You are Vanguard

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 3 (v.1) - CHAPTERS 7 - 9

Submitted: August 01, 2017

Reads: 30

A A A | A A A

Submitted: August 01, 2017

A A A

A A A

SEVEN

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The members of Love Letters lived within a three mile radius, in separate town houses in London. It had all been arranged for them a year ago by the record company. The boys hadn’t had to do anything, they were simply given tenancy agreements to sign and then presented with a set of keys a week later. They didn’t even have to arrange transport to London. It was a strange feeling when Alex had first moved in. Having not been involved in any of the preamble, it seemed so sudden. The day that he moved in, a dervish of activity had seen furniture and possessions deposited and arranged, before everyone left as quickly as they had arrived and Alex was stood alone, looking around his front room at a smattering of boxes and a shred of plastic sheet underneath one of the legs of his couch. The place looked bare and he’d never known such quiet before. The first thing he did was lift the corner of his new couch and pick up the plastic scrap. ‘So this is what independence feels like,’ he’d thought as he balled it up in his hand. Now that he was a grown up, he felt that he should have an alcoholic drink to celebrate. Ten minutes later he was standing confused at the off licence, not knowing what to pick. Lager, bitter, vodka, whiskey, wine? He liked the taste of wine so he picked a random bottle of red wine and took it to the counter, only to be asked for I.D. The I.D. was still in one of the boxes back at the house. It was a stupid mistake by Alex: he’d applied to the local police station for an I.D. card as soon as he had turned 18 and should have known better than to enter the shop without it, but he’d thought that this new phase in his life had bestowed an instant maturity upon him, which till-jockeys in off licences would be able to see.

By the time he’d got home, rummaged through three different boxes to find his I.D., found it, returned to the shop with a victorious sneer and bought the wine, it was dark outside. After another rummage through a different box, he found a corkscrew and was half way through his first glass of wine when he realised that he hadn’t eaten anything since the morning and should probably eat a meal. Although a fridge and freezer were pristine and humming with life in his kitchen, there was no food in either appliance except some milk, bread and margarine which his mother had given him to tide him over. Alex told himself that a third visit to the shop in the space of an hour would feel silly, but his private reason was that he had never cooked a meal before and found the prospect too stressful to entertain after such a big day. In an unfamiliar part of an unfamiliar city, he didn’t know the number for a takeaway either. He tried to remember his journey to the shop and back and asked himself if he had passed a pizza place or a chip shop along the way. He hadn’t. In the end, Alex made do with a few rounds of toast and his full stomach afterwards told him he was supporting himself, that he was coping, that he was an adult.

The following day, a takeaway menu fell through his letterbox. He was up and running now. On his second evening, his phone buzzed and it was Joe, who asked Alex if he fancied coming round. Alex accepted, but it was only when he was getting changed that he wondered how he was going to get there. He left the house and walked to a nearby bus stop but although Alex knew Joe’s address, he had no idea whether the bus would take him in the right direction. On his way there, there had been a few passers-by but Alex never felt confident enough to ask for help.

Defeated and feeling small, Alex found his way back to his new home, rang Joe and explained that he was going to have to stay home. Joe laughed and told him it was easy, all Alex had to do was ring directory enquiries and ask for a local taxi firm. Joe, playfully taking the piss, told Alex he’d come and visit Alex instead, but Alex was determined not to lose any more face with Joe so he hung up and followed Joe’s plan to the letter.

When Alex arrived at Joe’s house, the place was virtually identical to his own house. There were no pictures, no decoration, nothing which identified Joe as the tenant and no human touch besides a grease-stained pizza box lying open on Joe’s laminate flooring, with an empty can of coke stood in its centre.

The boys should have appreciated those early days more, because it wasn’t long before the boys’ manager, Gary Freeman, saw how they were living and employed a housekeeper to visit each of the four houses sequentially, to cook or clean. The meals were non-negotiable: Gary had seen examples of the boys’ diets and had foreseen a future in which his spotless Peter Pans had been warped into flatulent, acne-spattered abominations. Joe once caught Gary looking through his bin. Not even Sofia had any say in what the boys ate, and if they ever tried to twist Sofia’s arm in private her fearful expression suggested that she would never work in this town again if she so much as thought about rustling up a burger in place of their scheduled spaghetti carbonara. After their meals, the boys were expected to wash up for themselves, but Alex quickly worked out that if he left his dirty dishes in the sink, Sofia would include them in her cleaning duties the next time she visited. Sofia’s errands reinforced the pre-existing pecking order between the four boys. The first house on her round was always Oliver’s. It was there where she would cook the meal and it was Oliver who would be eating it fresh. From then on, the food was piled into containers, ferried to the other boys’ houses and warmed up.

Friendless and rootless in the metropolis, recreation was organised by the record company. Once, the boys went off to Laser Quest together. Another time, they went go-karting. It was fun, but it seemed like these were the pursuits which any thirteen year old might love, if only the boys were thirteen. There was no drunkenness, no nights out, and whilst neither the record company nor Gary Freeman gave an explicit ban on such rambunctiousness, a subtle disapproval was expressed and it was made it clear that the boys were on their own if they wanted to do anything like that.

The four of them on a night out was an unrealistic prospect. There was no point in asking Oliver, he’d never really bonded with the other three and had never really tried to either. Alex was suspicious that Oliver was starting to believe the record company’s subtle cues about Oliver being the star of the bunch. As for Callum, he had found a companion in London and spent all his time with her. Shagging, Alex thought, with an envy which he tried to keep hidden even from himself. Joe and Alex tried to have one night out and armed themselves with I.D. before hitting a pub close to Joe’s home. The pub was quiet and the boys were still too unfamiliar with the city to know the direction in which the bright lights were. In the end, Joe asked a barman for suggestions and a ten minute taxi journey took them into an area of bars and activity. It was going well for a while. Alex drank his wine, Joe drank something he’d seen on a television advertisement, and they were even recognised by a couple of girls. Things soured when they were recognised by boys, who seemed jealous and behaved aggressively towards Joe and Alex, as if trying to prove something. Joe and Alex decided to get a taxi home and they ended their big night out pacing around Joe’s front room talking about what they should have done to those boys in the last bar, who were twice the size of Joe and Alex.

