Chapter Forty Two: Armistice Day

Fliss, resplendent in pink fishnets, black stilettos, black ra ra skirt and pink Blondie t-shirt, tottered and skittered her way across the living room in hot pursuit of her much prized ‘Leader Of The Pack’ 7”.  In the excitement of picking out records, the Shangri-La’s classic had been dropped, causing it to roll across our still uncarpeted floor at a rate of knots.  As the disc wobbled, and then dropped to the floor, Fliss pounced, scooped it up, and placed it carefully back into its battered sleeve.  Having recovered herself, she then clambered awkwardly to her feet and shuffled and tottered her way back across the room to the hi-fi, and her record collection.

  Nat, inspired by Ladyfest Manchester, the four-day celebration of all things lady-made and pro-feminist, had launched a monthly ‘Girl Night’ of music and dancing at Juvenile Hell.  She had borrowed some of the more locally based Ladyfest DJ’s and performers for the nights October launch, but was now searching for more regular DJ’s, which was where Fliss came in.

  Her fidgety exuberance was of stark contrast to my own tiredness.  I slouched on the sofa, feeling headachy and irritable as I watched her.  My eyes felt sore, and the lids felt heavy and had taken to flickering every now and then, in a way that was beyond my control.  I had to stretch my eyes wide in order to feel awake, and it was all too much effort really.  I closed my eyes and half dozed for several minutes.

  The Chiffons ‘Sweet Talking Guy’ was playing as I opened my eyes later, and Fliss was prancing and sashaying her way across the floor as she packed her records into cases ready for the night ahead.  The troublesome stilettos lay abandoned by the hi-fi, one of the heels was off, and Fliss was wearing her old size 3 pink and white trainers as she danced.  Her gold hair flew out at all angles, gently flicking back and forth across her face as the tiers of her ra ra moved from side to side in sympathy.  I smiled as I got wearily to my feet.  Fliss held out a hand to me, and we proceeded to twirl each other enthusiastically, if not entirely skilfully, across the floor.

  Towards the end of the record, Fergus arrived and our self-consciousness returned.  I retired to the sofa, and Fliss quickly finished packing her records and departed.

  He kissed me hello, and told me I looked tired.  I leant back into his arms, and closed my eyes.  He massaged my forehead with careful fingers as he said, “That’s the most relaxed I’ve seen you in weeks.”

  “Hhmmm… what?” I asked, drowsily.

  “Dancing with Fliss”

  “It was just fun.”

  “Fun,” he echoed, blankly.

  “Yes, fun,” alarm bells were ringing as I opened my eyes and sat up.  In turning to face him, I saw the doubt on his face “Oh my God!” I exclaimed in amazement, “You actually thought there was more to it than that?”

  “It’s possible!” he snapped defensively.

  “Don’t start this…” I felt too tired to fight.

  “Well, what am I supposed to think?”

  “About me dancing with Fliss? Nothing!”

  “About us!”

  I didn’t have an answer for him.

  “Well?” he demanded.

  “Fliss is my friend…” I began, pensively.

  “And I’m not?” He grabbed my wrist as I made to get up, “And I’m not?”

  I jerked free, “No,” I muttered savagely, “Not when you’re like this.”  I hurried through Fliss’ maze of rejected vinyl, CD’s, stray clothes, notepads and pens towards the doorway.  I was about halfway when, with a slight click, all the lights went out.  I was unsure of my footing, so I froze.

  “Maggie?” I heard him call in the blackness.

  “I’m fine,” I heard his footsteps coming towards me, “Careful,” I cautioned, “don’t trip over any records.”

  His hand was on my hip.  I heard a rustle as he reached into his pocket, then there was a series of clicks, and his cigarette lighter produced a tiny, intensely bright, yellow flame between us.  His face was now illuminated in the darkness, and his expression was grimly resigned as he took hold of my hand.  “Come on,” he said quietly, “Let’s go and find some candles.”  There was at least one in my room, I knew for sure, plus my lighter, so that seemed to be as good a place as any to start.

  When the candles were lit, we arranged them throughout the room, and settled down on my bed.  The candlelight threw shadows against the walls in the flickering light.  He held me in his arms and blew gently on my neck.  I closed my eyes once more.  “Are you tired?” he murmured.

  “Yes,” I replied drowsily, “I still can’t sleep.”

  “Why?”

  “I don’t know.  I don’t get the nightmares anymore, but…” I sensed him start to kiss my neck, “Fergus…”

  He paused, “Shhh…” now he was touching my breasts.

  I said nothing, and he continued to work his way down my body.  It could have been so easy to let him do it, to just lie back and think of something else, too tired to resist, but… when he touched me… there, I remembered… It was no specific incident that I remembered, no clear memory, just a feeling, and a series of emotions: Fear, turning into panic, and anger.

  He must have sensed it, for he stopped, and let me go.  “I’m sorry,” I whispered in the dark silence.  I reached out to him, but he wouldn’t let me touch him.  He moved away from me, and sat in angry, uptight silence at the opposite end of the bed, “You know I can’t.”

  “Sometimes,” I could hear the strain in his voice, “I think you just don’t want to, or that you don’t care.”  His eyes shone angrily in the candlelight as he said, “How can you be so cold?”

  It hurt, but I couldn’t blame him for saying it.  “I don’t choose to be,” I murmured, my voice unsteady and unsure, “it’s how I am.  You always knew that, it never used to bother you like it does now.”

  I sensed his exasperation as he said, “I thought you would change, as you got to know me, got to trust me…”

  “I have…” but I knew that I hadn’t changed enough for him.  “I love you, more than I’ve ever loved anyone.  Why isn’t that enough for you?”

  He moved along the bed towards me.  As he held me, he said, “Usually it is.”  He kissed me, softly and lingeringly, and we lay down together.

  The power had come back on by the time Fliss arrived home.  We had seen the street lights come back on, but had stayed still on my bed, the candles flickering and guttering around us.  I rested my head on his chest, and tried not to cry when he stroked my hair.

  Fliss ran into the room, exclaiming, “You’ll never guess what just happened…” she stopped dead, sensing somehow that she might be intruding.  We persuaded her to stay, but she still seemed uncomfortable as she perched, gingerly, on the edge of the bed, her eyes wide and wondering, as she blurted, “Nat’s left Dylan!”

