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?

Advertisements

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 Fifty Seven: Cherchez La Femme

It’s been over a month now since Adrienne met with Fliss.  The Library Theatre’s run of ‘The Seagull’ finished a fortnight ago, taking with it any chance of Fliss seeing Adrienne again.  I wish that I could say that I’d done the right thing, but… I’m still not sure.  The day Adrienne left her for the last time, Fliss cried most of the day, and I listened to her sobs as one serves penance as I performed odd jobs around the flat.  She cried like a child who had been abandoned, I heard it in her voice, in the thin wails and hiccupping sobs, but I knew because of her face.  When she finally left her room around seven p.m, she looked so lost that I hurt on her behalf, and when I, stupidly, asked if she was alright, she stared through me with puffy, swollen eyes that seemed to see nothing as she said, dully, “No, not really… I don’t think I can ever be alright again.”  Then she traipsed back to her room, still in her nightshirt and slippers.  I had expected her to scream at me, but this, if anything, was worse.  I had committed an unthinkable, unforgivable act: I had kicked Bambi.

  Things were no better yesterday at band practice, for, although the tears have stopped, Fliss was still very subdued when we arrived at Twilight.  We practice very early these days, before work, and before Flora has to open up at Afflecks.  Fliss and I always arrive first, carefully lugging the drums across the carpark from Fergus’ car, and then into the lift and upstairs to the fifth floor where our practice room is.  He goes and gets his breakfast at the café down the road, and I meet him there for coffee after we’ve finished, then I help him load the drums into the car again before shooting off to work.  It’s a ritual I’m getting to love.

  It was just getting light as we climbed out of the car at six a.m and, in the dim light of the new day, Fliss stood on the damp tarmac, her grubby jeans ragged and wet at the cuffs, her arms folded across her pale blue shapeless t-shirt.  Her hair was hanging loose, tangled, and unwashed, but she didn’t seem to care.

  We practiced some new songs yesterday, nearly all ones that Katy has written because, lately, Flora hasn’t the time and Fliss doesn’t seem to have the inclination to write.  They’re O.K songs, I suppose, but I have mixed feelings about them; they seem to lack the anger and spikiness of her usual stuff, still, it was inevitable I suppose.  We rattled through band practice quite quickly, with little discussion between songs, each of us preoccupied by different things. I kept an eye on Fliss as we worked, but there was little evidence that her heart was broken, not unless you knew.

  As we packed up, talk turned to our gig that night and Katy, who had been eyeing Fliss with thinly veiled contempt, said with a curl of her lip, “I hope you’re not wearing that tonight.”

  “Why not?” asked Fliss, in seemingly genuine puzzlement.

  “Because Jenny and Angel Smith will be there,” said Katy, far more gently than if she had been speaking to Flora or me.

  “Jenny doesn’t care what I wear.”

  “Angel will,” Angel is our new A&R, replacing Alan Mitchelman now that RMC International has bought out Sandra Dee.  “Wear a mini dress, or a mini skirt.”

  “No!” shouted Fliss.

  We all froze.  Fliss never lost her temper.

  Katy said nothing at first; she just stood there in the stark practice room amidst the leads and guitars, her eyebrows raised in surprise.  “Please Fliss,” she reasoned, “it’ll look better, for all of us…”

  “Let her wear what she wants, Katy,” I murmured, “If they want to drop us, they will.”

  Katy didn’t deign to answer me, so I joined Flora in the doorway, and we waited.  Waited and watched.

  “I won’t wear a dress!” snapped Fliss, “Or a skirt! Not now I know how many boys have been looking up my skirt for the past three years!” her eyes flashed with defiance, and I could tell that she meant it.  It was Liberty who had told her about boys looking up her skirt, and Fliss had listened with a faintly outraged expression on her face.  She’d since told Angel and the Razorblades, but it hadn’t stopped Kit or Kylie from wearing mini dresses or skirts on stage, they’d just taken to wearing jeans underneath.

  In the café later, after Fliss had stormed off to work and Katy had stormed off to the studio, Flora had let Fergus and me in on a bit of gossip, which explained Katy’s obsession with clothes a little bit.  “It was something Jenny said to us at the Christmas party,” she said as she stirred her milkshake, thoughtfully, with her straw, “Just after Sandra Dee got bought out, Jenny heard something Angel Smith allegedly said about us, something about dykes and anorexics who cut themselves.”  I felt myself stiffen in anger, Fergus placed his hand over mine, “Sorry, Maggie,” she said, apologetically, “but that’s what Jenny heard, she thinks we’re loose canons, she thinks we’re unsellable, unrelateable.”

  “I don’t see how Fliss wearing a dress is going to make any difference,” I said, sceptically.

  Flora sighed, her eyes were weary as she said, “She thinks that if Fliss dresses up, and does her hair, and makes herself up, that she’ll look so pretty that Angel will take one look at her and forget she’s a lesbian.”  Flora scowled, “I often think that Katy would like to forget she is too, I know she hates Adrienne, she thinks she ruined her.”

  I didn’t see Fliss until our soundcheck, and when she arrived, she was wearing a blue and white knee length checked dress with a button down front and short sleeves.  Plain though the dress was, it emphasised her eyes beautifully, as well as matching the clean pair of jeans that she had, defiantly, worn underneath.  She had on a little make-up, a little lip-gloss and eyeliner, and looked crisp and fresh faced as she took to the stage.  Emily was doing the sound last night, and I saw Fliss gaze questioningly at her a couple of times as I walked over to the stage.  We often experiment with cover versions at rehearsal and soundcheck, and recently we’ve been experimenting with a number of songs, including Kenickie’s ‘Girls Best Friend,’ which is one of Flora’s favourites.  Fliss’ voice is higher than Marie Du Santiago’s, but I noticed Emily look up from the sound desk with a faintly startled expression on her face all the same.  Two lines into the second verse, her voice seemed to falter, and she broke off.  She stood there for a few moments, stock still in front of the microphone, then, I saw her carefully lift off her guitar, and lay it down on the stage. There was a slight tremor in her voice as she whispered, “I’m sorry,” then, stumbling a little, she jumped down from the stage, and ran.

  From my drums, I saw Emily stand up from behind the sound desk and run, swiftly, and practically unobserved, after Fliss.  Flora and Katy were exchanging puzzled expressions and shrugs as I followed Emily’s lead.  The trail led us down the sticky wooden stairs at Juvenile Hell, and into the flaking plaster and stone bowels of the building.  I kept my distance, for I was wary of Fliss just then, wary, and curious as to what Emily was doing.

