Chapter Sixty Five: Smashing The Looking Glass

“…And move to the right, sweetheart, hand on your hip, lift the skirt up, and open your eyes, wider, c’mon sweetie, really wide, big eyes…”

  Fliss was posed against a white backdrop in a pale pink empire line mini-dress which just about covered her thighs. A pale pink satin ribbon had been tied around her head in a huge bow, and another was tied like a choker around her neck.  As she widened her eyes and parted heavily glossed pink lips, I exchanged a look with Flora.  She raised her eyebrows at me, and then rolled her eyes as she glanced at the stylist, Jared, who was watching the shoot in barely contained rapture.

  “It’s not that I have anything against gay men,” she had remarked earlier as we got changed into various skimpy outfits put aside for us, “but gay male stylists are a real cliché, and I don’t know that they always understand women very well.”  She held her breath as I yanked the zip up on her mini kilt, and then continued, “of course, there are plenty of women who don’t understand women either, but…” she sighed as she threw her hands up in frustration, “Oh I just loathe stylists…”

  I wasn’t so keen on Jared myself; upon meeting him face to face, (well, head to chest: he must be at least a foot shorter than me…) he had positively recoiled, letting out a little squeal as he exclaimed that he was under the impression that I was “One of those pro-ana babes,” and not the strapping amazon wench stood before him.  Very flattering, I’m sure.  I’m going to have to start taking bounty’s out on all those journalists who’ve called me anorexic, it’s bad enough being labelled troubled and difficult without the anorexia tag as well.

  We didn’t do so many group shots this time; it was mainly portraits of us individually, which I loathe.  Jared and the photographer, Kyle, spent a lot of time on Fliss.  As well as the candyfloss pink ensemble, they had her wear a black cutaway mini dress, equally as short as the pink dress, with black bows in her hair, looking sweetly demure.  Other outfits included a manga style sailor suit, complete with baggy socks and mary janes, “Putting the tits back into titillation,” was how Flora wearily surmised it.

  We bore our own photo shoots with a combination of weary impatience and barely contained rage.  Whilst Katy was permitted to stick to the ‘serious rock star’ uniform of jeans and t-shirt, Flora had to flash a bit of leg and cleavage for the lens, and I found my legs to be on permanent display.  Despite being a size fourteen these days, I still have no boobs worth highlighting, which is probably just as well really… as it was, it was mini skirts, hotpants, and skin tight jeans of both the denim and P.V.C variety all the way, the former two being uncomfortable, the latter horribly clammy.  We were both glad when it was over.

  Afterwards, we had band practice upstairs at Twilight Studios.  I could feel the tension in the air as we set up our equipment, and I could see by the self-satisfied smirk on her face that Katy was pleased with herself.

  Over by the stark white walls, and the wide, stone windowsill, Fliss was staring out of the window, a strangely solemn figure in her butterfly flip flops and her blue checked dress, her hair hanging loosely down her back once more.  I walked over to her, and stood next to her, trying to see what she was looking at.  “Do I look like a doll?” she murmured, her voice tight with anger.

  I frowned, “No.”

  “Then why does everyone treat me like one?” she snapped, her eyes flashing, “They see the blonde hair, the blue eyes, and they assume…”

  “Come on,” I lightly touched her arm, “let’s go down to the kitchen for some coffee.”  To my relief, she allowed herself to be led, but I could sense her frustration as we walked.  She wouldn’t look at me, but I know that I would have fried in the glare of her angry eyes had she lifted her gaze from the worn, coffee stained carpet.

  She seemed a little calmer when we returned, and whilst Flora and Katy had evidently had words whilst we were out of the room, they too were outwardly calm, and band practice could commence.  We began with one of Katy’s new songs, ‘Perfect Dream,’ which is about having a sexy (but suitably clean for the pre teen market) dream about the perfect boy, but being too shy to do anything when you meet him in real life.  I’ve done what I can to make it interesting, but it’s still nauseating.  Fliss hates it, especially as Katy makes her sing it in a way that isn’t natural to her.  The chorus is especially drippy, with lots of oohs and sighing and so on, and Katy spent a lot of time going over it with her, not discussing it, but telling Fliss how to sing it.

  The other songs we worked on were new Katy songs too, and were more of the same really.  Flora stopped playing halfway through the second one, and asked, “Why are you writing this kind of shit? We’ve never sung songs about boys.”

  We have, actually, but I knew what Flora meant: We haven’t written fluffy little ditties with passive narratives, they’ve always had an edge somehow.