    Apparently, Fliss was packing up her records when Dylan came storming up the stairs from the office downstairs, the expression on his face murderous.  The club was more or less empty, but for Fliss and the Juvenile Hell staff, all of who were in the process of clearing up.  Nat came running up the stairs as all and sundry were observing Dylan, and she looked, according to Fliss, “a total state,” her hair was messy, and her shirt was half on, half off.  She and Dylan started screaming at each other, “I didn’t take much of it in,” confessed Fliss, “but it was mostly rude, and he kept saying, ‘How could you? How could you?’  Then Amber appeared, she’d come up not long after Nat I think, but I hadn’t noticed, and she looked all mussed up and harassed as well, and a bit worried, so, I kind of got the gist of the situation around then.”

  “Nat and Amber?” asked Fergus, his tone bordering on disbelief.

  “Yes,” said Fliss, the distaste creeping into her voice, “isn’t it bizarre?”

  “So what happened next?” I urged.

  “Well,” said Fliss awkwardly, “Amber just sort of stood there, like a lump, a little away from them, looking a bit sheepish and unsure as to what to do or say, they were still screaming at each other at this point you see, then Dylan gave Nat an ultimatum.  He told her that, if she left with him then, and if she promised to give Amber up, he’d forget what he’d just seen.”

  But Dylan’s ultimatums and cajoling had come to nothing: Nat refused point blank.

  “She moved over to where Amber was standing, and she said ‘No’.  He pleaded with her, but she wouldn’t budge, so in the end he left.  He looked utterly destroyed, and I felt very sorry for him.”

  So did I, I realised.  But I couldn’t dwell on it, not then.

  “What about Nat?” we both asked.

  “Well, she looked a bit shaken,” admitted Fliss, “but she seemed quite calm really, she turned to Amber, and said, ‘Come on’, and then they went back downstairs, got their things, and left.  Amber looked as sick as a dog, and I still didn’t get paid.”

  Later, when Fliss had gone to bed and we were lying, quiet and still, in each other’s arms, he asked, “Do you think Nat loved Dylan?”

  I thought about it, “Yes,” I said at last.

  “Not anymore,” he sighed.

  “So it would seem.”

  There was a long pause, and one of the guttering candles went out altogether before he spoke again, “Do you think he knew, about her girlfriends?”

  “I don’t know,” I confessed.

  “I bet she never told him,” he said, a little smugly, “and I bet he never asked.”

  His tone was beginning to irritate me, “Does it matter?” I snapped.

  I sensed his sigh on the back of my neck, “Little defensive, aren’t we?”

  “Nat’s my friend,” I snapped, “I don’t like it when you talk about her like that.”

  “She shouldn’t have married a man she doesn’t love”

  “But its O.K to sleep with one is it?” I demanded.

  “Why does that bother you so much?” he sat up and glared at me as I turned to face him, “Just because she gave me the one thing you never could!”

  I felt as though he had stabbed me.

  “That’s it, isn’t it?” he cried triumphantly.

  I slapped him.  There were tears in my eyes as I said, “Why do you keep hurting me like this? Why are you always saying things, and pressuring me, and…” I burst into tears.

  After what felt like a long time, he took hold of me and tried to calm me down. It was like he was trying to soothe a fractious child, and, as such, I refused to be soothed.  “You worry me when you’re like this,” he murmured, “I never know what’s going to happen with you lately, you scare me sometimes…”

  “Don’t patronise me!” fury combined with my tears, and I felt very, very tired.

  “I’m not…” he seemed hurt, “Tell me what’s wrong,” he brushed my hair out my eyes with his fingers, “talk to me, please…”

  I pulled away from him, “Nothing’s wrong, I’m just tired…”

  “No,” his expression was one of concern, “no, this is more than just being tired, this is something else…”

  “No it’s not! I’m fine! Nothing is wrong! I’m fine!”

  “You’re not fine,” he murmured, “you’re very far from fine…” He stood up, and then turned to face me once more, “I don’t know what you need anymore,” he admitted at last, and I could tell that he was worried, “But I don’t think it’s me.  If you change your mind, you know where to find me.”

  As the front door slammed shut behind him, I seemed to step outside myself.  I saw myself walk through to the kitchen and open the cutlery drawer.  I picked up the stiletto knife and held it out in front of me, it glinted in the moonlight, and I knew as I stood there that the barrier was gone.  I stretched out my left arm and tensed it against the cold steel blade as I drew the knife across my arm once, twice, three, four times.  And it felt better.

  I put the knife down, washed it, dried it, and put it back in the drawer.  I was no longer watching myself, no longer crying, and I felt calmer, freer than I had for weeks.  I glanced at my arm.  The cuts weren’t deep, and they would soon heal, but I would have to be careful now.  No short sleeves, not until the scars had faded.  I changed into a long sleeved nightshirt, and went to bed.

  But I slept no better that week than I had in the weeks before, or since.  My mind was overactive, it wouldn’t switch off, and my thoughts, my worries, my fears, wouldn’t leave me alone.

  I drink coffee these days; it keeps me awake whilst simultaneously shredding my nerves and accelerating my heartbeat.  I won’t write about Fergus, although I know that he’s left me for good.  I won’t lie to myself about that.  He’s probably off sowing his wild and much stored oats as I write.  I won’t think about that.  I try not to imagine him with other girls, but sometimes at night… I see them in my mind, and I cut myself to stop the pain.

  A few days ago, Fliss and I went to Juvenile Hell.  Against the backdrop of red and gold glitter, of bright young things, of alcohol and cigarette smoke, I observed Amber and Nat together.  Nat looked twice as beautiful, twice as sexy as usual.  She was wearing black stretch satin, very low cut, and was positively glowing with happiness.  She was the more affectionate of the two, I noticed, the first to take her hand, to throw an intimate glance her way.  She stroked her fingers when she took a drink from her hand, she danced for her… and Amber knew it.

  Fine boned Amber, in her tight jeans and tight t-shirt, watched her through washed out grey eyes that shone with lust.  She flicked her long bleach blonde hair behind her equally pale shoulders constantly, and the next time Nat took her hand, she let go with a coldness that mirrored her exterior.

  The Juvenile Hell staff seemed shell-shocked, although some of them must surely have seen what was going on before that night: I know that, deep down, I’d had an inkling. Part of me wondered how much Dylan had suspected before he went storming in, and part of me wondered how he was feeling now that it was all over.  I’d liked him, the few times I’d met him, and I don’t like seeing people get hurt.

  Later on, Amber’s coldness seemed to melt away, and she started to return the affection that had been thrown her way all night.  Fliss and I, two single women in a club that seemed to be full of couples, watched with a combination of envy and melancholy as Amber and Nat enjoyed a particularly passionate and prolonged snog. “Time we went home,” sighed Fliss “before I throw myself at a perfectly innocent stranger and make a terrible, terrible mistake.”