  Sobbing could be heard from one of the offices, and I watched as Emily stealthily crept in after Fliss, closing the door behind her.  Outside, I put my ear to the flaking paintwork, and listened.  I heard Emily ask her what was wrong, and upon receiving no reply, heard her follow up question “Is it to do with Adrienne?”

  Gradually, the sobbing seemed to slow and peter out, and I heard Fliss’ voice at last, shaking as she said, “Did Maggie tell you?”

  “No,” Emily’s voice sounded further away now, and I guessed that she had moved closer to Fliss, “But I knew she was in the area, I guessed the rest.”

  The emotion poured out of her like a river, as she tearfully replied, “She said she was setting me free… I think she knew, think she knew, that, Maggie told her I’m in love with…” she broke off, and added in slow, deliberate tones, “Someone else.”

  “Who?” Emily’s voice was almost a whisper.

  “You”

  There was a long, long silence, during which I pressed myself even closer to the door.  At last, I heard Fliss again; her voice was quieter now, and calmer as she pleaded, “Please say something.”

  I could sense the shock in Emily’s voice as she stuttered her response, “I… I mean, I never thought… that, I mean, I can’t, couldn’t…Oh, God…”

  I heard sobbing.  I guessed that it was Fliss who was crying, and my guess was confirmed as Emily began to speak once more.  “Please don’t cry, please Fliss, I only meant…”

  “Are you straight?” blurted Fliss tearfully.

  “What?” she seemed genuinely surprised by the question.

  “Are you straight?” persisted Fliss, almost hysterically, “Are you heterosexual, do you have a boyfriend?”

  There was a long silence.  I guessed that Emily must have shaken her head, for it was Fliss who spoke next, and she said, rather bleakly, “Well, that’s something I suppose.”

  The door started to open, and I darted around the corner and pressed myself up against the wall.  Nat, who happened to be passing on her way to or from her own office, shot me a speculative look, and I pressed my finger to my lips.  She passed me.  In the doorway, Emily was standing with her back to Fliss, looking straight ahead, with a dazed, slightly grim expression on her face.  “I love you, Fliss,” I heard her say, so quietly that it was almost a whisper, “but I’m not good enough for you.”  And she walked away, slowly and steadily, up the stairs, back to the sound desk.

  The meeting with Angel Smith was uncomfortable yet mercilessly brief.  Jenny brought her down to our dressing room before the show started, and she talked mostly to Jenny and Katy.  I caught her staring at me a few times, but it was the bad kind of staring, as though I was something fascinatingly awful in the zoo, and her gaze had a tendency to drift towards my arms, despite the fact that I had worn long sleeves especially; you can’t win.  Fliss did her best coy little girl act, I suspect, to get Katy off her back, but whilst Angel seemed to be entranced by her, I could tell that Jenny wasn’t fooled.  I, for one, was missing Alan already. 

  Once Angel had left, it was time for the press.  I got up to leave, but Jenny laid a hand on my shoulder, “a quick word,” she murmured, “outside,” and as the press corps trooped inside, we slipped out.  “Two seconds,” called Jenny over her shoulder to them.

  “What is it?” I whispered as we loitered by the stairs.

  Jenny looked up at me apologetically, “I’m going to have to ask you to do something that you aren’t going to like.”

  “What?” I asked apprehensively.

  “I need you to be interviewed tonight; I need you to balance out Katy.”

  “But Jenny,” I protested, “you know…”

  “Yes,” she interrupted me, “Of course I know, I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.”

  My eyes narrowed, “Did Angel Smith put you up to this?”

  Jenny winced; I had scored a direct hit, “Yes, she did.”  Her voice took on a pleading tone as she said, “She wants a show of unity, and we do need to impress her, if only to get her off our backs.  Besides,” she grimaced, “from a personal point of view, I’d like to try and balance out Katy’s natural bombastic chatter with your more amiable reticence.”

  With extreme reluctance, I gave in.

  I emerged from the dressing room an hour or so later, relatively unscathed, and found my way back up to Juvenile Hell.  It was starting to get busy, and the crowd were in good spirits.  Before too long, Fergus joined me, and he was a much welcome presence who I was determined to cling to all night.  I’m not normally that possessive, but the day had been horrible thus far, and if anyone could get me through the night ahead, it would be him.  From our table, I observed Fliss mournfully drinking at the bar.  The fairy lights shone on her face as she watched Emily with hurt, longing eyes.  Next to her, Sabine and Amber were indulging in some heavy duty flirting.  Nat was right: Valentines Day really is a couple’s thing.  I could sense the sexual tension in the air, just as clearly as I could smell the fag smoke, perfume and sweat of the various glamorous couples present.  Dew were there, and Aiden and Sophie joined us for a drink before departing to set up shop with the newly pressed Angel and the Razorblades single at the table nearest the stage.

  As the Razorblades took to the stage, Fergus and I made our way through the modest crowd to the moshpit.  Kylie was on fine form tonight, all sparkle and wit and energy, and her voice has never sounded so good.  They have some new songs, which are tight and show how far they’ve come over the past year, one of them is called ‘Beijing Doll,’ after some Chinese punk girls memoir, and another is about the under eighteens anti-war protest in Manchester two years ago.  Rosa and Kit channelled their energy into their playing, making for a great set, even when Yan broke a string and had to borrow Fliss’ guitar for the rest of the set.

  As the Razorblades played, I became aware of Nat, who was watching the band from the end of the bar.  She was dressed up to the nines in a particularly devastating black velour dress, but she seemed distracted.  Soon, she had vanished once more and I was able only to catch the odd glimpse of her between songs as she ran from pillar to post arranging things, a fierce scowl on her face.  I sensed her impatience, as well as her mild frustration.

  After the Razorblades set, it was time for Fliss to make her way through the heart shaped balloons and sprays of glitter to the decks by the sound desk to start her DJ set, and the crowd dispersed to the dancefloor, bar, and tables.  Things were definitely livening up, and it looked as though it was going to be a great night.  Then…

  A tall, curvy, dark haired woman could be seen at the far end of the room, handing over her ticket as Fliss began to play Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Take Me Out.’  I nudged Fergus, and we watched as this most glamorous of creatures cut her way through the crowd like a knife through butter.  “It’s Violet!” I exclaimed as she drew closer.

  “And she’s wearing that dress,” added Flora, in significant tones.

