Chapter Sixty Six: This Is The End

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

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

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

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

  “I don’t know,” I admitted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

  (Later)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 Fifty Two: The Exile Returns

Time has been running away with me these last few weeks.  I had become accustomed to the way that the summer-autumn days dragged greyly by, one after another, repetitively and meaninglessly, and had given little thought or care for the future, yet all that has changed now: The future has caught up with me.

  I think that I first became aware of it the morning after I saw Fergus and his girlfriend at the restaurant.  No sooner did I stop crying, it seems, than I was back at The Twilight, rehearsing songs with Titanium Rose, and concentrating so hard on them that I barely noticed the days passing as they lead, inevitably, to tonight, and to the dense, smoky, grimy familiar gloom of The Gates.

  The enormity of the task ahead seemed to dawn on me as I waited at the side of the stage with Fliss, Flora and Katy, and I went weak at the knees.  None of us spoke as the heavy bass of Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Take Me Out’ faded and was replaced by the less insistent thud of Bananarama’s ‘Cruel Summer.’ (Fliss’ choice)  I took a few tentative steps away from the warm, close darkness of what is laughingly referred to as the “backstage area,” and warily stepped out into the light.

  I could hear Flora, a few steps behind me, as I skirted around the edge of the stage towards my drums, and as I moved, a light as white and bright as titanium in the flame seared my eyes, so that I stopped moving and, blinded, turned towards the crowd.  As my eyes adjusted to the light, I began to notice the noise for the first time.  They were cheering, and whistling, and screaming… wildly and shrilly, so that no one voice was distinct, it was all one sound, one incredible, loud, sound.  When I looked around the stage, I saw that Fliss had yet to make her entrance, and I turned back to the crowd feeling puzzled.  “YOU!” mouthed Flora, from across the stage, “THEY’RE CHEERING FOR YOU!”  My heart began to beat a little faster, and I blushed, partly from embarrassment, partly from confusion.  I was shocked, but also very touched by the fuss that they were making, for I’d never really thought of my role within the band as being anything other than a support role.  Even so, it appears that, over the years, people have noticed me, and that, despite everything, they seem to quite like me, which is all rather puzzling really… why would they like me? Why would they think anything of me at all?  Eventually, the light drifted off me as Fliss and Katy came into view, and I walked over to my drums and sat down, my heart thudding in my chest as I picked up my sticks.

  When I began our first song, ‘Your Face’, a fast, hectic, punk pop anthem-to-be, I felt the old adrenalin surge through me.  I felt more alert than I had done for months, more alive, and… happy, and I knew that it wasn’t the drugs, that it was real happiness. When I looked up at the crowd a few minutes later, my heart began to pound again, but with joy this time; Mum was there, as was Nat. The Girls From Mars had also come, and most of them were stood next to Shahina, our promoter, who in turn was surrounded by various members of Angel and the Razorblades and Dew.

  It was with mixed feelings that I spotted Fergus. He was with a woman, I couldn’t help but notice, but she appeared to be younger than the one that I had seen him with at work that night.  This one was petite in build, with short, dark hair.  She must have sensed that I was watching her for she suddenly jerked her head as though alerted to something, and our eyes met, and locked, for a few moments.  I looked away with mixed feelings.

  The rest of the set went well, and towards the end of ‘Be My Girl’, I noticed a young, mousy, scruffy looking girl in the sound booth swap places with an equally young, but altogether more sophisticated seeming, dark haired girl.  I couldn’t recall having seen either of them before, so they must have come with Shahina when she became the new promoter.

  I forced myself to join the crowd once our set was finished, and was immediately pounced on by Nat, along with The Girls From Mars, all of whom were very kind.  I grew embarrassed all over again as they praised our set, and my playing, and it was a relief when they changed topics.  The heavy smoke filled air turned blue as Moyra and Violet began to regale us with stories of their U.S and European tours, and Violet confirmed for us the established underground rumour that she’d been sleeping with Shanti Nair, guitarist in the Girls From Mars’ support band, The Flirts.

  Nat smirked, sleepily, upon discovering this.  Her eyes were half closed, like a cat, as she dragged, smugly, on her cigarette. 

  “Anyway,” said Violet, liltingly, as she focused her attention on Nat, “I’ve been hearing some pretty choice gossip about you lately,”

  “Which bit would that be?” enquired Nat, sweetly.

  “About you being shacked up with Amber.”

  I saw Nat tense, and could only presume that Violet hadn’t heard the full story.  I blushed as I remembered exactly what the full story was… “I need to go and change,” I murmured, quickly excusing myself.