  Katy didn’t answer, she just said, “If it sells…”

  “Oh, well,” snapped Flora, scathingly, “if it sells, we can be Ashlee, Avril and Amy all in one for all I care.”

  Talk turned to cover versions soon after, with much heated discussion as to which song was to be our next cover for our next tour.  Flora, Fliss and I wanted to try Maxine Darren’s ‘How Can I Hide It From My Heart’, because Fliss played it to us once, and we felt it had great garage rock potential.  Fliss also suggested the Go-Go’s ‘Good Girl’, and Dale and Grace’s ‘I’m Leaving It Up To You’, but Katy favoured something better known; she wanted to do The Bangles ‘Eternal Flame.’

  There was a long icy silence before Fliss said, coldly, “Just what I always wanted to do, perform Atomic Kitten’s cast offs for the lairy beer crowd.”  She turned on Katy, her eyes aflame once more as she snapped “It’s soppy eighties romanticism in short skirts, and I want no part of it.”

  I wasn’t sure where the short skirts reference had come from; maybe Fliss was still seething over the photo shoot.

  “It suits your voice,” said Katy, calmly.

  “So does ‘Barbie Girl’, but you don’t want me to cover that!”

  “Do you want to cover ‘Barbie Girl’?”

  “NO!”  She walked away from the microphone, and unplugged her guitar.

  “What are you doing?” Katy’s voice was quiet, but there was a dangerous edge to her voice.

  “Leaving,” Fliss put her guitar back into its case, and locked it.  She walked over to the chair she had left her bag on, and calmly picked it up.  In the doorway, she paused as she said, “I mean it, Katy, I’m sick of being your little princess, your eye candy… I won’t put up with it anymore, I’m leaving, and I won’t be coming back.  You can hire another singer to front your band, or” she glared at her, “maybe a model would be more appropriate.”  With that last remark, she turned and walked away, closing the door behind her.

  With the closing of the door, I snapped out of my temporary paralysis as I threw down my drumsticks, and jumped to my feet, “Fliss!” I tried to follow her, but Katy was barring my way, “FLISS!”

  “Are you happy now?” she snapped.

  I pushed her, “I haven’t time for this…”

  She swung me round by my elbow so that I was facing her, her grip was painfully hard as she said, “You turned her against me; it’s your fault she wants to leave!”

  I struggled with her, “I didn’t turn her against you; you did that yourself.”

  “Fliss was my best friend until you came along! We grew up together; she’s like my little sister!”

  “Who you just pimped to the lad mags!” I yelled.

  It was Flora who broke the silence as she said, in withering tones, “Maybe if those industry contacts you love so much had treated either Maggie or Adrienne better, maybe Fliss wouldn’t be so bloody disillusioned with the whole music business, you don’t half chat a load of shit sometimes, Katy…”

  As they rounded on each other, Katy relinquished her grip on my arm, and I seized my chance to escape.  This was an argument best kept out of, I felt, and Fliss was the one who mattered then.

  I expected to find her waiting for me at home, but I was disappointed.  It was only half three at that point, so most of our friends were at work.  I phoned Emily’s number, but received no answer.  It’ll be alright, I told myself, they’re probably together, they’ll turn up soon.  But when it got to half six, and Fliss still wasn’t home, I rang Fergus and asked him to drive me over to Emily’s house in Fallowfield.

  As it is July, most of the students have gone home, so there was only Emily there when we knocked.  She blinked sleepy brown eyes at us in the early evening sunshine as she attempted to figure out the motive for our visit.  “Fliss was here,” she confirmed as she curled up in an armchair, “but she left, we argued, and she left.”  She seemed a little puzzled, but wasn’t overly upset, “I assumed that she was going home.”

  “What did you argue about?” I pressed her.

  “The band”

  Back at the flat, I entered her room with a certain amount of trepidation, “Are you sure you should be doing this?” asked Fergus as he followed me inside.

  “I can’t think of any other option, can you?”

  “Have you tried her mobile?”

  I nodded, “It was switched off.”

  We sat down on Fliss’ neatly made bed and looked around us.  Her room had changed a lot since that day, nearly four years ago, when we had moved in.  Marmalade was curled up on Fliss’ pillow; she woke up when we sat down on the bed and surveyed us with unforgiving amber eyes.  Fliss usually lets her sleep on the bed, situations permitting that is.  I walked over to the windowsill and gazed out at the street, Think, I ordered myself, where would she go?

