You are Vanguard

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

Chapter 7 (v.1) - CHAPTERS 21 - 25

Submitted: August 03, 2017

Reads: 60

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Submitted: August 03, 2017

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TWENTY-ONE

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When the girls left Dennis Downs’ house, they were overcome with emotion. As always, it was Gemma who composed herself first, then she encouraged Katie and Melissa to do the same. Gemma beckoned the girls away from Oliver so the new guardians could confer in private.

“We need to make sure no-one can recognise him on our way home,” Gemma said. “I’ll give him my hoodie and pull the hood over his head and his face.”

“It’s pink,” Katie giggled. “He’ll look stupid.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Gemma said, “as long as he doesn’t look like Oliver. And we have to act like everything is normal, all the way home, like Oliver is our friend and we’ve known him for years. I know you want to make a fuss of him, I do too, but we have to wait.”

 “Till when?” Katie asked.

“Till it’s your turn to look after him,” Gemma said.

 “But you said you’re going to have him first, for two weeks.”

“That’s right. I know it’s hard, but we have to be careful.”

“Two weeks is a long time.”

“Melissa will have to wait for four weeks,” Gemma said, annoyed, “and I don’t hear her complaining.” Gemma then turned to Melissa. “You can see what I mean, can’t you Melissa?”

“Yes,” Melissa replied. “Gemma’s right. We’ve been so careful so far, if we weren’t so careful we would have been caught.”

“That’s right,” Gemma said, turning to look at Katie again, “so we have to carry on being careful. Right?”

“Okay,” Katie conceded.

“So on the way home, don’t talk to him, don’t make a fuss of him and don’t use his name. We are just three girls and a boy on our way from one place to another place. I know we’re excited, but we have to keep it inside.” To illustrate her point, Gemma clasped both her hands to her chest.

The girls seemed to be in agreement. They turned and approached Oliver, who was staring up at the pale slipstream of a tiny plane slicing through the sky.

“Oliver?” Gemma said, stood in front of the other two girls.

“Yes?” he said, turning his head towards them.

“We’re your friends. We’re going to take you home now. My name is Marie, my two friends are Abigail and…”

“…Jocasta,” Katie said.

“You’re going to be cold on your way home,” Gemma said to Oliver, “so you will need to wear my hoodie.”

Oliver didn’t reply, he just watched as Gemma removed the garment, revealing the freckled skin of her arms, and then moved behind Oliver. She picked up his arms and guided them into the arms of the hoodie, then pulled it over his head. She then grabbed the hood and jammed it over Oliver’s scalp, before pulling the drawstrings so the hood tightened, leaving only an oval-shaped portal to Oliver’s eyes, nose and mouth. The arms were too small for him and he did indeed look ridiculous, but he didn’t look like Oliver anymore.

Gemma pulled out her phone and looked at the time.

“Oliver,” she started, “how about we have a race? Can you see that bus stop at the bottom of the hill?”

Oliver looked down the hill and squinted. “No,” he replied.

“Can you see the hill?”

“Yes.”

“How about we all have a race and see who can get down the hill first?”

“I’m tired. I need to sleep.”

“You can go to sleep when we get home, I promise.”

“Will it be long?”

“We need to get to the bottom of the hill very quickly,” Gemma said, grabbing Oliver’s arm and yanking him along, “so we can catch a bus. If we miss the bus, it will take a very long time to get home. You don’t want that, do you?”

“No,” Oliver replied. Gemma started to jog, hoping Oliver would follow her lead. Eventually he did so, and Katie and Melissa did the same, but after no more than a few steps, Oliver hobbled to a halt.

 “Oliver, we need to go faster,” Gemma said, trying to yank him along.

“It hurts,” Oliver said, placing his hands on the backs of his knees.

Katie and Gemma eventually helped him down the hill. Gemma stood at his right and Katie stood at his left, supporting him as he walked. Melissa had nothing to do and felt left out. All three girls stared intermittently at the bus stop at the bottom of the hill, praying that they wouldn’t see a bus move past.

Mercifully, the bus was late and arrived almost as soon as they had reached the bus stop. “There’s no-one upstairs,” Gemma said, glancing through the windows of the top deck as the bus approached.

In accordance with Gemma’s instructions, the girls didn’t speak as they bundled Oliver up the bus’s steep steps. Melissa and Katie pushed him from behind whilst Gemma pulled him forward from above. Oliver’s groans made Gemma tense: other people on the bottom deck must have been noticing this spectacle.

When they reached the top deck, they felt they could finally relax, but then they noticed that there was one person on the top deck: a teenager, whose slouched body was as loose as his clothes, as if he had been melted into his seat. A repetitive beat emanated from two earphones, whose cords vanished under the rim of a woolly hat. The slacker caught Gemma’s eye for a split second, then turned away, stared out of the window and began to nod his head in time to the beat. Even though he probably wouldn’t have been able to hear any conversation from the girls, they had to be quiet just in case. They took a seat behind him and waited patiently for the bus to arrive in the town centre.

Descending the steps was easier than ascending them had been, and as soon as they left the bus they were able to get onto another one. Oliver fell asleep shortly after sitting down, and Melissa and Katie spent the journey staring at Oliver’s beautiful, sleeping face, or at least the parts of it they could see. Gemma was still very much in the zone though, her head filled with plans. It was Gemma who woke Oliver when their stop arrived, careful not to use his name as she did so.