  It was as I was hopping about in one of the grimy, vomit stained toilet cubicles a few minutes later, changing out of my damp and stained stage clothes, that I realised how drunk Nat was.  There was a loud crash, followed by a stream of mangled guitar notes, which ebbed again as the door to the toilets slammed shut once more.  “You couldn’t have loved him, lovely,” soothed Violet, “not if Amber got you into bed so quickly afterwards.”

  I heard sobbing: the noisy, histrionic, slightly hysterical sobbing that comes when emotions, or alcohol, overtake everyday restraints.

  “I knew you were sexually attracted,” continued Violet, earnestly, “but it wasn’t any reason to marry him.”

  “He was my Fabrice!” wailed Nat, her voice wobbling, “I honestly thought that, but then he wasn’t… he was Anthony Kroesig all over again.”

  Violet seemed to sigh, heavily, “Then Amber came along and you mistook her for Christian Talbot?”

  If Nat issued any kind of reply to this cryptic remark, I missed it as I hurried to pull on my boots.

  “Nat,” Violet’s tone was wearily kind, albeit a little exasperated, “You are not Linda Radlett!”

  They had left by the time I emerged, and as the door closed behind me, I was able to make out Fliss, striding across the beer stained black floor from the stage towards me.  Her voice contained an uncharacteristically angry note, as she said, “Katy wants you to pack up your kit.”

  “Now?” we may have been the last band on, but the dark haired girl in the sound booth was happily playing lazy, summery guitar records, and the night was still young.

  “Yeah,” she was sullen, and the expression on her face suggested that any further discussion would be futile.  I shrugged, and then made my way over to the stage.

  The young scruffy mouse of a girl from the sound booth was on hand to assist Fliss and me, and we dismantled the kit in no time at all.  Katy waltzed past the crowd of half-hearted dancers without offering to help or even acknowledge us.  A crowd of fans, journalists, and photographers were buzzing around her, and I observed the scene dispassionately; she was quick to turn on the charm for them, I noticed.

  We carried the drums one by one up the dimly lit staircase, and outside to Katy’s car, and I took the opportunity to ask Fliss about the two girls who I had seen earlier in the sound booth.

  “The dark haired girl is Sabine,” sighed Fliss as she helped me lift the bass drum into the boot, “She’s a DJ who sometimes does the Juvenile Hell Girl Night’s.  The other girl is Emily, she’s a student, she does the sound whenever she can, and she does work experience at Twilight – Fergus looks after her, she wants to be a sound engineer, or so I’ve heard.”  She paused, and her expression became wistful as she remarked, almost to herself, “Sabine’s pretty, isn’t she?”

  I nodded, “Very.”

  She sighed, and then shrugged to herself as she gazed at a puddle in the road, “Oh well…” her expression was coy as she watched a petrol swirl turn the grey water rainbow colours.

  As we made our way back down the stairs, we crossed paths with Fergus and his lady friend, who were heading in the opposite direction.  I felt my hackles rise as we nodded to each other, and I was prepared for things to be awkward, if not actually unpleasant, but he seemed friendly enough.  As he complimented us on the show, my eyes strayed to his hands, and I noticed that he wasn’t clasping hers.  She stood a little away from him, watching… His voice interrupted my thoughts, “This is my sister, Fay” he gestured to her and I nodded cautiously in her direction; I was discomforted to discover that her dark eyes were even more penetrating up close than at a distance.  She is slight, like him, but her hair and eyes are a darker brown, and she has the same pale, milky coloured skin as I have.  Where he is tall, she is short, and there was nothing in her manner to suggest that she was related to him.  If only I could have heard her speak, maybe then I could have believed him.

  As we re-entered the post gig party, we could see Emily, Fergus’ protégée, up on stage, packing up.  Fliss joined her, and I returned to the bar, where I found Jenny deep in conversation with my mother.  Liberty Belle was darting about, taking pictures of the crowd, and Fliss and Emily paused to pose for her, only to be shouted at by Katy as she passed by with her trail of disciples, “TODAY, FLISS, TODAY!”

  Fliss quickly darted away from Emily, and back to the guitar leads, and I began to assist, “When did Katy get so bossy?” I asked as I moved the three guitar cases offstage.

  “About three months ago,” muttered Flora as she joined us.

  “What do you say to another hot chocolate and video fest?” I asked Fliss hopefully, but she shook her head, “Sorry, work tomorrow,” she ran off the stage with the leads in her hands, and I picked up the first guitar and slowly followed, feeling puzzled and a little hurt by her abruptness.