After Gary Freeman had visited the boys a number of times, he took it upon himself to make the interiors of their houses a little less bare. One morning (morning as far as Alex was concerned, afternoon as far as Gary was), Gary arrived at Alex’s front door with a pile of homewares and brushed past a dressing-gown clad Alex before depositing the items around the house. Everything was very colourful. There was a bean bag and a huge orange lamp whose bulbs branched out like the leaves of a plant. It all seemed like the type of stuff a child would have in their bedroom, but Alex couldn’t deny he quite liked to collapse into the bean bag, which was so big that it virtually swallowed him. Gary also bought Alex an X-box and an array of games, which Alex was grateful of, but it emerged that although he’d also bought the same for Joe, Callum and Oliver hadn’t been treated, and Callum kicked up a stink about this, before receiving the belated present to which he now felt entitled. Alex wondered why he and Joe had been treated but Callum hadn’t been, and decided that the X-box was to keep Alex and Joe at home and out of trouble, whereas Callum already had a girlfriend providing that function. As for Oliver, he didn’t seem to want an X-box and was thoroughly disinterested by the argument.

Now, of course, there was no Oliver at all anymore. The Leeds concert had changed everything, so much so that Alex couldn’t even remember whether he’d ever fantasised about something like this ever happening. Alex may have imagined Oliver disappearing one day, or leaving the band due to stress, but Alex was confident he had never fantasised about Oliver being killed, ripped to pieces no less. He was confident, but not totally sure.

Three days since the incident had been spent in limbo. Alex had been told to stay at home and wait for a phone call, and it wasn’t hard to understand why the phone call had then taken so long to arrive: the press knew Alex’s address and a small number of them camped outside his house hoping to get a quote or squeeze some information from him which only the inner circle were privy to. Telephone calls from Joe and Callum confirmed that they were experiencing the same thing. Still, it wasn’t hard for Alex to deal with. He simply pulled up his hood, drew his curtains, played his X-box all day, tried to ignore the noise outside and never answered the door. Sofia had a key and she was the one who bore the brunt, forced to muscle past the paps outside three different houses each day. The police left Alex alone: they’d taken a statement from him after the concert. There had always been talk about moving the boys into a gated community where they could be more insulated from the attentions of the press, but Love Letters’ rise to fame had been so swift that there just hadn’t been any time to sort this out.

By the fourth morning, the hacks had grown tired of their monotonous stakeout and had realised there were no titbits to be found. Alex knew they’d been going through his rubbish and was grateful his diet was so much more varied and healthy now. Today was the first morning that Alex had created an eyeball-sized crack between his bedroom curtains to stare out and see no press outside. Sure enough, the long awaited phone call from Gary Freeman finally arrived and Alex was told to wait for a car.

When the car arrived, it was black with tinted windows. It was not quite a limousine, but certainly longer and wider than a normal car. It was the same car which had been used to ferry the boys around for at least the last six months. It was not known whether the same driver had been used during that time, because the front and back seats were separated by a shiny black partition. The boys had always sat in the same order. Oliver, despite always being the final boy to be picked up, had always had the front seat, whilst Joe, Callum and Alex had shared the back seats. Alex couldn’t remember how this pecking order had been bestowed.  It didn’t seem to bother Callum and Joe but it certainly bothered Alex.

Alex approached the front passenger door. Obviously Oliver wouldn’t be using the front seat anymore. There was a chance that Joe or Callum had already occupied it before the car had reached Alex’s house, and Alex couldn’t tell if that was the case because the windows were tinted. When Alex tried the door, it was locked. He walked sulkily to the back door and opened it. Callum and Joe were both there. Callum nodded at Alex, a typically muted greeting. Joe tried to say something to Alex but was choking back the tears and whatever Joe said was indecipherable. Alex stepped into the car, sat in the remaining free seat and closed the door behind him.

There was no conversation between the boys on their way to the office. Callum and Alex stared absently out of their respective windows and pretended they couldn’t hear Joe’s sobs. After thirty minutes of constipated traffic with only the yellow flash of an occasional cyclist bringing Alex back into the real world, the car reached its destination. From Alex’s window, he could see the sign in front of the building: Vanguard Records. Disappointingly, there were still a few members of the fourth estate who hadn’t given up hope of finding a scoop. They were loitering at the building’s entrance and were chatting to themselves before their interest was piqued. Cigarettes and cups of steaming coffee were hurled to the pavement as the journalists saw the boys emerging from the car. To Alex’s relief, the journalists saw the state that Joe was in and swooped upon him. Alex and Callum’s walk to the doors of the building was fairly painless, whereas Joe looked like he was being attacked by a flurry of man-sized hornets.

A short while later, the three boys were sat in one of the upstairs offices with a man a woman, both of whom looked to be between the ages of 45 and 55. The man had sandy coloured hair with two small explosions of grey coming from his temples. He wore a black, pinstriped suit and a pair of spectacles with black rims. The woman also wore a suit, though not pinstriped. Her hair was long and silver and her face initially looked too young for her hair, until one spotted the crow’s feet around her eyes. Both of the old greys had diaries and notepads in front of them on the table. Alex had no idea who they were, no-one introduced themselves and everyone in the room was waiting for Gary Freeman in silence. Freeman eventually entered the room with another woman who was dressed like a children’s television presenter.

“How have you all been coping? All right?” Gary asked, directing his question to the three boys. None of the boys replied. They were unsure of how to act in the presence of the important looking people. What if they said the wrong thing? Alex was worried that this meeting was effectively one of a list of loose ends to be tied up before Love Letters was consigned to the history books. Alex wanted a chance to explain that Love Letters could carry on and be even better than before (with Alex taking Oliver’s place at the front, of course).

“What about you, Joe?” Gary asked, having noticed Joe’s tear streaked face “How have you been managing?”

“Okay,” Joe mumbled, still staring down at the table.

 “I’m sorry you’ve had to wait so long for this,” Gary said, “but we needed to get you all together and it’s been difficult to do that with all the press attention.”

“I know,” Alex said, glancing around at the other attendees briefly. “It makes you realise just how successful we’ve become, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” Gary said, nodding. “Yes, Alex. You’ve done really well this past year. Such a shame. The woman I came in with is Hazel Wright. I thought it would be helpful if she attended this meeting and made a contribution.”

Gary turned to Hazel and then she began to speak.

“Hello boys,” Hazel began. “I’m Hazel. Hello Joe,” she said, looking at Joe and smiling in a motherly way. “Hello Alex.”

“Hi,” Alex replied.

“And you must be Callum,” Hazel continued, looking at him.

“Yep,” Callum replied.