  Behind me, I heard the movement of paper and turned around.  Fergus was looking through a selection of books and fanzines by Fliss’ bed.  Hilary McKay’s ‘Permanent Rose’ was rubbing spines with ‘A Country Punk’ fanzine, and Emily Prager’s ‘Roger Fishbite.’  No clues there then.

  I opened her wardrobe and carefully checked to see if anything was missing.  There were no obvious gaps, but I missed a few outfits here and there, including Fliss’ fifties style ballgown, and a pair of jeans that I knew hadn’t been worn recently.

  “Where would she keep her address book?” I wondered aloud.

  Fergus handed me Fliss’ bag that she had taken to rehearsal, “Her purse and mobile have gone.”

 “Anything else?”

  “No, but I can’t see her guitar anywhere, can you?”

  “No, not now you mention it…”

  Over on Fliss’ dressing table were two framed photographs, one on either side of the mirror.  One was of Adrienne, dating from the time in 2003 when she had stayed with us; the other was a more recent photo of Emily, posed self-consciously by the stage at Juvenile Hell.  I opened the drawer beneath Adrienne’s picture, a tiny, ornate, brass knobbed drawer, so small I hadn’t noticed it at first.  Inside was an envelope containing letters, which I glanced at, then decided that Fliss wouldn’t want me to read.

  Fergus saw my shoulders tense, “What is it?” he put his arm around my waist, and peered over my shoulder.

  “Love letters,” I said quietly as I slid them back into the envelope, “Adrienne to Fliss.”  I placed the envelope down on the table and lifted out a second envelope.  This one contained photos, photos Fergus glanced at before quietly slipping them back into the envelope, his face unreadable.

  Underneath the two envelopes was a book, I turned over the pages with great care, careful not to smudge any of the writing, “It’s lyrics,” I said at last, “and poetry, there’s some drawings too…” It was quite a thick book, and things were dated.  “There’s the original lyrics to ‘Be My Girl’” I said, “and look,” I pointed to a particularly messy page, “’Itchy Fingers’, she wrote that with Violet.”

  “’Grey Eyed Girl’,” Fergus read over my shoulder, “I don’t remember that.”

  “No, nor do I,” I scanned the lyrics, “It’s recent, and…”

  “It’s about Katy,” said Fergus, softly.

  “How can you tell?”

  “’My shadow, my sister?’ and look,” he pointed to a different paragraph of Fliss’ scrawl, “that bit’s about childhood.”

  I flicked back a bit, and saw ‘My Heart Is In Your Hands’, and another Adrienne song, ‘She’s Trouble’, then I came to the songs written when I was ill, ‘I’ll Get Along’, ‘If You Only Had Me’, ‘Tap Dance’, ‘Your Face’, ‘I Feel For Her’, ‘Turn Me Crazy’, and… There was a song that I had seen before, but I know we never played it; I had seen it on the table in our living room, amidst newspaper cuttings, now I read it all, and so many feelings came back as I read.  Fergus held me, his head rested on my shoulder as he read it with me.  My vision became blurred with tears as I followed the lines:

 
Silence reins as she screams inside her head

Make it stop, make it stop

Put everything back

The way it was.

“Are you alright?” Fergus asked.

  I nodded.

  “You’re shaking like you’ve seen a ghost.”

  “I have,” I whispered.

  “How did she know all that stuff?”

  I shook my head, “I don’t know, I suppose I wasn’t as good at hiding what was going on as I thought.”  But it was the last verse that haunted me:

And the all seeing eyes

Of those who went before

Tell a story

A story that no one wants to know

A story of darkness from light

Fear from happiness

The harshness of the spotlight

The dark hours of the soul

How they died inside for rock’n’roll.

Shakily, I put the book and the two envelopes back in their drawer.  Over on the bed, Marmalade stretched and stood up.  I saw Fergus reach across to the space the cat had vacated, “A letter,” he said.  He was about to break the seal, but I saw him hesitate.  He handed it to me, “She would want you to open it.”

  It was a short note:

  Maggie,

I can’t be in the band anymore, I can’t pretend to be the little girl I was four years ago, I’m sorry.  I’m going somewhere where I can think, I will get in touch soon, but you mustn’t worry.  I will be with someone who can help me and look after me, as I know Fergus will look after you.

  Look after Marmalade for me, remember she likes the pouches and the dried food better than the tins.