  I smiled sadly, “You’re right, let’s go home.”

  We lonely girls must stick together.

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Chapter Forty One: Separate Yet Not Apart

I opened my eyes and, carefully and quietly, climbed out of bed.  The neon clock face said 2:55 as I tiptoed past it on my way to the kitchen.  I heard footsteps behind me as I turned on the kitchen light, “What’s the matter?” he asked.

  I turned around, “I just need a drink,” I lied, sotto voce, “that’s all; I won’t be long.”  He waited, and watched as I took a glass from the cupboard and filled it with water from the tap.  “I’ll just drink it; then I’ll be back.”

  “O.K, fine,” he sighed.

  I watched from the kitchen table as he walked back across the landing to bed, then I set my empty glass down with care.  The images were still in my mind as I rested my chin on my palms, and brooded, waiting for morning to come.

I was dancing in the spotlight, and I could feel him watching me as I danced. His eyes seemed to bore into me resentfully, because I’d been good then, and that had frightened him, because he saw that he would lose me to that world, which was a strange world that he didn’t understand.  As I danced, I could feel a trickle seeping into the satin and leather of the shoe; I thought it was sweat, for it was hot under the lights, only later, when I was backstage, slowly removing the snugly fitting shoes from my aching feet, did I discover the dark stains, did I realise it was blood.

  He was shaking me when I woke up, “It’s alright,” he whispered, “just a nightmare, that’s all.”

  I nodded, tiredly, as he hugged me.

  The next night, I went out to an eighties night I sometimes go to with Nat.  The last time I went was a month ago, and it was a very different experience; sunshine and happiness, light and euphoria.  Last night, it was as though the ice cream pastel world and eighties nostalgia had curdled in the sun.  Nat seemed closed to me, and unhappy; she was subdued and monosyllabic, much like myself.  Around midnight, she looked at her watch, “I have to go now,” she said, “I promised him I’d be back early.”

  I nodded.

  “You coming?”

  I shook my head.

  “Well,” she called to me over the strains of ‘Gloria’ as she walked across the floor, “It’s your funeral!”

  It had been two days since I had slept properly, and although I wanted to dance, I didn’t feel as though I had the energy anymore.  The walls moved unsteadily in the light, like sickening confectionary as I walked away.

  But I couldn’t go home yet.

  I found myself outside Dylan and Nat’s house in Victoria at about one o’clock.  The door was open, and I made my way inside.  I could hear voices as I walked through the dark hallway, “I TOLD YOU!!” she was yelling, “I WENT OUT WITH MAGGIE TO MINDWARP, THAT’S ALL!”

  “AND WHAT ABOUT LAST NIGHT?” He roared, “AND THE NIGHT BEFORE, AND THE NIGHT BEFORE THAT? DO YOU REALLY THINK I BELIEVE YOU WHEN YOU SAY YOU’RE WORKING LATE?”

  “I AM WORKING LATE! I RUN A FUCKING NIGHTCLUB FOR FUCKS SAKE!!”

  It didn’t seem like a good idea to stay, so I got up on my toes, and tiptoed out into the night, closing the door behind me.

  And still I wasn’t ready to go home.  The nights are cooler now we’re into late September, and although it was a dry, clear night, I found myself shivering as I walked through the Northern Quarter.  What to do, what to do until morning came again and I could go to work, what to do…

  I arrived back in Heaton Chapel around 4am, and let myself into Fergus’ house with my key.  Everything seemed to be catching up with me as I staggered over to the sofa.  I had barely hit it before my eyes closed.

  He was quiet the next evening as he drove me home from work, and I kept quiet too.  His arms and shoulders were tense as he gripped the steering wheel and, in the passenger seat I tried to make myself invisible.  He hadn’t said anything to me all day, not since he had found my lying comatose on the sofa at seven o’clock, and had been forced to drag me awake.  I kept quiet because I knew; I knew that I had fucked up.

  I stayed with him all evening, and then later, despite my nervous apprehension, I stayed with him all night too.

  Oh why does it have to be such a big deal? We are past those arguments about sex, this isn’t even sex, it’s just sleeping with him, being near to him, holding him… I used to be alright with that.  Why now?

  The dream that night was different.  It was at once more real, and yet, more unreal than the previous dreams.  I dreamt of Terry once more, and he was hurting me as he had before.  I seemed to shut my eyes against it all for a while, only then… the picture changed, and the hands that struck me were different, the voice that taunted me was different, and the face looming over me was different.

  I opened my eyes and looked up into Fergus’ face, and I screamed.

  It wasn’t a short scream of surprise either; it was a long, shrill, hysterical scream of terror.  He tried to soothe me as I thrashed about in his arms, but when that didn’t work, he pinned me to the mattress, and watched in unhappy silence as I slowly stopped hitting him and convulsed into frightened sobbing.  When I pulled away from him, he moved away from me, and turned off the light.  We lay next to each other in the dark, repressive stillness, not touching, not speaking, and hearing only our heartbeats as they hammered in our chests.

  The next night was a battle of nerves as I fought to stay awake until he fell asleep.  When I sensed his breathing become shallow and regular, I quietly got up.  The floorboards creaked a little as I tiptoed across the room, and out onto the landing.  Fliss had gone to bed too, so the living room was empty, and the sofa unoccupied.  It wasn’t the most comfortable of beds, but it would have to do.  If I timed things right, I could be up and dressed before he woke up in the morning, and he would never know that I hadn’t slept with him.  Part of me knew that it would only be a temporary solution, at best, but I knew that I had to try it.  I had to try and get some sleep.

  The tables were turned that night as I slept, for it was the figure before me who cowered on the floor, who pleaded, who cried.  As I towered over him, he looked up at me with pleading brown eyes.  No I thought as I recognised his face please no, not that… But the face in the dream was the same face that I saw when I woke up, and there was a red mark on his face, just under those same brown eyes.

  “Oh God,” I whispered in horror as I touched the mark, cautiously and gently with my fingers.

  He took my hand in his, and stroked my fingers, “It’s alright, it hardly even hurts; I shouldn’t have got so close to you when you were thrashing about.”  His voice was calm and quiet.

  “But I hit you!” I wailed.

  He continued to massage my fingers “Its O.K; its fine…”

  I looked up into his eyes, and saw the combination of fear and concern that he was trying to hide, and I couldn’t face it.  I yanked my hand out of his grasp, and I ran, choking with remorse, into the bathroom.  I turned on the hot water tap, and put the plug in the sink.  The water grew hot quite quickly, and I plunged my hands into the sink as the water scalded my hands.  Only when the tears began to trickle down my cheeks did I lift them out, and pull out the plug.

