stairs, back to the sound desk.

  The meeting with Angel Smith was uncomfortable yet mercilessly brief.  Jenny brought her down to our dressing room before the show started, and she talked mostly to Jenny and Katy.  I caught her staring at me a few times, but it was the bad kind of staring, as though I was something fascinatingly awful in the zoo, and her gaze had a tendency to drift towards my arms, despite the fact that I had worn long sleeves especially; you can’t win.  Fliss did her best coy little girl act, I suspect, to get Katy off her back, but whilst Angel seemed to be entranced by her, I could tell that Jenny wasn’t fooled.  I, for one, was missing Alan already. 

  Once Angel had left, it was time for the press.  I got up to leave, but Jenny laid a hand on my shoulder, “a quick word,” she murmured, “outside,” and as the press corps trooped inside, we slipped out.  “Two seconds,” called Jenny over her shoulder to them.

  “What is it?” I whispered as we loitered by the stairs.

  Jenny looked up at me apologetically, “I’m going to have to ask you to do something that you aren’t going to like.”

  “What?” I asked apprehensively.

  “I need you to be interviewed tonight; I need you to balance out Katy.”

  “But Jenny,” I protested, “you know…”

  “Yes,” she interrupted me, “Of course I know, I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.”

  My eyes narrowed, “Did Angel Smith put you up to this?”

  Jenny winced; I had scored a direct hit, “Yes, she did.”  Her voice took on a pleading tone as she said, “She wants a show of unity, and we do need to impress her, if only to get her off our backs.  Besides,” she grimaced, “from a personal point of view, I’d like to try and balance out Katy’s natural bombastic chatter with your more amiable reticence.”

  With extreme reluctance, I gave in.

  I emerged from the dressing room an hour or so later, relatively unscathed, and found my way back up to Juvenile Hell.  It was starting to get busy, and the crowd were in good spirits.  Before too long, Fergus joined me, and he was a much welcome presence who I was determined to cling to all night.  I’m not normally that possessive, but the day had been horrible thus far, and if anyone could get me through the night ahead, it would be him.  From our table, I observed Fliss mournfully drinking at the bar.  The fairy lights shone on her face as she watched Emily with hurt, longing eyes.  Next to her, Sabine and Amber were indulging in some heavy duty flirting.  Nat was right: Valentines Day really is a couple’s thing.  I could sense the sexual tension in the air, just as clearly as I could smell the fag smoke, perfume and sweat of the various glamorous couples present.  Dew were there, and Aiden and Sophie joined us for a drink before departing to set up shop with the newly pressed Angel and the Razorblades single at the table nearest the stage.

  As the Razorblades took to the stage, Fergus and I made our way through the modest crowd to the moshpit.  Kylie was on fine form tonight, all sparkle and wit and energy, and her voice has never sounded so good.  They have some new songs, which are tight and show how far they’ve come over the past year, one of them is called ‘Beijing Doll,’ after some Chinese punk girls memoir, and another is about the under eighteens anti-war protest in Manchester two years ago.  Rosa and Kit channelled their energy into their playing, making for a great set, even when Yan broke a string and had to borrow Fliss’ guitar for the rest of the set.

  As the Razorblades played, I became aware of Nat, who was watching the band from the end of the bar.  She was dressed up to the nines in a particularly devastating black velour dress, but she seemed distracted.  Soon, she had vanished once more and I was able only to catch the odd glimpse of her between songs as she ran from pillar to post arranging things, a fierce scowl on her face.  I sensed her impatience, as well as her mild frustration.

  After the Razorblades set, it was time for Fliss to make her way through the heart shaped balloons and sprays of glitter to the decks by the sound desk to start her DJ set, and the crowd dispersed to the dancefloor, bar, and tables.  Things were definitely livening up, and it looked as though it was going to be a great night.  Then…

  A tall, curvy, dark haired woman could be seen at the far end of the room, handing over her ticket as Fliss began to play Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Take Me Out.’  I nudged Fergus, and we watched as this most glamorous of creatures cut her way through the crowd like a knife through butter.  “It’s Violet!” I exclaimed as she drew closer.

  “And she’s wearing that dress,” added Flora, in significant tones.

  That dress was scarlet in colour, and was made from a luxuriously silky fabric.  It was low necked and slashed to the waist, and shoelace thin black lacings criss-crossed up Violet’s torso, revealing pale flesh and the outline of her breasts.  The dress had long, loose, flowing sleeves and, whilst the dress itself wasn’t tight, it was clearly tailored to be a close fit, the hem fell to just below her knees, and was slit up the back, rather less drastically than at the front.  Black nylons and black kitten heels complimented the dress, along with a slash of scarlet lipstick, and black, impenetrable sunglasses.  Her long black hair hung in loose waves down her back, and was fixed in place by a red flower grip on the right side.  She looked like a goddess, like a twenty first century, darker, Veronica Lake.

