Chapter Seventy: Point Of Departure

“I still can’t believe I let Fliss talk me into this,” murmured Adrienne as she stood just outside Manchester Registry Office that chilly December morning.  The wind ruffled the white chiffon mini-dress that she was wearing over white jeans and white patent doc marten boots, and I could see the ‘F’ tattoo through the thin fabric of the dress.  Her dark hair was loose, and the wind was blowing it across her face in thin strands. Next to her, holding her hand, was Fliss, in a white princess line chiffon dress which fell to her knees.  The neckline was low, and I could see her tattoo, the ‘A’ written across her heart in the same permanent script as Adrienne’s ‘F’, carved and seared into the skin forever.  Both were holding bouquets of red roses, and Fliss’ hair was loose.

  The Registry Office was ringed with press, some from the gay and lesbian press, but many more from the tabloids and gossip sheets.  We blinked through the constant, relentless, volley of flashbulbs, and then someone called from the crowd, “HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE A MARRIED WOMAN ADRIENNE?”

  “BLOODY MARVELLOUS!” called back Adrienne immediately.  Her smile was a perfect vision of white enamel against scarlet lipstick.  The cameras drew closer then, and she and Fliss posed together for their benefit, taking great care to display those matching silver rings, which shone out, prettily, from the middle fingers of their right hands. 

  “We weren’t really expecting much press interest,” confessed Adrienne.  A low chuckle ran through the crowd, and she smiled, “we thought you’d all be over in Windsor, covering Elton John and David Furnish.”

  “We weren’t invited!” someone called back.

  Everyone laughed.

  Someone asked if they weren’t perhaps a bit young to be getting married, and Adrienne said, with calm dignity, “No, because if I was marrying a man, twenty wouldn’t be too young, so why should it be too young for us?” She took a deep breath before she continued, “We’re not here today to argue the toss about civil partnerships and the validity of gay marriage, we’re here, essentially, because we love each other and we wanted to do this, not to prove anything to the world, or for publicity or anything that cynical, but because we wanted to do this.  There’s been a partnerships register in Manchester since 2002, so if we’d wanted to, we could have got married before this, but we didn’t want to.  We’re here now because now felt like the right time…” I sensed her awkwardness, “that’s all I can say really…” She shot an agonized glance at Fliss, who responded heroically.

   “I’ve never considered myself to be a fully paid up member of the Pink Pound,” she announced, slightly apologetically, “that isn’t a lifestyle, or stereotype, that I feel very comfortable with.  I firmly believe that the gay community shouldn’t be complacent, and that it needs to take a good hard look at the various divisions and elitist cliques within it’s own ranks, but, at the same time, I believe in gay marriage for the same reason that I believe in heterosexual marriage, because, despite it’s faults, and many of my friends have highlighted its faults to me, one way or another.” I saw Nat grin, sheepishly as she looked away, Fliss continued, in her slightly apologetic way, “I’m not good at speeches, but, I suppose what I mean is that, like a lot of girls, fortunately or unfortunately, I grew up with a desire to walk down the aisle, laden with flowers, in a white dress, and, to be honest, I never saw any reason why I shouldn’t do it.”

  A fresh onslaught of flashbulbs went off as she finished her speech, then the press began to depart, their story gained.

    Fliss sagged a little in relief, “Was I O.K?” she asked, her eyes wide with anxiety, “I’m not used to justifying myself to the worlds press, and I don’t know if I did it very well, I’ve had some arguments with some of my mates at the Basement about it, but I never actually won any of them…”

  Adrienne hugged her, “You were perfect.”  They kissed, softly and lingeringly, no longer caring, or noticing if anyone was watching.

  The intensity of their relationship had not been in any doubt, for me, since they had come home; they not only looked right together, they were right together.  The marriage had been Fliss’ idea originally, she had wanted to marry Adrienne quietly in Paris, but gay marriage is illegal in France.  This didn’t put Fliss off, however, it simply made her set her heart on a Manchester wedding, which would be more special, and which would mean having all her friends around her.  Adrienne was more sceptical, and I suspect that she shares some of my opinions about marriage ceremonies being bizarre and anachronistic, but she conceded to Fliss because; “I could tell how much it meant to her.  Fliss has a very romantic streak and, whilst I don’t always understand the way it manifests itself, I love and respect her too much to just ignore her feelings, besides” she smiled, sheepishly, “I really do love her enough to marry her, it’s just the actual marrying part of the deal I have issues with…”

  As the press departed, I spotted a small, mousy figure, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, she was standing at a slight distance, away from the crowd, she wasn’t with the wedding party, but she was watching just the same.  I walked towards her and, as I drew closer, I saw the damp streaks on her face, “Shouldn’t you be in Uni today?” I asked her.

  She nodded, “But I had to be here,” her voice was choked with emotion, but she was done with crying I think, “I’m not bitter or anything, Maggie, because it would never have worked between us, there would always be Adrienne….”

  “She did love you,” I told her, “she wasn’t lying about that, it’s just…”

  “She loves Adrienne more,” she finished for me.  Her brown eyes were full of pain as she said, “I’ve learnt from it all though, next time I’ll be stronger, next time I’ll not hold back, I’ll be a better girlfriend.”

  I just nodded.  I didn’t trust myself to speak.  As she walked away, and headed back to University, and back to her student pals, my heart travelled with her.  She would have to go to her lectures, to her seminars, see her friends, and pretend that everything was fine.  Or else she would concoct a false story about a feckless boyfriend, and everyone would be incredibly well meaning and sympathetic.  Not for one moment would they think of Emily Garcia; that mousy, quiet, shy girl, one of the very few girls in the engineering department, in connection with Fliss Keale; the pretty, blonde, celebrity wife of Adrienne Du Shanne.  I wanted to help her, but I knew I couldn’t, especially since the pain she was in was partly my fault.  She would have to make her own decisions; I couldn’t make them for her.

  If Adrienne and Fliss had remained in France, it may have been less painful for Emily, but there were more complex reasons for their return than simply being eligible for the partnerships register.  There have been unkind suggestions in the press that they fled Adrienne’s “luxury penthouse apartment” (read: modest flat.) in order to escape the riots in Paris, but that’s not true, and the truth is that they were ready to leave.  As well as tentatively exploring the idea of a solo career, Fliss has been approached by a new digital radio station, based in Manchester, who have picked up on the Djing that she’s done, and will continue to do, for Nat at Girl Night, and they’ve offered her her own show.  She doesn’t get complete control over her playlist, but she does have some influence.  Adrienne, meanwhile, has some acting work; the BBC have hired her to read Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Mary Barton’ for Radio 4’s ‘Book At Bedtime’, and there are some T.V and film companies sniffing around, many of whom she is very suspicious of.  There’s a small film being made in Manchester about the cities “Gunchester” years though, and she’s very interested in that.  The writers sent her agent a script, and if the project goes ahead, she’ll be playing a very scary gang girl with sociopathic tendencies, which she says will be much more challenging than any role involving pole dancing or girl popstars who’ve fallen from grace, which makes up the bulk of what she gets offered.

  From the wedding, we moved on to The Twilight, where Violet is showing her art exhibition, entitled: ‘Friends And Lovers’.  Whether Violet and Nat scheduled the opening of the exhibition deliberately or not, it certainly resolved the problem of a wedding reception for Fliss and Adrienne, given that most of their friends were there.  A massive cheer went up when they arrived, still in their wedding clothes, having led a strange procession of paparazzi, curious onlookers, and friends on a pilgrimage through Manchester city centre en route.

  The mood was more orderly and relaxed than is common at The Twilight, possibly because it was dinnertime and not the evening.  Drinks were being poured and drunk, but in a more restrained manner than was usual.  Looking around me, I spotted some journalists and photographers from the wedding, but there were less of them now, and it was easy to ignore them when I knew they weren’t there for me.  Violet was being interviewed by a tall, fair haired, and slightly earnest woman when we arrived, I recognised the interviewer as someone I’d seen on T.V, which suggested she was fairly important, “Who’s that?” I asked Liberty Belle as we queued at the bar for drinks.

  Liberty obligingly gazed in the direction of Violet and her interviewer, the woman was just packing away her dictaphone, “Marie Flanagan,” Liberty is a woman of few words.

  “Do you know her?”

  Liberty shook her head, “Jenny met her once; she said she was nice.”

  Jenny joined us at the bar, “I hope someone buys this piece off me when it’s done,” she muttered, darkly, “If I’d known there’d be so many London people here, I’d’ve not bothered.” She sloped off again, dejectedly, with Liberty in her wake, and I turned away from the crowd and began to look at the pictures.  Some of them, I knew, were fairly old, and dated from Violet’s art student days in Bolton, but some were more recent.  They were a mixture of photos, sketches and watercolours, but most of all, they were more than simply pretty pictures, they actually revealed something beyond that, something deeper, and more meaningful.

  I stopped in front of a photograph of Fliss; it had been enlarged to poster size, and had been taken, I would guess, when she was sixteen.  She appeared to be asleep, and was facing the camera; her eyes were closed, but there was a rosy glow to her face, and she was smiling slightly.  Her fair hair was trailing across her face, and a ginger and white kitten was standing on her back, looking at her.  The pink straps of Fliss’ nightie showed above the duvet, displaying lightly tanned shoulders, but the focus was on her face.  I turned away from the picture, and watched Fliss, who was talking to Marie Flanagan with Adrienne.  The photograph conveyed a certain girlish innocence that Fliss possessed then but that, I realised as I watched them, she no longer has.  Some of the softness has gone too, but some of it returned when she went back to Adrienne, and Fliss is right: she isn’t a little girl anymore.  That photo was taken four years ago now, when Fliss was with Violet I would suspect, a lot has happened since then.