Chapter Thirty Eight: Spirit Of ‘76

 I hate him; I hate him so much I want to hit him, to punch him over and over again until I can make him look as bad as he makes me feel, I want the blood to fall like tears, the body to buckle and fall to the floor, his heart to break… I am scaring myself now; I don’t know where this latent violence comes from, but I don’t like how it makes me feel, anymore than I like feeling miserable.

  Our argument started, as it always seems to do, in my bedroom yesterday morning; it was about the usual thing, him wanting sex and me not wanting it.  One of these days he won’t even argue with me, he’ll just leave when I say I won’t; I dread it happening, but I know it will.  Maybe I should leave first, but I can’t bring myself to do that, anymore than I can force myself to give him what he wants.

  The sheets clung damply to me in the glare of the morning sun, and heat poured into the room from my tiny window, which was rammed open as far as it would go.  The room was illuminated with a pale green glow, the glaring sunlight tempered by my curtains.  I felt sticky and irritable as I peeled back the upper sheet and sat up.  Next to me, Fergus stirred and rolled over into my space as I stood up.  I could feel his eyes on my back as I walked over to the chair where I had left my clothes.

  “We have to talk about this,” he said in quiet but determined tones as I pulled on my mini skirt and secured the zip and fastener, “if we’re ever going to move forward, you have to tell me…” He broke off, and sighed a little impatiently, “There are pills for sexual dysfunction.”

  I froze and, unable to believe what I had just heard, turned to face him “Is that what you think I am?” I asked slowly, “frigid?”

  He lay on his side, one arm propping up his head as his eyes remained fixed on me “You said it, not me” he said in calm, even tones.

  I pulled on my crop top and tried to think of something else.  I didn’t trust myself to speak until I felt as though my feelings were more under control.

  But he wasn’t going to let me off that easily, “If you won’t discuss anything with me, then how am I supposed to…”

  “THERE ISN’T ANYTHING TO DISCUSS!”

  “YES THERE IS!”

  He was up now, and walking towards me as I pulled on my shoes.  “Pills,” I muttered to myself, “there are pills for bloody everything these days…” I felt him lay a hand on my shoulder, and then release me when I tensed.

   “Well, what am I supposed to think?” he demanded as I turned to face him, “that you don’t trust me, that you don’t love me, that you’re seeing someone else? That you were raped? Just what the hell am I supposed to think?”

  I could feel all the anger and tension, the fear and pain, mostly the pain, welling up inside as I said in an increasingly shaky voice, “Supposing I did what you wanted, supposing I took these pills,” I spat the word, “Supposing they made me more willing, more pliant and passive… is that what you want? Because it sure as hell wouldn’t be me!”

  I saw the frustration in his eyes as he shouted, “You need to deal with whatever’s making you run!”

  I really lost it then, anything that I’d been holding back rushed to the surface as I yelled, “The only person who’s going to make me run is you, because you keep pressuring me!”

  “You’re shutting me out!”

  “Sometimes I have to!”

  For a few moments, there was no sound in the room, in the flat.

  “Trust me,” he murmured as he slipped his arms around my waist, “trust me not to hurt you.”  His eyes were very close to mine, and I sensed the pleading that his voice was trying to hide.

  “You know I can’t”

  He released me, and I walked over to the door, “I need to know why!” he called after me as I confirmed to his expectations by picking up my things and running away.

  Tonight, as the temperature rose towards thirty-eight degrees, we played our gig at The Gates.  The venue was packed full of screaming punters in t-shirts dyed black with sweat and water, their hair dripped that same salty liquid into their feverish eyes, and it trickled down onto their eyeliner, leaving greyish streaks under their eyes.  Up on stage, I could feel my jeans and t-shirt begin to cling, damply, to me before the first song was over.  Fliss and Flora, both in strappy mini dresses, fared little better under the unforgiving lights, and Katy had made the mistake of wearing black, and was suffering accordingly.

  A still pensive Fliss left most of the between songs banter to Katy and Flora, yet managed a little smile when a voice in the crowd yelled, “WE STILL LOVE YOU, FLISS!”

  I truanted from our post gig question and answer session with the press and fanzine writers in order to locate my mum before she went home.  In the hazy darkness, I found her by the bar, ordering the last drink of the evening.  “I’m going to have to start packing up in a minute,” I explained as I refused the drink that she was offering me, “but I wanted to give you this.”  I handed her the CD, ‘My Heart Is In Your Hands’ is out at last.

  She turned the CD over in her hands, “’Ode To A’,” she read, “I wonder who that could be about?”

  I shrugged, and stepped aside to let Angel and the Razorblades past, “The fans like it, it’s been a download on our website for a while…”

  “Oh!” realisation dawned in her eyes, “Fliss’ Doris Day tribute.”

  “That’s the one.”

  “How is Fliss? I’ve been very worried about her.”

  I told Fliss of my mother’s concern for her on the tour bus later.  She rolled her big blue eyes heavenwards, and sighed heavily, “It’s bad enough that my mum worries about me, without your mum worrying about me as well.”

  “I thought you’d calmed your mum down.”

  “My dad calmed her down,” she sighed as she curled up on her seat.  Her little bare feet were tucked neatly under the blue skirt of her dress, and her gold hair lay damply against her face as she rested her head against the window, “she’s still secretly hoping that I’ll find myself a nice young man one day though, I haven’t the heart to disillusion her, and she wouldn’t believe me anyway.”

  “Nat said mothers always take it worse.”

  “She was right.”

  She seemed sleepy and fractious, so after a little while I left her to her thoughts and made my way along the bus to where Katy was playing cards with our support group, The Brave Skuds, as Sigur Ros played quietly on the stereo.

  Leeds passed in a blur, but Glasgow lingered in the mind as we drove out of town.  Maybe it was being in Scotland that did it, or maybe it was Fliss’ face when she talked about Adrienne.  I saw so much love in her eyes, so much trust, and sadness… they don’t have another chance, but Fergus and I do.  Or do we? I don’t know.  All I know is that I can’t stop thinking about him.  Everyone else has gone to sleep as I write this, leaving me to write this by the light of my torch as I realise I miss him; I miss him so much it hurts, hurts more than everything he said that morning three, four, five days ago; I need to talk to him, but it’s too late to do so tonight.  Even if I borrowed a mobile from Fliss, Jenny, Katy, or Flora, he would be in bed and be asleep; I need to talk to him in private, but I can’t find a way to do so.