  Nat slipped through the gaping crowd to her, and they embraced theatrically.  Nat’s black finger nailed hand took hold of Violet’s scarlet one, and lead her away into the crowd.

  Fergus swallowed nervously, “I thought the Girls From Mars were in London this week, re-negotiating their contract.”

  Flora, who had been knocking back the drinks at a worryingly prodigious rate, leant over and said, knowingly, “Violet made sure that they finalised it yesterday.”

  A few minutes later, Fliss began to play Garbage’s ‘#1 Crush’, and I saw Nat and Violet take to the dancefloor together, to considerable roared approval from the crowd.  The intense sexuality of the song perfectly suited their closeness on the dancefloor, and as Nat frenched her, and Violet pulled Nat closer still, I heard Flora mutter in horror, “She’s ruining her make-up, and it must have taken ages to put on.”

  Nat’s hands were everywhere now, and as they half danced, half groped, less attentive couples looked on, open-mouthed.  I could see Amber watching, despite herself, as Sabine tried to distract her.  I had talked to Moyra briefly in the toilets earlier, and she had told me that Violet was “just doing a friend a favour” by coming tonight.  I relayed this to Fergus as we watched the barely disguised foreplay unfolding before us.  His eyes were full of stunned admiration as he said, “Must be one hell of a favour then.”

  The arrival of the rest of The Girls From Mars defused some of the electricity in the air.  They joined Fergus, Flora and I at our table and began to chat happily about London, and some of the bands they had seen whilst down there, “on business.”  Moyra, their usually cool, ice blonde singer was enthusing wildly about a Japanese punk band called Klack, whilst Jane talked of Unskinny Bop and American bands passing through the capital at a rate of one a night.  I found myself next to Andrea, who had been quiet so far, and I realised that I had never really had the opportunity to thank her for stepping into my shoes last year.  “That’s alright,” she said when I brought the matter up, “I quite enjoyed it, it was an interesting challenge for me, because we play in such different styles.”  Over drinks, we discussed different styles, and then got onto kits, and finally, onto drummers we admire, it was nice, I found, to talk to her, and I quite regretted having to break off our conversation in order to get up onstage for our set.

  Afterwards, Fergus and I were joined by a rapidly drowning Flora, and a thoroughly drowned Liberty, both of whom were accompanied by a sober and sombre Jenny.  “I feel that I ought to maintain an element of control,” said Jenny as she glared, pointedly, at Flora, “when I’m working, things being the way they are.”  Liberty plonked herself down with The Girls From Mars at the next table and, sensing an indefinable tension between Flora and Jenny, I made my excuses and lead Fergus away.

  “What was all that about?” he asked as we walked back towards the stage, and then through the door that led to the stairs.

  “I’ll explain later,” I promised as we headed backstage; but backstage proved to be an unreliable sanctity as well.  When we arrived, it was to find Fliss and Emily seated at opposite ends of the battered old sofa, talking intensely in low, emotionally taut voices.  They didn’t notice us enter the room, and I’m equally sure that they didn’t see us leave either, just thirty or so seconds later.

Chapter Eleven: Alias Belle And Malone

We had agreed to meet Jenny Malone (from the ‘NME’) at six p.m tonight, but as it was, things didn’t work out that way.  Jenny and her photographer, Liberty Belle, arrived in Chorlton at six p.m sharp, just as Flora arrived home from work, but Fliss and Katy were both stranded on buses at that time, and I was still traipsing through the snow to the bus stop.  Still, by 7pm, we had all made our weary, convoluted way to Flora and Katy’s snow dusted home.

  Jenny and Liberty, it turns out, are the new girls on the block at ‘NME’.  “It’s a locality thing,” explained Jenny; she spoke quickly, and with a strong scouse accent, but something about her choice of words suggested she wasn’t a Liverpool native. “I was the one who suggested interviewing you, but no one in London wanted to do it, so I got it.”  She had long, wavy and unruly magenta coloured hair that she forever had to shake back when it fell across her face.  Her jeans were tight, stonewashed, and diamante studded, and she was wearing a Red Vinyl Fur t-shirt.  A diamante stud twinkled against her naval, matching the ones on her jeans as she lounged on the floor of Flora and Katy’s living room.  “This is my first full piece.” She said, excitedly. “They usually have me doing local gigs or reviewing the singles.” I decided that I liked her, and I knew that Flora and Katy did too, if only because one of the first things she had done upon entering the house was to congratulate them on their taste in décor.