  I was surprised by the number of pictures there were of Nat, and it was something I raised with Violet later on, when she’d finished talking and schmoozing with the press, “You must have been stalking her for years…” commented Meelan, her dark eyes wide, having counted twenty pictures, of varying sizes, of Nat.

  Violet looked uncharacteristically shy, as she said, “We’ve known each other for a long time…”

  “So,” I said casually, “it’s not that you’ve been trying to figure out how to ask her out ever since you blundered into each other in the village when you were eighteen then?”

  Violet glared at us, “I can see that you two will make a good double act now that Fliss is taken and Nat’s come over to my side…”

  “I’m training her up,” I explained as Meelan smirked, “its part of her musical apprenticeship…”

  “I don’t need training up,” protested Meelan, “I’ve been around, I know…”

  Dotted around the room were pictures of The Girls From Mars, many taken on tour when perhaps certain members of the band were somewhat tired and emotional, as well as separate shots.  There were photos of Andrea and Jasper together, and Jasper alone and apprehensive in a hotel lobby somewhere, and of them both with their baby son, Sam, who was born last month.  Most interesting of all, there were pictures of the fans, and of people Violet must have met on tour.  There were two girls with day-glo hairslides and bracelets, wearing short, garish dresses and fishnet tights, and a gang of male urchins with vaselined spiky hair, dressed in leather and denim, delivering Sid Vicious style sneers to the camera.  There were pictures of The Flirts, of Angel and the Razorblades, of the crowds at Ladyfest Manchester, and… pictures of Titanium Rose.

  There weren’t many pictures of me, fortunately, and I tried not to look too long or hard at those that there were.  It was easier to look at the group shots.  There was a great picture of us from four years ago, huddled together by the tourbus, all eager and expectant, about to head off on tour with The Girls From Mars.  There was a great one of Flora too, spread-eagled on the floor of her shop at Afflecks Palace, pinning patterns to fabric.  There was one of me on the tourbus, talking to Fergus on that first tour we did with The Girls From Mars, it was next to one of me backstage after my “comeback” gig at The Gates, in which I am staring, distractedly, into the mirror, with a very anxious expression on my face, and you can see the scars on my arms because I’ve rolled my sleeves up because of the heat.  There are dark shadows under my eyes, and my face is all bones and huge, frightened eyes.  Fergus came up behind me as I stared at it, “This one’s better,” he murmured, directing me over to a more recent photo.  I don’t remember the occasion at all, but it showed me waiting outside The Gates, smiling slightly self consciously, but looking reasonably normal.  “I’m going to ask Violet if I can buy it,” he told me.  I said that I didn’t think it was that good, but he insisted that he wanted it.  When I asked why, he said it was because it “captures your essence” or something.  Violet was happy enough to sell it to him anyway; she had already had a request from Adrienne for the one of Fliss and her kitten, so once the exhibition is over, it’ll be ours.  I suppose I shall have to get used to seeing pictures of myself.

  A week after the wedding, and the exhibition opening, I had my own photo session.  It had been decreed by Jasper, and agreed by Jenny, that pictures of me needed to be sent out to the press along with the press release announcing that I am joining The Girls From Mars.  To make me feel more comfortable with the idea, and in order to create more natural seeming photos, the shoot took place at home.  Liberty was hired to take the pictures, Flora to style me, and I had no sense of egos doing battle as the two of them worked together, in fact, they appeared to get along very well.  Most of the pictures were taken in our kitchen and living room, and I wore jeans in most of the shots, with very little make-up.  Whilst the shoot was taking place, I noticed Fergus take Jenny off to one side for a chat, and, when they returned, I knew that they had been talking about me.  Jenny gave me a thoughtful, measuring look, before glancing back towards Fergus, and I could guess what he had said to her.  He isn’t going to sit back and watch me get ill again, he said, and if I start to deteriorate, mentally or physically, on tour, he wants me home.  I told him it wasn’t as straightforward as that, and he knows it, but he’s also not prepared to sit back and watch me self-destruct again.

  I had several long chats with Andrea, about drumming mostly, but also about being in bands, and about fame.  She believes she’s been lucky; she is a member of a reasonably well known, well respected band, with a loyal fanbase all around the world, the records sell well, the deal they have is reasonable enough to allow for creativity, but also earns them a reasonable amount of money, and because she is the drummer, she doesn’t get recognised in the street and asked for autographs like Moyra, Violet and Jane do.  “I’ve been able to go about my business largely unhindered,” she told me, “whereas if I was Moyra or Violet, every little detail of my private life would be all over the press.  As it is, no one cares, because I’m the drummer.”

  Andrea and Jasper were absent from the party that waved Violet, Moyra, Jane and me off from Chorlton Street today.  Normally Jasper would be present on the tourbus, but he wants to be with Andrea now the baby’s born, which is understandable.

  As the time of our departure drew ever nearer, the coach station filled up with well-wishers, all wanting to wave us off; Flora was there, also Fliss and Adrienne, Angel and the Razorblades, Meelan, Dew, Shahina, Nat, Fergus, Jenny, and Liberty.  Everyone wished us luck, and Jenny hugged me and told me she would see me soon; she’ll be joining me in London in a few days time, “Behave,” she warned, “or I’ll have Fergus and your mother on my case.”

  I smiled.

  Eventually, everyone trickled away, leaving just Nat and Fergus.  Moyra and Jane very tactfully said that they had something to do, and disappeared, leaving us alone.

  “Well,” said Fergus, awkwardly.

  “You don’t have to say anything,” I said, “I know.”

  And we didn’t say anything; we just clung to each other silently until the coach arrived.  All I could think of as I held him, and as I felt his arms around me, was how much I was going to miss him, but I will come back, I will come back.

  The coach was waiting for us, and Violet and I made our way over to its waiting doors and climbed aboard.  As the coach pulled out of the station, we waved to our two “Rock Widows” and then watched in silence as Nat and Fergus walked slowly away.  I felt sad as I watched them leave, for I know it will be months before I see him again.  I know he trusts me, and I trust him, but I will miss him incredibly badly.  Just now, Violet tapped me on the arm and asked if I was alright, I have been writing ever since we left Manchester, and now we are speeding down the motorway, somewhere near Milton Keynes.  I know where I am going now, and I know that he will be waiting for me when I return.  I am going out into the world, on an adventure, who knows where it will take me? Or what will happen along the way?


Chapter Sixty Nine: Interlude

A couple of days after I’d been to see mum, Thomas, and Elisabeth Ann, Fergus and I went to see Angel and the Razorblades play at Retro Bar. When the gig finished we walked over to Scubar on Oxford Road for Girl Night.  Nat’s been banned from holding it at Juvenile Hell because of the infamous Valentines Day party, which seems very unfair… “It’s not what I would call a satisfactory solution,” she said, as we fought our way through the crowds to the bar, “I love Scubar, and they seem to like having me here, but it’s too small really, I need somewhere bigger.”

  “Did you try the village?” asked Fergus as we joined The Girls From Mars at their table by the bar.

  Violet snorted in disgust, “Yes, she’s tried the village, she’s tried around Piccadilly too, she’s tried everywhere; it basically comes down to politics…”

  “Vee,” murmured Nat, “keep the politics out of it; it’s incredibly tedious and boring…”

  “I don’t care,” snapped Violet, furiously, she turned back to Fergus, “The situation is basically this: The straight venues think Girl Night attracts too gay a crowd, the gay venues think it attracts too straight a crowd, and they’d all rather do something different, something that brings in more money, basically.”

  “But you always packed out Juvenile Hell…” I protested.

  Nat turned to me, “The thing is, we queer girls here,” she gestured to herself and Violet, “and our absent friends,” a reference to Fliss, “are effectively caught between a straight music scene which, particularly in Manchester, still thrives on male bravado, and a conservative, again, male dominated, gay scene, and neither scene has ever given much of a welcome to young keyed up punk girls, who don’t have a lot of money to spend, who don’t wear designer clothes, and who insist on dancing to un-commercial, un-familiar records.”

  “And Scubar does?” asked Fergus, sceptically.  The last time we had been there, we’d witnessed the tail end of a freshers week skool disco night, and had seen an overgrown schoolgirl dragging an overgrown schoolboy off behind the club by the tie, hell-bent on having her wicked way with him.

  “Scubar,” explained Nat, tersely, “is a student club and, as such, whilst not necessarily being pro queer, is used to a younger crowd, and is ostensibly equal rights.”

  She confessed that she was considering leaving Juvenile Hell in order to start her own club, “But no one has that kind of money, least of all me.  At least Ladyfest Brighton’s coming up, that’s something, and there’s always Kaffequeeria, but I’d like more.” She sighed, “I’m going to try and track down those girls who do Shake-O-Rama; I hear they’re having venue trouble too, maybe we can work together.”