“The reason why I’m here is because of what happened at the concert in Leeds. It must have been very upsetting for you, to see that happen to a close friend. I’m just here to let you know that you shouldn’t bottle up those feelings and whatever you’re feeling, no matter how unfamiliar, it’s okay to feel that way. The important thing is that you should talk to each other and help each other throughout this horrible time, but I understand that boys sometimes find it hard to talk about their feelings or sometimes some boys don’t really know how to express their feelings. That’s okay too, everyone is different after all, aren’t they?”

Alex looked around at the other attendees. The suits. Alex caught the man looking at him, but as soon as Alex made eye contact the man looked down at his notepad and continued to make notes (or doodle).

Hazel Wright continued: “It’s important to understand that nothing that you have ever thought or said has caused what’s happened. What happened to Oliver is totally not your fault and nobody blames you for what happened. Everyone feels a lot of sympathy for you and we’re all rooting for you to come through this.”

Alex noticed that Hazel, who had begun by looking around at all three boys as she spoke, was now focusing on Joe. This made Alex wonder if his own distaste was breaking through into his physical expression.

“Sometimes in video games or in films,” Hazel continued “people die and then come back, but it’s important for you to accept that Oliver is gone and isn’t going to come back. It’s a hard fact of life that sometimes people die, but mostly people don’t die until they’re very, very old, so there’s no need for you to feel fearful or stop enjoying life. The three of you will be very old men before you die. Now is a difficult time for you, but you will get through it, as long as you all talk to each other. And if you don’t feel as though you can talk to each other, you can always talk to me.”

Hazel leaned forward and threw three business cards across the table like a dealer at a casino, each one landing in front of its recipient. Alex picked up the card that had landed in front of him and read it.

 

Hazel Wright

Child Psychologist

 

“Thanks Hazel,” Gary Freeman said.

Hazel rose from her seat and moved towards the door. “Thanks for having me,” she said. “I hope to hear from you soon,” she continued, looking at the three boys, before leaving the office.

It wasn’t a surprise to any of the three boys that Oliver was presumed dead. They’d all had a balcony view of the incident, especially Alex, who had watched the whole thing from start to finish.

“First things first,” Freeman began, addressing the boys, “Thursday’s concert has been postponed.”

‘Postponed’ was a good word to Alex. It implied that the concerts would be going ahead at a later date.

“We haven’t cancelled all the remaining shows on the tour yet. It’s too early to talk about how the incident in Leeds affects things long term. For now, we anticipate a month of inactivity. No touring, no recording, no releases, no promotion. As you know, we were due to release ‘Girlfriend’ as the next single in three weeks’ time. That isn’t going to happen now. Take some time off, go back home and visit your families, do whatever you want to do, but don’t speak to the press. Consider this as a break. You probably need a period of recuperation anyway, after what you’ve been through, and all the hard work you’ve been putting in over the past year. Keep yourselves in shape though. Relax, but within reason. Stick to your diets. Sofia will still be coming round and cooking for you, so let me know if you’re going away.”

“So the group is definitely staying together?” Alex asked.

“Of course,” Gary smiled. “If any of you have any questions, anything that you need to set your minds at rest, you know what my number is.”

“We’ve tried,” Joe said, beginning to sob again.

“I know, Joe, and I apologise, but things have been so hectic that I’ve not been available. I haven’t been ignoring you, I know that you have been calling me and haven’t got through, but the first few days were very difficult. Things have calmed down a little now and I promise I will try to make myself more available than I have been. Partly though, the reason why I brought Hazel in here is that if you need to speak to anyone about how upset you feel, or whether you’re struggling to deal with things, she has more time on her hands than I do and she’ll be much better at listening to you and suggesting things to help. Hazel should be your first port of call. If you would rather talk to someone more familiar, I’ll try my best to be that person for you, but I would definitely recommend that you give Hazel a chance.”

Joe leaned forward and picked Hazel’s card from the table, before pocketing it.

“That’s all I have to say for now,” Gary said. “Just stay strong, and I’m sure that in time we’ll all able to get back to normal. Okay?”

No-one replied.

“So you can go home now. The same car which brought you here will take you back. There’s a lift at the end of the corridor. Take care.”

The three boys rose from their seats and left the office.

Gary Freeman waited for around half a minute, during which time he poured himself a glass of water, then went to the door, opened it and checked that the boys had used the lifts at the end of the corridor and were definitely gone. Then he closed the door and nodded at the old greys on the opposite side of the table.

One of the old greys, the man, put down his pen and spoke. “How can the police be so sure Oliver’s dead?”

“Hard to say,” Freeman replied. “The police won’t tell me anything because I’m not family, but they’re keeping the mother informed of all the developments in the investigation, so my information is coming second hand, from her. I’m trying to find out as much as I can.”

“Isn’t she bothered,” the female old grey spoke up, “about you harassing her?”

“She seems too shell-shocked to feel anything at the moment,” Freeman replied. “There’ll probably come a time when she doesn’t want me bothering her anymore, but things are okay for now.”

“But there’s still no body?” the male grey asked.

“Not as far as I know,” Freeman replied. “The family liaison officer would have told the mother, had they found a body.”

“How long before this gets released to the press: that Oliver’s presumed dead rather than missing?” the female grey asked.

“Don’t know,” Freeman replied. “I tried asking the mother but it wasn’t a question she’d asked the family liaison officer. She doesn’t know, so I don’t know.”

“I don’t see how they can be sure he’s dead if they don’t have a body,” the male grey said.

“Presumably the police have interviewed the witnesses,” the female grey said.

“That’s where it gets tricky,” Freeman said, before sipping his water. “West Yorkshire Police Force is doing their best but this is a unique situation because all the most valuable witnesses are children, and there are dozens of them. Children need to be interviewed by specially trained professionals who know how to ask questions in the right way to elicit information from a child. There are four officers in West Yorkshire who have undertaken the training needed in order to question children, but three of them are on maternity leave and the remaining officer can only work so many hours in a day. She’s going round the witnesses, one by one, but the police feel the greatest priority is to get statements whilst the event is still fresh in the witnesses’ minds, so they’re sending normal, untrained detectives to speak to the witnesses and get an initial account. It’s safe to assume they’re not getting very far.”

“What if someone gets charged with a crime?” the female grey asked. “A defence lawyer might claim the evidence of the children is void because it was elicited in an inappropriate way.”

“That wasn’t something that the mother asked the police, but you’re probably right,” Freeman said. “I think they hope that the children’s statements might help them find a culprit but won’t need to be given as evidence in court, should things go that far.”

“Is there going to be a funeral?” the male grey asked.

“Not yet. The police are still hoping to find Oliver. When they’ve lost all hope, that’s when a funeral will happen.”