  That dress was scarlet in colour, and was made from a luxuriously silky fabric.  It was low necked and slashed to the waist, and shoelace thin black lacings criss-crossed up Violet’s torso, revealing pale flesh and the outline of her breasts.  The dress had long, loose, flowing sleeves and, whilst the dress itself wasn’t tight, it was clearly tailored to be a close fit, the hem fell to just below her knees, and was slit up the back, rather less drastically than at the front.  Black nylons and black kitten heels complimented the dress, along with a slash of scarlet lipstick, and black, impenetrable sunglasses.  Her long black hair hung in loose waves down her back, and was fixed in place by a red flower grip on the right side.  She looked like a goddess, like a twenty first century, darker, Veronica Lake.

  Nat slipped through the gaping crowd to her, and they embraced theatrically.  Nat’s black finger nailed hand took hold of Violet’s scarlet one, and lead her away into the crowd.

  Fergus swallowed nervously, “I thought the Girls From Mars were in London this week, re-negotiating their contract.”

  Flora, who had been knocking back the drinks at a worryingly prodigious rate, leant over and said, knowingly, “Violet made sure that they finalised it yesterday.”

  A few minutes later, Fliss began to play Garbage’s ‘#1 Crush’, and I saw Nat and Violet take to the dancefloor together, to considerable roared approval from the crowd.  The intense sexuality of the song perfectly suited their closeness on the dancefloor, and as Nat frenched her, and Violet pulled Nat closer still, I heard Flora mutter in horror, “She’s ruining her make-up, and it must have taken ages to put on.”

  Nat’s hands were everywhere now, and as they half danced, half groped, less attentive couples looked on, open-mouthed.  I could see Amber watching, despite herself, as Sabine tried to distract her.  I had talked to Moyra briefly in the toilets earlier, and she had told me that Violet was “just doing a friend a favour” by coming tonight.  I relayed this to Fergus as we watched the barely disguised foreplay unfolding before us.  His eyes were full of stunned admiration as he said, “Must be one hell of a favour then.”

  The arrival of the rest of The Girls From Mars defused some of the electricity in the air.  They joined Fergus, Flora and I at our table and began to chat happily about London, and some of the bands they had seen whilst down there, “on business.”  Moyra, their usually cool, ice blonde singer was enthusing wildly about a Japanese punk band called Klack, whilst Jane talked of Unskinny Bop and American bands passing through the capital at a rate of one a night.  I found myself next to Andrea, who had been quiet so far, and I realised that I had never really had the opportunity to thank her for stepping into my shoes last year.  “That’s alright,” she said when I brought the matter up, “I quite enjoyed it, it was an interesting challenge for me, because we play in such different styles.”  Over drinks, we discussed different styles, and then got onto kits, and finally, onto drummers we admire, it was nice, I found, to talk to her, and I quite regretted having to break off our conversation in order to get up onstage for our set.

  Afterwards, Fergus and I were joined by a rapidly drowning Flora, and a thoroughly drowned Liberty, both of whom were accompanied by a sober and sombre Jenny.  “I feel that I ought to maintain an element of control,” said Jenny as she glared, pointedly, at Flora, “when I’m working, things being the way they are.”  Liberty plonked herself down with The Girls From Mars at the next table and, sensing an indefinable tension between Flora and Jenny, I made my excuses and lead Fergus away.

  “What was all that about?” he asked as we walked back towards the stage, and then through the door that led to the stairs.

  “I’ll explain later,” I promised as we headed backstage; but backstage proved to be an unreliable sanctity as well.  When we arrived, it was to find Fliss and Emily seated at opposite ends of the battered old sofa, talking intensely in low, emotionally taut voices.  They didn’t notice us enter the room, and I’m equally sure that they didn’t see us leave either, just thirty or so seconds later.

Chapter Fifty Two: The Exile Returns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  “About you being shacked up with Amber.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  I nodded, “Very.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Thirty One: All The Things She Said

“Never mind the Russians, last weeks tabloids may have got themselves all steamed up with their mass publication of the above picture of pouting pop totty, Adrienne Du Shanne, but pop pundits are already much more interested in the identity of her young ‘friend’… at Kings Reach Towers, the smart money is on femme rock band, Titanium Rose, and their ever lovely singer/guitarist, Fliss Keale (pictured below).  Not only does Fliss fit the physical profile, but she is also known to kick with the other foot, having already notched up a fling with Girls From Mars guitarist, Violet Powys.  It’s also been reported that Fliss was spotted out shopping in Manchester city centre with the Burnley born Adrienne on a number of occasions last year…” (New Musical Express, 5th February 2003) 

Jenny warned us about the ‘NME’ story, but she was powerless to stop it.  “This won’t be the end of it.”  She warned Fliss severely at our house the morning after the paper hit the shops.

  Fliss hung her head, and I could tell that she was upset; there were tears in her eyes as Jenny turned her attention to her shrilly ringing mobile. She wasn’t crying about Adrienne, but because she’d been shouted at by Jenny.

  “Don’t deny or confirm any rumours,” Jenny said, more kindly, when she had got rid of the caller.  She sat down opposite Fliss, and gazed at her soulfully, “It’ll be hard, I won’t pretend otherwise, but you have no choice. You can’t deny what’s in front of everyone’s nose, especially after today, and you shouldn’t do, but…” Her expression became grim “I’m asking you not to discuss Adrienne with anyone, especially journalists.”

  Fliss twitched a smile “You’re a journalist.”

  Jenny sighed “I envisioned a day when my management of you might clash with my day job, but I never envisioned it happening so soon, or under such circumstances…” Her tone was businesslike as she said “We may be able to fashion some kind of positive mileage out of it if we’re creative about it, but you need to be careful.”  She locked eyes with Fliss once more as she said, sternly, “No contacting her, no meeting up, no talking about her.”  Fliss nodded subdued agreement as Jenny continued “She has some very powerful industry personalities behind her and her group, none of whom are going to want to encourage her to come out.”

  “What about what she wants?” asked Fliss, softly, but neither of us had an answer for her.

  Perhaps the sorriest aspect of the ‘NME’ coverage was the knowledge that certain people, who we had considered to be friends, were all too eager to cast assumptions to anyone willing to listen.  “Fliss has always had a weakness for unattainable straight girls” Violet had been quoted as saying “She’s very inexperienced and feels safer loving women who won’t love her back.”

  She phoned me on the Wednesday night, and asked to speak to Fliss.  When I icily informed her that Fliss didn’t want to speak to her, her voice took on an increasingly urgent tone as she pleaded “Will you give her a message then?”