Fliss

 

  He stayed with me that night, I would have asked him to, had he not already decided to, because I didn’t want to be alone then.  I felt very tired and shaky, and I could feel an indefinable sadness growing inside my soul.  It was because I was missing Fliss, but it was also more than that: I knew, but I didn’t want to, what was likely to happen next.  Fliss words haunt me still:

She has broken down

She has shut down

They haunt me even now, because they remind me, of what has been, and of what is to come, it mustn’t come though, it mustn’t happen again, not now.  As I drifted off into sleep, I remembered Fliss, I saw her face, and I saw her holding her cat.  I saw her running around the flat when we first moved in, and I saw her storming out of rehearsal, heard her say the words that she had written in her letter, “I can’t pretend to be the little girl I was four years ago.”  I can’t pretend, can’t be that girl, I’m not a little girl anymore.  She isn’t, I know that now, why did it take so long for me to realise it?

Chapter Forty Four: New Years Eve

 Fliss and I – for various reasons – had planned a quiet New Years Eve in, catching up on the final series of ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ on video.  It wasn’t so much that we couldn’t afford to go out as that neither of us felt up to it.  Fliss had arrived home via a hellishly convoluted train journey on the 30th, and I had arrived home from mums on the 27th.  Neither of us discussed our respective Christmas’, but I could tell within a few minutes of her arriving home that Fliss’ family Christmas had been about as enjoyable as mine had been.  God knows what Katy’s was like…

  Fliss made hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows, and the two of us settled down on the sofa with Marmalade and our videos.  Before too long, Marmalade was asleep in my lap and the heat from our gas fire was making me feel drowsy.  In the glow of the firelight, I saw Fliss reach for the remote control and pause Buffy mid kick, “Did you hear something?” she asked.

  I shook my head.

  She was about to press play on the remote when there was a distant knock at the door.  Fliss stopped the tape, and got to her feet.  The cat, sensing something was up, jumped down from my lap, and followed Fliss down the stairs.

  A couple of minutes later, the living room door opened once more to reveal… Nat.  But it was a Nat that I had never seen before.  Her hair was hanging loose and seemingly un-brushed, her clothes looked as though they had been pulled on with no thought as to whether they matched or not, her face was devoid of make-up, and her eyes were puffy, as though she had been crying.  She was clutching a carrier bag.  Behind her, staggering under the weight of two suitcases was Fliss.  I watched with increasing apprehension as Nat tottered over to our armchair, reached into her carrier bag, and produced a bottle of gin from which she took a large, desperate swig.  More shakily, she reached into the pocket of her jeans for her cigarettes and lighter.  The carrier bag clinked glassily as it dropped from her fingers to the floor, and her fingers shook as she lit her cigarette and took a wobbly drag.

  We waited, expectantly.

  “She threw me out,” she snarled, bitterly, as she exhaled, “She said… she said she never meant for things to go as far as they did,” she choked a little, and then took another swig of gin, “She told me she didn’t love me, that she never loved me, she just wanted to have me.”

  Fliss winced.

  Tears were running down Nat’s cheeks as she continued, “She was everything I was looking for! Everything I wanted, I need her!” She wailed, “I never needed anyone before!”  She took another swig from her bottle, and then dragged fiercely on her cigarette, “God, I’ll be a laughing stock at work after this,” she growled, “but I don’t care about that,” her voice wobbled, and then became a thin wail, “I just want her!”

  “What about Dylan?” I asked quietly a few minutes later.

  She violently shook her head, “Oh no!” her cigarette butt smouldered, and she used it to light a fresh cigarette, “that’s over, it was an all or nothing choice…”

  “But he would take you back,” I reasoned, “if he knew it was over, I’m sure he would…”

  Nat shook her head emphatically once more, “No,” she said, firmly, “you weren’t there, you don’t know what happened, what he saw, what he walked into: He walked in on Amber going down on me for fucks sake!”

  I could feel myself blushing as I looked away.

  “God, Maggie!” snapped Nat, “You are such a prude…”

  “I am not!” I protested, furiously.

  Nat and Fliss exchanged a knowing smirk.

  “I’m not!” I cried, “I am not a prude!”

  “Then why are you so angry?” asked Nat coolly, her eyes mocking.

  I’ll give you angry, I thought furiously as I stormed out of the room.

  I was stonily calm when I returned, about an hour later.  Nat had finished most of the booze by then, and was lying on the sofa, a fag trailing from her fingers, and her head in Fliss’ lap.  Her expression was maudlin as she half opened her eyes, and slurred; “He doesn’t love me, Maggie, not like I love Amber.  He finds me amusing, and he treats me as someone to look after him and be there for him to fuck, but he doesn’t love me.”

  “Then why did you marry him?”