“Then we’ve got a problem. The press can’t be allowed within a mile of that funeral.”

“Obviously not, no. We’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it.”

“It sounds to me that the Police Force aren’t doing the best job,” the male grey said, folding his arms and staring right back at Freeman. As he spoke, the female grey rose from her seat and moved towards the door. “They’re botching their witness interviews, which is probably the only opportunity they’ve got to crack the case. The reason that the police can do this is because they don’t have millions of pounds of investment at stake. If they did, they might be proving themselves a little more capable.”

The female grey re-entered the room with a man, before returning to her seat. The man was dressed in a cream coloured suit and a green shirt, unbuttoned at the neck. His mousy hair was tied back into a straggly ponytail, he was unshaven and he wore a pair of glasses.

“We’re going to launch our own investigation,” the male grey said to Freeman. “This man is Ben O’Neill and he’s a private investigator.”

O’ Neill leaned forward and shook Gary Freeman’s hand.

The male grey continued: “Mr O’Neill is going to ask you some questions now, to get a bit of background. And Gary…”

Freeman looked back at the male grey.

“…Until we hear otherwise, this is a kidnapping, not a murder.” The male old grey picked up his paperwork and moved towards the door, followed by the female old grey.

“But how long do we wait?” Freeman asked. “Time is money. We don’t want people to forget about Love Letters. The fan base isn’t getting any younger, in a few years they won’t be interested in boy bands anymore. Pretty soon, there needs to be a decision. Does the band stay together without Oliver?”

“Start auditioning for Oliver’s replacement,” the male grey said. “If Oliver is found and is in a fit state to re-enter the group, just apologise to the candidates and say the post isn’t available anymore. But if it is proven that Oliver is dead, or if it seems unlikely that anyone’s going to find out one way or the other, hire his replacement and get the group moving again. We want someone just like Oliver, the same attributes.”

Just like Oliver?”

“Yes Gary. Exactly.”

 

 

 

EIGHT

________________________________________________________________________

 

“What did you call it?” Sandra’s husband asked, sat behind the wheel.

 “A play date,” Sandra replied, sat in the passenger seat.

“A play date?”

“Yeah. That’s what the other mums call it.”

“Well that doesn’t mean you have to.”

He was cranky because he’d been forced out of bed. Sandra’s car wouldn’t start so she had to use the other one, but she’d never felt confident driving that thing so she’d badgered her husband until he’d stopped pretending he was asleep, then she’d badgered him some more until he’d finally relented.

“I’m not coming in,” he continued. “I’ll drop you outside and then I’m off back home and back to bed.” That was fine by Sandra. His hair was a shambles and he’d thrown on the clothes that were nearest to the bed. He was actually driving in his slippers. “Can you make your own way back? Get a taxi or something.”

“We’ll get the bus.”

The first half of the journey was easy but the last half was pure rigmarole. They couldn’t find the street and both parents found themselves at the precipice of an argument three or four times before turning back: they didn’t want their daughter to hear a row. Eventually they found the street at the top of a hill. The whole street was a new development. Behind a ribbon of houses, pavements and garages there were fields littered and browned by portakabins and cranes. At the entrance to the street, a tall sign loomed behind the street-sign. The tall sign showed an artist’s rendition of what the area would look like when it was finished.

The ‘new build’ houses were achingly modern and separate from each other. Sandra remembered once attending a training session at work called ‘Interpersonal Skills’ and remembered a section of it which referred to ‘personal space’ and how much of it you should give someone to ensure that they don’t feel invaded. Each house on the street had its own ‘personal space’ and although there were no fences, something about the arrangement of the homes made the neighbourhood feel unfriendly, as if each house was feigning community but keeping the other houses at arm’s length. Each house and its corresponding garage was colourful and boxy with an economical square of lawn beside a pathway which ran from the pavement to each doorway. Each path was bordered by two tiny recesses, filled with perfectly formed pebbles.

Mother and daughter left the car and strolled up the pathway to number 2, where the Rickards lived. Sandra glanced at her watch as she reached the doorway. They were late.

Nicola Rickard answered the door. “Nice to see you again Sandra,” Nicola said. “So you’re Melissa,” Nicola continued, crouching to talk to her. “I’m Gemma’s mum. Do you like to be called Melissa or Mel?”

Melissa didn’t reply.

“She’s just shy,” Sandra said. “Probably nervous about meeting all these new girls.”

“Mum!” Melissa piped up in frustration.

“They’re all still here, aren’t they?” Sandra said, addressing Nicola.

“Yeah, they’re upstairs. Come in.”

The house was as spotless on the inside as it was on the outside. Sandra saw that there were no shoes stacked up inside the door and assumed that the other mums inside the house hadn’t taken theirs off. Accordingly, Sandra kept hers on.

“Melissa’s brought some sweets to share with the girls,” Sandra said, almost apologetically, even though the sweets had been Sandra’s idea. “It’s okay, isn’t it? It won’t spoil Gemma’s appetite or anything?”

“No, don’t be silly, it’s fine,” Nicola said. Then she addressed Melissa: “Mel, Gemma’s bedroom is the second door on the left, if you want to go up. You don’t need me to show you, do you?”

Melissa, still shy, shook her head before ascending the stairs. Sandra watched her make each step until Nicola hijacked her attention.

“Glass of wine?” Nicola asked, urging Sandra into the front room.

“Er, yes please,” Sandra said, electing to be sociable. As Sandra entered the front room there was no-one else there. She had expected to see a throng of mothers. Sandra noticed two empty glasses of wine on coasters beside one of two leather couches. So two mums had been and gone. At least two. Both couches were cream-coloured and the carpet was a dazzling white.

Suddenly Sandra realised that the reason why there were no shoes beside the door was because no-one else was here.

“Oh, should I take my shoes off?” Sandra asked, raising her voice because Nicola was now in the kitchen.

Nicola re-emerged into the front room holding two glasses of red wine. “What did you say?” Nicola asked.

“Should I take my shoes off?”

“No, you can keep them on. Unless they’re troubling you.”

“No, no,” Sandra said.

Nicola handed her the wine. “I always hate that,” Nicola said. “When you go to someone’s house and they tell you to take off your shoes, or expect you to. It’s so unfriendly… You’re not like that, are you Sandra?” Nicola asked, taking a seat.

“No, not at all,” Sandra said, following Nicola’s cue and also sitting down.

“Good, I thought I’d put my foot in it there for a second.” Nicola took a sip of her wine and reclined. Sandra wondered how many glasses Nicola had had this afternoon, but Nicola came across as someone who didn’t really care.