(Leicester)

  Somewhere on the way to Leicester, at another service station, I found a phone and called him.  Thank God that the phone was on the wall by the women’s wash room, and thank God so many people these days have mobile phones: Both of these facts served to provide me with the privacy I needed.  My hands shook with nerves as I slid forty pence into the cold stainless steel slot, they didn’t relax when I dialled his number, and when he picked up the phone, I knew that I had to talk quickly before the money ran out.  “I love you,” I blurted, “even if you think I don’t, I do, but I’m not ready for what you want, I’m so scared you’re going to leave me for someone else, someone who’ll give you what I can’t, and…” my heart was thudding, hard and fast, in my chest, and I could barely breathe as the adrenalin surged through me like fire, “I don’t know what else to say to you, but please don’t leave me, I…”

  “I wasn’t going to leave you,” he said quietly, “how could you think that?”

  “Sometimes it feels like you’re just putting up with me until someone better comes along, like you want me to be someone I can’t be.”

  “No,” he seemed hurt, “it’s never been like that; it never will be like that… I wanted you to stop being scared, that doesn’t mean I don’t love you – I do – and I’ll wait for you; I waited before, you aren’t ready, so I’ll…” the credit was running out.  10p, 0p… “Wait” the pips were going as I tried to think of something to say, but the phone went dead before I was able to.  I hung up the receiver and rested my head against the indifferent steel of the machine; I felt exhausted.

  The phone rang, startling me out of my stillness.  I warily picked up the receiver.  “Maggie?” his voice was nervous and concerned.

  I breathed out, “Yes”

  “Oh thank God,” relief overwhelmed his voice, “I thought you’d gone.”

  “I ran out of money.”

  “I should have called you back straight away.”  It was strange hearing his voice on the phone; it made him seem so much nearer and yet so far away.

  “I suppose I didn’t give you much of a chance…”

  “No,” he sighed, “I’m sorry, Maggie; I knew I was pressuring you, and I knew it was wrong, but… I hate it when you shut me out, and I wanted to be with you so badly… What’s the matter?” He was surprised, “Why are you crying? Please, don’t cry.”

  But I was crying because I was happy.

  (Stockport, again)

He was waiting for me when Fliss and I arrived home.  Our tea was cooking, and he’d even remembered to pick Marmalade up from mum’s house.  “Not that she thanked me for it.”  He commented as he showed us a series of scratches on his hands and arms.

  Fliss surveyed his injuries briefly and dismissively, “She doesn’t like the cat carrier,” she said.

  “’Doesn’t like’ is putting it mildly,” he muttered as he nursed his hand.

  Fliss picked up Marmalade and bore her off to the kitchen for a bowl of Felix.

  Fergus and I faced each other, feeling awkward and shy now that Fliss had left the room.  “Well,” I began, at last.

  He walked over to me and embraced me, holding me tight as he admitted, “You scared me.”

  “I’m sorry” I kissed him.

  He returned the kiss.

  We didn’t go out that night; he didn’t want me to, and I wanted to be with him more.  When it was time for bed, he stayed over, and we left for work together the next morning.

  That day was a Friday, and I had planned to go to Homoelectric with Nat and Dylan.  Fergus agreed, reluctantly, to come too.  I had hoped that he would resent my going less if he came too, but I knew within the first five minutes of our hitting the dance floor that he wasn’t enjoying himself.  Neither, for that matter, was Nat; I watched her and Dylan as they danced to a soully house record that I didn’t know, and as the little silhouettes of light moved to light up their features, I could see him reaching for her, and her moving away from him.  Before the record had finished, she had made her way through the crowd to the bar, and was drinking alone as he watched, forlornly, from the dance floor.  Around twelve, Fergus made his way across the heaving dance floor to where Nat and I were dancing to Peaches, and told me that he was going home.  I nodded, and he kissed me fiercely and lingeringly, and then left.  When I arrived home at three, he was asleep.

  On the Saturday, Dylan had tickets for Mr Scruff: I didn’t even try to talk Fergus into coming with me.

  He woke me up on Sunday morning as he got up to have breakfast “Are you going out tonight?” He asked as I blinked sleepily at him.

  “No,” I stroked his arm with my thumb; “I wanted to spend today with you.”

  “Well,” he stood up, and I could sense his bitterness as he said, “there isn’t much doing on a Sunday I suppose.”

  “Don’t be like that,” I took his hand as he turned away, “If you stay, I promise I won’t go out next week at all, we can be together all week.”

  “And the week after?” he asked, hopefully.

  I smiled cautiously, “Let’s just concentrate on this week first.”

  He hesitated.

  “Please?”

  “O.K”

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 Five: Dearly Beloved…

 Fliss and I arrived at Nat’s flat around 11am.  It was a sultry, humid kind of morning, and whilst Fliss seemed cool enough in her yellow cotton sundress, I was sticky hot in my jeans and t-shirt.  Nat wasn’t ready when we arrived, and she seemed exhausted as she slowly opened the door to us.  She was wearing a pair of grubby jeans and a half shirt, out of which an ample amount of cleavage spilled, and she was barefoot.  Her hair was a tangled mess, and her face seemed strangely naked without make-up.  There was a love bite on her neck.  I raised an eyebrow, and she looked away a little sheepishly as she gestured for us to follow her.

  She shuffled along the hall slowly and with a slight stagger, and I took in the slovenly state of the flat as we joined Flora and Katy in Nat’s bedroom to get ready.  Dirty plates had been left lying around, for days or weeks possibly, clothes and condoms were strewn all over the place, and there were reams and reams of dirty knickers spilling out of every corner.  “Nat” Fliss sighed, her eyes wide in wonder, disgust, and admiration, “You are…”

  “Yeah,” sighed Nat, wearily, “I know.”

  She left us to get ready.

  We each had a silver satin sheath dress to wear, and a posy of white foxgloves to carry, and the effect was mixed at best.  Katy suited silver best; it went well with her dyed black hair and lightly tanned colouring.  Fliss, with her fair hair, pale blue eyes, and fair colouring looked like an ethereal little ghost, whereas Flora and I quickly discovered that silver clashed violently with our hair and colouring.  We gloomily set about the task of applying our make-up to the accompaniment of the trickling water from the shower.

  When Nat returned, she was wearing an ankle length black satin sheath dress with a plunging neckline that displayed almost as much cleavage as the half shirt had.  Her hair hung loose to midway down her back, and she wore black patent kitten heels, had no veil, and was carrying a bouquet of purple foxgloves.