  I thought about it as I twisted the phone cord around my finger “I might” I said diffidently.

  “Please Maggie, it’s important, she has to know that I never, I swear…I never said those things they printed in ‘NME’.  Someone phoned me from one of the tabloids, I wouldn’t speak to them, they made something up, and it’s been re-produced, I’m so sorry.”

  Another silence came and went before I said; guardedly “You understand why it’s hard for me to believe you…”

  “Yes, I understand” she sighed, wearily “Fliss is your friend; you want to protect her, I understand that, but… I never said a word, I swear… I never even knew about Adrienne until I saw the papers last week, why would I judge her? Why would I judge either of them? I don’t want to hurt Fliss; I never wanted to do that, she needs wrapping up and taking away from all this, not people making things worse by talking to the press.”

  I relayed her sentiments to Fliss: She believed her.

  On the Friday, we watched ‘Top Of The Pops’ and watched the much-discussed Russian duo, Tatu, perform their number one single, ‘All The Things She Said’.  Much had been made in the tabloids of the girl’s purportedly faux lesbianism, of their relative youth, and of the schoolgirl outfits worn in the video to promote the single, leading such pillars of the establishment as Richard and Judy to call for a public boycott of the single.  The public, naturally, had opted to do otherwise.  Many of the tabloid stories at the weekend had referred to Adrienne as “doing a Tatu”, and the general mood seemed to suggest that lesbianism was about to become the new press merry go round; “Last week vampires, this week lesbianism, next week necrophilia.” Katy had quipped at rehearsal, only half joking.

  Fliss wasn’t amused, but she was eager to see and hear Tatu all the same.  She watched in rapt attention as the two teenage girls exchanged many an intimate glance, sang to each other, and…

  “Damn!” cursed Fliss as the screen cut to a boy and girl in the audience with their tongues rammed down each others throats, for the duration of the guitar solo.  By the time the camera returned to the Tatu girls, they were just emerging from a similarly passionate and prolonged bout of tonsil hockey.

  We had sat through the flawlessly presented Avril Lavigne, singing about ‘Sk8er bois’, Girls Aloud’s equally unfeasible claims to be singing about ‘The Sound Of The Underground’ and, most unbelievable of all, a preview of the new Girl Trouble single.  Not only had the Tatu edit thrown Fliss back into depression, but such depression had been confounded earlier by a glossy, pouting Adrienne claiming to ‘Love Nobody But You.’  Never mind boycotting Tatu; I was seriously considering boycotting the BBC.

  On the Saturday, Titanium Rose were interviewed for ‘Diva’.  It was a friendly interview, easy and enjoyable; the only tense moment came when Fliss was asked to comment upon her relationship with Adrienne.  The temperature in the room dropped into an icy permafrost, and Fliss’ previously happy expression vanished like the sun under clouds of sorrow.  “I can’t talk about the rumours.” She said carefully, as Jenny had instructed her.  “It’s not going to happen.”  The journalist in question didn’t press the point, but I imagine that she knew as well as we did that it was killing Fliss to say it.

 Fliss stayed in London after we had gone home in order to be interviewed and photographed on the Monday for ‘I.D’ magazine.  She is next month’s cover girl, and is extremely excited about it.  Jenny was pleased too, although not as pleased as Fliss, as she’d been unable to take the time off work to babysit her through it, also “I’d rather it had been a music magazine” she confessed as she dropped in at rehearsal that Monday “But I’m trusting that they won’t turn her into a barely dressed Lolita, or I wouldn’t have agreed to it.” 

  Katy shrugged “It’s good press for the band, why so wary Jenny? You weren’t half as worried when we did ‘Diva’ last month.”

  Jenny reached into her bag, and withdrew a copy of ‘The Mirror’.  “My other half reads it” she said, a little defensively “I just hope that Fliss doesn’t… it’s on page seven.” She added, for the benefit of Katy who had taken possession of the paper and was leafing through it.

  I watched as she scanned the page with increasing impatience.  At last, she pulled back, a low whistle escaping her throat as she murmured “The little bitch…”

  Adrienne was posing in a flared white mini skirt, whilst a black sports jacket made a poor job of concealing her wonderbra; her hair hung across her face, and she was peering up at the camera through long, dark lashes.  The piece itself was short, and concerned a statement that Adrienne had issued.  In it, she denied her relationship with Fliss but confirmed that she and Fliss had had “a brief liaison.”  She regretted the incident; nothing more.

  None of us wanted to show the report to Fliss when she arrived home from London, but it soon transpired that she already knew.  I could tell that she was upset and, as such, I chose not to pursue the matter.  When she ran to her bedroom, I didn’t follow, not even when I heard her crying.

  On the Tuesday, she arrived home from work at ten a.m with the bleak news that she had been sacked.

  “Why?” I asked in surprise.

  “Well, they said it was because I was making mistakes too often, but I think it might have more to do with being plastered all over the newspapers… it took a while for the penny to drop, that’s all.”  Her smile was brittle as she said “Nobody wants to be splashed across the papers in an ‘Adrienne’s Till Girl Girlfriend’ story.”  Despite her uncharacteristic bitterness, her fragility shone through.

  I hugged her, and as she rested her head against my shoulder, I said, in what I hoped was a comforting tone of voice, “Well, at least they haven’t discovered your fondness for skipping yet.”

Chapter Twenty Six: Pressure

Another day… and another night out at Juvenile Hell: It can be too easy to become blasé and resigned to nightlife, especially when you end up going out as often as we do. We go out because it’s what we do, and we do it because it’s the only way we get to see our friends. Sometimes we go out to see the bands play, sometimes we go out to dance, but not as often as I would like… Too often it feels as though we go out simply to be seen. Forgive me, I am feeling sorry for myself… But I hadn’t really wanted to go to Juvenile Hell that night. I was feeling tired and irritable again, and I didn’t know why. I made myself go in the end because Fergus and Fliss both wanted to and I didn’t want to be a grouch. Nat was on fine old form when we arrived; It was a Friday night, and she was merrily tottering around her red and gold domain, assisted by a tall, black and blonde haired man in designer combat trousers.  “MAGGIE!!” she screamed when she spotted me making my way through the throng.  I waved, and she unsteadily charged and staggered her way through the crowd, dragging him behind her, and crashing to a halt directly in front of Fergus and me a few minutes later.  I could smell the alcohol as she loudly proclaimed, for his benefit, “This is my best friend in the whole world.” I smiled awkwardly “And, and also, co-conspirer in my first business enterprise, Minx Records.” She added, equally loudly, referring to the record label we had run together when we were sixteen.  I nodded to the bloke she’d towed over, but he was too busy groping her to notice.  I felt faintly embarrassed, and I could sense Fergus giving me funny looks as we stood there, watching him.  Nat was obviously preoccupied, so I was about to slip away when she turned her attention back to us.  “Oh!” she said in a voice that was still too loud “This is Dylan, you saw him last time you were here, when he was photographing me for ‘City Life’.” I looked him over: the guy with the Beckham haircut…  He was quite good looking up close.  I noted an expensive looking chain and watch in addition to the designer clothes.