Sandra knew what the term ‘milf’ meant and figured that Nicola probably was one. She was wearing black leggings which clung to a pair of legs Sandra would have killed for, and her hair, cut fashionably short into a style which looked fascinating from the back, was almost as fair as the rest of the room. Last week at the coffee shop, Sandra had been overwhelmed by the large number of women all crowded together and Nicola’s attractiveness hadn’t registered quite as much. Sandra wondered what Nicola looked like in the morning.

“You just missed Lisa,” Nicola said. “Lisa Norman.” Then she leaned forward in her seat and lowered her voice, as if making sure that no-one else could listen in. “What’s her daughter called?”

“Katie,” Sandra replied, like she was being interviewed.

“And what’s Sue’s daughter called?”

“Erin.”

  “You’re so good. I wish you’d turned up earlier, you could have whispered in my ear whenever I got stuck. I can’t even remember some of the mums’ names. I reckon if I can just remember either the daughter’s name or the mum’s name then I’ll be alright, but some of them… I can’t remember either.”

Sandra sank her hand into her pocket. “Here,” she said pulling out her list of names. “Take this.”

Nicola leaned forward and unfolded the piece of paper, then started to laugh. “You are so organised,” Nicola chuckled. “Why can’t I be more like you?”

“You don’t seem disorganised,” Sandra said. “Your house looks lovely.”

“We hire a cleaner, so I can’t take credit for that. Can I keep this?” Nicola asked, referring to Sandra’s list. Sandra nodded.

Nicola changed the subject: “It’s nice this, isn’t it? Getting all the girls together to talk about the concert. It was a great idea.”

“Thanks. I think it might be a good way for Melissa to make some friends, too. She’s never been the best at that.”

“Oh no, that’s a shame. I can’t say the same about Gemma. She’s like the pied piper. She’s got an army of girls half her size following her around. Still, I’m sure there’s room for one more.”

Sandra smiled.

“Listen,” Nicola said, “my cousin told me a story the other day about how her son came home from school and said ‘Nobody plays with me in the playground, nobody sits next to me at lunch, nobody wants to play with me at break time.’ Then, the next morning, she dropped him off at the school gates and just hung around for a while, to see what was happening. And he was playing with loads of different boys, laughing, having fun. So the moral is: don’t worry.”

 “I know, but it’s hard not to sometimes.”

Nicola shrugged. “They learn a lot more from other kids, from teachers, from other people than they do from us. I’ve always thought ‘Hey, I can’t control her life, she’s not just going to be a product of my parenting, she’ll make her own mistakes and become her own person so let it happen, she’ll turn out alright.’ My granddad had ten brothers and sisters, you’re not telling me that their parents were totally in charge of each of those eleven lives. Nah, the kids were raising each other. And they turned out alright, didn’t they? They had kids, and their kids had kids, which is how I got here. These over-analytical mums, Jesus, I’ve got two words: Chill Pill.”

“Yeah, I know,” Sandra replied, trying to giggle.

“Well, now you’re in my ‘lovely home,’” Nicola said, “You should meet the ‘lovely family.’” Nicola grabbed a picture frame from above the fireplace and lobbed it onto the free seat next to Sandra. Sandra picked it up and looked at what appeared to be a picture taken at a wedding, outside the church. Nicola looked radiant and was stood next to a hulk of a man with a smattering of ginger stubble on his face and on the top of his skull. His giant hands were clasped onto the shoulders of a young girl, who was burly and red haired with freckles and an expression which indicated she felt worse than stupid in her frilly dress, which was actually quite pretty.

“The big oaf is my husband, Ed,” Nicola said. “Believe it or not, he’s a solicitor. He’s not here now because he’s on duty. Extra cash.”

“You don’t look like you’re short of any,” Sandra said, before wondering if that comment was a little too crass.

“You can never have too much,” Nicola said. “The way I see it, he’s the breadwinner and I’m the mum. I try to be the best mum I can be so he should be the best breadwinner he can be, which means ‘As much cash as possible, please.’ Duty? Yes please. Overtime? Yes please. Delivering newspapers on your day off? Yes please.”

Both women laughed.

“That last one was a joke,” Nicola said. “For now.”

 They laughed again, then both took another sip of wine, in unison.

“Jesus, Sandra,” Nicola said, nodding at Sandra’s glass. “I’ve almost finished and you’ve only had half. You’re making me feel like an alky.” She then took off in the direction of the kitchen and returned with the bottle of wine. “To spare my feelings: down that glass and then you’re having another.”

Sandra giggled but didn’t know whether Nicola was joking or not.

“You’re not driving, are you?” Nicola asked.

“No, we’re getting the bus back.”

“Then stop hurting my feelings, bitch, and drink your wine!”

Sandra swigged down the last of her wine. The glass had barely left her lips before Nicola was refilling it. “Atta girl,” Nicola said. “It’s a Saturday, remember. It’s a day off for everyone in the world except for the mums. So we’re entitled to a few drinks.”

“It’s not a day off for your husband.”

“Oh, fuck him.”

Nicola settled back in her seat and then continued: “You’re right, Ed and I do okay, cash wise, but it gets spent the right way: on Gemma. Obviously I get my hair done and stuff like that, but by and large it goes on Gemma. We make sure she’s got the best equipment for school, the nicest toys. If you can’t spend it on your kids, what can you spend it on, eh? That’s something else about over-analytical parents. They’ll say ‘Oh, you shouldn’t spoil your kids, it’s wrong,’ and I think ‘What’s wrong is having the cash and spending it on other things. What’s wrong is putting your child at the bottom of the priority list.’”

“Is Gemma your only child? Didn’t you fancy another?”

He did. But me? No way. Can you imagine how bad childbirth would be if you knew what you were going to go through? First time, you wing it. If I got pregnant tomorrow Sandra, I swear, I’d be pulling down my knickers and grabbing a knitting needle.”

“Ugh,” said Sandra, giggling.

“And it’s too late now anyway. Gemma’s ten years old. Imagine having a brother ten years younger than you. He wouldn’t feel like a normal brother.”

“Is that what you would have wanted? A son? If you wanted another, I mean.”

“A son is what he would want. What about you? Didn’t you fancy another?”

“No. I found it very hard, raising Melissa. I didn’t have a lot of family to help out. I have one brother, but he lives in France. My in-laws tried to be helpful but I didn’t really want their help. I wanted my mum and dad, really. My mum passed away when I was pregnant with Melissa and my Dad was poorly when she was a baby so he wasn’t really able to lend a hand until she was older. I’m not sure I’d want to go through it all again. I find it hard to understand why so many women do.”