  There have been some adjustments made to the house in Chorlton following Fliss’ departure.  The landlord has forbidden Flora and Katy to paint the walls, but doesn’t seem to mind drawing pins, blue tack or staples, so the room is covered in posters of Sarah Michelle Gellar, Sophie Dahl, Christina Ricci, Thora Birch, Johnny Depp, and Jude Law.  There is also a ‘Xena, Warrior Princess’ shrine, and the beginnings of a Manga shrine, although these are both housed in the room that used to belong to Fliss: Flora is currently using it as her sewing and manufacturing room.

  Of the two ‘NME’ girls, Liberty was the quieter.  I’ve seen her at The Gates a couple of times, as she often does the photos at gigs around Manchester.  She is tall and skinny, with very straight black shoulder length hair, which is parted in the middle, framing a small, delicately featured, heart shaped face.  I got the impression that she could be pretty, but had made a conscious decision not to be, and had, instead, chosen to be as quiet and invisible as possible.  Her movements were small and muted, she rarely spoke, but when she did her voice was low and quiet, and she never smiled.  Her small, snub nose sported a nose ring, and her left eyebrow and tongue were also pierced.  Her eyes were grey and gravely serious.  Both she and Jenny seemed quite young, mid twenties tops I would say, and, like Jenny, Liberty was wearing jeans and a band t-shirt.  But her jeans were scruffier, light and torn, and she was wearing a Hooker t-shirt, not a Red Vinyl Fur one.

  The interview was candid and friendly, with anecdotes extracted easily on both sides.  Whilst we were changing out of our work clothes, Flora showed Jenny and Liberty around the house.  Flora’s bedroom is particularly spectacular these days, she has covered all the walls with red and gold drapes and hung strings of gold stars from the ceiling, and the floor is covered in rag rugs.  The kitchen isn’t bad either, it is adorned with Hollywood stars of old such as Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo, along with copies of the Martha Seward ‘White Trash Guides’ that Flora had bought as cards, and then enlarged on a colour photocopier.  As we waited for the others to finish getting ready, I worked my way around the kitchen, reading them all.

  Eventually the others were ready, and we headed into Manchester with Jenny and Liberty, our destination Fab Café on Portland Street where we had agreed to meet Violet and Andrea, who is the new drummer in The Girls From Mars.

  I love Fab Café; it’s quite a little club, and the dance floor is tiny, but the atmosphere and misé-en-scene is fantastic; it’s kitschy sixties chic, pure and simple, right down to the pinball machine and the Darlek.  When Tiger Lounge used to do their thing there on Thursday nights, the pillars were decorated with fake tiger fur, a woman in a Catwoman outfit took your money and gave you a lollipop, and as you descended into the darkness, the T.V monitors would be playing a loop of Andy Warhol, Betty Page, ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’, ‘Gilda’, ‘The Great Rock’N’Roll Swindle’, and ‘Man Who Fell To Earth’ clips as the dance floor heaved to the sounds of Tommy James And The Shondelles ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ or Betty Boo’s ‘Where Are You Baby?’

  Tonight’s atmosphere was more restrained.  We sat our drinks down on top of the old pinball machine, and then set about procuring tiny tins of peanuts, olives and other snacks from the dispenser at the bar.  I had olives, Fliss had sugared almonds, and Flora had salted peanuts.  Violet and Andrea, who had arrived some time before us, were tucking into the Fab Café T.V dinner special of beans and potato waffles.  Fliss took up the seat adjacent to Violet, and Violet shared her meal.  The rest of us picked up chips in Piccadilly later.

  “Who else are you interviewing apart from us and The Girls From Mars?” Flora asked Jenny, over the strains of ‘The Avengers’ theme.

  Jenny exhaled a stream of cigarette smoke, “Fergus from One Way Or Another: We’ve already done the record shops, Afflecks and all that earlier, but if there’s any places people mention that we haven’t done today, then we’ll do them tomorrow.  We’ll do Dew and Clinch tonight, after the gig.”

  The gig in question was at The Twilight Café.  Fergus would be there because both bands are One Way Or Another bands.  He was sitting at a table by the stage when we made our way inside; it was covered with records and fanzines for sale, as well as the One Way Or Another catalogue.  I went over to say hello, and introduced him to Jenny and Liberty in the process.  Liberty took a few photos of his makeshift stall, and I left them to talk.

  Red candles in green wine bottles lit the room, and the sound guy was playing ‘The Best Of Lou Reed And The Velvet Underground.’  All along the bar, groups of people were talking, laughing, drinking, and smoking as they made the most of their respite from the bitter January air.  The tables were less crowded, so Flora and I bagsed our favourite table, tucked away between the bar and the window.  It has nice long wooden benches, which come in handy when there are a lot of you sitting together.