  “How many do you think she’s had?” wondered Fergus as we made our way over to the bar.  I shrugged.  When I looked over a few minutes later, they’d found a discreet corner and were necking enthusiastically

  Fliss was already at the bar, talking to a suitably glamorous Violet.  But when I joined them, I discovered that it was Violet who was making all the effort.  Fliss was just listening, and nodding periodically.

  After a while, the first band of the night walked out onto the stage, and Fliss made her excuses and slipped through the crowd to the front of the stage.  Violet watched her go with a mournful expression “I was being friendly,” she protested, sadly, “but it was like she was only being polite to me.”  She turned to me, and I sensed her confusion as she said “I know I’ve been away for a few months, but, what happened to the sweet little girl I left behind?”

  “You broke her heart.” I replied, succinctly.

  She nodded regretfully, and her eyes were sad as she said “But when did she turn into such a sex kitten?”

  Fergus and I exchanged a private look.  He had been very surprised earlier in the evening when, after an hours wait, Fliss had finally emerged from her bedroom wearing a simple but slinky black backless dress and black stilettos, her hair had been curled and she was immaculately made up, with flawless foundation, pale pink lip gloss, and pale blue eye shadow. 

  “I’ve seen one of those dresses,” said Violet, quietly, her eyes still on Fliss as she continued “When I was in London.  It was on display at Selfridges, and it cost about four hundred pounds.” I could sense her lust as she said, “I’d like to know how it ended up on Fliss…”

  Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Nat weaving her way over to the bar, her clothes were awry, and her lipstick was smudged all over her face.  “Maybe it was a different dress,” I said neutrally.

  Violet shook her head “I saw the label; it looked like the real thing to me.”  She turned to Nat, who was about to knock back a shot of something pale pink that smelt vaguely of almonds and cherries, “Did you buy that dress for Fliss?”

  Nat craned her neck to get a better look at Fliss, and then snorted “No, catch me with that much spare change…” she eyed Violet warily “Why did you think it was me?”

  Violet shrugged dejectedly.

  “What’s the big deal?” I asked, “It’s only a dress”

  “Top range Harvey Nicks,” said Nat shrewdly “Unless I’m very much mistaken…” She knocked back her drink, grimacing slightly as the liquid hit the back of her throat. We lapsed into silence again, until Nat remarked, rather hoarsely, “You’re just peeved because you think she’s found herself a sugar mommy.”

  “She does have someone else,” I murmured.  I quickly wished that I hadn’t though, because they all turned on me, and the unspoken question hung in the air ‘WHO?’ As I gave a deliberately vague account of the girl I’d seen shinning down our drainpipe a few months back now, Nat choked on her second shot.  “What?” I asked suspiciously.

  She was puce from coughing before she was finally able to answer, “Nothing” she spluttered; “It was the image of her shinning down the drainpipe, that’s all…”

  Violet narrowed her eyes “You know who it is, don’t you?” she said venomously.

  “I might do,” conceded Nat.

  “Then spill…”

  “Dear me, is that the time” Nat glanced at her wrist, looking for a watch she didn’t have.  I detected a faint smirk.  “I really must be getting back to…” she hesitated “what I was doing before.”

  “Check his pockets for a pack of three first,” advised Violet cattily.

  Nat smiled dreamily “First things first” she half murmured, half slurred as she got up.

  “Hetty sell-out” muttered Violet bitterly.

  “I am not a hetty sell-out,” slurred Nat “and anyway,” she hiccupped, loudly, “anyway… I have the urge upon me tonight.”  We watched as she weaved her way back through the crowds to where she had left Dylan.

  Fliss retired to her bedroom with her mobile as soon as we arrived home, leaving us to stay up and talk into the early hours.  “I never knew that you’d run a record label with Nat.” he said, interested “Why didn’t you tell me?”

  I shrugged indifferently “It was a long time ago, we were very young.  We only released two records – then we ran out of money.”

  “How old were you?”

  “We were both sixteen.  Fifteen when we had the idea, sixteen when we started releasing records though” I felt a little embarrassed “It was just a little label, Fergus, everyone does them…”

  He shook his head “You make it sound like dying your hair or something, something easy.”

  “Well” I conceded, “it wasn’t all that hard really, it was just expensive.”

  “I know,” he said.  There was a long silence before he asked, “Would you do it again?” I shook my head “With me?” he asked tentatively, but I shook my head again.

  “I don’t want to do it anymore” I explained “I wouldn’t enjoy it anymore.”

  “What about if you had the money to do something else?” he asked.

  “Like what?”

  “I don’t know, let’s think about it.”

  And we did.  We ruled out doing a festival, mainly because Ladyfest is coming to Manchester next year and, if we seriously did it, then the two events would clash.  But we both liked the idea of a one off Christmas party, and we discussed it long into the night.  We decided that it should be a theme party, with costumes, and that there should be bands as well as DJ’s, and maybe films and stalls.

  We stayed up, long into the night, one Sunday last month at his house, just talking about it all in detail, getting increasingly excited and worked up about it.  After a brief lull in the conversation, he looked at his watch, and winced.  “What?” I asked.  He told me it was two am, and added “Don’t you have to be up at six thirty?”

  I cursed.

  “You can sleep here, if you like I mean.”  He wouldn’t look at me, and I experienced one of the rare awkward silences that still occasionally occur between us.  We hadn’t slept together since the night we got together.  This was my fault, not his, and it was something that I had wanted to resolve quite badly, but had felt too awkward to do so, as unlikely as that sounds.  You must think me frigid, or incredibly inhibited at any rate, to be so awkward about it, but it’s not as simple as that.  I didn’t use to be like that, but I’ve grown wary and… out of practice, shy.  It wasn’t even as though it was about sex either, it was just about being near to him

  But by then, it didn’t matter.  I was so tired, so relaxed, and so trusting that I just said, “Yes, I would.”