  “Because I thought he loved me!”

  “Did you love him?” I demanded.

  “No,” she sighed, her expression tired and confused, “not really.”  She squinted up at me, “He wanted stability, and it was what I thought I wanted too.  I was sick of feeling like everyone else had their lives sorted when I didn’t, and of being surrounded by happy straight people… Amber was good to me, I thought it could last, I was wrong.”  A melancholy expression settled over her face as she said, “I thought I’d met my Fabrice when he walked into Juvenile Hell that night, instead,” she sighed, “he just turned out to be another Anthony Kroesig.”

  “What is she on about?” whispered Fliss as I took Nat’s cigarette away from her, and stubbed it out in my ashtray.

  “I don’t know,” I whispered back.

  Her arm rested on Nat’s shoulder as she whispered soothing words into her ear.

  “It’s no use, Fliss,” said Nat sadly, “there isn’t going to be a happy ending for me.  At least Adrienne loved you, Amber never loved me at all; I was just another conquest.”

  Fliss kissed her just above her ear, “I love you, Nat” Nat began to cry, “Shh…” hushed Fliss, “What’s the matter?” but Nat didn’t reply, she just sobbed harder.  When at last she stopped, she whispered something to Fliss that I didn’t quite catch.

  “What did she say?” I asked quietly.

  Fliss’ eyes were wide as she looked up from Nat’s horizontal frame, “She says she’s pregnant.”

  None of us said anything for a few minutes, although the words ‘Oh shit’ hung in the air as plainly as if anyone had spoken them.

  “Oh Nat” soothed Fliss at last, “why didn’t you say something before?”

  I felt numb as I asked, “What will you do?”

  “Get rid of it,” said Nat, savagely.

  “Does he know?” I asked quietly.

  “No” she snapped, “and he never will,” her eyes were icily determined as she said, “it’s best for everyone this way.”

  I was unable to sleep that night.  My mind was buzzing with all of the revelations that the night had brought me.  I had never felt sorry for Amber, I realised, and I still couldn’t.  My heart went out to Nat, as it always has done, but I wasn’t sure about how I felt about Dylan.  There were issues there that I just didn’t want to think about, including my own feelings for him.

  At three a.m I got up and, figuring that Nat would probably be too drunk to wake up, made my way into the living room where Fliss and I had left her, comatose on the sofa, a couple of hours before.

  She wasn’t there.

  I felt the panic rise upwards from the pit of my stomach to my throat.  But her clothes were still there, as were her suitcases.  She couldn’t have gone far.

  I shivered as I made my way through to the kitchen.  I had pulled on my dressing gown, and was wearing a jumper over my two nightshirts, yet I still felt cold.  In their three pairs of socks, my feet felt like blocks of ice.  I put the kettle on and mixed coffee and sugar into a pool of milk in my mug.

  At the kitchen table, I clutched my drink in my numb hands and tried to think.  We are to re-commence recording at Twilight tomorrow, and then, as now, I wasn’t looking forward to it.  Since she returned from her week away, Jenny hasn’t tried to question me about my behaviour, but I know that she’s been watching me.  Normally she doesn’t attend every day of our recording because something always crops up at ‘NME’ to prevent her, but since our row, she seems intent on sticking it out to the end.  I find increasingly that I’m struggling to play up to my usual standard, yet everyone seems to have accepted this.  I don’t know why.  Maybe they wait until I’ve left every day and then the session drummer slips in as I slip out.  I wouldn’t be surprised.  If I could do it, I would be a dancer again, and leave Titanium Rose; they’ll probably sack me soon anyway.  It feels like months since we were last in the studio, and like years since I last saw Fergus, or even spoke to him.  He won’t phone me, and I can’t phone him, it’s like he was someone I loved once, a very long time ago, in another life maybe.  That time has gone now, and we no longer belong together.

I think I nodded out for a couple of hours there, I don’t know what happened exactly; one minute it was dark, the next minute, daylight.  I have never felt as alone in all my life as I have at this moment.

  Where was I? Nowhere probably.

  As I sat in that kitchen thinking, or not thinking, over a week ago now, I heard the sound of a door creaking open along the corridor.  There were footsteps, slow and hesitant, and then a series of thumps, followed by a crash.  I ran from the kitchen, my heart pounding in my chest, my head filled with a sudden sense of wrongness…and I saw Nat.  She was lying in a crumpled heap of black satin and red lace at the bottom of the stairs, and she was eerily still, the disquieting stillness of unconsciousness.

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”