Chapter Seventy: Point Of Departure

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

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

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

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

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

  Everyone laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  “Do you know her?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  I smiled.

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

  “Well,” said Fergus, awkwardly.

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

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

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

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Chapter Sixty Six: This Is The End

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

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

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

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

  “I don’t know,” I admitted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

  (Later)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Sixty Five: Smashing The Looking Glass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  I frowned, “No.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  “Are you happy now?” she snapped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  “The band”

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

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

  “Have you tried her mobile?”

  I nodded, “It was switched off.”

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

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

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

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

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

 “Anything else?”

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

  “No, not now you mention it…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  “How can you tell?”

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

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

 
Silence reins as she screams inside her head

Make it stop, make it stop

Put everything back

The way it was.

“Are you alright?” Fergus asked.

  I nodded.

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

  “I have,” I whispered.

  “How did she know all that stuff?”

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

And the all seeing eyes

Of those who went before

Tell a story

A story that no one wants to know

A story of darkness from light

Fear from happiness

The harshness of the spotlight

The dark hours of the soul

How they died inside for rock’n’roll.

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

  It was a short note:

  Maggie,

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

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

Fliss

 

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

She has broken down

She has shut down

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

Chapter Fifty Eight: Emotional Conflict

“What’s wrong?” asked mum as I sat down on the sofa. She seemed unusually pale and tired, and there were lines on her face that I don’t remember noticing before.

  I felt guilty as I said, “Does there have to be something wrong?” she’d been poorly this week, and off work for a few days. Thomas had advised me to be gentle with her as he left, and I didn’t want to worry her.

  “No,” she sighed as she cautiously lowered herself down into the armchair, “but I think there is, I can tell when something’s bothering you… Is it to do with the band?”

  “How did you know?” I was surprised.

  She sighed as she wearily raked a hand through her unusually limp seeming hair, “Because it usually is to do with the band.”

  I cast my mind back to February, and the awful day when Fliss and Katy had argued over songs, specifically Fliss’ songs. On our previous albums, Katy and Fliss have always shared the main songwriting duties, often collaborating on songs, but this apparently stopped sometime last year, whilst I was ill. “Now they’re writing alone,” I told mum, “it’s as though they’re in competition with each other, and I think Katy’s starting to feel threatened by Fliss’ output.”

  She nodded, but her eyes had a distant, glazed look, and she was absolutely ashen faced. She closed her eyes for a few moments and sagged back in her chair in what, I realised a few minutes later, was a dead faint.

  I have to confess to panicking for a few moments. I was used to her always being reliable and, more than that, always there, perfectly robust in body and mind. I didn’t know how long Thomas would be out of the house for, and I didn’t know what to do, or what was wrong.

  She was only out cold for a few minutes, but those minutes felt like hours. My heart was hammering in my chest, and the adrenalin was surging through me, making me shiver and shake. When she at last opened her eyes, I almost cried with relief.

  She seemed a little confused to find me hovering over her, and her eyes still looked strange and distant as I asked, “Are you alright?”

  She nodded vaguely, and then closed her eyes and went to sleep.

  Thomas was back about five minutes later, I heard the back door open and his cheery whistle as he opened and shut cupboards, presumably putting shopping away.

  My legs were weak and shaky as I ran through to the kitchen. He looked up from what he was doing, and his expression of amiable cheer drained as he saw my face. “What’s wrong?”

  “It’s not me,” I blurted, “but she… her eyes were really weird, then I think she fainted… she came out of it, but then she fell asleep.” There was a shake in my voice too, I realised as I talked.

  He got up from the cupboard, and I could read the worry in the expression on his face as he said, “Where is she?”

  “Living room, armchair.”

  His expression turned to one of relief. “Good; last time it happened we were in the middle of the Co-Op.” He seemed amused as he said, “It’s nothing to worry about, really, she saw the doctor about it this week, it’s perfectly normal.”

  “Normal?!”

  He paused, and then said, carefully, “Oh… she didn’t get the chance to tell you before she passed out?”

  “Tell me what!”

  “I’m going to have a baby.” She said, sometime later, as she sagged, sleepily against the back of the armchair. “That is,” she gazed up at him affectionately as he held her hand, “We’re going to have a baby.”

  There was a long, painful, silence. Thomas watched me, anxiously. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to say something, anything, to break the awful anxious silence, but I couldn’t. Of all the possible explanations for her fainting spells that there might have been, this was one I hadn’t even considered. I wanted to be calm and congratulatory, but I couldn’t be – not then. I was in shock.

  At some point, Thomas quietly left the room. So unobtrusive was his exit that I didn’t immediately notice that he had gone. At last, she said, “I’m sorry; I was hoping to break it to you gently.”