  As much as I love Girl Night, Nat’s right; Scubar is too small for it.  It seemed as though you’d just start to lose yourself to a particularly great record, only to get trod on or elbowed by someone else, and you’d be distracted and have to start again.  In the shadows against the red brick walls, and amidst the pillars, I saw most of the old Girl Night regulars, including Meelan and her mates from Clinch, also Dew and Angel and the Razorblades.  Kit has started doing some Djing for Nat, along with Sabine, and some of Meelan’s mates.  “But I wish Fliss would come home,” sighed Nat, “I miss her so much…”

  “We all do.”

  “I know,” she raised a glass, “we shall never see her like again,” she drank.

  Thursday nights seem to be getting more and more like Friday nights, I thought, as we walked along Portland Street at half two.  The pavements had been furred with vomit by 8pm, and there was a dangerous atmosphere in the air as we walked; the pubs and clubs had emptied, but no one seemed to have gone home yet.  Fergus had his arm around me, and in front of us, Nat and Violet were talking quietly.  By the turning for Chorlton Street, some guy with a bottle leered from a bench and roared, “LESBIANS!”

  I heard Nat sigh as we continued walking; she took Violet’s hand as she murmured, “Do I have it tattooed on my forehead or something?”

  Violet proceeded to check, “No,” she said, neutrally, “nor are you wearing a necklace that says ‘Queer As Fuck’ I notice.”

  Somewhere behind us, the guy was still shouting, and people were gazing in our direction, curiously, and in a not entirely friendly way, as Nat said, “Do you think I should?” in anxious tones, “I could shave my head as well.”

  “No,” said Violet, decisively.

  Fergus didn’t find it remotely funny, however, he turned and started to make his way back the way we’d come, until I tugged on his arm, “Don’t,” I murmured, “he’s drunk, it won’t do any good.”

  Violet and Nat, who’d also stopped, nodded in unison, “She’s right, it won’t do any good.”

  Just then, I heard a voice somewhere behind us, “Did you just call us lesbians?” I turned in surprise.  A group of about six twenty something women had gathered around the bloke on the bench.  He stuttered some kind of a response, but it was too late, even as we moved away, they were closing in for the kill.

  Violet sniggered; Nat was content to merely smirk.

 “Aren’t you angry?” demanded Fergus as we waited for taxi’s.

  Violet and Nat shrugged, and Nat said, sardonically, “Que sera sera…”

  “Lairy drunken men are lairy drunken men,” said Violet, philosophically, “and besides, you get the odd good reaction sometimes, and plenty of no reaction at all…” 

  Fergus shook his head sadly.

  “Cheer up, Fergus,” said Nat, with almost forced cheerfulness, “we respect you as a man who will never ask if he can come home with us and watch.”

  He smiled a little, “Ha ha.”

  We got the first taxi, and they waved us off cheerfully, still holding hands, still smiling.

  When we arrived home, there was an ansaphone message from Fliss, “Bonjour mes amis,” it began, “nous retournons en Angleterre…”

Chapter Sixty: Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?

Nat and I could hear Fliss, Kylie, and Meelan performing three part harmonies to The Waitresses ‘Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?’ as we got ready to go out. The three of them were in Fliss’ room, preparing for an evenings entertainment at The Gates (Mad Girls In The Attic were playing) and The Thompson Arms (Shake-O-Rama!) whilst Nat and I were in my room, preparing for our own night out. They emerged as I rooted under the sofa in the living room for my boots, and I was struck by their air of exuberance. Dressed in jeans, her hair pinned up for the evening, and wearing a blue silk shirt, Fliss looked pretty and happy. Meelan was in her usual skate jeans and t-shirt, and Kylie was wearing blue denim three quarter length trousers with Fliss’ old blue velour halter top. As Fliss returned to her room for her handbag, I watched in concern as Kylie produced a pack of cigarettes from her handbag, lit one, and inhaled. I hadn’t known that she smoked.

  The three of them had left by the time Nat and I were ready. We were going to see The Renaissance Girls, Iona Black’s band, and I was excited as we waited in the living room for my mum to pick us up. The first Renaissance Girls album had come out in 2001, and had been a self-titled masterpiece of jagged, dark, alternative rock. It had been reasonably well received, critically speaking, and had sold quite well, so good things had been expected of the band. We had waited with a great deal of excited expectation for the second album, and waited, and waited, and waited… But things had happened in the intervening four years, both personally and musically for the band, not to mention for Nat and me, and in the thick of all that history, The Renaissance Girls had been forgotten; until now. The second album had finally arrived, and we were more than ready for it.

  “Remember when we went to see that band when we were sixteen?” said Nat, “and they did a cover of a Firefly song?”

  I nodded, “They were called The Midnight Girls” Nat often liked to test me on memories of our collective youth.

  “Do you remember which song it was?”

  “Of course,” I said, “it was ‘Silver Bells’, one of Iona’s songs.”

  Nat nodded, “I miss all that, all those late night gigs and sleepovers.”

  “And school in the morning.”

  “No,” she said, resolutely, “I don’t miss that.”

  I smiled as I leant back against the sofa and closed my eyes.

  Mum arrived a few minutes later, looking considerably more vital and healthy than she had at our last meeting. I’d spoken to her on the phone a few days ago, and she had calmly assured me that both her fainting spells and morning sickness had now ceased. There had been an awkward moment when she mentioned, very reluctantly, that Thomas had asked her to marry him again, and that she had said no. But I had sensed that it hadn’t been the whole story; she had sounded far less sure than she had a month ago. When she arrived she was wearing her old faded black jeans and her Doc Martens, and her jacket was unbuttoned, revealing a slight bump against the fabric of her t-shirt. It wasn’t a big bump, it was just, well, noticeable. Nat walked over to her and hugged her hello, and I hesitantly followed suit a minute or two later.

  There was a sizeable queue outside the Students Union, and the touts were out in force, merrily, and mercilessly, working Oxford Road. When we did get inside, we had to sign in as temporary SU members, always a hectic and crowded affair, before heading for the bar and getting our drinks.

  It was on our way upstairs to the bar, and the gig, that we crossed paths with Lalita Cain, who was accompanied by a pretty young girl of about Fliss’ age. “This is Aurora, my god-daughter,” she explained, after we had exchanged awkward greetings. I noticed that she wouldn’t look at Nat, and that Nat was quietly edging away from our group as she pretended to be equally fascinated by the posters for upcoming gigs and her Academy listings guide. “We were just heading backstage.” We let them go, and it was only as we arrived at the bar that mum turned to Nat, and said, “That was Aurora Gough, wasn’t it?”

  Nat nodded, “Lalita did mention her a few times, when we were still on speaking terms that is. She and Aurora are very close.”

  None of us spoke any more about it, for we knew the story. Iona Black had married Taylor Gough, her producer, in 1987, two years after she had had his daughter, Aurora. Following their divorce in 1993, he had gained custody of Aurora and, following his death in 1996, she had been raised by his parents. Iona rarely spoke to the press, so her feelings on the situation weren’t really known, and she wasn’t the kind of woman people wrote books about, so we were unlikely to ever know. “Unless she writes her autobiography one day” said mum as she carefully massaged the bump.

  Nat shook her head, “I don’t think she’s the type to do that.”

  Mum nodded, “You’re probably right; how refreshing in this day and age.”

  “Aurora’s a nice name,” said Nat, cheerily, “Have you and Thomas decided on names yet?”

  Mum shook her head, “No, at the moment we’re just using ‘the bump’.”

  “You could go for something really distinctive like Thessaly or Tiara…”

  “Peaches or Pixie,” I added, sarcastically.

  “Suri or Jaydynn.”

  Mum shuddered.

  “Holly, because she was conceived at Christmas,” added Nat, “and if it’s a boy, he can be Nicholas.”

  “I think not.” said Mum, decisively.

  Seeing The Renaissance Girls live was very different to seeing The Beauty Queens live, I soon discovered. Because it was so long since they had last played together, and because they didn’t really have anything to prove, The Beauty Queens gig had been quite friendly and relaxed. The Renaissance Girls, by comparison, were a lot more theatrical, dark, and intense. There was a lot of epilepsy inducing lasers and lightning flashes just before the start of the set and, when it all cleared and the basic stage lighting had been restored, the spotlight lit up a small, black clad figure, looking to her left, away from the crowd, her long black hair across her face, a guitar slung across her hips: Iona Black. Her voice was a little shaky at first, but it got stronger as the songs progressed, and soon she was soaring above the jagged metallic tinged dark rock, her voice clear and strong, slightly metallic in quality, matching and enhancing the music as she sang of fear, despair, pain and isolation. Her face was white in the stark lighting, her dark eyes brooding and slightly distracted. She moved awkwardly and self consciously in her loose black long sleeved shirt and black jeans, but her performance felt sincere, albeit quieter, less flamboyant than one would expect.

  “Now there’s a woman who has gone through a lot of shit to get where she is today,” declared Nat as mum drove us back to my flat.

  I nodded in agreement. It was, after all, at least part of the attraction in my case. I liked Iona musically, but her unwillingness to sell her story, and herself, to the press was another quality I admired. Sure, the woman had problems, but she kept her personal and professional life separate, as much as she could, and I had to admire that.

  “Do you think she always wears long sleeves on stage?” asked Nat once we were back at the flat.

  “I don’t know,” I confessed as we waited in the kitchen for the kettle to boil, “I was wondering about that.”

  “It would disguise any scarring.”

  “Yes, whereas wrist bands just draw attention to it.”