Once they were off the bus, Gemma led them into a field. It became apparent where they were when Melissa saw the tip of a crane erupt from the horizon. They were approaching Gemma’s neighbourhood from behind. Eventually, more objects emerged; large white silos and portakabins. Oliver was sluggish and their journey took far longer than it should have done, but eventually Gemma led them to a large metal container, the size of a bungalow and painted green, which was remote from the rest of the monolithic objects in the field, as if forgotten. The group halted next to a hinged panel on the container and Melissa noticed an arc, scarred into the bare ground near the panel. Gemma placed both hands on the edge of the panel’s handle and made the panel shriek as she pulled it open. She guided Oliver inside the container and the other two girls followed.

The darkness inside the container was vast and the only illumination came from the doorway. Gemma pressed a button on her phone to provide a little more light, then extracted a stolen box of matches from her pocket. Melissa and Katie heard the unmistakeable sound of a match being struck, before a cloak of yellow light materialised in the corner of the container. Gemma had lit a candle. She moved to the other corner of the container and lit another candle. In the end, five candles burned in the container and the entire space was bathed in a glow which made them forget how cold the container was. The centre of the container was covered in blankets, cushions and a bean bag, which all looked soft and inviting. Gemma had tried to decorate the container by stealing flowers from nearby gardens and scattering them across the floor of the container.

“A charity bag came through the door,” Gemma said to the girls, mischievously, “and I told my mum that we have so many things in the house that could go to a better place, where poor people might need them. We went around the house finding things for the charity bag, then we put the bag out on the pavement to be collected. I just took the bag and brought it here. That’s where all the blankets came from.”

As Melissa surveyed the container, she noticed other features. Gemma had drawn some pictures of trees and countryside and had blu-tacked them to the walls. There was also a large poster of Oliver, which had been in Gemma’s bedroom the last time Melissa had visited. In one corner, some clothes were folded; jumpers, shirts, jeans, a pair of combat pants.

“I also took the other charity bags,” Gemma said, “which the other houses had left.”

Beside the blankets, there was a battery-powered stereo. Gemma walked over to it and pressed a couple of buttons.

The music began. It resonated magnificently around the metal walls of the container, Melissa felt like she was inside the music. It was a song which all three girls recognised: ‘Girlfriend,’ the opening track on Love Letters’ debut album.

The three girls turned to look at Oliver. They wanted to see what his reaction would be to hearing his own music. He seemed to be fascinated by the sound but didn’t seem to recognise the music as his own.

But then… as the song reached its middle section… Oliver’s section… there was a flicker of recognition… He glanced at Gemma… then Katie… then Melissa… He closed his eyes… and as the voice on the stereo began to sing, Oliver opened his mouth…. And sang…

Even though we’re young, I know it’s real love

Look into my eyes girl, it’s you I’m thinking of

The three girls whooped with excitement. Katie and Melissa grabbed each other and gawped in disbelief.

“You’re home now, Oliver,” Gemma said, raising her voice to compete with the music. “Make yourself comfortable, we have to leave you now. But I’ll be back very soon. Okay?”

“Okay,” he replied, revitalised by the music.

“Do you want me to leave the music on?” Gemma asked.

“Yes please,” Oliver said.

Gemma left the music on, but turned it down. Oliver moved over to the blankets and collapsed into them, resting his head on the bean bag.

“Can’t we stay with him a little longer?” Katie asked.

“Yeah,” Melissa said, pleading.

“No,” Gemma said. “We shouldn’t have stayed here this long. We need to catch a bus back into town, then another bus back to the stables. We need to run.”

Once they had left the container, it was the first time Melissa had ever seen Gemma lose her cool. Gemma grabbed something from the floor of the container before they left and once they were outside Melissa saw that it was a padlock, still in its packaging. Gemma’s hands were frantic and shaking as she tore open the packaging, removed the padlock and placed it around the handle of the container’s door-panel, before snapping it shut. She pulled the key from the packaging and placed it into her pocket before tossing the packaging onto the ground.

“We have to move, now!” Gemma said.

The girls tore through the field and eventually arrived on the road they had last seen twenty minutes earlier. As their feet hit the pavement. a bus whipped past them, blowing a cold gust into their faces.

“Was that our bus?” Katie asked.

“Yes,” Gemma said quietly.

“When’s the next one?” Katie asked.

“Half an hour,” Gemma replied.

“And when do we need to be back at the stables for?”

“Forty five minutes, and remember: we’ve got to catch two buses.”

“…What are we going to do?” Katie asked.

Gemma noticed that both girls were now looking at her for a solution. Gemma closed her eyes and racked her brains. An answer came within twenty seconds. She turned away from the girls and looked at a house nearby. “Wait here,” she said.

Gemma opened the property’s gate and walked up a path to the front door, before knocking loudly. An elderly lady came to the door.

“Hello,” Gemma said. “I live a few doors up the road and my mum needs the number for a taxi but she doesn’t have one. Do you have one?”

 

Twenty minutes later, the three girls were climbing out of the taxi.

“That was seven pounds,” Katie said, wide-eyed. “How can you afford to pay that?”

“My Mum gives me a lot of pocket money,” Gemma replied.