“I think it’s because they love babies,” Nicola offered. “They see that their baby is only going to be a baby for a limited time and then they think ‘Better have another.’ That’s what it comes down to. I suppose for some women it’s nice to have a pure, beautiful little baby around who depends on them, rather than the little terrors they’ve become by the time they’re ten years old.”

Both women laughed at that, because of the sarcasm. They knew that their daughters weren’t even close to be being ‘little terrors.’

 

Earlier, when Melissa had reached the top of the stairs, she had noticed an unusual cuddly toy on the landing. It was purple, it appeared to be an alien rather than an animal, and it had large, purple ears. Inside the ears was a green lining and what looked like a tiny gold bell in each ear. The toy was the one item on an otherwise pristine landing. Melissa didn’t touch it, she just stepped over it and knocked on Gemma’s door, which was easy to spot due to the colourful sign which said ‘Gemma’s room.’

A faint hum of voices behind the door fell to silence before a voice said, clearly, “Who is it?”

“…It’s Melissa,” she replied.

“Come in.”

When Melissa entered the room, Gemma was unrolling a large sheet of paper which Melissa had heard being rolled up when she knocked on the door. The piece of paper showed two pictures. The first was a picture of a boy’s body and the second was the picture of the same boy’s body but showing his insides and internal organs. One of the other girls in the room leaned forward and pulled another sheet of paper from underneath her. She had been sat on it. This sheet showed two skeletons, one from the front and one from the back. Both sheets of paper had notes written on them in scruffy felt tip and parts of the pictures had been coloured in, with different colours. On the floor, there was an array of pens, three empty tins and the plastic moulds from which the pens had been removed. On the wall, there were three posters. Two of them were posters of Oliver, one of which was the same poster as one which Melissa had on her wall. The other was a poster of all four members of Love Letters.

Katie was olive skinned and thin with very dark hair and dark eyes. She never looked at anyone face-on, always slightly from the side.

Erin was smiley and chubby with long, luxurious blonde hair and a small, dark mole next to her left eye. She was very friendly and her shoes had a buckle on them.

Tara was fat with brown hair and was laid on the floor when Melissa walked in. She had two of Gemma’s pens tucked behind her ears.

Faith had a pretty face, blonde hair and green eyes but she was dressed like a boy and her hair was scruffy. She often became distracted and stared out of the window, in her own world for a while, before suddenly realising where she was and then getting involved straight away.

Penny was very small and thin and was always smiling, but with her mouth closed, as if remembering something nice. Her hair was hazel-coloured and her tongue poked out of her mouth when she was concentrating on something.

Gemma was the same as Melissa remembered her, in those brief moments when their paths had crossed during the concert. She was tall, stocky and pale with ginger hair scraped back into a severe ponytail.

It emerged that the toy on the landing was there for a reason. Gemma’s mum had got so sick of telling Gemma off after finding that toy lying around in places where it shouldn’t be, that Gemma’s mum had taken to just picking up the toy and shaking it, making the bells in its ears ring loudly and thus summoning Gemma to come and collect her toy. That meant that if the girls heard the sound of bells, they knew that Gemma’s mum was at the top of the stairs and they should make sure to talk about something wholesome in case Gemma’s mum could overhear.

The girls had been trying to work out how much of Oliver’s body they had between them. On the pictures, each time they saw a body part that one of them had at home, they coloured in the corresponding part of the picture. Most of the first picture, the one of the boy, had been coloured in. The second picture, the picture of the organs, was more patchy. The picture of the skeletons was the barest of the lot. The girls definitely had some of Oliver’s bones but couldn’t work out which ones, even after Gemma had resorted to screaming “Well, what is it shaped like?” at Tara (who had two of the bones) until Tara’s bottom lip started trembling and Erin had to jump in and comfort her before it got to the point of no return. Some of the bones owned by the girls were shattered parts of much larger bones. Between them, the girls may have had a pelvis, but it was hard to work that out because it had been smashed to bits and the pieces weren’t close to hand anyway.

Melissa had noticed that Penny kept looking at the picture of the skeletons. After a while, Erin seemed to notice too. Then Erin asked Penny why she was concentrating so hard on that picture.

“When people die,” Penny began. Instantly, the chatter of the other girls stopped. Everyone switched their attentions to Penny. It was the first time in their conversations, both online and in person, that anyone had referred to death. “…When people die,” Penny continued, “they become skeletons after a while. That’s what will happen to our special things, won’t it? Everything will melt away and all we will have left are the bones.”

After Penny had said this, Melissa noticed that the faces of the other girls all bore the same expression. Penny’s thought was one which they’d all had over the past week, but had tried to ignore. As soon as someone else had shared it though, they were forced to face up to the truth.

 “There’s got to be a way of making our special things last longer,” Gemma said, turning to Penny, who was the group’s designated science expert.

“Maybe we could put them in the freezer,” Katie offered.

“Are you a loony?” Gemma said. “Your mum could find them.”

“And they’ll be all cold when you want to hold them,” Erin said.

“Yeah,” Tara agreed.

“It’s nice to have the special things,” Erin said, “but Oliver will never sing for us again. He’ll never smile for us again.”

There was a long silence after that comment.

“He’s gone, isn’t he?” Faith said.

There was an even longer silence.

“We’ve got most of Oliver,” Gemma said. “Maybe there’s a way of putting him back together. There’s got to be a way. We need to really think.”

Melissa gulped, took a deep breath, and spoke up for the first time since she had arrived in the room: “I know a man.”

All the other faces in the room spun towards her. Melissa suddenly became embarrassed and her head dropped. She then felt Erin’s hand on her shoulder and looked over at her. “Please go on, Melissa,” Erin said.

Melissa took another deep breath. “I know about a man who can bring people back to life, after they’re dead.”

“No way,” Katie said.

“He did it to my granddad. My granddad had a poorly heart, before I was born, and he had to go into hospital or he would die. When he was in hospital, he died, and a man there brought him back to life. The man is a special type of doctor called a surgeon. He lives in a big house, all on its own. My granddad showed me where he lives and I pass his house every weekend in the car on my way to the stables. He’s called Dennis Downs.”

“You know where he lives?” Gemma asked.

“No. No. No,” Tara piped up. “We can’t tell anyone about our special things. He’s a grown up. He’ll tell our parents and we’ll be in big trouble.”

“He doesn’t know who our parents are,” Gemma said. Then Gemma turned to Melissa. “But he knows your granddad.”