  The alarm woke me at six thirty, and I opened my eyes with a moan of pain.  My head ached intensely, unbearably.  It felt as though someone had my head in a vice and was tightening the constraints, squeezing my skull, whilst at the same time malevolent elves hit my brain with mallets and stabbed me in the eyes with needles.  I lay still for a few minutes, hoping that the pain would go away.  Then, I tried to move my eyes and, as I did so, a wave of such excruciating nausea and dizziness hit me that I had to close them immediately.

  The dizziness passed and, somehow, I managed to sit up and move over to the edge of the bed.  But the pain and the dizzy nausea returned, causing me to close my eyes and rest my head in my hands as I tried not to think about how I was going to get into the office, and how I was to cope with eight hours sat in front of a flickering computer screen next to a phone that never stopped ringing.  I told myself that if I emptied my mind, closed my eyes, and kept perfectly still for about five minutes, I would be fine.

  One minute… agony.

  Second minute… I felt increasingly sick.

  Third minute… Why is my body temperature shooting up and down in that alarming way?

  Fourth minute… his hand on my shoulder, asking me if I was alright.

  Fifth minute… my answer “I’m fine.”

  Then I stood up too quickly and fell over because my balance was completely shot.

  He picked me up off the floor and put me back to bed.

  “A migraine” pronounced the doctor at nine o’clock, with rather disturbing cheerfulness “have you had them before?”

  I shook my head, and then closed my eyes as the wave of nausea crashed over me once again.

  Back at the house, I went back to bed and took the sedatives that the doctor had prescribed.  By the time Fergus returned from phoning work for me, my eyelids were already drooping, and I was sinking further and further down the pillow.  As I closed my eyes, I heard him, distantly, telling me that he would look in on me at dinner.  I was asleep before he had even left the house.

  It was dark when I woke up, and as I turned my head slightly, I realised that the pain had gone.  I felt groggy, and I still felt as though elves had been digging holes in my head, but at least they had stopped digging.  Fergus was watching me from a chair next to the bed.  “What time is it?” I asked him slowly and carefully.

  “Eight thirty, just gone.” He replied “I looked in on you at dinner, but you were still fast asleep.  I didn’t want to wake you up, so I left again.”

  “How long have you been sitting there?” I asked as I shakily hauled myself up by the arms.

  “About an hour or so, I kept looking in on you when I got home from work, and when it got to half seven, I got a bit worried.”

  I smiled, wearily “Thank you…”

  “How do you feel?” he still looked worried.

  “Much better, but groggy”

  “That’s probably the medication.”

  “Probably”

  “Would you like something to eat?”

  I nodded, and when he said that he would get me something, I said, “No, I’ll get up.  I need to anyway.”

  In bed that night, he asked me “Is something wrong?”

  “No, why?”

  “You said that the doctor said something about stress this morning, that’s all.”

  I nodded “I just hate my job so much.  I wish I could leave, but we need the money.”

  “Do you want to talk about it?” he asked gently.

  I shook my head “No” I whispered.  I felt tearful just thinking about it.

  “I wish you didn’t need the money,” he said as he turned off the light.

  I slept uneasily and fretfully that night.

  On the Saturday, Fergus slept over at our house, and we spent Sunday morning watching T.V in the living room, talking, and generally messing around.  When Fliss emerged from her bedroom around dinnertime, I was lying on the sofa, my head in his lap as he read me gossip pieces from Fliss’ copy of ‘Sugar’, interspaced with stories that he had made up.  “’It’ girl, Lalage Ferrini, whose father was recently outed as a politician, plans to launch a raunchy new career as a topless gangsta rapper…” I laughed, and he flicked forwards a few pages “Ah, here’s one for all the girls… ‘Has Jailbait’s Nyree had a bum lift?’ forget the conflict in Israel, the war in Afghanistan, or the up and coming war in Iraq, what we really want to know is whether arse is the new tits.”

  Fliss was beginning to warm to his theme as she curled up in the armchair opposite with Marmalade, “Boy band The Romford Crew announce their ongoing search for talent.”

  “Ah, well” Fergus began flicking through the pages again “If its boy bands you’re after” he stopped flicking, and his eyes scanned the print “here’s one: Dangerous!’ Jay Adams spotted out, again, with Girl Trouble’s Adrienne Du Shanne.  The blonde sex god was spotted leaving an exclusive West End party in the company of the sultry siren last week, making it the third sighting of the couple this month.”

  Fliss smiled thinly “I read somewhere else that it was a cynical ploy by their marketing teams.”

  “Well, maybe” conceded Fergus as he passed her the magazine “But they look quite friendly here.”

  Fliss inspected the centrefold dispassionately; “She doesn’t look as though she’s enjoying mashing faces with him, though, does she?”

  Fergus inspected the image, “Now you mention it, no… and he doesn’t look as happy as he should do either…”

  “Oh, so you’d like to trade places?” I teased, “I feel sordid now…”

  He kissed me, “Don’t feel sordid…”

  “But you would, wouldn’t you?” I persisted.

  “What?”

  “Snog her”

  “Well, yeah, I mean…” he looked rather sheepish, “come on…”

  Fliss giggled. We asked her what the joke was, but that just made her laugh even more, so that eventually she ran through to the kitchen, red in the face, with her fist in her mouth.

  When she came back, we were watching an entertainment show on Channel Five.  They were showing the most recent Girl Trouble video, which was all come on and cleavage, suggesting that arse hadn’t become the new tits in their case. The overall feel was of something very slick and dehumanised, something a little too perfect to be real.  Fergus pointed to a beautiful girl with dark, glossy curls as she stalked along the video’s urban street, her slim tanned legs set off by incredibly high heeled boots, “That’s Adrienne,” he said.  Her dark eyes were framed by dark make-up like a bruise, and her mouth was painted a glossy plum colour.  The camera shifted position then, it lingered on her legs as the song finished and the video drew to a close.  She stayed in my mind though… not because I had liked the song particularly, but because she had presence.  The programme cut to an interview with her at an awards ceremony or album launch of some kind, and the unseen interviewer asked her a question about her relationship with Jay Adams.  She laughed, but it seemed a bit strained, and she seemed tired as she smiled a coy little smile and peered up at the camera through her eyelashes.  “He’s a close friend.”  Her accent wasn’t as broad as I remember it being at Fliss’ party, and her voice seemed to be an octave or two higher, which struck me as odd.

  “How close?” persisted the interviewer.