 

 

 

 

TWENTY-TWO

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Jenny Gerrity was one of a type which Freeman had become used to. These young women were from all over the country and had been drawn to London for a career in media, leaving their families and boyfriends and everything else behind. They were ambitious, driven, constantly absorbing new information. They sometimes took jobs as photographers or stylists. They sometimes took jobs as press officers or journalists.

Gerrity was 23 years old with crimson fingernails, purple hair and an elaborate tattoo on the back of her right forearm. Her Geordie twang revealed how far she had been willing to travel for London’s opportunities. She was shorter than all the boys, except Will, and beamed at them when introduced, even though her eyes were cold and professional.

After the introductions, it was necessary for a photograph to be taken, during which Gerrity made sure to hide her tattoo. Another young girl, who was basically a more toned-down version of Gerrity, appeared with a digital camera, whilst Freeman moved out of the way. Joe, Callum and Alex knew how to make love to the camera, even if it was only the size of a cigarette packet. Will needed direction, and Freeman gave him firm but friendly instructions on how to pose and where to stand in relation to the other figures in the frame.

Freeman predicted that in ten years’ time the industry would be almost entirely female. Even Vanguard had a backbone of young female graduates doing admin jobs and biding their time until the right opportunity arrived. They were poorly paid, used public transport and ate instant noodles for their lunch. Each woman usually shared an apartment with two or three other likeminded women, all of them working across the city in media. Life was communal: privacy and personal space were needs which University had helped them evolve out of. Their cobbled-together salaries paid for the rent and when they socialised, they necked cheap vodka at home before setting off and were already drunk by the time they entered the first venue. Barely a day went by without Vanguard receiving a new handful of CVs from more girls eager to join the rat race.

Norman Tebbitt’s bygone urge for the public to get on their bikes had been embraced finally by the Blair generation. Universities had opened their doors to anyone with a dream, and an army of rootless nomads had emerged, bred in one city, schooled in another, then beginning careers in another city and eventually retiring in another. To these young adults, their home towns were remembered like a man of Freeman’s age might remember like a childhood holiday in a seaside town: a pamphlet of rose-tinted memories, folded up and filed away. One’s home town was another place to be assessed, and if it didn’t match one’s personal ambition, it would have one less resident on its next census. Inevitably, these types were drawn to London for a career. London was the ultimate melting pot and during a busy week Freeman often felt like an audience member at a symphony of regional dialects. A brummie here, a scouser there. Alex was a Mancunian. Will was from Jersey. Callum was from Dorset, though an initial bout of elocution lessons had done a great job of smoothing the edges from an accent which Vanguard suspected might be unattractive to their target market. It was small wonder that so many of London’s young natives were robbing, shooting or stabbing each other: their posts had been filled, and for every job which went to a hated immigrant there were fifty others taken by outsiders from that other foreign country outside London’s borders: England.

The reason for the boys’ visit was an interview, which would be filmed and appear as a video on the website, or ‘online magazine’ as Gerrity called it. Once everything was finished, the webpage would begin with a photograph of Gerrity with the boys, then there would be a chunk of text underneath the photograph which would say ‘Last week I caught up with the hottest boy band in the country right now- Love Letters! Click on the link below to hear about their first kiss and what they really think about their fans! This is their first interview since Oliver’s tragic death and the first ever interview with their hot new member- Will!’ Underneath the text there would be a link to a new page, on which the video of the interview would play.

When the boys had arrived, Gary Freeman had been handed a few pages. The first page was a mock-up of the webpage design and how it would look once completed. The other pages featured questions Gerrity would be asking the boys during the interview. Freeman approved of the webpage, but took issue with some of Gerrity’s questions. Freeman had learned that the best way of dealing with such scenarios was to ask the interviewer for a pen, scribble out the questions he didn’t like, then return the page to the interviewer, without exchanging any words. If the interviewer then said ‘You don’t like those questions?’ Freeman would just shake his head. Today, he intended to use this tactic on Gerrity, but seen as how the ‘online magazine’ was so jarringly youthful (there can’t have been a single member of staff who was older than 25), Freeman’s request for a pen was met with a look of puzzlement, as if he had asked for a quill and a pot of ink. Eventually, Gerrity passed over the only pen she could find: a yellow highlighter.

“Don’t you have a different one?” Freeman asked.

“Sorry. No,” Gerrity replied.

Freeman wondered if this was a trick. Maybe Gerrity and her friends had been chin-wagging at some alumni reunion, and someone had warned Gerrity about Freeman’s method of dealing with controversial interview questions.

Freeman walked towards Gerrity and stood beside her.

“This question,” he said, pointing at the offending item, “and these two questions.”

“What about them?” Gerrity replied.

“They need to go, please.”

Freeman was confident that Gerrity would comply. As much as these young, ambitious types fantasised about rejuvenating and remoulding the industry, they were smart enough to not step on the toes of the veterans.

Gerrity wasn’t surprised about Freeman’s objections. She knew that one question in particular would not get past his censorship. It asked what the boys thought about the large number of people who had bought tickets to see Love Letters at Wembley Arena at the end of the month but had asked for their money back after Oliver had been pronounced dead.