Chapter Twelve: A Kind Of Wistful Loneliness

I got off the bus in Heaton Chapel at ten o’clock and, figuring that Fliss was about due to clock off at the Heaton’s Fryery, made a slight diversion along the dark and busy A6 to pick her up.  The chip shop was full of shift workers and clubbers en route to Manchester when I arrived, and it was as noisy as any pub, but I could just about make out Fliss’ bunches and diamante tiara, busily bobbing about above their heads as she shovelled chips into barms or nans, and expertly wrapped them.  I slid my way through the crowd to a small wooden bench built into the shop wall, where I found Violet waiting with barely contained impatience.  A couple of not entirely sober young men were eyeing her speculatively, and she met their eyes with a look of pure poisonous disdain, which only seemed to encourage them.  I joined her on the bench, and she moved her bag to make room for me.  “How long have you been waiting?” I asked politely.

  She gazed up at the white tiled ceiling, and sighed, “Too long.”

  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Fliss slide around the side of the counter, only to be replaced by a slim Chinese boy.  She blinked a few times in confusion as she spotted Violet, and me “Hello,” she said uncertainly, wiping her eyes tiredly with her hands, “Do I have an escort home?”

  It took us ages to get out.  Some of the regulars had come in; old men, and shift workers from McVities, and Fliss had a few words with them on the way out.  They love Fliss at the Fryery; they used to call her the deeley-bopper kid when she wore deeley-boppers to work; now it’s Princess Felicity because she’s switched to tiaras.

  As we walked along the A6, and turned off towards home, Violet said, rather urgently, “I had to see you, Fliss, I got a call from Jasper,” Jasper is The Girls From Mars’ manager, I don’t think it’s his real name, more likely it’s some kind of nickname, “telling me to pack and be ready to leave for London in the morning, we’re meeting an A&R again.”

  Fliss nodded.  She looked vaguely eccentric in her white overalls, with her bunches and tiara, but her face was serious as she asked, “How long for?”

  Violet sighed, “I don’t know,” she took hold of her hand, and the two of them fell behind, talking softly amongst themselves as I strode on ahead.  I would have liked to have known more about The Girls From Mars’ trip to London, but knew instinctively that Violet was only there for Fliss, not conversation.  The bag she was carrying told me she planned to go straight to the station in the morning: It’s a long way from Bolton to Stockport, especially at night.

  Back at the flat, I made myself scarce with a pack of B&H, some hot chocolate, and my copy of ‘I Capture The Castle’.  As I lay in bed, smoking and reading, (I know I shouldn’t smoke in bed, or whilst reading, but it’s a bad habit with a lot of history attached, so I find it a hard one to break) I could hear the soft, muffled, rhythmic moans and groans from the next room even with my door shut.  I put down my book with a sigh: I’d been hoping to get lost in the world of Cassandra Mortmain and forget about Fergus for a while, only now I felt lonelier than I’d ever felt before.  I decided as I stubbed out my cigarette and switched off the light that there is nothing more isolating than the sounds of someone else having sex.  A kind of despair washed over me as I lay there, trying not to listen.  It wasn’t that I was envious or jealous: I was simply lonely.

  Violet had gone before I left for work at eight, and Fliss was quiet over breakfast, pensive almost as she thoughtfully mashed her cornflakes into a cream coloured mush in her cereal bowl.

  That night we went to The Gates to see Failure Is The New Success, an art rock ensemble from Preston.  Slinky, from Bradford, were on first, and they were good, sort of poppy glam, light metal; very thrashy and energetic.  Deep in the dark and smoky bowels of The Gates, I found Nat, propping the bar up; she seemed strangely downbeat and ordinary, not at all her usual glamorous self.  Fliss quickly made her way through the crowd to the front of the stage, and began to jump about to Slinky, beaming blissfully all the while.  She was wearing a white slip dress that night, decorated with lace, and she hadn’t even attempted to hide the love bite on her neck.  Nat watched her rather wistfully as she downed her pint, “I always had a soft spot for Fliss,” she remarked suddenly.

  I nearly choked on my drink, “Really?!?…”

  “Yes,” she sighed, her eyes still on Fliss as she danced, “but it seemed best to kept quiet about it until now.”  She grew thoughtful as she turned her attention away from Fliss, and back towards me.  Her expression was serious, and she seemed sincere as she confessed, “Well, I wasn’t going to be the one to break her heart, and I knew someone was going to… I didn’t want it to be me.”   I didn’t feel that there was anything I could say, so I kept quiet as she turned her attention back to Fliss, her bunches flicking back and forth as she danced, blissfully unaware of Nat’s eyes on her.  “If I was with Fliss, I’d hurt her.  I don’t think I could do that… it would be like kicking Bambi…”

  I smiled, sadly.

  “And that’s why I kept quiet; besides,” she met my eyes, and there was an intensity that she was trying to hide as she said, “she isn’t interested in me, and I have my pride.”