  Katy’s jaw dropped “Black?” She exclaimed in horror.

  Nat sighed in exasperation as she placed her free hand on her hip, “Well, I could hardly wear white now, could I?”  She’d done her best to cover up the love bite on her neck, but you could still see it, if you looked hard.

  “Black is a traditional wedding colour in Spain and Iceland,” quoted Fliss, “I read that in ‘Brides’.”

  A car horn hooted outside, “That’ll be the taxi.”  Said Nat as she picked up her keys and ushered us towards the door.

  “I thought the whole point of a wedding was to have a big flash car with ribbons and everything,” muttered a disgruntled Katy.

  I saw Nat’s shoulder’s tense in anger as she snapped, “Yes, well, I’ve been very busy just lately!”

  “It’ll match our dresses” said Fliss brightly as we climbed inside the black cab; she, at least, was smiling.

  Outside the registry office a heated discussion occurred as we waited to go in as to who would be the chief bridesmaid, “You two are the oldest,” said Nat, gesturing to Flora and me, “It should be one of you two.”

  “I hear if you’re the chief bridesmaid then you have to dance with the best man,” said Katy, with a wicked gleam in her eye.

  “I’ll dance with you Katy,” said Flora, hastily, “Maggie can be chief bridesmaid.”

  “But who will I dance with?” asked Fliss, plaintively.

  The wedding march (‘By The Way’ by Heavenly, which was probably Nat’s choice.) struck up at that point, so all further discussion was curtailed as Nat proceeded down the aisle, followed by me, Flora, Katy, and lastly Fliss.  “Hold it with both hands!” I heard Fliss hiss to Katy, who was carrying her posy, casually, in her left hand and looked as though she was gripping a pint glass.

  I can’t remember all the details of the ceremony, so I’m unsure as to how Nat’s not being given away by anyone was got around, or as to what was said before the vows.  Nat looked very pretty, and Dylan looked very smart in pale grey and white, but I didn’t really notice the best man, whose name was Ed, until I had to walk back up the aisle with him after signing the register: The Built To Spill version of ‘By The Way’ was playing then.

  The reception took place at a nearby hotel, and the room was light and spacious, lit up by the afternoon sun.  There was a steady chatter as we were seated at tables, and I found myself seated next to a woman in her late thirties or early forties called Lalita Cain, who I discovered to be Dylan’s older sister.  Despite her neat appearance, she seemed to share her brother’s energy and vitality and, as such, we got along very well.

  Before Nat and Dylan left, all the eligible women in the room warily lined up as Nat prepared to throw her bouquet.  To my horror, I saw as it took flight that it was heading for me.  I stepped to my left and collided with Katy, who had evidently been miles away, and as we stumbled I saw Fliss jump high in the air and snatch the bouquet before it could fall to the ground.  She cradled it like a child for the remainder of the evening, and was still cradling it when Fergus took me by the hand and led me outside to the car.  As I sat down in the front passenger seat, he kissed me lightly on the cheek before closing the door then he opened the door for Fliss and her bouquet.

Chapter Thirty: Wicked Whispers

Band practice was awful: I was the first to arrive and, as such, welcomed the calm grey space of the Twilight Studios practice room, knowing that it would give me both time and peace to get my story straight before Flora and Katy arrived.  I’d not long finished setting up my drums when I heard footsteps outside in the corridor; quick, heavy, determined steps as though the person was running, “Maggie!” called Katy, slowing down as she entered the room, “I found that song we talked about last week!” she passed me a tape, and a folded sheet of paper, “I transcribed the lyrics for Fliss” the eager expression on her face began to fade as she glanced around the room; she frowned “Where’s Fliss?”

  Flora, who had brought up the rear, walked into the room and calmly laid her bass down on the floor.  As she unzipped the bag, she murmured “Don’t tell me Fliss had to pull an extra shift at work”

  I nodded, seemingly in disappointment, but really in relief; I hadn’t been looking forward to lying to Flora, who I trust, and to Katy, who I’m beginning to trust.

  Katy rolled her eyes impatiently, “Great” she snapped, “when will she be here?”

  “She won’t,” I admitted, truthfully.

  “Well” Flora got to her feet and carefully picked up her bass, “We’ll just have to do what we can.  I had wanted to work on the new songs, but…” she shrugged.

  “Sorry” I said.

  She looked up from her bass “Don’t be sorry, it’s not your fault.”

  But I felt as though it was.

  On Saturday night, Fergus and I went out to Juvenile Hell. It was early when we arrived, and the red, sparkling décor was adorned with only a few early birds.  In a dark, private corner, Nat was sat with Dylan, gazing wistfully into his eyes; she looked up as we made our way past the door staff “Hello” she gestured to the seat next to her “Sit with us” and when I voiced our desire to get drinks, she said, “Dylan and Fergus can get them, you sit with me.”

  The wistful expression hadn’t left her face by the time I reached her, and she seemed quiet; not subdued, but… thoughtful.

  Dylan and Fergus returned with the drinks.  Two pints, lemonade, and bottled water which, I was surprised to discover, was Dylan’s.  It was later, when Nat was busy working and Fergus had returned to the bar, that he answered my unspoken question “I’m allergic to alcohol.”

  “I didn’t say anything!” I protested.

  He smiled, displaying a lot of white enamel.  I took in his muscular tanned arms and long, thin face; his eyes were the same dark blue as Nat’s.  “I could tell that you were surprised though.”

  “Have you been at ‘City Life’ long?” I enquired, eagerly, wanting to change the subject.

  He smiled, not at all fooled “A year.  I worked for ‘The Face’ and ‘NME’ before that; still do sometimes.”

  I nodded.

  We talked of other things then, and I found that the reservations I’d had about him dropped away one by one as we talked. He seemed to genuinely love her, and I was glad of that.  After a lull in the conversation, he asked rather cautiously “You don’t drink either, do you?”

  Fergus was just returning with another drink, as he sat down, he grinned at Dylan, and said “The only time I’ve ever seen her drink was the first time we came here, and she got plastered and spent the rest of the night throwing up.”

  I could feel myself colouring, not with embarrassment so much, more with anger as I glared at him.  I sensed Dylan glance speculatively at us both, but he didn’t say anything, and I could tell that he didn’t think it was funny either; most people would have done I suppose.

  The awkward silence was broken as Fergus turned around to talk to some newly arrived friends, and I seized my chance.  “You’re right, I don’t drink.” I murmured as I leant forward.  He leant towards me expectantly, and his face was sympathetic, which gave me the courage to continue.  “Alcohol clashes with my medication, it stops it working properly, and if I drink more than a pint or so, I’m sick.”