 

The room in which the interview took place was small and sparse. There was a camera on a tripod, some sound recording equipment and two lights on stands. Most ‘online magazines’ were like this. It was a far cry from when Freeman started in the industry and bands had greeters and riders. Now, the media had got wise. As long as they could meet their obligation of recording a people-pleasing interview, it was up to the record companies and artist management to make sure that their stars were glamorous and content when they walked through the door. Accordingly, before arriving, Love Letters had spent an hour at another venue having their hair, make-up and wardrobe sorted, before stepping into the back of a car with delicate, spaceman-like movements, determined not to undo any of the good work.

Freeman sat out of shot, and observed. The entire interview was being organised and recorded by one person on a laptop. It was the girl who had taken the photograph earlier. On the laptop’s screen, she could adjust both the lighting and the sound. Freeman had brought his own laptop with him and it was leant against the legs of his chair. Glancing at the girl’s laptop, he wondered if he was getting his money’s-worth out of his, when all he used his for was email, skype, betting sites and online casinos. With his laptop so near, he felt that familiar craving to visit one of those sites now and play a few hands of poker whilst the interview was ongoing. But no, he needed to make sure Jenny Gerrity wouldn’t try to ask some of the forbidden questions in a more subtle way. Freeman took a deep breath, exhaled, and tried to forget the craving.

There was a flurry of taps on the girl’s laptop, then she said “Okay Jenny.”

Gerrity turned to face the boys.

“So, Love Letters, thanks for coming to see us today at Candy magazine. It’s really great to see you all in person.”

“No probs,” Joe replied.

“It’s nice to be here,” Callum offered.

“It’s another way to connect with our fans, y’know,” Alex said, “which is something we all like doing.”

“You’ve been playing your largest tour since you first started,” Gerrity said. “Do you notice any difference in the crowds you play to? Are the fans more wild in some cities than in others? Is there one concert that you enjoyed playing more than the others?”

Freeman bristled. Was she building up to a question about Leeds?

“Well I’m from Manchester,” Alex said, “so when we played there last month it was a really great show for me because I was the local lad and I got a lot of love from the audience.”

“And I’m new,” Will said, hijacking the question, “so I’ve never played a big concert before. I’m really looking forward to it though.”

“Does it make you nervous, Will?” Gerrity asked.

“A little bit,” Will said, smiling, “but it’s a nice kind of nervous. It’s exciting. I’m looking forward to it.”

“How do you feel about coming into a group who are already famous? How do you think the fans will react?”

“I just hope that they’ll like me. This is something I’ve always wanted to do and I’m really happy to be doing it so hopefully the fans will feed off of my happiness and we can all have lots of fun together at the shows. I think on stage I’ll enjoy myself just as much as the people watching the show. The four of us have been rehearsing a lot and I think we work really well together, so it should make for some great shows.”

“Plus,” Alex said, “he’s not replacing Oliver. We’ve got a new member, yeah, but people shouldn’t think that Will is here to step into Oliver’s shoes and be another Oliver.”

“So Alex,” Gerrity started, “what qualities do you think Will can bring to the group? Are those qualities different from Oliver’s qualities?”

“Erm… well, the main things in the group are to be a good singer and enjoy being given this great opportunity to see the country and entertain people… and also, the four of us have to get on with each other because we spend so much time together. And we really get on with Will, he really fits in… So in that way he’s similar to Oliver because we had a great bond with Oliver too… but I guess Will’s different because he’s Will and Oliver was Oliver: they’re two different people. The fans shouldn’t feel like we’re trying to force Will into the part of their hearts which they saved for Oliver.” Alex was quite impressed by that last sentence. He’d been struggling at the start but in the end he felt that he’d found something quite poetic.

“Do you plan to release any further singles from your album?” Gerrity asked. “They’ll obviously have Oliver singing on them, so will they be re-recorded with Will’s voice instead of Oliver’s?”

“Next question, love!” Freeman barked from the back of the set.

“Sorry?” Gerrity asked, turning into the shadows and trying to spot Freeman.

“That question wasn’t on the list,” Freeman explained.

“Well I guess it just led on naturally from the earlier question,” Gerrity replied.

“Next question, love!”

After a pause, Gerrity did as she was told: “You guys are being compared to other famous boy bands like N Sync and Backstreet Boys and Take That. Was that the kind of music you listened to when you were growing up?”

“Yeah,” Joe said. “I loved those groups. Also, my older brother used to play me Prince and Michael Jackson.”

“I like Michael Jackson too,” Callum said. “One of the things we’re thinking of doing in the future is dancing more in the live shows and the videos. At the moment, we don’t really dance that much. We’ll never be as good as Michael Jackson though, he was amazing.”

“Yeah,” Will agreed, “he was really amazing.”

Alex looked over at Will. He felt that Will, as the new member, should be keeping a little bit quieter and respecting the seniority of the other three members.

“When I was growing up,” Alex began, “my dad used to play me lots of songs by New Order. My dad was a big fan of the local Manchester bands from the eighties and nineties. The interesting thing about New Order is that they were all in a group called Joy Division, the lead singer died, but then they carried on as New Order and went on to be much more famous and successful.”

“Do you think Love Letters can do the same, after losing Oliver?” Gerrity said, taking the bait.

“We hope so,” Alex said, “I think we owe it to Oliver to try and finish what he started and be the best group we can be, but we also don’t want people to always think of what happened to Oliver when they think of Love Letters. Oliver would want us to move on.”

“All your songs are love songs,” Gerrity began, addressing the entire group. “When you sing them, you seem really passionate, like you’re really feeling what you’re singing. Are you thinking of a particular girl when you sing those lines? Callum, you have a girlfriend, don’t you? Do you think of her when you sing?”