  I smiled, but if I had suspected that Nat was a little the worse for wear, that was as nothing compared to Jenny Malone, whose magenta hair made her easy to spot as she lurched around the floor with a brooding Liberty Belle in tow.  They had been dancing in the moshpit to Slinky too, but one of The Gates bouncers had hauled them out when they became too excitable.

  “I’ve been hearing things,” said Nat, tensely, as we watched Jenny stagger, smack, straight into a pillar and fall to the floor in an ungainly heap, “about One Way Or Another, from her and Liberty, they say Aiden from Dew told them that Fergus tried to touch him for money for the new record, only Aiden wasn’t having any.”

  I nodded, but my heart sank as she continued.

  “Apparently Hardpop are interested in signing Dew, and they’re willing to pay Fergus’ debts in exchange for their back catalogue.”

  “What” the sinking feeling turned to panic as I asked “all the One Way Or Another back catalogue?”

  “No,” Nat quickly sought to reassure me, “just Dew’s back catalogue.  They’re a good label, Hardpop… But Fergus is thinking about dropping some bands or folding the label, I’m pretty sure that’s true…”

  I felt slightly sick as I admitted, “I know he hasn’t much money: Is it really that bad though?”

  She seemed worried, “I don’t know – he wouldn’t tell me anything – but you need to talk to him, find out what’s going on…”

  “I’ll tell Flora, she can phone him about it.”

  “I think it would be better coming from you,” she said, softly, seemingly unable to meet my eye.

  I looked away in discomfort. I could feel myself blushing as the band finished their set, but I reluctantly agreed to phone him.  I don’t particularly want to, not after our last meeting, but I suppose I shall have to now.  The second Titanium Rose single is due out soon though, and as far I know, there are no plans to put the date back or cancel the release; Nat’s probably worried about nothing.

  In looking for Fliss after the Slinky set, I spotted Meelan, the fourteen year old drummer from Clinch, whose drumming I had so admired at The Twilight.  She was leaning against the wall, a little away from the stage, staring, seemingly at nothing.  Her face was serious, as though she was thinking, but her clothes belied her youth; a Nirvana t-shirt and dog collar complimented scruffy skater style jeans that looked very new, and she was wearing black leather studded wristbands.  She was tiny, and her long black hair made her seem even smaller.  I wanted to walk over and talk to her, but something held me back… it seems strange to admit it now, but I felt in awe of her.  She may only be fourteen, but there’s a lot of talent there, and it was intimidating to me: I am six years older than her, yet I could never be that good.

  It came as a surprise to me when, a mere five minutes later, she moved away from the wall and walked over to me.  “Hi,” she said, extending a hand to me, “I’m Meelan.”

  I shook her hand.  Her accent was Lancashire, quite broad, and she was so tiny that she had to crane her neck in order to meet my eyes.  “Fergus said when I saw him at The Twilight a week or so ago that you’d liked my drumming.”  I nodded, faintly taken aback by her directness and confidence, “You’re Maggie, right?”  Again, I nodded.  She smiled, a delightful smile that lit up her entire face, and made her seem younger, less like a cool, self possessed musician, more like the young schoolgirl she was, “I haven’t heard Titanium Rose yet, but I’ve met Fliss, I see her around with Violet a lot in Bolton, and The Girls From Mars live near me.”

  I found her easier to talk to after this, and it wasn’t long before we had exchanged gig anecdotes, drumming styles, and favourite bands.  It warmed my soul and made me feel very happy inside to be able to talk to another girl about drumming, because I hardly ever meet any girl drummers: there are others out there, but we’re spread pretty thin, even these days.

  Back at home; Fliss said, rather tentatively, “It was nice of Fergus to hook you up with Meelan.”

  I nodded, and sank deeper into my armchair, closing my eyes.  I’d pulled a long shift at work, and the gig had finished me off.

  “Maggie?” asked Fliss, cautiously.

  “Hhmm?” I opened my eyes.

  I could sense her discomfort as she asked, “What are you going to do about him?”

  My hackles were up as I replied, rather sharply, “Phone him, and ask him what’s happening with One Way Or Another…”

  There was an awkward pause, during which I could almost feel Fliss searching for the right thing to say.  At last she said, “And what are you going to do about being in love with him?”

  I closed my eyes again.

  “Maggie?”

  “Nothing,” I sighed, “I’m going to do nothing.”

  I made the mistake of changing the subject to Violet, and Fliss grew very pink, and became very coy.  “Is she your first girlfriend, Fliss?” I teased.

  She squirmed a little, obviously embarrassed as she replied, rather quietly, “No,” her face showed her reluctance to divulge any information, so I didn’t push for details.

  After another awkward silence, she uncurled a little, and said, “Do you think A&R people will be coming after Titanium Rose soon?”

  “Maybe,” I said, neutrally.

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.