  I shook my head to clear it, and laughed, oddly, as I looked up into her face. She seemed worried and concerned as I said, “What do you want me to say?”

  “’Congratulations’ would be nice, but only if you really mean it.”

    “Congratulations.” I echoed. I did mean it, but…

She shifted awkwardly in her chair, “If it’s any consolation, we were at least equally shocked when we found out.”

  “Is this what you wanted?” I asked, still stunned.

  She turned away from me, but I could see that her expression was one of sadness as she said, rather evasively, “I think I’m still in shock in some respects.” There was a long pause, then she said in a tired, quiet voice, “It’s not what I wanted, but…” she sighed, “I’m not… un-pleased, and… I know he is pleased, I saw it in his face when I told him.” She turned to face me, and I saw the anxiety in her eyes as she asked, “What about you?” insecurity was creeping into her voice, “What do you think?”

  “I don’t know yet,” I said, carefully, “it hasn’t really sunk in yet,” I forced a smile as I said “I know one thing that would cheer you up though.”

  “And what’s that?” she asked quietly.

  “Fliss would love to baby-sit.”

  I expected her to laugh, or at least smile at this, but she only looked more worried, “You do mind,” she said, sadly, “don’t you?”

  I shook my head, “No,” Or, at least, not in the way you think, not for the reasons you think I added silently to myself.  But I couldn’t keep the bitterness out of my voice as I added, “another half brother or half sister it is then.”

  She gazed, searchingly, at me, her eyes shone with concern as she said, “Is that what really bothers you, that I won’t have time for you anymore?”

  I wanted to deny it, but the spoilt only child in me screamed ‘YES!’ because I knew she was right, possibly more right than I would ever want to admit.  “Tony never did,” I muttered bitterly, “not after he got married, not after they had children.”

  “Tony never had time for either of us, before or after that,” she reminded me, gently but firmly, “you know that.”

 “Is he going to marry you?” I asked, a little uncertainly.

  She snorted, “Don’t be stupid!”

  We both laughed, and it released some of the tension in the room.  As she wiped her eyes, she said, “Can you honestly see me walking down the aisle of some church in miles of white tulle, surrounded by bridesmaids and pageboys, forty six years old, oh, and about eight months pregnant by the time we’d have arranged and paid for it all?”

  “No,” I persisted, “but it wouldn’t have to be like that, would it?”

  Her expression became one of horror, as she said, “My God, are you actually suggesting that I do marry him?”

  “No,” I said, vaguely, unsure as to just what it was that I was suggesting, “Not really, I just thought he might have asked that’s all…”

  She shook her head, firmly, “Marriage isn’t an issue we discuss, it cropped up once, fairly early on, but we both seem to share a certain amount of pain and horror at the very thought of it, so it hasn’t cropped up since.”

  “Even now?” I asked, incredulously.

  “Well,” she admitted, her shoulders tensing as she practically recoiled in discomfort, “He did start to say something a few weeks ago, after I found out about the baby, about ‘doing the decent thing’, but I squashed it flat, and he hasn’t mentioned it since.”

  Fliss was playing one of her new songs on her newly acquired second hand acoustic guitar when I arrived home. The pared down chords made stark contrast with her voice, allowing it to soar, and making it sound purer than ever as she sang:

I’ve been

Lost so long

Lost so far

Lost so great a distance

That I

Never thought that I’d return

I paused in the doorway to her room, afraid to move lest I put her off, as she played and sang the rest of the song.  When she looked up, she smiled vaguely, a faraway look in her eyes as she said, “Hello… you’ve been gone a while.  I wasn’t sure where you were…”

  “I went to see my mum,” I told her, “and I’ve some news you’ll like.”

  “What?” her eyes brightened in expectation.

  “I’m going to be a big sister, well,” I corrected, “half-sister.”

  Fliss’ face lit up, as I had known it would, “that’s great!” she beamed, “have they thought of a name yet? Or do they not know if it’s going to be a boy or a girl?”

  “I don’t think they’ve got to that point yet,”

  “Then let’s make a list for them…” she reached for a pen and paper, and we began to throw names about.

  “I really liked that song you were playing just now,” I said.

  She blushed, but her voice was uncharacteristically bitter as she said, “Seems a pity, no one will hear it.”

  I squeezed her arm comfortingly, “Don’t give up; we’re all going to confront Katy at her flat next week, remember?”  Jenny hadn’t wanted it to come to that, but we haven’t seen Katy since February, and she doesn’t respond to Jenny’s letters, so we have no choice.  When any of us phone her, she just hangs up on us.

  “I’m not going,” sighed Fliss, “it won’t do any good, and anyway; there’s a Kaffequeeria meeting that day, and I’d rather go to that.”

  “Do you want to leave the band?” I asked, concerned.