“Yeah,” Callum said. “I do.”

“Awww,” Gerrity said, smiling. “Does she ever like you to sing for her in private, when you’re both alone?”

Alex smirked. He knew full well what Callum got up to with his girlfriend when they were alone: Callum had no qualms with telling the other boys.

“We tend to just chill out,” Callum said. “I save a side of myself just for her, so only she gets to see it. We just hang out and stay at home and watch films mostly.” He nodded to himself. Then he remembered to add something: “We snuggle up on the couch together.” Then he continued. “It’s hard to have a relationship and fit it around the group, but she’s really down to earth and she accepts it, and she accepts that there’s lots of girls who scream my name at concerts. She doesn’t get jealous or anything.”

“When I’m singing,” Alex chipped in, “I don’t have a girlfriend, but I have a picture in my head of the kind of girl I would want as a girlfriend, my ideal girl, and I imagine singing those lines to her, because those lines really sum up how I would feel towards her.” He then turned to the camera and smiled. “I hope I’ll meet her one day.”

“So what kind of girls do you all like?” Gerrity asked.

“I like girls who are really nice and down to earth,” Will said. Alex looked at him again. “I’m not bothered about how a girl looks,” Will continued, “as long as she’s not mean and doesn’t take herself too seriously.”

“Yeah,” Joe said, “someone who’s chilled out and doesn’t take herself too seriously.”

“What was your first kiss like?” Gerrity asked.

“My first proper kiss was when I was about nine,” Will started, “but I was much smaller than her so–”

Alex jumped in. He knew what line Will was about to deliver, but Alex wanted it for himself. “–Yeah, I was really small too,” Alex began, “and I was much smaller than the girl who I had my first kiss with. It was round the back of a youth club and I had to find something to stand on so we were the same height.”

Alex looked at Will, as if to say ‘Too slow, Will.’

Gerrity giggled. “What did you stand on?” she asked, chuckling.

“…Er…” Alex began, desperately trying to think of items a person might find round the back of a youth club. “Erm… a… a box?”

“That’s really sweet,” Gerrity said, giggling.

‘A box?’ Alex thought, disappointed in himself, imagining a box caving in under his weight.

“When I had my first kiss,” Will said. “We both had braces and I thought we were going to get our braces caught up together when we kissed.”

Gerrity laughed adorably.

“But it was actually really nice,” Will finished.

“You had braces at nine years old?” Alex asked Will.

There was a long pause, broken by another yelp from Gary Freeman: “Next question, love!”

“As well as your girl fans,” Gerrity began, “you have a lot of mom fans too.”

Alex winced when he heard Gerrity using the American expression. Did she imagine herself in Hollywood interviewing American celebrities? Was she caught up in that fantasy as she was interviewing Love Letters?

“Why do you think so many moms like Love Letters?” Gerrity finished.

“I think a lot of our lyrics give a good message,” Joe said. “We think girls should be treated with love and respect, so the moms probably think…” Now Joe was doing it. “…that we’re giving their daughters the right idea of what they should expect from a boy, and how a boy should treat a girl.”

“A lot of your songs encourage girls to have a positive self-image,” Gerrity said.

“Yeah,” Joe continued. “We think that beauty comes from inside. It’s not about how you look or how thin you are or how you dress.”

“It’s about personality,” Alex continued. “And we show girls that if you love yourself, warts and all, other people will love you too.”

“So you have a concert coming up at the end of the month,” Gerrity said, “at Wembley Arena. Tickets are still available, right?”

“Yeah, there’s still plenty of tickets left,” Callum said.

“No!” Freeman barked. “Callum, there are only some tickets left, so anyone who wants tickets needs to buy to them now whilst they still can.” Then Freeman turned to Gerrity. “Ask it again, will you?”

Gerrity turned back to Callum. “So… you have a concert next week… Wembley Arena… Are there any tickets left?”

“Just a few,” Callum replied. Then he turned to the camera, “so you might need to hurry if you want some tickets. There aren’t many left.”

 

 

 

 

 

TWENTY-THREE

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xxxxKatiexxxx says

Hiya every1 I’m here

 

Melissa says

Hello Katie. How r u?

 

xxxxKatiexxxx says

I’m gr8. U r getting better at the text speak Melissa!!

 

Melissa says

Thanks

 

xxxxKatiexxxx says

U mean thanx!!! Lol

 

Melissa says

Lol

 

xxxxKatiexxxx says

So how is Oliver?

 

GemMarie says

Thats wot I needed 2 talk 2 u both about

 

xxxxKatiexxxx says

Has he been getting better? That day when we picked him up from Dennis Downs he was tired and couldn’t walk properly. Is he ok now?

 

GemMarie says

Hes worse

 

xxxxKatiexxxx says

How is he worse?? What’s wrong???

 

GemMarie says

The first 2 days afterwards all he did was sleep. I thought mebbe he was just really tired cos of what hes been thru so I didnt think much of it. Then after the 2 days I started goin 2 visit him more. I sneeked out of the house at nite and went 2 talk 2 him. Hes not the same Oliver that we new from b4. He can still sing & he can still remember the words but he suddenly stops singin and just stares at the wall, lyk theres sumthin on the wall. But theres nothing on the wall, its just a wall. He gets distracted. I try 2 talk 2 him and sumtimes he replys but sometimes he dusnt + sumtimes he starts 2 reply but then just gets distracted + stops talking. It’s weird.