  Clinch played an amazing set.  They’re a band that I haven’t seen before, or heard anything about, and they were a total revelation.  The drummer is particularly good, she is very young, very small and fragile looking with dark hair, light brown skin, and big brown eyes.  She plays with a precision and complexity that I admire so much it hurts.

  I talked to Fergus after the gig, and he told me that the young girls name is Meelan, and that she’s fourteen.  I must have looked astonished, for he added hastily, “She goes to a special music school though.  She’s, like, a scholarship musical genius girl.”  He must have noticed the envy in my eyes because he quickly changed the subject, “You look really good tonight.”

  I laughed; I couldn’t help it, if I had made any effort at all with my outfit I might have been flattered, but I was still wearing my work skirt and shoes. All I’d done to change was remove the decidedly skanky flesh coloured tights that I have to wear for work, and swapped the shirt for my bootleg Siouxsie And The Banshees t-shirt, which had long ago transformed itself from a clean white colour to a dubious greyish green.

  Then it occurred to me, as he placed his hand on my bare knee, that he was probably flirting with me, or trying to: That wiped the smile off my face.  I turned to look at him, and took his hand in mine; my only intention had been to remove it from my knee, but he must have got the wrong idea because he leant towards me and tilted his head as though to kiss me.  I tried to back away from him, but he put his arms around my waist and pulled me closer to him.  As his lips met mine, I panicked and began to struggle with him, only he held onto me, for what seemed like hours.  In reality, it was probably only a few seconds before he let go.  I scrambled away from him; my heart was beating too fast as I got to my feet, and I cried out as he grabbed my hand and pulled me back onto the bench. His eyes told me that he was both worried and hurt as he asked, “What’s the matter?” I couldn’t answer him, but I could sense his grip lessoning, then his thumb, stroking my wrist.  “What are you afraid of?” But I still couldn’t answer him.  My mind wasn’t focused on the present at that point.  I was remembering the past.

  Terry had grabbed my wrists, just as he had, over a year ago now.  He had twisted it and tightened his grip when I tried to run, and had smacked my wrist against the living room wall when I struggled with him.  He had me pressed up against that wall so tightly that I could barely breathe, then, he had kissed me, and it was horrible; his tongue in my mouth, pushing harder and harder against me, had made me gag: There was no love there; it was all force, all violence, and all pain… There was more, much more that he did.

  Violet and Fliss broke the moment; I came to and found them both crouched in front of me, asking me if I was alright, over and over again.  “Yes,” I said, eventually, “I’m O.K” Where was Fergus? I wanted to ask.

  “Was he hurting you?” asked Violet.

  I shook my head, “Nn, no” I stuttered, “he didn’t hurt me, I, I panicked.”

  Then, something clicked in my mind.  He hadn’t hurt me.  He had taken advantage of me, which was bad, but… it was forgivable.  More forgivable than if he had hurt me.  But still… he had taken advantage of me, and he had put me in a position that I couldn’t deal with, and he had kissed me… and suddenly that was all that mattered for a few minutes.

  In my mind, I saw him.  I saw his face when he was talking to me on the bus when we were on tour, I saw his eyes light up as we talked.  We had clicked then, and there had seemed to be so much to talk about.  I saw the way his hair was always falling into his eyes, and the impatient way that he would tuck it behind his ears.  I saw his slow, white teethed smile, and the way he held his cigarettes when he was smoking.  I saw him take my hand that time on the sofa, and in my mind, I kissed him.

  Nat says that I get excited about the little details, not the bigger picture, and maybe she’s right.  A kiss can do a lot of things; a kiss can even change your mind… Nat would never settle for just a kiss, but I would.  Maybe I’ll have to.

  You can’t be in love with him, said a disgusted voice in my mind, he’s the record label guy, you can’t fuck the record label guy, first rule of rock’n’roll girldom.  Who said anything about fucking? Argued my other self.  If you get involved with him, the band will suffer, said the voice again, and people will say you only got a deal through fucking the label guy, do you really want that? But I’m not fucking the label guy, I reasoned.  No, said the voice, knowingly, But you will, won’t you? I might do, one day.  Don’t do it, urged the voice.  Do what? Fall in love with him.  “But I already have.”

  As Fliss and Violet exchanged glances, I realised that I had said it out loud.

  “Already have what?” asked Fliss.  She was clutching my hand and was gazing up at my face in a distinctly worried fashion.

  “Fallen in love with him,” it was almost a whisper, but I could tell that she had heard me, and that she knew who I meant, as well as what it meant.