  We drank our tea in comfortable silence on the sofa in the living room. As Nat wiped her mouth and checked her mug for lipstick stains, she asked, “Does Rachel being pregnant bother you?”

  I nodded, and I could feel myself blushing in discomfort as I admitted “But I don’t know why, just that it does.”

“You’re embarrassed” she said, quietly.

  I could feel myself blushing as I shook my head, “No, I’m not, really I’m not – I just don’t like talking about it.” I felt flustered, but Nat just nodded, and somehow I found the courage to continue, “I got over her and Thomas being together last year,” I admitted, “this is something else, and I just don’t feel ready to talk about it yet… I don’t know what I feel yet, or why, I just feel uncomfortable.”

  Nat smiled, “I really hated growing up as an only child,” she admitted, “I wish one of my parents had given me a brother or sister.”

  I shook my head, “But we are grown up now – it’s too late now for it to matter that way.”

  “Maybe that’s the problem.”

  There was a long silence before I felt able to say, “I don’t know how I fit into her life anymore. It was simpler when it was just me and her…” I felt like such a whiney child, but at least it was the truth, “since other people have factored in, its complicated things, and I think I’m sad that things will become more complicated again.”

  Fliss, Kylie and Meelan weren’t due back for several hours yet, so Nat slept in my room rather than risk being disturbed on the sofa. We undressed with our backs to each other before climbing into bed. As Nat rested her head on the pillow next to mine, I asked, “How’s Violet?”

  Nat smiled, wickedly, “She’s very well, thanks.”

  “Am I allowed to ask if any new developments have occurred, post Valentines Day?”

  “You can ask, I just won’t tell. I’m taking notes from Iona Black: Don’t kiss and tell.”

  “You’ve loved her for a long time now,” I reflected, calmly and blithely, “since you were eighteen or so.”

  “Almost as long as I’ve loved you,” she murmured, sleepily.

  I blushed again.

  “Does it hurt you if I say that?” she asked, anxiously.

  “No,” my face was on fire, and I felt very, very self conscious and uncomfortable. This was Nat after all; I couldn’t lie to her if I tried “I think I’ve always known. I just never knew how to handle it.”

  She kissed my neck, and said, “You don’t have to handle it, I just wanted to let you know. We won’t talk about it again.” She turned over so that her back was to me, and I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.

  It took a long time, but after I had run through the day’s events in my head for a few hours, I at last began to feel sleepy. I was just about to nod off when I heard the front door open and close, and three pairs of feet as they clattered up the stairs. Sometime around dawn, I slept at last.

Chapter Fifty Six: Denouement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  “I know, but…”

  “I’m surprised he waited this long…”

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


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

  “So I gathered.”

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

  “Surely not everyone,” I reasoned.

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

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

  “Fliss!” she snapped, “Not Emily!”

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

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

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

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

  “Ask Violet.”

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

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

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

  “You’re lairy sometimes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  “Well?” I prompted.

  But she still wouldn’t answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Fifty Five: Pas de deux


The invitations for the Christmas Party have arrived.  Which party? The one Fergus and I were meant to be organising together, the one we planned and speculated about together, the one thing, in fact, that we agreed on all last year that we would do.

  Fliss picked up the mail from the doormat last week, as she does every morning, and I heard her feet on the stairs, light and fast, as though she was excited about something.  “It’s from Fergus,” she announced as she dumped a pile of bills, and a letter, in front of me.  She plonked herself down opposite me at the table, and began to tear open her own letter.  I gingerly opened the envelope, I had forgotten all about the party, then…

  Fliss was reading her invitation aloud, “Miss Felicity Jayne Keale, plus guest, is cordially invited…” she broke off, “What does cordially mean?”

  “Warmly,” my mind was on my own letter, underneath the invitation, he had written something extra, a personal message to me.

“I did it for you,” it read, “I wish you could have been here to help, that’s my fault as well as yours.  I hope you’ll be at the party, it wouldn’t’ be the same without you.  I still love you, I was an idiot to ever think otherwise.”

  I laid the invitation down on the table.  My heart was beating too fast, and I could feel my face growing warm.  Fortunately, Fliss was oblivious.

  “Look!” she cried, “It’s a film theme, who are we going to go as? We could do ‘I Capture The Castle’, and I could go as Cassandra and you could go as Rose, we could get Flora to make us matching white suits…” she trailed off as her eyes lit up with a spark of remembrance, “Or…” she began.

  I shook my head irritably, “No, Fliss…” my mind was still dwelling, very much, on other things, “I don’t know if I want to go or not.”  I confessed.

  “Oh, but you must!” she exclaimed, jumping up from the table and spilling her tea all over her toast in the process, “It was your thing, you and Fergus, you can’t let him down, you have to go!”

  I have brooded for a week now, but today I made my decision: I am going to the party.  I have less than a week in which to sort my costume out, for the party is on Friday, and today is Monday, but I will go.


Went into Manchester in-between shifts yesterday and hared off to Afflecks Palace in pursuit of Flora.  As I climbed the brightly coloured stairs up to the second floor, I heard the distant notes of a strangled guitar. It grew louder as I climbed, but was drowned out in turn by hip hop, sixties pop, and, finally, Radio 2 as I made my way through the vividly coloured, multi varied, always fascinating shops and corridors of the second floor.  At last, I reached Flora’s domain.

  Over the past year and a half, Flora’s shop has come into its own.  When she first installed herself at Afflecks, she had only the stark partitions and a bit of battered carpet to provide an ambience for the racks of clothes, now, the walls are flocked with wallpaper and the floor properly carpeted, and there are clothes and accessories wherever you turn.  “I was going for a thirties drawing room comedy kind of feel,” she told ‘City Life’ a few weeks ago.

  I think a lot of people must be going to Flora for their party costumes, as she was spread-eagled on the floor amidst some heavily sequinned fabric, with pins in her mouth, when I arrived, and Debbie, Flora’s star shop assistant, was perched at the till, looking wearily on.  Somewhere in the background, Ella Fitzgerald was insisting that she was ‘Always True To You Darling In My Fashion.’  It was about half nine, so there weren’t any customers yet.

  “I can’t make a Givenchy knock off for Friday,” she stated firmly as we tucked into coffee and cakes in the café upstairs, “I’ll be pushed to get all my other commissions done, what with all the party outfits I’m doing…”

  I nodded gloomily as I surveyed the décor, there is a kind of bright, sparkling, fresh ambience to that café, it seems to be part nineteen fifties tea room, part college canteen, and it has an atmosphere that so many eateries lack, “Isn’t this like you imagine The Primula or one of those espresso bars in ‘Here Be Dragons’?” I wondered aloud. Flora had been the one to introduce me to that book, so she would know what I meant.

  Flora looked up from her coffee with bleary eyes, “Hey, if you want to give up working at The Platinum Hotel and come to work here for the atmosphere, that’s fine with me.  Talking of fifties,” she frowned, “if you go to Top Shop, they’ve got an Audrey Hepburn dress in the sale there, just like the one she wore in ‘Roman Holiday’.” 

  “No,” I shook my head adamantly, “it has to be ‘Breakfast At Tiffanys.’”

  Flora shrugged, “Sorry.”

  I was starting to feel desperate.  If Flora couldn’t provide me with what I needed, then there was very little chance of getting it via other means and, if I couldn’t get that outfit, then I wouldn’t be able to go.  “All I need is a black dress!” I protested urgently, “a long, black, sleeveless dress.”

  Flora sighed wearily, “Come back tomorrow then, after work.  I won’t have time to make you anything, but I’ll ask around today and, if I get the chance, I could maybe adapt something similar.”

  I exhaled, “Thanks.”

  “Just don’t get your hopes up, that’s all.”

  But she had come up with the goods when I stopped by this evening, “It’s not identical!” she yelled over the sea of heads, “But it’ll do! You need to get a pearl choker though! Or make one! Four rows, try upstairs, by the café!”

  Yelling my thanks, I made for the stairs once more.  The girls at the bead shop were just packing up when I arrived, and they didn’t sell pearl chokers.  Still, the younger of the two, who I knew through Fliss, gave me some wire, a fastener, and some plastic pearls.  I handed over my cash, and with the prettily patterned paper bag in my hand, ran back down the two flights of stairs to the second floor, and to Flora’s increasingly frantic thirties drawing room.

  She threw me over the dress, and I took a good look at it as she packed up.  It was strappy rather than sleeveless, and the thin spaghetti straps crossed over at the back.  It would reveal far more skin than I had originally planned, but it would have to do.

  “Do you need gloves?” enquired Flora after I’d paid her. 

  I shook my head.

  “Cigarette holder?”

  “No, I’m doing without… I have the sunglasses though, and my hair’s long enough to pin up, even if it is the wrong colour.”

  “You could always dye it,” suggested Debbie.

  I shook my head.

  “But he wouldn’t recognise her then!” said Flora, scandalised.  I could feel myself blushing as they exchanged a knowing look.

  Flora’s joie de vivre seemed to evaporate as we carried boxes of stock down to her car.  The vegetable market by the corner of Church Street and Oldham Street were packing up too, and I scrounged some supplies for Fliss and I as Flora talked, “I’m relieved to be so busy here, to tell the truth” she confessed, “it keeps me out of Katy’s way, keeps me occupied, stops me thinking about things.”