 

xxxxKatiexxxx says

U need 2 get him out of that container more often Gemma. It’s not a good place to live. It’s scary. I wouldn’t be my normal self if I had 2 live in there.

 

GemMarie says

Sure Katie!! Y don’t i bring him in the house and sit him down for dinner with my mum + dad shall I??

 

xxxxKatiexxxx says

I don’t mean that. I mean that he should be let out of the container and be allowed some fresh air and sunshine. Just tell him not to go 2 far away, or u could stay + watch him.

 

GemMarie says

I tride that yesterday Katie. Bcoz it was the weekend and I wasnt at school I let him out durin the daytime but its so hard 2 get him out of the container. All he wants 2 do is lie in the blankets + when I tride to pull the blankets away they were wet!! I think hes weeing himself. Then I had to drag him outside + he just fell over in the grass + buryd his head. Hes not well + hes getting worse. On the bad days I cant even get him out from under the blankets. He keeps his eyes shut and wont move. He says hes in pain and I give him his medissin but it dusnt change n e thing.

 

Melissa says

But what can we do? We can’t take him 2 the doctor. We’ll get found out.

 

xxxxKatiexxxx says

Hang on Gemma. You’ve now had Oliver for 1 week right?

 

GemMarie says

Yes.

 

xxxxKatiexxxx says

So you’ve got just 1 week left b4 u hand him over to me, right?

 

GemMarie says

Thats the plan. So wot?

 

xxxxKatiexxxx says

R u just trying to put me off, so I say ‘Ooh no I don’t think I want to have Oliver now, it doesn’t sound like fun’? And r u trying to put Melissa off so she says the same thing? Then u’ll get to keep Oliver 4ever!!!!

 

GemMarie says

Katie u r my friend. Y would I do that 2 a friend????!!!!

 

xxxxKatiexxxx says

U did it to Faith and Penny and Erin and Tara.

 

GemMarie says

If u dont believe me u can come 2 my house and see 4 yourself. U as well Melissa.

 

Melissa says

No I trust u Gemma. But I would like to come round and see Oliver, just so I can see him again. I’ve missed him since last week.

 

GemMarie says

Katie Ur due to pick up Oliver next week. U no how weve arranged it, so we get out of our houses at nite after every1 is asleep, but if u want u can cum round 2 my house durin the day and we will go out to the container + I will SHOW U THAT OLIVER IS JUST LIKE I TOLD YOU. Do u want 2 come 2 Melissa?

 

Melissa says

Yes Gemma I would like 2 come.

 

GemMarie says

Ok. Next Saturday. U both need 2 tell ur mums that u want 2 cum to my house 2 c me. Ring me + let me no wen u have both dun it.

 

 

 

 

 

TWENTY-FOUR

________________________________________________________________________

In the toilets of Don’t Tell Titus, the apparitions visited her. She was sat, staring at the toilet door, thinking about ten years of motherhood. She had so willingly embraced the idea that motherhood merited a new Sandra, a Sandra in which no clues of previous Sandras could remain. As she sat on the throne, the old Sandras reintroduced themselves.

There was the child Sandra, coasting through school and close enough to the top of her class to feel comfortable, but not close enough to feel pressurised. She spent her evenings in her bedroom, writing stories and sometimes regaling her friends with them. Each night, she’d plunge herself into that blissful pool of blankets and cushions and cuddly toys which adorned her bed. A happy child.

Then there was the teenage Sandra; experimental and enthusiastic, coating herself in make up in order to fool off-licence proprietors. She was bewitched by boys and wanted to be around them all the time. Mercifully, her friends felt the same. They shared tips on how to look and behave in order to draw a boy in, how to give him just enough encouragement for his appetite to be whetted. Everything was brand new and Sandra wanted it all. She headed out to nightclubs and often ended the night with a much older tongue in her mouth and a much older pair of hands up her top. Even if she didn’t like many of the boys, she enjoyed inspiring their desire. Discovering sex was a revelation. Many of Sandra’s friends had found the loss of their virginity to be disappointing and painful but Sandra had loved her own experience. Masturbation had given her enough knowledge of her own body to be able to coach her first lover: to move his hands and head to the places where they were needed. As nice as her cuddly toys felt, she couldn’t feel a toy’s breath against her neck or the warmth of its body against hers. She couldn’t grip a toy’s back and feel its muscles tightening, alive beneath the skin. A cuddly toy didn’t have that unmistakably male scent.

Then there was the young adult Sandra who, in her early twenties, felt that she’d seen and done it all already. Cigarettes? Booze? Weed? Boys? The world outside Bradford? Been there, done that. There was no need to go around coaxing boy after boy into her affections. It was a waste of time. Why not settle on one boy and then turn him into everything you need? Her friends had gone to University and she’d lost them for good, but she felt they were probably still stuck in a hedonistic lifestyle which she’d grown bored of. She still tried to fill her life with activity, mainly sport, though the fact that she was always the youngest person in her swimming group, the youngest person in her cycling group and the oldest person in her rugby group ensured that no lasting friendships were formed with any of the other participants. It felt good to work, to receive a wage which older people in the office would have regarded as a pittance but to Sandra it felt like all the money in the world. She could afford clothes, shoes, a car, she could afford to be careless. She still had some nostalgia for nights out but their rarity didn’t drive her crazy like it would have done when she was in her late teens. She was happy with her partner and dazzled by the suddenly respectful way which her family behaved towards her after she had got engaged.