“He doesn’t know me,” Melissa said. “He doesn’t know I’m related to my granddad.”

“Is he your granddad’s friend?” Gemma asked.

“No. My granddad’s dead.”

“I thought you said the man brought your granddad back to life,” Katie said.

“He did, and my granddad lived for another seven years.”

“So if Dennis Downs can bring Oliver back to life,” Gemma said. “Oliver will be alive for another seven years! That’s a really long time!” Gemma beamed.

Gemma looked around at the other girls and could see the doubt in some of their faces. She snatched the picture of the skeletons out of Penny’s hand and held it up so they could all see. “This is what we’ll end up with if we don’t go to see Dennis Downs,” Gemma explained.

“But if it works,” Faith said, “then Oliver will leave us and go back to where he lives, and be in Love Letters again. And we won’t have our special things anymore. Is that better?”

“It will be better,” Gemma said, “because Oliver can stay with us. We can hide him from our parents and we can take it in turns to look after him. Our parents want us to keep meeting so we can pass him on every time we all meet up.”

“But policemen are looking for him, remember,” Faith said. “They came round to your house and my house and they came round to Tara’s house.”

“We can be really quiet about it. We can keep it secret. We’ve kept it secret so far. We’ve all done really well. We can find a way. Faith, do you want to end up with a load of bones?”

There was another silence, which was eventually broken by the sound of bells coming from outside the door, on the landing.

“Gemma!” said the muffled voice of Nicola Rickard. “How many times?”

“Sorry Mum,” Gemma said, quickly folding the skeleton picture and shoving it under her bum.

 

 

 

 

NINE

______________________________________________________________________

 

There was no First Class section on the train and Alex worried about being recognised by people, so he put up his hood. As each station came and went, commuters walked past him to find seats but he never looked up at them. On occasion, Love Letters had been known to use the Kings Cross train, with its three carriages of First Class seating. At many stations, Alex used to look out of the window and see a train station employee standing on the platform, ushering commuters further down the platform, further away from the First Class section. Evidently, First Class passengers didn’t like the idea of the great unwashed walking through their carriages in order to find a seat, and the employee had been there to guarantee that their wishes were respected.

But today Alex was in the cheap seats. Despite Gary Freeman’s reassurance that the band were staying together, Alex had been trying to ignore a slight paranoia that this was the beginning of the end. Sitting in the cheap seats for the first time in months didn’t help. Although Alex’s time in Love Letters had been dissatisfying, he realised now that he didn’t want it to end. He liked the idea of inspiring envy in other people and he had no hope of doing that in a normal job. When the history books would be written, would his feelings even merit a footnote? No, the important thing would be that he was famous and that other people weren’t. The public’s perception of Alex sometimes felt more real than his own private self. What was the point of living any kind of life if no-one paid any attention to it? If a tree falls in an empty forest, it may make a sound, but no-one cares.

The train took hours to get to Manchester. At one point Alex fell asleep and woke up after an unknown amount of time to find a child peering at him over the seat in front, like Chad. Alex and the child shared an uncomfortable gaze, before the child’s head dropped down and out of view. Alex could have got to Manchester more quickly if he had taken a different route and changed trains, but he didn’t want to be alone and exposed in a busy train station. Even with Oliver gone, the other members of Love Letters were still moons around a heavenly body, and any approach from a fan would have become a conversation about Oliver, now more than ever. Even after witnessing what a bunch of a rabid fans had been capable of at the Leeds concert, Alex never feared that the same thing might happen to him, and this lack of fear was crushing because it proved that Alex could never inspire a group of girls to become so primal, so frenzied, so desperate for a precious memento of their idol, even if taking those mementoes meant taking his life. How might Alex die? Probably the same way as everyone else; doped up in some hospice in old age, slowly becoming addicted to morphine whilst cancer chokes him from within: the death of a nobody.

When it had happened, when Oliver had been pulled into the crowd, Oliver’s bodyguard had hurtled past Alex like a bullet from a gun and had dived into the crowd. That had been expected. But then Alex had seen his own bodyguard fly into the crowd, leaving Alex, the boy whom he was supposed to be protecting, vulnerable on the stage. ‘What about me?’ Alex had thought. Afterwards, Alex had wondered if it would have been the same had he been dragged into the crowd. Obviously his own bodyguard would have waded in, but would Joe’s bodyguard have followed? Would Callum’s? Would Oliver’s?

When he finally stepped off the train at Manchester Victoria, it felt like a lot had changed in the past year. Fashions, hairstyles. It seemed like everyone was taking their cues from comic book sprites. The girls were colourful and cutesy with fluorescent hair, extreme eye make-up and the occasional lip ring. The boys were excessively muscled and they accentuated this by wearing t-shirts so tight that it appeared as if someone had painted their torsos blue and written a logo on their chest in tipp-ex. Walking behind one such freak on his way out of the train station, Alex noticed a smattering of acne on his triceps and a greasy quality to his skin. Steroids. These boys and girls were the same people who had made Alex feel like an outcast in school but now they all appeared to be having some ‘early twenties crisis’ in which they were willing to try just about anything to make themselves stand out. Their personalities, jobs and achievements weren’t going to do the trick so they had to mutate their appearances to the extent that it was hard to believe they were earthlings at all. Everyone Alex saw under the age of thirty seemed frantic to be special. Even the skinny guys had painstakingly designed facial hair and a proliferation of tattoos. Each young person was their own celebrity, their own VIP. They were hardly likely to notice Alex when their consciousness was little more than a mirror, reflecting back images of themselves.

Alex realised that he’d been assuming that Manchester had changed when it was more than likely that it was the entire country that had changed and it was Alex’s isolation from the public, some of it enforced by his employers, some of it self-enforced, that had hidden it.

His parents met him outside the train station and after a hug had been received from his mother, they all walked to the car park. His sister was someone whom he would not be seeing on the trip. She had found a job as an air stewardess and spent much of her time jet-setting around the globe. Whilst Alex’s mother asked him what he’d been up to in his celebrity lifestyle, the elephant in the room was the crushing realisation that Alex’s sister was living a far more glamorous lifestyle than he was. Alex had a tendency to assume that everything was about him. He hated the possibility that his sister had taken such a lively, romantic profession in an attempt to trump him in some way, but he liked the possibility that she had taken the job to get as far away as possible from her brother and her jealousy of his success.