  “Is she as unbearable at home as she is at gigs and practices?” I asked incredulously as I packed my supplies away into my bag.

  We walked back to where she had left her car, and she said, “I’m thinking of moving out, to tell the truth, I’ve been looking into places in Hulme or Whalley Range… Hulme would be good; I’d be nearer to work then.”

  Now that her stock was safely packed away, we said our goodbyes.  “See you Friday!” she called after me as I made my way around a dim corner and back onto the Santa illuminated bustle of Oldham Street.

  “See you Friday!” I called back.  But still, I wonder, can I go through with it?


Is it only five days since I wrote those words? It feels like a lifetime.  It is Sunday now, the Sunday after the party, and there is so much to write… I must go slowly though.  Slow and detailed, because I don’t want to miss out a single bit, not one…

  Even on Friday evening, I was reluctant to go to the party.  Despite the touring I’ve done with Titanium Rose these last three or four months, I’m still wary of crowds.  I can sense people staring at me, hear them saying things, laughing… and it makes me nervous, and I have to leave, I can’t stay.

  I tried to explain this to Fliss as she got ready for the party that night, but she didn’t understand, “How can you be frightened of crowds?” she demanded impatiently, her hands on her hips, making her white strapless silk effect ballgown rise up a few inches to reveal black Doc Martens, “You were alright on tour, and you were fine when we went to Juvenile Hell last month…”

  “It’s different!” I protested.

  Fliss was almost ready, she had to do her hair and make-up, and fix her tiara, but that was it.  “Why are you doing this?” she threw up her white satin-gloved hands in exasperation.

  “Because I’m scared!”

  There was silence.

  “It’s O.K to be scared,” she said at last, her eyes puzzled, “everyone’s scared.”

  “I can’t do this!”

  “Yes you can!” the doorbell rang, we glared at each other, “Well,” she relented, “at least answer that if you won’t get changed.”

  I didn’t move, “It’ll be Emily, for you.”

  “I’m well aware of that,” she sighed in a world weary voice, seeming at once older and younger than her nineteen years, “I shall be getting ready.”

  Emily frowned as I ushered her up the stairs, I saw her look me up and down, but she didn’t say anything.  “I’m not going,” I said at last.


  We had reached the top of the stairs, and I ushered her into the living room, “Fliss is still getting ready.”

  Emily nodded, and sat down on the sofa.  She was wearing a pale green cotton dress, with a greyish green cardigan and a pale blue cloche hat, her mousy hair was just visible below it.  I scrutinised her as closely as she had scrutinised me, and I saw her face glow pinkly beneath her hat as she stared at the floor.  “Romola Garai as Cassandra Mortmain in ‘I Capture The Castle’.” I pronounced with certainty, “Fliss loves that film, I prefer the book though.”

  Emily nodded shyly, and the atmosphere in the room became thicker and more claustrophobic with our mutual awkwardness.  Just when things were about to become unbearable, Fliss made her entrance, “Ta da!” she sang out, twirling so that the skirt of her dress caught the air and filled out, displaying her boots once more.

  I raised an eyebrow, and enquired coldly, “And you are?”

  “Princess Amelia Mignonette Grimaldi Thermopolis Renaldo of Genovia” protested Fliss forlornly, “I told you…” She threw herself down on the sofa next to Emily, and her eyes lit up as she looked her up and down, “Cassandra!”

  As I waited in the kitchen for the kettle to boil, I stared out at the night sky and brooded.  I was still in two minds as to whether to go or not.  After a few minutes, I heard footsteps on the lino behind me, and turned around.  It was Emily.  She had removed her hat, and was awkwardly clutching it with both hands as she tried not to look at me.  The kettle had boiled, and I was pouring the water into the cups when she finally spoke.  “You should come with us tonight,” she said in her thin, quiet voice, “he’d want you to be there.”

  I shook my head, “I can’t.”

  “Being scared isn’t an excuse, Maggie,” her voice took on a determined edge, “I didn’t want to come, yet here I am.”

  “Why didn’t you want to come?”

  “I don’t like crowds,”

  I nodded.

  “But… I have to deal with it, if I’m ever going to be a sound engineer.”

  “I don’t mind gigs,” I protested, “the audience are at the front of the stage, I’m at the back… they can’t see me half the time, and I can’t really see them, it’s…”

  “Walking through crowds, being part of a crowd?”


  “If you want,” she began nervously, “I’ll stick with you tonight, get you through it…”

  “It’s not that…” I sighed.

  “Then what is it Maggie?”

  “It’s… being there, for this, for this particular party.”

  “Oh.”  There was an awkward silence, before she said, “You’re scared of Fergus.”

  “Of messing up,” I corrected her softly.

  “If you don’t go,” she maintained, “you have messed up.”

  “And if I go, and it all goes wrong?”

  “Worry about it when it happens.”

  I nodded, “I know you’re right, deep down.  I’ve been telling myself that all week.”

  She glanced at her watch, “We’ve still got time, why don’t you go and get changed? I’ll take the drinks through.”

  I nodded, and then made my way back along the corridor towards my room.  My hands were shaking as I slipped the dress over my head; the fabric slithered over my shoulders and breasts, and hung, loosely, yet not too loosely, on me.  I didn’t pause to check myself in the mirror; I thought I’d better fix my hair and make-up before my hands were shaking too badly to manage.  I picked up my brush, only to see it fall from my hand moments later.  “Shit,” I muttered as I got down on my hands and knees to pick it up.  Other hands were already there: Fliss and Emily.  They smiled up at me with impish charm, and one pair of brown eyes and one pair of blue glinted in amusement.

  Fliss marched me over to my bed, “Sit,” she commanded.

  I obediently did so.

  She fixed my hair as Emily slid long, black elbow length gloves over my trembling arms.  When that was done, Fliss carefully applied fresh foundation and powder before carefully painting my lips a neutral pink, not too pale, not too dark.  As she finished, Emily fastened the pearl choker, and I slid my feet into the pair of black kitten heels that were waiting.  Emily took my left hand, Fliss my right and I stumbled as they pulled me to my feet.

   “Come on,” Fliss led me out of the room and along the corridor, back into the living room.  “Coat!” Emily held out my long, black wool coat for me to put on, “Handbag!” Emily produced it, and handed it to me, “Keys!” Emily jangled them.  “Right, let’s go!” and, somehow, I found myself being hustled from the room and down the stairs.  I was at the bus stop before I realised what had happened.

  But in the cloakroom above the party, my nervousness returned.  I can’t do this. I thought as women and girls brushed past me, fighting for room at the mirror.  I had hidden myself by the coats, and was trying, without success, to disappear into the wall.  The air was thick with powder, hairspray, and the scent of a thousand different perfumes; the noise deafening from what felt like as many conversations.  Flora appeared, wearing a white beret with a smartly tailored skirt and coat, and I nodded gravely as she waved at me, Faye Dunaway, Bonnie Parker, Bonnie And Clyde, I noted.  She was eclipsed somewhat by the entrance of Nat, clad in a slinky, twenties style evening dress, her face daubed with pale foundation, scarlet lipstick, and blue eyeshadow, her hair newly cut and hanging to her shoulders in loose waves, “Tallulah Bankhead!” roared someone from the doorway.  Nat and I turned as one, and saw… “Sally Bowles!” exclaimed Nat as Violet slunk into the room, “My God, darling, aren’t you cold in those suspenders?” as she bore Violet off to a private corner, I observed a sultry looking girl, with dark sleepy eyes, her long black hair hung across her face.  Tight bootcut jeans, a maroon coloured leather jacket worn over a tight, garishly patterned shirt, and a peaked cap completed the vision.  So this is Shanti Nair, I thought as she slunk after Violet, a fierce scowl on her face.

  Fliss interrupted my thoughts; “Ready?” she and Emily were waiting.  I nodded, and we got up to leave.

  The cloakrooms were on entry level, that is, ground level, but the party was downstairs in the basement.  My heart sank as I saw the party below, and the staircase spiralling down, right into the centre of the room, that we would have to descend in order to get there.  “I’ll go first,” said Fliss, kindly, as she began to descend.  Emily soon followed her, and I watched her reach the floor and wait, expectantly, with Fliss as I began to descend.

  I tried to keep my eye on them as I moved, mechanically, down the stairs.  They gazed up at me like two hopeful, trusting angels, guiding me.  I could hear the clatter of shoes on the stairs behind me, “Knew someone would come as Audrey Hepburn,” said a woman’s voice with knowing complacency.  “She’s all wrong for it,” interjected someone else, “she’s too tall, her hair’s the wrong colour, and you can see her shoulder blades from here; that’s not gamine, that’s emaciated, and what the hell is that thing on her back…” “A tiger, I think,” said the first voice.  I tried to pay attention to what my feet were doing, and to keep my eyes on Fliss and Emily, but the dress was long, and in moving to the next step, I tripped and stumbled into the rail.  My eyes left Fliss and Emily, and in trying to find them again in the crowd, I saw him instead.  He was watching me, and I began to blush in embarrassment.  What little self control was left bolted as I looked away, and I heard the woman behind me snort like a horse as I ran past her, and back up the stairs, seeing nothing but the possibility of my escape.

  I slammed through the cloakroom door, and threw myself back down on the bench beneath the coats.  I pulled my knees up to my chest, and lowered my head onto them as I tried to make myself as small and invisible as possible.  I didn’t notice Fliss’ presence until she spoke, “You have to come back down,” she murmured, quietly but firmly, “you have to try again.”