As the modern day Sandra sat on the toilet, the apparitions of those three discarded Sandras floated around her. The little-girl Sandra was dressed in a school uniform and looked innocent and trusting. The early-twenties Sandra was spattered with mud, dressed in a rugby kit and looked cocky and self-reliant. Shockingly, the teenage Sandra was naked and following the eyes of an unseen lover as they traced up and down a body which the modern Sandra was profoundly jealous of. Sandra expected the apparitions to look underwhelmed, disappointed in what Sandra had become, but when Sandra looked closer, their expressions bore a mixture of curiosity and encouragement. The apparitions could see Sandra blossoming. They could see she was on her way back. Beyond the cubicle walls, out of the toilets and up the stairs, were friends. New friends. Technically, they were Nicola’s friends and Sandra had only just met them that night, but that was just a detail: Sandra was in a circle of friends now. Before she’d caught her taxi to the Boathouse, for Sandra’s second Saltaire night out in the past month, she had worried about what would happen when Nicola went to the toilet or the bar and Sandra was left with four strangers. Once Sandra had arrived at the Boathouse, she had wanted to cling to Nicola and speak only to her, but the two seats either side of Nicola had been occupied and this had forced Sandra out of her comfort zone. In the end, her oldest friend of all (alcohol) had teamed up with one of her great enemies (a low tolerance for alcohol) and within two drinks Sandra had become loose and relaxed, chatting to one of Nicola’s friends. After another drink, they had resolved to meet up one day and go jogging along the Leeds Liverpool canal together, to keep fit.

Physically, Nicola’s friends were a mixed bunch. Before meeting them, Sandra had worried that they may have all had Nicola’s stunning looks but not her down to earth demeanour, and Sandra had worried that the friends may be unimpressed by the presence of someone so relentlessly normal. Her concerns were unfounded: they were all nice women. Two of them did seem excessively bitchy, but they were only bitching about their husbands, which hardly even qualified.

It was the first time in years that Sandra had gone out in a group. It was the same pub crawl which Sandra and Nicola had participated in a few weeks earlier. The Boathouse, Don’t Tell Titus, the Tram Shed. There was safety in numbers and Nicola was too involved in her girls’ night out to entertain the idea of having some kind of liaison with a man, as she did the previous time.

Sandra felt comfortable around these women, but she knew instinctively that she wouldn’t be seeing any of them again unless Nicola was present. Even the offer to go jogging on the canal would probably come to nothing. Sandra was inexperienced at this, at knowing how to build a friendship, how to turn someone from a ‘friend of a friend’ into a friend outright. There was probably some kind of etiquette which Sandra felt bound to violate. It wasn’t the end of the world though: Nicola was obviously comfortable with sharing her friends.

Things were looking up. Finally, this phase of Sandra’s life may have a summary which consisted of more words than just ‘mother’ and ‘wife.’ Sandra and Nicola had met up for a coffee last week and Nicola had persuaded Sandra to join a local gym, which they would attend together next week. Perhaps, with the right mixture of time, dedication and personal training, Sandra’s body may resemble that of the early twenties apparition. The teenage apparition was an unattainable goal.

Sandra could see now that it didn’t have to be a straight choice between ‘motherhood’ and ‘social life.’ At the very least, she could find a compromise. At the most, she could maybe even have her cake and eat it. Yes, she would have less time for Melissa, but she couldn’t keep her wrapped in cotton wool. At some stage, Melissa would have to become self-sufficient, so perhaps this would be good practice. And yes, Sandra’s husband may have to pick up the slack as far as parenting was concerned, but like Nicola said, how was he going to learn some parental responsibility if Sandra did everything herself? He was going to have to learn. And it could only be a positive thing if he started to play more of a role in his daughter’s life. After all, he was Melissa’s male role model. It was from looking at him that Melissa would forge an expectation of her own future husband. Should Melissa grow up thinking it was natural to have a partner who worked during the night and vegetated during the day? He was going to have to learn to be a father.

It wasn’t selfish. Sandra was a woman, not some domestic skivvy, and her husband was going to have to accept it. Melissa was going to have to accept it too.

 

 

 

 

TWENTY-FIVE

_____________________________________________________________________

Press interest had faded over the past few days and Alex was alone as he left his house and walked down the path towards the waiting car. It was the same black car with the same tinted windows. He wasn’t sure how to feel about the peacefulness as he made the short walk: Alex could have been any old nobody being picked up by a friend or parent.

He moved to the front passenger door. With Oliver officially gone for good, Oliver wouldn’t be needing the front seat anymore. Someone else could have it. Alex could. He tried the handle but the door was locked. It occurred to him that someone might have had the same idea as Alex. Callum or Joe might be sat there. Alex knew Will wasn’t there: he was being picked up last. Alex knocked on the tinted window but nothing happened. He then pressed his face up to the window in an attempt to see through the tint. No. When he removed his face from the window there was a small smudge left by his nose.

One of the back windows scrolled down. Callum’s face appeared.

“What are you doing?” Callum asked.