  “No,” she said, carefully, “but I’ve been wondering if the three of us could get rid of Katy, then,” she added, with some of her old time naïveté, “things could go back to how they were before.”

  I shook my head gloomily, “I don’t think things can ever go back to how they were before.”

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 Three: The Poster Girl For Fucked Up Rock’N’Roll Girldom

Titanium Rose, Angel Oil tour, 7th-21st September, 2004 – SELECTED PRESS CUTTINGS…

“It Isn’t Easy Being This Tough…

Katy Heathley sits, glowering, as only she can, in a dark corner of her local.  As she spots us entering the pub, her expression lifts a little, and she forces herself to smile.  It’s a brief smile, rather like a passing glimpse of the sun just before it disappears behind the clouds once more, but it reveals that there is a heart beating behind the scarily determined work ethic.  “You’re late,” she informs us as we sit down.  It is not a great start.

  At 21, Titanium Rose’s taciturn, occasionally volatile guitarist and chief songwriter has moved centre stage to become the rock in a band who all so often seem to be on the verge of being torn apart by personal demons.  “It’s not easy,” she confesses wryly, as she tucks a strand of short black hair behind her ear, “At times, I do feel as though I’m the one making all the effort, certainly it’s felt like that a lot over these last twelve months or so.”  She freely admits that she and drummer Maggie Davis (who is set to make her return to the live stage at the bands Manchester gig on 7th September) have an antagonistic relationship at best, “It made such a difference having Andrea in the band,” she sighs, going on to refer to the Girls From Mars’ drummer as a “genius.”  “I’d reached a stalemate with Maggie; we couldn’t work together at all, even before all the anorexia and self-destructive behaviour I frequently found her impossible, and I know that Flora was getting fed up with her when we recorded the album.”

  As well as writing nine of the twelve songs on ‘Angel Oil’, Katy also co-produced the album, alongside Sean Cooke, who produced The Girls From Mars’ acclaimed debut.  With his encouragement, (“She has absolutely no problem at all creating her own authority, there’s a toughness there, you know not to push her too hard ‘cos you know just how far she’ll let you push it: Very few women can pull that off.”) she has worked with a number of bands this year, including Shanti Nair’s The Flirts, whose third single, ‘Witch Girl’, she produced, “The Flirts are nice to work with,” she admits, “Shanti’s a great guitarist, and they do what I tell them!”

(Dafydd Williams, City Life, 1st September 2004.)

 

“Strange reports are filtering through to NME from the Molotov Cocktail camp concerning the behaviour of our favourite ‘troubled’ drummer, Maggie Davis.  This latter day Ophelia may be refusing to give interviews these days, but apparently she isn’t averse to showing off the many scars and lacerations that her anorexic body has been subjected to, “like a child with a new toy,” as one eyewitness put it.  “I don’t have a problem with her,” said drummer Dave Treacy, “but she’s fucking anti-social, and we’d all feel better if she cheered up.”

(NME, 15th September 2004)

Not Such An English Rose

Eighteen months ago, Fliss Keale was the supporting player in a celebrity sex scandal that gripped the nation.  In the course of those mad few months, she lost her job, her girlfriend, and the trust of her family, whilst gaining a tattoo, “several notebooks worth of lyrics,” and the kind of wisdom that can only be gained through bitter experience.  She was only seventeen years old.  Fast forward to the present day, and she is hard at work touring the U.K with her band, Titanium Rose, quietly writing songs, whilst gradually putting the past behind her.  “I might be ready to fall in love again,” she tells Raymond Crosby.

  She stands on the steps of the tourbus, her honey-blonde hair worn high in a ponytail, her soft blue eyes hidden behind a pair of heart shaped rose tinted sunglasses.  Her red shirt is tight, and clings at the chest, whilst her white skirt reaches to just above her knees.  Her tiny feet are slipping in and out of a pair of dainty white sandals, which appear to have been patterned with cherries.  She has the fresh-faced innocence of a twelve-year-old schoolgirl and the sophistication of the young Vanessa Paradis, and in the next twelve months it’s predicted that her name and face will, once more, be everywhere: But for all the right reasons this time.

(The Guardian, 30th September 2004.)

“SHOW US YER SCARS!” yelled some heckler in the audience at Oxford, “FUCK OFF!” I snarled as I shoved my way back through the crowd to the dressing room.  I was fed up with it all, I decided as the door slammed behind me; I could take the ‘mad’ drummer comments, the knowing smirks and whispered conversations, but I was getting seriously hacked off with the anorexic self-harmer shit.  What made it worse was that absolutely no one understood how I felt.  I was beginning to miss Nat I realised as I looked around the overcrowded dressing room, she would understand, and besides, she knew how to make me laugh, how to make me ‘Cheer up’…

  The London date of our tour went well; it was the last night, and Molotov Cocktail spent the day gearing up for a session in rehab: I’m amazed they could stand up by eight o’clock, let alone play.  London audiences tend to resist us very well as a rule, but there were a lot of Molotov Cocktail fans there, plus some of our fans have been following the whole tour and were there to give us some support; included in their ranks, I was pleased to note, were Angel and the Razorblades.  Katy was riding high on our album review in ‘NME’, so she was on good form, and as such, the rest of us were able to relax.  Most of them went onto a club afterwards, but Fliss wanted to go back to the hotel to rest her voice, and Emily (who has been doing the sound on this tour) and I decided to join her.