  “No!” it was muffled, but she heard me.


  “No,” I sobbed, “I’m going home, I should never have come, they’re all laughing at me, I heard them, they’re all…”

  “Please, Maggie.”


  There was an awkward pause, and then she said, “I can’t leave you here in this state.”

  “I’ll call a taxi, I’ll go home.”

  “I still don’t like leaving…”

  “You should go.”

  “I still think…”

  “Go, Fliss, please,” I pleaded, “enjoy yourself, you can tell me all about it when you get home.”

  She didn’t reply, but I heard footsteps, and the door closed as someone left the room.  Slowly, but surely, I uncurled myself and took in my surroundings.  The cloakroom wasn’t as crowded as it had been earlier, but there were enough people around to make an audience.  Some of the faces were sympathetic, but many more were staring at me like I was an animal at the zoo, an expression I’ve become all too familiar with over the past year.  Perhaps the most considerate were those who were busying themselves with hair and make-up, who had either missed my outburst, or were simply pretending that they had.  I wasn’t ready to go home yet, I realised, but I couldn’t stay in that cloakroom either.  I decided to go for a walk.

  As I walked back towards the city centre, past The Gates, where bands were already loading equipment back into vans and cars, I began to relax a little.  The air was chilly, but the lighting was so good along Piccadilly that it barely felt dark at all.  The fountains had been switched off for the day, but I sat down beside them anyway, and stared through them, into the distance, not really seeing anything.  I began to wish that I had a cigarette, or a coffee… something to occupy my hands.  As the hours passed, I grew more relaxed, my shoulders un-knotted themselves, and I was able to breathe normally again as my heartbeat slowed down to its normal speed.  I began to think about Fergus as I watched the clear silvery moon shining in the deep blue, chilly sky.  I knew that I had blown it now, that this had been my last chance to prove to him that I was normal and capable of… what exactly? I wasn’t quite sure.  Being normal, I suppose, I thought gloomily.  My hands were still itching for something to do, so I walked over to Spar and bought a pack of ten, some matches, and a coffee.  I smoked the cigarettes, one after another, almost without noticing, as I continued to think.  When they were gone, I drank the cold, bitter, black coffee.

  I should go back, I decided, this is my last chance with him; I can’t give up now.  The decision made, I got to my feet, and began to walk back the way I’d come.  My pace was slower this time, steadier, and more careful.  I could sense blisters forming on my heels as I walked.  Those shoes weren’t designed for distance walking, but I had to keep moving.  I had to go back.

  The cloakroom was empty when I returned, and I slipped into one of the toilet cubicles unnoticed.  I was about to emerge when the cloakroom was invaded… there really is no other word for it… by hordes of women and girls, several the worse for wear, and all looking for their coats.  My heart sank as I sat down on the floor; the party was over, what was I thinking? I was too late.  But I knew that there was no point in leaving yet, not after my oh-so-very-public exit earlier, it would involve all sorts of explanations, explanations that I couldn’t give.  Eventually, the last woman tottered out of the door, and the lights were switched off, leaving me alone in the darkness.

  It was dark in the corridor outside, but I could see the lights glowing in the basement, illuminating the darkness upstairs.  I leant over the balcony; from there I could see the dancefloor, which looked very different now that the lights were on, and I saw him… he had removed his jacket and the sleeves of his crisp white shirt were now rolled up to his elbows.  He was sweeping up the debris left behind after the evening’s entertainment, and quietly whistling.  As I descended the staircase for the second time that evening, I recognised the tune that he was whistling; it was Rodgers and Hart’s ‘My Funny Valentine’.  My heels clicked against the metal steps as I, cautiously, made my way down.  He looked up, and our eyes met.  In the surprise at seeing me there, he let go of the handle, and the brush fell to the floor with a clatter.

  I walked across the floor to him, and stopped just in front of him.  I couldn’t make the final step though, couldn’t reach out to him, or touch him.  After what felt like an agonisingly long silence, I reached down to the floor and picked up the forgotten brush.  I handed it to him, and he took it from me, then, before he could say, or do, anything, I walked over to the tables that ringed the dancefloor, picked up a bin bag, and began to clear the rubbish from the tables.

  When the tidying was complete, he took me by the hand and said, kindly, “Come on, I’ll give you a lift home.”

  We were waiting at the traffic lights; about halfway through our journey, when I asked, “Will you take me to yours?”

  I saw him blink in surprise, “What?”

  The nervousness increased as I whispered, “Will you take me to your house?”

  Our eyes locked for a few moments before he said, “Yes, alright.”

  We drove the rest of the way to Heaton Chapel in silence.

  I perched, nervously, on the edge of the sofa, and waited.  Before too long, he re-emerged from the kitchen, carrying two mugs of tea.  I took the mug he passed me in my gloved hands, and set it down on the table in front of me as he joined me on the sofa.  He took hold of my left hand and, very slowly and carefully, began to remove the glove, and then… he stopped, and I knew that he had seen the cuts and scars along my arm and around my wrist.  He didn’t speak, but his face said everything; he looked as though he was about to cry, but he didn’t let go of my arm.  The glove was off now, but he still didn’t let go; with one hand he held my hand in a loose clasp whilst with the other he traced every scar, every cut on my arm and wrist with his fingers.  Once this was done, he removed my other glove, without saying a word.

  When I had drunk my drink, I sagged against him a little and rested my head on his shoulder.  He put his arm around my shoulders, and asked in a quiet voice that was thick with tension, “Why did you want to come home with me?”

  “I wanted to be with you,” I murmured.

  We kissed, slowly and hesitantly at first, then for longer, and longer as our nervousness slowly disappeared.

  When we paused next, I asked, “Why did you cry?”

  “When?” his voice was low and sleepy, like my own.

  “Before, when you took my gloves off, you were nearly crying.”

  To my surprise, the same strained and upset expression returned to his face, and he moved away from me slightly before he said, very quietly, very tensely, “Because it reminded me of you at your worst.  I always try to think of you at your best.”  There was a pause before he continued, “For a few moments, I was remembering that night, remembering you screaming at me, you pulling your clothes off, and… I think the worst thing was not being able to touch you, not being able to reach you, to pull you out of it.  It was like there was a barrier there, preventing me…” He took hold of my left hand, and caressed it absently as he continued to speak, “I never stopped loving you, not then; not even afterwards when I was seeing other women, never stopped loving you.”

  I rested my head against his shoulder again, and he put his arms around me once more.  In the silence, he asked, “Do you love me?”


  “And you’ll stay?” there was a hopefulness in his voice.


   Our kisses grew longer and more passionate as evening became morning, and I lay in his arms at 4am, my dress on the floor, forgotten.  His shirt hung loose and unfastened, half on, half off.  “Do you have…?” I began.

  “Yes, in my room.”

  I rested my head against his chest, and breathed “that’s alright then.”

  When the time came to leave the sofa, my nervousness returned.  I could sense an awkwardness on his part too as we walked through to his room.  He squeezed my hand with a clammy palm, and I sensed tension, an awkwardness that was reflected in me; But it’ll be O.K, I told myself, It has to be O.K

  As we lay on his bed together, he touched my hair, now loose and hanging down my back, spilling across my shoulders and my face.  I stroked his face, cautiously and softly, and he kissed me, so softly, so hesitantly.  When the time came, he was very careful with me, very gentle, like he was afraid of damaging me, or breaking me.

  Afterwards, I lay in his arms, listening to his heartbeat, feeling his chest rise and fall with every breath, until I fell asleep.

  When I woke up, it was daylight, and the sun was shining on my face.  I felt very tired as I sleepily rolled over, off Fergus, and towards his bedside cabinet, where his clock radio sat.  Twelve twenty seven said the display.  My pills, I thought, sleepily, as I groped along the top of the cabinet for a packet and a bottle that I would never locate.  Panic overwhelmed my sleepiness as I hauled myself up and out of bed.  My clothes, where were my clothes… feeling distracted, I began to shake Fergus in an increasingly frantic manner “Huh?” he mumbled eventually, his eyes still shut, “What? Whaizzit?”

  “I have to go home, I have to take my pills, and I can’t find my clothes, and I should have taken my pills about four hours ago, and…”

  He took hold of my arm, and held me until I was still.  “Wait,” with a good deal of wincing and groaning, he hauled himself up into a sitting position, “Start again.”

  He heard me out as I explained about my medication, and the importance of taking it every day, and at the right time.  “But I don’t see why you should rush off home,” he said as he reached for his mobile, “I’ll text Fliss, get her to bring them over.”

  “But…” I protested.

  “No buts,” he said firmly, “after last night, I’m not letting you leave, or not just yet anyway.  Relax, lie back down again, you’re making me nervous…”

  And so I lay down once more, and he texted Fliss with one hand, whilst stroking my hair in a supremely soothing manner with the other.  “Don’t worry,” he murmured, “it’s all going to be fine.”

  Fliss was already waiting in the living room by the time I had got out of bed and scrambled into Fergus’ old bathrobe.  It was too big for me, and I had to wrap it around me, and then wrap the belt around twice before it was secure enough not to flap open; it was short too, hanging several inches above my knees.  I think that Fliss had sized up the situation long before I walked into the room; she turned from Fergus, naked from the waist up, to me in the ill fitting bathrobe, and smiled shrewdly as she handed me a carrier bag.  “I put the pills on top,” she explained as I took it from her.  As I was seeing her out, she paused in the doorway, and asked, “When will you be home?”