  He nodded, and we each leant back in our chairs.  As I looked up, I noticed that Fergus was watching me; he had an odd, questioning expression on his face, and I think he may have overheard.  There was no time to talk about it though, not there, not then, and neither of us has raised the subject since.  It was shortly after that that Nat and I hit the dance floor in any case and, despite everything, I’m glad I talked to Dylan; he seemed to be one of those rare people who listen without judging, for which I am grateful.

  It would have been about eight am on Sunday morning when Fergus and I were rudely awakened by the phone ringing.  It must have been ringing for a long time, because I heard it in my sleep long before I woke up.  It rang and rang and rang in an almost aggressive manner as I staggered out of bed, and by the time I eventually answered it, it was almost screaming.  Things were no better when I picked up the hand set however, for the scream of the phone was replaced by the scream of Jenny as she shrieked and ranted incoherently about tabloid newspapers and betrayals of confidence.  “YOU KNEW!” She yelled.

  I winced, and held the handset away from my ear.  I could still hear her though.

  “YOU MUST HAVE KNOWN! YOU KNEW AND YOU LIED TO ME! NOW IT’S ALL OVER THE SEXPRESS AND NEWS OF THE SCREWS!!”

  It was with a sinking heart and sudden feeling of dread that I covered the mouthpiece and turned around to face Fergus, who was standing behind me with a deeply curious expression on his face.  “Nip out and buy a selection of the tabloids.” I hissed “the trashiest ones; might be important.” He nodded, and then shot off to my bedroom in pursuit of his clothes and wallet.

  Jenny was still bawling me out when he returned from the newsagents, and by then I knew what to expect, for Jenny had confirmed my worst fears.  Fergus was surveying the papers with a mingled expression of distaste, revulsion, and fascination when I joined him on the sofa.  He passed me the ‘News Of The World’ as he murmured, “Well, no denying it’s real now…”

  The front cover of the paper, in common with several other tabloids that day, was given over to an enlarged, grainy picture of a young dark haired slim girl in frayed bleach washed jeans and a cut off t-shirt; she was kissing a younger seeming fair-haired girl, also in jeans and t-shirt.  It was a very intimate shot, seemingly taken from a distance, but using a zoom and it made me feel both saddened and moved as I realised how good they looked together.  But I also realised as I gazed at that grainy image that they could never be happy together; not now.

  “GIRL TROUBLE!” screamed the headline, whilst the subheading shrieked “Raunchy Adrienne’s Steamy Weekend” I scanned the text frantically, desperately checking for any mention of Fliss’ name, but it seemed that she had been lucky, for there were none, just the usual mentions of a ‘mystery blonde’.  I asked Fergus to check the other reports, and he reported back the same: plenty of ‘mystery blonde’ references, but nothing to suggest that Fliss’ identity was known.  The picture was taken from Adrienne’s vantage point, revealing her face, but Fliss had been shot from the back.

  “She’s safe” I sighed in relief as I handed the ‘News Of The World’ to Fergus.

  “For now” he replied, softly.

  The phone rang once more and, fearing that the press had found out about Fliss after all, I answered warily: But I needn’t have worried, for it was only the girl herself. She must have been unaware of the tabloid coverage (quite how remains a mystery), for she began her call by saying “I’m on my way home, how was band practice?” she sounded so happy that I almost didn’t tell her, but I knew that I had to.

  “Fliss…” I began, carefully.

  She didn’t say anything once I had finished telling her about Jenny and the tabloids, but I could hear her breathing as it came heavier, and faster “Oh” she said, at last.  “I’ll be home soon, we’ll talk then” and, with that enigmatic response, she rang off.

  She was in tears when she arrived home.  “She told me I’d betrayed her!” she sobbed as she threw herself down into the armchair,  “She thinks I phoned them all; they were all waiting for her when she got home, camped out on her doorstep…” the sobbing engulfed her once more, and I couldn’t just sit there and watch.  I went to her, and I took hold of one trembling hand as I crouched down beside her.  “How did they find out?” she wept, “Who told them? And how did they get pictures of us so soon? We were only there last night!”

  Fergus was telling Fliss about picture messaging in a low, calm voice as I squeezed her hand and made soothing noises, when the phone rang.

  Fergus got up to answer it as Fliss began to sob increasingly violently.  When I looked up from her a minute later, I noticed that he was stood in the doorway, an expression of deepest sympathy on his face as he surveyed us both “Fliss” he said at last.  She jerked her head up, and we both took in her blotchy, tear stained face and quivering lip as he added, “It’s for you.  It’s your mum.”

Chapter Twenty Nine: Girls in Love

The morning after the Girl Trouble gig started badly when, at half past nine, I found myself being shaken awake by a half dressed and increasingly fraught Fergus. Fliss had also overslept, it transpired, and she also took some rousing. Jenny was furious by the time we finally arrived, and she didn’t buy our various feeble excuses, so the day ended with her frogmarching me through Victoria to the nearest café for coffee and an interrogation.  She had tried to discuss our lateness and disarray with Fliss at dinner, but she had turned her woeful blue eyes on her, and Jenny hadn’t felt inclined to pursue things after that, Nat’s right: it’s too like kicking Bambi.  So, she was asking me, what had happened?

  “Did you tell her?” asked Fergus that night as we lay in bed.

  I sighed, heavily, and turned over to face him, my eyes level with his.  “No.  She wouldn’t understand.”

  “She might,” he reasoned.

  I thought about it, Jenny was au fait with the sort of nameless post riot grrrl scene we’re a part of, and she had wanted me to keep her up to date on Fliss’ girlfriend, but I still shook my head, “It’s not that… so much, it’s mainly that she wouldn’t believe it.  I’m only just beginning to believe it myself.”

  The identity of Fliss’ girlfriend hadn’t been the only bombshell dropped on us that week, for the weekend after the Girl Trouble gig I was woken up by a very excitable Nat. “I’m getting married!’ she blurted out as soon as I announced my presence on the line.

  I blinked, sleepily, for a few seconds before I said “Sorry Nat, this must be a terrible line… I could have sworn you just said that you were getting married.”

  “I am getting married!”

  “To who?” asked Fergus, sleepily; he blinked his eyes as he slowly sat up in bed, and the gentle morning light shone through my curtains and onto his face, highlighting his half opened eyes. 

  “Dylan” I said, still feeling shocked.

  He yawned, and his tone was blithe as he said, “Rather him than me”, I watched as he closed his eyes again and slid back down the pillow.