  Fliss moved closer to the screen, both she and Fergus were wearing an expression best described as hypnotic longing.

  The popstar hesitated, and then said “Close… that’s all I’m prepared to say.”

  The interview finished, and the camera drew our attention back to the presenters, who appeared to be about twelve, and who sounded as though they’d ingested far too many ecstasy tablets and e-numbers that morning. “I like her t-shirt,” said Fliss suddenly, as the female half of the duo walked over to where a band was waiting to play out over the shows credits.

  “I didn’t care for his hair,” deadpanned Fergus.

  She smiled.

  As the weeks have passed, Fliss seems to have withdrawn further and further into herself. She and her mobile are currently undergoing a trial separation, interrupted by incoming calls roughly twice a day.  These conversations are marked by silence on Fliss’ part, and characterised by a tense, unhappy expression.  She spends a lot of time alone, listening to ‘They Don’t Know’, (the Tracy Ullman version) and writing songs. Sometimes at night, I hear her crying, but I don’t know what to do, or what to say. I wish I did.

Chapter Fifteen: Drowning

Oh my God, what have I done? What the hell did I think I was doing last night? I’ve made a complete fool of myself and will never be able to face anyone again.  Stupid, stupid, stupid… Maybe if I write down what happened I’ll be able to feel a bit better about it, I can’t see it working, but anything seems to be worth a try in the harsh light of Sunday morning.

  Last night was Flora’s birthday, and we went clubbing to celebrate, we being me, Flora, Fliss, Katy, Nat, Violet and Fergus.  It was all planned weeks ago, before we heard about One Way Or Another going under, before I found out about Fergus and Nat, but Flora refused to un-invite anyone.  I didn’t mind seeing Nat and Fergus as much as I thought I would because, lets face it, I have to face them both at some point, but Katy was furious that Fergus was invited, she nearly didn’t come, only the threat that Flora’s feelings would be hurt if she didn’t changed her mind.

  The first club we stopped off at was Fab Café.  Fliss and I agreed to meet the others there at 7:30pm, but Nat and Violet were the only two people who had got there before us.  Violet and Fliss went over to the bar, and I watched as Nat got up and made her way through the maze of tables towards the toilets.  As she walked, the waistband of her jeans and the thick leather and studs belt moved slightly along with her t-shirt and jacket to reveal the tattoo of an eagle emblazoned with the legend ‘Freedom’.  As she pushed open the monochrome door, emblazoned with the iconic image of Emma Peel, which led to the girl’s loos, I got up from my seat and followed her.

  She saw me in the mirror, “Something on your mind?” she ventured as she turned around to face me, both her expression and tone politely interested.

  “Yes actually.”

  “Well, don’t keep me in suspense,” the light in her eyes, and the smile on her face, seemed to suggest that she had no idea of what I was about to say.  Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t.  It doesn’t matter anyway.

  “You and Fergus,” I began, “I know about it.”

  She shrugged, casually, and there was a long silence before she said, “We slept together.”  It felt as though she had punched me, and I realised that, deep down, I had been telling myself to believe a lie: that it had been a bit of harmless flirting, and that nothing beyond what we had seen on the video had happened.

  “You, you didn’t know?” asked Nat cautiously, “I thought you said…”

   “I saw you dancing with him and kissing him,” I hissed, “I didn’t know you’d fucked him!”

  She groaned, and then rolled her eyes in exasperation, “And I promised him that I wouldn’t tell you.”  She winced as I glared at her accusingly, “It was a mistake,” she explained, “a stupid, silly mistake.”

  I didn’t say anything.

  “It was a one night stand!” she protested, “He doesn’t love me, he loves you!”

  “Then why…”

  The frustration made her interrupt me, “Because everything happened at once! The label collapsed, you rejected him, Dew signed to Hardpop, he got a pay cut at work… he was depressed, feeling sorry for himself, he needed someone; it didn’t matter who.”

  “And you?” I asked quietly, afraid that I would cry.

  She sighed, “I was lonely; I was drunk… I think I needed someone that night too and that, like him, it didn’t really matter to me who it was.”

  I nodded in subdued silence.

  She laid a hand on my shoulder, “I wasn’t exaggerating when I said he loves you, he told me himself.”

  “I don’t care what he said…”

  “He thinks you’re an ice queen.”

  “What?” If I had been angry before, I was furious now.

  “He thinks you’re an ice queen,” she repeated, gently, “It infuriates him because you won’t let him get close to you.  He thinks you’re really sexy, and it annoys the hell out of him that he can’t have you.”

  “That’s not love,” I clarified, “its lust.”

  “But he likes you as a person too” she added, hastily “he said he feels comfortable with you, but that you freeze on him whenever he tries to get too close.  He wants things to be like they were when you were on tour; he wishes it could always be like that… You put barriers up, you scare him off.”

  “He doesn’t let me scare him off!” I protested.

  She smiled, “Still, you frighten him…”

  I laughed, “Me?”

  “Yes, you!” she was still smiling, “and you know why, you’ve made it your life’s work! That whole ice queen, don’t – fuck – with – me exterior, never letting anyone get close to you; you learnt it all from your mums Siouxsie videos!”

  “Apparently she isn’t like that,” I said quietly, “in real life.”

  “Which only proves my point!”

  “What point?”

  “If you want him, let him in!”

  I couldn’t believe that I was having this conversation with Nat, of all people, “I never said I wanted him,” I said cagily, unable to meet her eyes.

  “Then why are you blushing?” she demanded.

  There was an awkward pause, during which I met her eyes at last.  She seemed amused, and vaguely exasperated by the whole situation.  With a sigh, she took me by the arm, and said, “Come on, let’s get some drinks down us.  That’ll loosen you up a bit.”

  The others had arrived, I noticed, as Nat and I made our way over to the bar. “Two vodka and cokes please,” she said as she reached into her bag for her purse.  I was about to argue with her, but decided against it.  Maybe she was right; maybe I did need a drink to loosen me up.

  After a couple of drinks, we moved onto a new club that’s just opened in Piccadilly, called Juvenile Hell.  It’s quite small, but it’s cheap to get in, and it was absolutely rammed by the time we arrived.  The neon lights of the dance floor were complemented by red walls, which had been doused in red and gold glitter, and a couple of black PVC sofas were slung about the place, along with some benches and chairs.  The bar was decorated with fairy lights, and the cocktail list was long and creative.