He hated the way his Mum enquired about his well-being. If Alex gave a vague answer like “I’m okay,” or “fine,” Alex’s Mum would beam and say “good,” as if Alex’s words were to be taken literally when he’d actually been trying to give as little away as possible. If, on the other hand, he was to say that things were going terribly and life stunk, she would encourage him to describe his scenario until she got him to admit a silver lining, and then she’d pounce on it. Would she want her own friends to react to her like that?

Alex had decided to visit his parents mainly because he was bored and had nothing to do whilst the band was in a state of limbo. Unoccupied and living alone, Alex was at the mercy of his own thoughts, thoughts of Oliver especially. The awkwardness of associating with family seemed like a good distraction.

There was another reason to go back to Manchester. He wanted to lie in his old bed, stare at the old walls and know what it felt like now that the dreams he’d had in that room had been fulfilled, if only on paper. Maybe that would be a way to put a positive spin on things, and it would mean more if he realised it himself rather than be forced to consider the positives by his mother. Once they were back at the house, he told his parents that he needed to use the toilet but then headed straight for his old room. When he entered the room, the bed was gone and the entire room had been redecorated. The area of carpet previously occupied by his bed now had an ironing board and a clotheshorse squatting there. Alex sat on the carpet and looked around the walls but they were different walls and it just didn’t work.

He noticed a suitcase in the corner and when he investigated he found that it was full of Love Letters’ memorabilia. His Mum had once asked him if he kept his own personal collection of memorabilia and when he said he didn’t, she took it upon herself to compile her own collection, convinced that Alex would want something to look back on when he got older. Alex had lied. He did have a collection of his own, but it was something he kept secret, because his own collection of magazine spreads and posters was heavily embellished: he had used a pair of scissors to edit the three other boys from every picture, so only Alex remained. Seeing the same pictures in his Mum’s suitcase, he had forgotten what the other boys looked like in them. It brought back a lot of memories. Alex found Love Letters’ 2013 calendar. He knew which months featured Oliver so he knew which pages to avoid. He flicked to November and saw the picture of Callum sat on a stool and using an acoustic guitar to serenade a girl, who was sat cross-legged in front of him with a dreamy, besotted expression on her face. She had been chosen because of how physically plain she was, so that any of Love Letters’ fans could picture themselves in her place. Callum couldn’t even play guitar. Then Alex found a photograph taken when Love Letters had signed their contact with Vanguard. The four boys in the photograph were leaning down towards the contract on the table and each boy held a pen whilst beaming into the camera’s lens. Beside them, also beaming, was the boss of Vanguard UK, Aaron Hirsch.

Alex went back downstairs.

His conversations with his mother usually featured two distinct lines of questioning from her. Phase One featured questions about the band and then Phase Two involved questions she might have asked him if he was in any city doing any job, e.g. ‘How are you eating?’ or ‘Have you got yourself a girlfriend yet?’ The first phase of questions was about professional growth whereas the second phase was about personal growth. Alex usually found the questions from the first phase easier to answer. In phase two, the inevitable girlfriend question was never welcome. He felt that his Mum wanted him to have a girlfriend so she could brag to family and friends about what a wholesome son she had and in effect, what a good mother she was. It seemed to Alex that his parents’ generation applied a gobsmacking amount of gravity to a person’s relationship status. His grandparents’ generation were even worse. It was almost as if Alex could find a cure for cancer on Monday, cure AIDS on Tuesday, cure the common cold on Wednesday, win a Nobel prize on Thursday, become the first man on Mars on Friday, win an Olympic gold medal on Saturday and be elected Prime Minister on Sunday but he would be considered a failure if he was still single by the end of the week.

Alex certainly didn’t see them as bad parents. They were just two people whom he had nothing in common with besides genes. He was prepared to care for them in old age and make their lives easier if he could, but love didn’t come into it. They had sacrificed time and money to raise him so it was right that he should repay their efforts during their decline. It was an arrangement and it was based on fairness and perhaps respect, but not on closeness and definitely not on love. He didn’t have many complaints about his parents, they had never discouraged him from any of the decisions he had made. His Dad, for example, had seemed thoroughly disinterested in Alex’s efforts to enter showbiz, but crucially, Alex’s Dad had been the one paying for classes at the drama school and he had been there to drive him to the classes and pick him up afterwards. Rather than pushing him, Alex’s parents had been the net beneath him in case he fell. They got it spot on.

It could have been worse: he could have had Oliver’s parents. With Oliver always so reticent, and with Oliver’s mother making only a few briefly witnessed appearances throughout the existence of Love Letters, Alex was unsure of how many details he had learned, how many of them were rumour and how many had been assumed, but the story in Alex’s head was that Oliver’s parents had divorced after his Dad had run off with a woman he met on a stag do in Cancun, where he had remained. Oliver’s Mum, struggling along as a single mother and having a substantial chip on her shoulder about it, had resolved to prove herself a capable parent, in fact more capable now that cheating bastard wasn’t holding her back anymore. She wanted to raise a notable human being, an important human being, an achiever. She attended the early rehearsals and sat with her arms folded, analysing every step, every move, every line from Oliver’s mouth. She could often be spotted interrogating Gary Freeman or the choreographer when Love Letters were taking a break, but Oliver and his Mum always managed to be the first people to leave the rehearsal when the work was done, as if Oliver’s Mum was always in a hurry. After one rehearsal, Alex had stood at the glass doors of the building in which they rehearsed and looked out into the car park: Oliver’s Mum was talking to Oliver in a very animated way as they walked to the car, before stopping her son in the middle of the car park and demonstrating some of his dance moves to him.

But having an intense Mum hardly balanced out the advantages Oliver got by winning the genetic lottery. It was no reason to feel sorry for him. No reason at all. And what if he hadn’t died? Imagine the life he would have had. No rejection, no knock-backs, no insecurities, fame, a whole generation having you on their mind, life on a plate. If a ‘Mad Mum’ was the price to pay for such things, Alex would have paid it gladly.

Alex felt very comfortable answering his mother’s questions about Leeds. She was concerned that Alex might be traumatised by what he had seen, which was probably why she had been careful to leave these questions until she and Alex were nice and settled back at the house. But there was no risk of trauma. Alex was more enthusiastic about answering these questions than any of the others, to the extent that Alex’s appalled Mum had to stop him when the details got too graphic. Alex felt a vague sense of victory over his mother at that point: she was so keen to question him but couldn’t handle the answers. He found it hard not to smirk, but managed.

“So,” Alex’s Mum continued. “Whilst you’ve been on tour, have you met anyone you like? Met any nice girls?”

Alex closed up again.

 

 


© Copyright 2018 Rueben Holland. All rights reserved.

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