  “Sunday night.” I promised.

  She kissed me on the cheek, and said in a maternal tone, “Be careful.”

  “Yes mother,” I sighed.  She and I smiled like conspirators.

  At the gate, she turned to wave, and I waved back.

  As I sat down once again on the sofa, with my pills and a glass of water, Fergus asked, “What kind of pills are they?”

  “That small white oval one is an antidepressant,” I pointed it out to him, “and the big yellow, capsule shaped pill is a multivitamin.”  He watched in engrossed silence as I swallowed both pills.

  “That’s it?” he asked.

  I nodded, “That’s it.”

  One day soon, we were going to have to have a talk about this, I realised; about medication, about depression and self harm, one day, but not that day.

  As he kissed me, my eyes strayed to Fliss’ carrier bag.  She had put two changes of clothes in it, which was a bit of a waste really, given that I didn’t need any clothes until Sunday night.

  So, now it’s Sunday night, and I am back in my own room, on my own bed, writing down my story.

  Fergus dropped me off in the car at about eight.  We sat outside for a while, with the motor turned off, holding hands in silence.  He kissed me, and I kissed him back, for a long, long time.  As I got out of the car, he told me that he would call me tomorrow evening after work.  I nodded.  As I walked around the car, he wound down the window on his side, and we kissed goodbye once more.  I waved to him from the kerb opposite as he drove away, then unlocked the front door and stepped over the threshold.  The door slammed as I let the handle slip through my fingers, I leant back against it with a sigh, my eyes closed… remembering.

  When I opened my eyes, I saw Fliss.  She was standing at the top of the stairs, watching me, with amusement in her eyes and a smile upon her face, “Welcome home, Juliet,” she said.

Chapter Fifty Four: The Brightness Of The Night

Fliss was checking her make-up in the mirror on the landing when I finally crawled out of bed yesterday morning.  She was wearing a dove blue fifties style ballgown with silver kitten heels and silver fishnet tights, and she was singing ‘Busy Line,’ alternated with ‘Together We Are Beautiful.’  As I blearily sat down at the kitchen table with my mug of coffee, she appeared in the doorway, her hair held up with one hand, and a pair of green and silver winged sunglasses balanced on her nose, “What do you think?”

  I frowned, “It’s a little over the top, makes you look older.”

  Unlike Fliss, I was clad in my nightshirt, what with not really needing to be up yet, and a jumper and woolly socks, because the October weather is really starting to bite.

  Fliss let go of her hair, and it cascaded, slowly and luxuriously to her shoulders.  She placed her hand on her hip, and protested, “It’s the video shoot; it’s meant to be over the top!”

  I shrugged indifferently, “Well, have fun anyway…”

  “Sure you don’t want to come?” she asked as she removed the glasses with careful fingers.  She peered at me anxiously as she polished the lenses.

  “No, I’d only be in the way.”

  She had an interview scheduled with ‘City Life’ after the shoot, so I didn’t see her until early evening, and our soundcheck at The Twilight.

  The wind was howling through the early evening darkness as I sidestepped the puddles and over spilling drains of Piccadilly and Oldham Street.  Whilst the darkness of the evening was less black and unforgiving than we frequently endured in the Heatons, the air was cold with the wind, and the commuters travelling home had yet to be replaced by the creatures of the night.  I was soaked to the skin by the time I reached the Twilight and, if it was cold outside, then that was as nothing when set against the chilly atmosphere that awaited me inside.  Katy was evidently in a mood about something, and I watched with a strong sense of ill foreboding as she unloaded amps, leads, and guitars from her car outside the Twilight’s grimy exterior.  “You can do the drums,” she snapped, “you haven’t done any work yet today,” and with a heavy heart, I began to unload my kit onto the rain-drenched pavements: It was evidently going to be a long night.

  Part way through our soundcheck, she climbed down from the flimsy milk crate supported stage and stood in front of it; a solemn figure in black, watching in the relative lightness of The Twilight, with a fierce scowl on her face.  “You’re playing too fast again,” she snapped suddenly, “don’t those pills slow you down at all?”

  I felt the familiar fire of anger spark and climb through me, but I bit my lip and reined in my temper.  Bawling out Katy never worked in the past, and I have no reason to imagine it will work now.

  Meanwhile, she was homing in on Flora, who was, apparently, “standing wrong,” and looking distracted, “like you want to be somewhere else.”

  “I do want to be somewhere else,” muttered Flora, truculently, under her breath.

  But it was Fliss who received the full impact of Katy’s wrath, mainly – I suspect – because Katy hadn’t liked how she’d acted at the video shoot earlier, “You need to spend longer working on your vocals, Fliss, and guitar; I feel like I carry you enough already, and it isn’t fair anymore, you need to put the work in, concentrate on singing well, not just on how you look.”

  Once the soundcheck was over, Katy stormed out, obviously intending to go for tea by herself.  It was still raining, and the wind was still howling, so Fliss, Flora and I joined the other two bands on the bill, The Beeds, and Fly, around a dark wooden table, stained and sticky with beer and spirits, and watched each band soundcheck as a voluptuous brown haired, brown eyed girl in black walked from table to table, her flip flop clad feet and damp, flagging combats flapping and thwacking as she lit pale tea lights and thick red candles in dark green bottles.

  Once they had finished, the three of us left the vivid glow of the Twilight and made our way along the darkly shining wet pavements of Oldham Street towards the damp monuments of Piccadilly.  Turning right, we passed the bouncers starting their shifts outside the bars and clubs, passed the arcades and bus shelters, and turned towards the deserted white buildings of Aytoun Campus.  We cut across the eerie blackness of Minshall Street carpark, heading for the delicatessens and chip shops that fringed Sackville Street and Canal Street, the rainbow coloured flags waved forlornly in the damp wind as we passed them, heads bowed, hands stuffed into pockets as we battled with the cold.  We ate our tea on a wall by Minshall Street carpark, and watched in silence as the last remnants of the sun disappeared overhead.

  Jenny had arrived by the time we arrived back, and was having her ear bent by Katy.  I watched warily from the faded oak and red velour of the bar as she shook her long damp magenta hair away from her face.  Her battered black leather jacket leant her folded arms a defensive air, and her face bore the well-recognised expression of weary laxed interest.  Although the gig itself was fine, and our set well-attended and received, Katy’s mood did not lift.  She ignored Fliss and I entirely, and pulled Flora into a corner almost immediately afterwards, where she proceeded to rant at length.  Whilst this was going on, I quietly slipped out to the taxi rank in Piccadilly and grabbed a cab to come over to The Twilight to pick up my drums, it wasn’t cheap, but God it was worth it.  I was home by eleven, and was just settling down on the sofa with the cat, a hot chocolate, and my battered copy of Stella Gibbons’ ‘Here Be Dragons’, when I heard the door slam downstairs.  Two pairs of feet came clattering up the stairs, and I could hear raised voices: Flora and Fliss.  As they reached the top of the stairs, I heard Flora say: “…And I don’t know how much longer I can put up with this shit!”  As she charged through the doorway, I noticed that she was scowling furiously, “Where did you get to?” she snapped.

  Fliss and I both felt in need of a diversion to take our minds off… everything, so we went out tonight, having arranged to meet Fliss’ friends from Chorlton, Angel and the Razorblades, in town.  We got off the bus in Piccadilly around eight, and made our way along the shadowy lit streets of Piccadilly, turning right once again by Spar, and heading through the traffic and bustling, busy crowds towards Minshall Street.  The band hailed us from atop the same wall as Flora, Fliss and I had so gloomily eaten our tea only twenty hours before.  In the darkness, I spotted Kylie, the singer who had so memorably puked all over our doorstep at Fliss’ seventeenth birthday party, the night she first met Adrienne, I couldn’t help but recall.  She was swinging her short pale legs impatiently, and I could hear the noise made by her black patent leather Doc Martens as she bashed them against the rough red brick wall; thwack, thwack… Her muddy brown hair was up in bunches, and she was shivering as she folded her arms across her chest, pulling the worn black wool cardigan close against the thin scarlet satin of her slip dress.  Next to her was Rosa, a grave, serious girl with dark soulful eyes.  She was wearing thick, scuffed boots like the workmen wear on the roads, and army surplus combat trousers.  Her black t-shirt bore the distinctive red silhouette of four girls; the Red Vinyl Fur logo, and was partially hidden by her green and brown camouflage jacket.  Her thick dark hair hung down her back in untidy waves, and a smouldering cigarette hung from one fingerless glove clad hand as a brown woolly hat restrained her wild hair.  Next to her on the wall was Kit, whose long perfectly straight jet black hair hung loose, frequently falling across her face and into her eyes.  She had a pale, round face, and wide dark eyes.  Her PVC jacket, flame red in colour, was undone, revealing a short Girls From Mars t-shirt and black jeans.  Yan, her cousin, sat next to her; his own jet hair was streaked with golden blonde in places, and hung long and loose to his shoulders.  Like his cousin, he was pale and dark eyed, but with an angular frame disguised by his baggy jeans and Hello Cuca t-shirt.