  As we walked along the brightly lit, still crowded, warm streets, we ran into Fergus and the girl we’d seen him with at the Manchester gig; Fay, the girl he had told us was his sister.  They had both been at the gig, it transpired, and had really enjoyed it.  I paid close attention to her as the five of us walked back to the hotel; she and I walked together, with Fliss and Emily up front, and Fergus behind.  I didn’t want to talk to her, but she was evidently keen to talk to me, and I found her voice to be soft, with an accent that was like his, only broader.  They didn’t look alike, but her gaze was every bit as fierce as his, except that this time it wasn’t a sexually questioning gaze, but a soul searching one: She was weighing me up, seeing if I was worthy of him.

  Once we reached the hotel, Fay went into the bar, leaving Fliss, Emily, Fergus and I to climb the stairs.  I had thought that Fergus had come back to talk to Emily, but when she and Fliss turned right for Emily’s and Jenny’s room, he didn’t follow them.  Instead, he followed me in silence to the room that I was to share with Fliss, and waited patiently as I unlocked the door.  I wasn’t surprised to hear him follow me in, and as he closed the door behind him, I asked, “What do you want?”

  “Oh,” his voice was light and careless as he ran his fingers across the dark pine of the door, but he wouldn’t look at me, “I just thought I’d watch you show off the bloody scars like a child with a new toy.”  I could feel the anger rising up inside as he continued, “That’s what it said, isn’t it?” He was carrying the previous weeks ‘NME’, and at last turned to look at me, “Long sleeves and jeans today I see, despite the heat.”

  “If you’ve come here to yell at me, you’re too late,” I snapped, “everyone else already has.”

  “Was it a sudden compulsion to show off? Or do you do it for anyone who asks, like a party trick?”

  “Get out.” I hissed.

  He didn’t get out; instead he walked over to the kettle on top of the sideboard and calmly filled it with water from the tap. 

  “I was asked to show someone my scars,” I stated, simply, my voice shaking with rage, “I didn’t know she was a journalist, and I couldn’t think of a reason not to.  Next time, I’ll have plenty of reasons why not, none the least being stuck up as the poster girl for fucked up rock’n’roll girldom!”

  Minutes passed.  He didn’t say anything, and I watched as he poured out two cups of tea.  He passed one to me without looking at me, then took his own over to the window, where he gazed out into the London night.

  “If you despise me so much,” I said at last, “why are you here?”

  He didn’t look away from the window, “I don’t despise you,” he said, quietly.

  “Well,” I set the empty cup down by the sink, “I’m too tired to play games tonight,” I walked back over to my bed and picked up my nightshirt, “I’m getting ready for bed,” I announced as I made my way into the en suite bathroom.

  It didn’t take me long to get changed, but I took my time over it all the same, I needed time to think; next door was a man who I still loved, but who, I was increasingly convinced, neither loved or cared about me anymore.  Why was he here? And, more to the point, how could I persuade him to leave before he hurt me even more than he already had?  Being selfish, it never really occurred to me to consider the amount of pain that I had caused him in turn.

  He was still standing by the window when I emerged, but he turned around at the sound of the bathroom door closing, and watched as I walked over to the bed and sat down.  Slowly, he walked over to me, then he crouched down in front of me and took hold of my hands, there was an agonising few moments before he leant forward and kissed me, lightly and slowly, “I’m sorry,” he murmured, “I treated you badly, and… well, I’m sorry.”  He made to get up, but I took hold of his hand.  He gazed at me intently, his eyes still solemn, so grave and serious, “Seeing you here tonight, like this, it’s… odd, it reminds me of the first tour we did together, you got up one morning without putting your make-up on, you looked so pretty and young, and yet old at the same time.”  He got to his feet, wincing slightly as he did so, and then walked out of the room without another word.

  I was still trying to process what had just happened when Fliss returned.  She was flushed, and she seemed to be more alert than I’ve seen her for months.  “I have to talk to you,” she said in a quiet, strained, excited voice.  I knew that I couldn’t talk to her then, so I forced myself to smile, before asking, with false brightness, “What is it?” She exhaled noisily, before saying huskily, “I think I’m in love with Emily.”

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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