  I closed the door behind me, and moved along the corridor to Fliss’ bedroom.  I knocked on the door, but there was no answer, so I tiptoed inside.  Fliss, like Fergus, was still in bed.  Her tangled hair trailed across the pillow, and I could see her pale, tear stained face and woeful blue eyes peering out at me amidst the pink and white bedding; the definitive little girl lost.  Her face became clouded by confusion as I told her Nat’s news.  “But she can’t” she said as she pulled herself up by her elbows; “she likes girls.”

  “And boys” I pointed out.

  “Yes, but…” her forehead was creased in puzzlement “Why?”

  It was a question I put to Nat when I met her for dinner yesterday, upstairs at Afflecks Palace.  She was late, and I watched in seething impatience from a table by the window as she queued up by the counter.  I kept remembering a conversation that we had had when we were fifteen, in the long, hot summer of 1997.  We had just come up with the idea of starting a record label, and we were on our way home from a gig at the Twilight.  As we walked along Oldham Street, we chattered excitedly about the two bands (Lungleg and the Yummy Fur, from Glasgow) that we had just seen.  Lungleg had played ‘Maid To Minx’, and we were singing it when we reached Piccadilly; the shops and the bus station lit up Piccadilly, and even though it was night, we were stiflingly hot in our crop tops and mini skirts.  Across the way was Piccadilly Gardens, and at its centre was a fountain; somehow, we found ourselves running towards it, giggling and shrieking as we raced.  People turned to stare as we charged past, listening to our shrieks as we threw ourselves into the cool, stale, and still water.  Later, as we dripped our way to the bus stop, she suddenly said, “I will never marry”.  It wasn’t an announcement; it was an observation, stated simply, casually almost, and without regret.  “Me neither” I said.  She smiled as she took hold of my hand, and we ran.

  “Earth to Maggie” her dryly amused voice broke into my thoughts, and I looked up into her similarly amused dark blue eyes, as different to Fliss’ forget-me-not pale blue sad eyes as a night’s sky, full of mystery and stars.  Her whole face seemed to light up as she laughed.  “You were miles away.”

  I nodded my mind half on the past, half on the present, as I asked.  “Why are you marrying him Nat?”

  “Because I love him,” she said, simply.

  “I don’t believe you,” I said, quietly.

  She shrugged, and a secretive expression seemed to veil her face as she said, “Don’t then.”

  “It isn’t like you.” I remembered when I had last seen her.  It had been at Juvenile Hell, when she and Violet had discussed Fliss’ dress, a dress that I now know was a present from Adrienne.  I remembered Nat choking on her drink when I had described the girl shinning down our drainpipe… Had she known? But Nat had been with Dylan that night, all night, and she had been very, very drunk… “Nat” I said, as casually as I could “You’re not marrying him because you’re pregnant, are you?”

  She pulled a face “Hardly…”

  I was beginning to feel about as puzzled as Fliss had seemed when I had told her the news “Well then… why?”

  She sighed as she rested her elbows on the table, and propped her chin on her left palm.  She held her right hand out to me, and I could see the ring, winking out at me from her middle finger.  It was a platinum snake ring, with tiny sapphire eyes.  As she withdrew her hand, she gazed at the ring herself, and her expression was one of fondness as she said, “He wanted to get me a different one, but I like this.” As she looked up, her expression became sheepish as she said “We were sat on one of those huge wooden seats by the fountains in Piccadilly when he proposed.”  The dreamy, fond expression returned as she continued, “It was so romantic… He said he knew he’d only known me for a few months, but he knew he was in love with me.  He said that he’d never met anyone like me before, and he didn’t want to lose me, he wanted me to be always there.”

  My scepticism was fading as I asked “And you?” she didn’t reply, but I persisted “How do you feel?”

  “I feel… great, I feel… so happy that I could never explain.”  The secretive veil was lifting from her face as she said “I never met a man who managed to balance protectiveness with freedom and trust, never without it seeming false, never with it feeling natural… It always felt as though they wanted to own me or as if they were trying but… as though they were confused about what they wanted from me, and from the relationship, I don’t sense that.  I feel comfortable with him, he’s supportive and he listens to me, he doesn’t assume things.”  She grinned widely “And he’s equally wonderful in bed too.”

  I smiled, cynically, to myself.

  Her own smile faded a little as she said “I told Violet yesterday, about Dylan… she thinks I’m selling out.”  She looked up at me nervously “Do you?”

  I shook my head, “No,” Not if you love him, I added silently to myself.

    Fliss was back to her usual cheerful self at the recording studio today, so Jenny appears to have accepted her behaviour as a blip and has lost interest in finding out what happened, for now at least. Earlier in the week, Fliss was stumbling over her chords and forgetting her lyrics, not to mention all the times when she ran out of the room in tears, but today was very different, and she smiled all day long as she calmly and easily played and sang her way through the takes; everyone was very pleased.

  The reason for this abrupt change of mood became abundantly clear almost as soon as we arrived home.  “I’m going to see Adrienne!” she beamed as she gleefully skipped along the hall and into the living room.  Even when she threw herself down onto the sofa, she could barely contain her excitement.  Her feet in their pink and white trainers did a little dance and she was more alive than I had seen her since the night of the Girl Trouble gig.

  I hated to ruin her mood, but I had to ask “How?”

  She beamed up at me, angelically “She’s got it all planned out” she began “We’re going to both go to this hotel tomorrow, some Travel Inn place in Birmingham, only…”

  “Why Birmingham?” I asked, curious.

  “Because it’s exactly in the middle between Manchester and London.”

  “Go on…” I said warily.

  “…Only then we check in at different times.  She checks in first, texts the room number to me, and I walk in a few hours later and just go up to her room and knock.”

  It sounded so simple.  “What if someone realises that you’re not booked in?”

  She shrugged “They won’t.”  The expression on her face turned to pleading as she asked “Will you cover for me at band practice tomorrow?” I hesitated, and her expression grew more desperate as she asked “Please?”

  I nodded my agreement.  “I’ll say that you had a last minute shift at work, and that you couldn’t get out of it.”

  She hugged me, impulsively and tightly, “Thank you Maggie!”  As she bounded out of the room, she called “You won’t regret this!”

  “Possibly” I conceded, “I just hope that you don’t, Juliet.”

  She paused mid bound in the hallway, and then turned to face me; I sensed her puzzlement as she asked, “Who’s Juliet?”

  “As in Romeo and Juliet?” I prompted.

  “Oh” still puzzled, she continued on her way.

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