  Kylie jumped down off the wall as we approached, and started to hop from leg to leg, her arms still wrapped around her chest as her teeth chattered with the cold, “Drinks at Retro Bar first, yeah?” she shivered as the other three retrieved their bikes.

  I nodded.

  As we walked along the badly lit narrow back streets that fringed the village, I noticed Fliss drop back and join Rosa and Kylie as I led the way.  Soon we were heading along Sackville Street, away from the rainbow flags and bright lights and designer clothes, towards the darker, more remote, cheaper delights of Whitworth Street and beyond. We were heading towards the unfashionable end of Sackville Street, the forgotten end, which led us under the rattling grey railway bridge to Spar, and the shabby end of town; a kind of student bohemia in the middle of nowhere, where Retro Bar inexplicably stood.  Kylie and Rosa were giggling like naughty schoolgirls on an illicit visit to the city, and Fliss was wearing her fifties ballgown again, this time with pale blue satin elbow length gloves and her best diamante tiara.  She looked like a debutante on her way to the palace to be presented, one who had been led astray into the rough side of town by the girls from the local estate.

  The band parked their bikes by some railings near the club and, once inside, Fliss gleefully commandeered one of the big corner tables opposite the pool table with Rosa and Kylie, leaving me to get the drinks as Yan and Kit quietly followed them over.  The bar was pretty full tonight and, as usual, the crowd was fairly mixed.  A T.V was suspended, unobtrusively, from the ceiling, largely to the indifference of those present as they chatted and shot pool in the smoky warmth of the bar.  I sank down into the soft worn velour and wood of the seats, and watched as Kylie and Fliss drank strawberry beers, noisily and messily, whilst Rosa brooded over a snakebite and black, and Yan and Kit chatted in cantonese over cheeky vimtos.

  Meelan arrived later, having finished work late at the latté emporium she works at near Saint Anne’s Square, and we headed back through the designer clubs and apartments of Sackville Street towards Portland Street. Here we crossed paths with lagered up weekenders before cutting across Piccadilly to the gentrified Northern Quarter heartland of Oldham Street, humming with the buzz created by those ever multiplying boutiques and apartments, (“Oldham Street,” Flora had deadpanned one day, “Is Carnaby Street for the noughties.”) to Juvenile Hell.

  The giddy hedonism of Girl Night sat uneasily with the chic Northern Quarterness of Juvenile Hell somehow, yet such was the exuberance of the young, largely female, crowd that it simply didn’t matter.  Through the garish pink, orange and green u.v lighting and the crowd of steaming bodies, I was able to observe Nat, clad in black PVC and lycra, undulating to the sound of a fairly faceless post rock ensemble up on stage.  At the sound desk was Emily, clad in her usual baggy jeans and t-shirt, coolly and warily sharing a bench with a couple of young lovers, who were feverishly groping, eating, and all but copulating.  Next to me, Meelan produced a crumpled homemade Valerie t-shirt (bearing the legend, “All My Heroes Hate Me”) from her bag, and pulled it on over her uniform.  Fliss eased her way through the crowd with a confidence borne of practice, and threw herself down on the bench next to Emily, causing her to budge up, and by consequence, causing the young lovers to fall off each other with a supreme lack of grace.  With a shared expression of pure poison, they moved across to the next table, whereupon they continued where they had left off.  I noticed that Emily seemed shy in Fliss’ company, yet quietly pleased to have her there beside her.

  Kylie and Rosa joined Meelan and me under the fairy lights at the bar, whilst Yan and Kit headed down the front to watch the band.  All three girls asked questions about our video, and were disappointed when I told them that I hadn’t been present at the filming.  “Fliss’ll tell you all about it though,” I reassured them.  As the band played, pleasantly enough, in the background, we discussed the Razorblades.  It transpires that Aiden from Dew and his girlfriend, Sophie, have a record label called Sambuca Records, and they want to do a single with the band.  “I mean, it’ll only be one single, if they can get the money together,” said Kylie, a little defensively, “But it’s a start, and it’s how Titanium Rose got started, isn’t it?”

  I nodded.

 I talked to Nat later as she took a breather by the bar.  Amber slung empty bottles into a dump bin at the end of the bar, and frostily served thirsty punters and teenage girls who glowed with the heat of the crowd and shone with excited exuberance.  Nat glanced fondly at one such pair, two very young plump girls who had covered themselves in glitter and eyeshadow and were wearing cheap little nylon dresses in garish prints, their hands were gripped in solidarity and, possibly, love, as they trotted back to the dancefloor with their cokes.  “I love my job,” she sighed contentedly.  Her contentment turned to excitement as she told me of her latest scheme, “I want to do a Juvenile Hell singles club, or Girl Night singles club, it’ll be like the Club Beetroot series Flotsam and Jetsam did with Nice’N’Sleazy in Glasgow,” she enthused, “or like Live At The Roxy in the seventies.  No one records these bands, and when they do occasionally get signed it’s too late and the spirits gone, all polish and no substance.  If I record them now, I get them playing live whilst they’re still experimenting, and that seems so much more worthwhile.  I’m going to talk to Emily about it later, I’d ask Katy only I don’t think I can afford her, plus she’s a bitch to work with, I did consider asking Fergus…” she trailed off, and I sensed the discomfort.  Her eyes were wary, and her voice was thick with caution, as she said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bring him up.”

  I shrugged, “Its O.K”

  “Have you seen much of him lately?” she asked cautiously, her eyes worried.

  I shook my head, afraid to commit myself, and especially wary of mentioning his visit to my hotel room whilst we were on tour.  I still get that little lift in my heart whenever I hear his name; it’s what makes it so hard to give him up, well, that and other things…

  The glitter girls were jumping up and down in a frenzy to Le Tigre’s ‘T.K.O’, the Hot Chick Remix, still holding hands, as our conversation turned to the increasingly unstable international situation.  Most days I’m not sure what to think about Iraq, so I try not to think about it at all, it doesn’t stop my feeling things though, mainly a lingering, secret, guilty pain whenever I see the current death figures on the news.  I feel guilty because I didn’t protest strongly enough about Iraq and at the back of my mind the whole time was the knowledge that thousands, millions of people would die.  On top of this feeling is the depressing knowledge, limited perhaps, of the ongoing tit for tat carnage in Israel, and the Beslan massacre in Russia, of which I feel I have seen and heard too much: what links them all is suicide bombers I suppose.

  “There’s no use in worrying about it,” sighed Nat, “what will happen will happen; it isn’t as though we have any control over it.”

  I nodded glumly.

  A number of fanzine writers were hanging around at the other end of the bar, young and feigning boredom, their long hair flapping against their faces.  Some of the girls had adopted the early Courtney Love kinderwhore look of ripped babydolls and slashed red lipstick, and a few of their friends had experimented with fifties and seventies clothes, many more were lounging nonchalantly against the bar in jeans and t-shirts.  I heard them stop talking as I walked past them on my way to the toilets, and I could sense their eyes on me.  As I turned the corner, I heard one of the girls proclaim, “She doesn’t look that bad…”

  When I returned, they had moved away from the bar, and their place had been taken by a group of staff from The Gates, including Sabine, who was neatly glamorous in a black shirt and skirt.  She was leaning over the bar, one pale elbow propping up her head, and her sensitive, intelligent, lovely face was dangerously close to the pale, angular face of Amber.  I watched Amber, and then I noticed Nat at the far end of the bar, she was talking to Kit, but I sensed that she wasn’t really listening to her.  She was gazing past the younger girl, and her eyes were on Amber… on Sabine and Amber.

  Towards the end of the night, as the crowd began to thin and the mood became increasingly tired and emotional, Amber left the bar and slow danced with Sabine.  Across the room, I watched as Fliss looked up from her conversation with Emily and caught sight of them.  Her eyes flicked anxiously from one to the other, and I could tell that she was thinking about Nat.

  But Nat was now intent on the process of clearing up.  I found her in her office in the bowels of the building, sorting out the money for Emily, the bands having already been paid.  From the doorway, I took in the office itself as she sat at her desk, completely absorbed in her work.  There were a number of posters on the walls now, not just our shabby black and white one and the old Girls From Mars one.  I spotted posters for Angel and the Razorblades, alongside Clinch and Dew.  There was a corner of the room reserved for press coverage, with a feature on Girl Night positioned clearly at the centre, and there were photos too, including one of Violet on stage at Juvenile Hell, her expression one of fierce concentration.  The paperwork on her desk was neatly arranged, and a basket full of demos and web links was placed next to a midi hi-fi, waiting to be listened to or followed up.  I knew that she hadn’t noticed that I was there, so I turned to leave, and was nearly knocked over by Dylan.  He nodded curtly to me as I passed him, and as Nat looked up from her paperwork, I saw her expression change, her shoulders tense, and her mouth set in a grim line as she nodded to him.  I closed the door.

  “What was that all about do you think?” breathed Fliss from somewhere behind me.

  I jumped in surprise, and spun round to face her, a glare on my face as I hissed, “I wish you wouldn’t creep up on people like that!”

  “Sorry,” she whispered, “I was looking for Meelan; I wanted to let her know we were going.”

  “I haven’t seen her; we’ll find her on the way out.”

  We made our way up the creaking grey wooden stairs to the near empty venue, where we hooked up with Meelan (who was to spend the night on our sofa) and headed out into the night once more.

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.

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