  The vodka and coke that I had drunk earlier had made me feel sleepy, so I bought myself a Red Bull to wake myself up again.  A plan was beginning to form in my mind.  I had to seduce him, I had decided, but the problem was how.  I couldn’t do it sober, sober I was scared, so the only thing for it was to get hammered and seduce him before the alcohol wore off.  But would it work? It’s a tricky thing to pull off, getting drunk in order to do something, because too much drink renders you incapable of the task ahead.  I had to get the balance right; I had to be drunk but capable, aware but not frightened.  Having finished the Red Bull, I wandered over to the bar and bought a Blastaway, this would enable me to get pissed quickly, I decided, whilst not knocking me out.  Next down the hatch was straight cider (Blackthorns) followed by Snakebite and Black.

  The evening was beginning to feel like fun at last.  Fergus joined me at the bar, “You’re knocking them back tonight, aren’t you?” he observed with a degree of admiration.

  I smiled in what I hoped was an enigmatic fashion.  I probably looked pie-eyed, but I was convinced at that point that I looked alluring, “If you’re good, I might dance with you later.”

  “I’ll look forward to it.”

  Dancing seemed like a good idea, so I hopped down off my barstool.  The ground suddenly seemed to be further away than it had a few minutes ago, and I stumbled upon landing.  Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Fliss and Flora exchanging worried looks as I righted myself and weaved my way over to the dance floor.

  I have no idea which records I danced to, or how wildly I was dancing, but hopefully I didn’t make a total arse of myself; I’d like to think I danced brilliantly, but hopefully I’ll never know.  Soon I was hot and thirsty, so I made my way back over to the bar, and to my new best friend the barman.  I asked him to prepare me four shots of Foxy Lady, (Amaretto and Crème de cassis, I think) which he dutifully did.  He watched as I downed each one, and then mixed me a Malibu and coke, which I was quick to finish in order to get back to the dancing.  Someone caught me this time as I stumbled off my bar stool, but I shook them off and staggered back to the dance floor unaided.

  The D.J had just begun to play Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s ‘Take Me Home,’ and I noticed Fergus.  He was watching me from behind one of the pillars that marked the dance floor.  I held his gaze as I danced.  I wanted him to come over and dance with me, but he was wary; I would have to make him dance with me.  I worked my way across the floor to him, and took hold of his hand; I can’t remember what I said to him, but it was mercifully brief as I was beginning to slur my words.

  He held me up as much as I held onto him, and I was aware of running my fingers through his hair.  That is, until one of my nails got caught and I had to disentangle it, which rather spoiled things.  I kept gazing at his face, just staring into his kind brown eyes.  There was a concern in those eyes last night that lasted throughout the evening once he realised just how drunk I was.  But that didn’t stop me from kissing him or him from kissing me back.  It happened at the end of the Sophie Ellis-Bextor record, after he had successfully steered me away from the dance floor.  I didn’t want to leave because I was having such a good time, but he had his arms around my waist and seemed determined to make me sit down on one of the sofas, which I did.  Then I hit him, harder than I intended to, and called him a bully.  I was being sulky and petulant, and he said so.  And that was when I kissed him.  I don’t remember too much of what happened after that.

  He was shaking me when I woke up, and I remember looking around the room, and blinking because the lights had been switched on and the club was emptying.  Fliss and Violet had already left, so he escorted me to the taxi rank.  He had his arms around me the whole time, and I leant against him as he guided me towards my destination.  I had thought that he would put me in a taxi and then catch a bus home, but he got into the cab with me, and my heart soared as I remembered my plan;  not for long though because I was soon asleep again.

  The next thing I remember is lying on the sofa with him and stroking his face as he ran his hands up and down my body.  I was aware of thinking that, whilst my knee high black heeled boots had seemed like a good idea earlier, they weren’t really suited to feverish sofa groping sessions, and the buckles were digging into my legs really painfully.  I was also aware that the short, tight black skirt I was wearing was riding up to my crotch, but then, I hadn’t dressed for this, had I? He was toying with my necklace, which is a silver and onyx pendant on a silver chain.  “Pretty,” he remarked, “like you.”

  “I’m not pretty.”

  “Really?” he kissed my neck, and I began to unbutton his shirt.  He followed my example and began to unbutton mine; too late, I remembered that I wasn’t wearing a bra, but if this surprised him, he didn’t show it.  As I leant over him, I could sense his fingers, lightly stroking my breasts, as I lowered my mouth onto his.

  Suddenly, I felt my stomach lurch as though it was trying to twist itself into knots, and I knew that I was going to be sick.  I stumbled to my feet and, forgetting that half my clothes were missing, half ran, half fell along the hallway and into the bathroom.  I sank to my knees by the toilet just as the bile rose to my throat, and vomited into the bowl.

  It seemed to go on forever, and when it was over there were tears in my eyes, and I was shaking; I felt terrible.  I sensed him put my shirt around my shoulders, and he helped me to put it on.  Then he passed me a glass of water and made me rinse my mouth.  I was sick again.

  When I had finished, we sat down on the edge of the bath and he put his arms around my waist as I rested my head against his shoulder.  I must have been crying because he told me to stop, which I must have done I suppose.  Then I remember trying to kiss him again, but I must have leant too far right because I overbalanced and fell backwards into the bath, pulling him with me.  I don’t remember feeling particularly perturbed about this at the time, and in a strange way it amuses me now, in fact I carried on as though nothing had happened, and re-commenced kissing him.  But he didn’t seem interested anymore.  He pushed me away and climbed out of the bath.  I heard him sit down on the floor and rest his back against the bath.  “What’s the matter?” I asked through a faceful of bath mat.

  “I won’t take advantage of you,” he said quietly, “it’s not right.”

  “Is that what you said to Nat?”

  He was a stream of fire and anger as he hauled me out of the bath, I struggled with him and slipped as he let go, and I felt an incredible pain in my left side as I fell against the airing cupboard.  I covered my face with my arms, convinced that he was going to hit me; but he didn’t.  He knelt down in front of me and waited until I had lowered my arms, then he brushed my hair out of my eyes with his fingers, “I don’t want to hurt you,” he whispered as he stroked my cheek.

  “You already have,” there was a slight tremor in my voice.

  “I know,” he whispered, “and I’m sorry.”

  And then I don’t remember anymore.

  I woke up in bed a couple of hours ago.  He’d removed my boots, but other than that… nothing.  As I turned my head towards the clock that sits on my bedside cabinet, I noticed a piece of paper, which had been propped up next to it.  It had something scrawled on it, my name, in Fergus’ handwriting.  He had gone, but he had left me a note.

Previous Older Entries