“I want the front seat,” Alex said, trying the handle again. “Oliver doesn’t need it anymore.”

“Will’s going to sit there,” Callum replied.

Alex could feel his blood boiling, so he paused for a moment before speaking again. “Why Will?” he asked. Despite Alex’s precautionary measure, his statement still came out sounding snappy and high pitched.

“What does it matter?” Callum said. “It’s a ten minute ride.”

“We need to talk about this,” Alex said, walking round the back of the car and eventually opening the right-hand back door. As always, Joe had the middle seat. Alex clambered into the car and slammed the door. The car, however, was so luxurious that even an attempted door-slam made that same cushioned sound as it closed. The car then began to move.

“Why does he get the front seat then?” Alex asked, looking at Joe, then Callum.

“It used to be Oliver’s,” Joe said, as if it was a sufficient answer.

“What difference does that make?” Alex asked.

“It’s just easier, that’s all,” Joe replied. “It used to be Oliver’s seat, Oliver’s not with us anymore, so now Will gets the seat.”

“Why are you so bothered about where you sit anyway?” Callum asked.

“You’re acting like it’s no big deal,” Alex snapped.

“It isn’t,” Callum replied.

“What message does it give out, eh?” Alex asked. “It says that Will is a replacement for Oliver, that he’s stepping into Oliver’s shoes, Oliver’s role.”

“Well isn’t he?” Callum asked.

No!” Alex shrieked. He could feel his cheeks turning red. “Oliver was irreplaceable! Look, we were a group. You, me, Joe, Oliver; we were a gang! A tight knit gang!” Callum and Joe both looked puzzled. “A… A band of brothers. How can someone else just stroll in and take Oliver’s place?”

“What happened to Oliver wasn’t Will’s fault, Alex,” Joe offered.

“Joe,” Alex said, turning to Joe, “shut up.” Then he turned back to Callum. “You can’t be comfortable about some new kid coming in and expecting to be part of that gang. Has he earned the right?”

“There’s got to be someone,” Callum said. “It would look stupid if there were just three of us in the group.”

“You know who you sound like?” Alex asked. “Gary Freeman. You’ve been brainwashed by Gary Freeman.”

“What are you on about: ‘brainwashed’?” Callum said. “He’s got a point. Boy bands are never three members.”

“Busted were a three piece.”

“But they played instruments, so you can’t really compare them to us.”

“There you go again: Gary Freeman. There may as well be a little Gary Freeman in your mouth, saying all your words for you.”

“Look, if you want the front seat so badly, why don’t you just ask Will if you can swap?”

“It’s not about the front seat, it’s the principle,” Alex moaned.

 “Alex,” Callum said, “you sound like my girlfriend when she’s getting her period.”

That shut Alex up. It was hardly the world’s best insult but it made Alex feel small and inferior because it highlighted Callum’s level of experience with girls compared to Alex’s. Callum might as well have been saying ‘I’m more of a man than you are, so you must respect my seniority, little boy.’

‘I’ll show him who the man is,’ Alex thought. ‘I’m taking control. I’m doing something about it. There’s no way I’m going to sit quietly and let Will become the golden boy, like I let Oliver. I’m older now. I’ve learned. I’m not letting it happen again.’

Eventually, the car arrived outside Will’s house and he stepped out. Apparently his mother had moved house with him and they were both living together. Callum’s window was closest to Will as Will approached, but Alex leaned across Joe so he could get a good look. Infuriatingly, Will looked like a million dollars as always, and was flashing that soon-to-be-famous smile even though the car’s windows were tinted and there was no-one to smile at. Callum wound down his window so Will could see him.

“Alright mate,” Callum said to him, then pointed him towards the front door of the car.

As Callum’s window wound back up, Will vanished from view. Alex felt the car’s front door opening, then closing a few seconds later. Then the car set off.

“Thing is, Alex,” Callum said. “I don’t know why you’re acting like the three of us and Oliver were such a tight group. I never saw you talking to Oliver much, I never talked to him much either, and the two of us have never talked to each other that much. I can’t see your problem with Will coming in because it’s not like there was great chemistry in the band in the first place. It might even get better with Will in the group.”

Alex stared at the shiny black screen which divided the back seats from the front.

“Hang on,” Alex whispered. “Can he hear us?”

“I’ve no idea,” Callum said, smiling. Then he continued. “The way I see it, this is our job. You don’t have to like the people you work with, but it’s better if you do, so I’m going to try and make Will feel included, because if we all try to get along then it will be much more–”

Callum carried on talking. Alex whipped out his mobile phone and typed a long text message. He then sent it to Callum. Right on cue, Callum’s phone made a noise to indicate he’d received a text. Alex looked over at Callum and tapped his own phone, before nodding at Callum’s coat pocket, which is where Alex guessed Callum’s phone was kept.

Callum picked his phone from his coat pocket and looked at the text message. “So Joe,” Callum said, “Alex says he appreciates my view but…”

Alex had to make some kind of noise to cover this up. He started singing one of Love Letters’ songs.

“When I look at your face, girl, I see you’ve been hurt before…”

“…he feels Will is being forced down our throats,” Callum continued, reading the text.

“But I could never hurt someone I so adore…”

“Alex thinks that at most, Will should have an equal standing as the rest of us. Maybe less of a standing…”

“I can dry the tears from those boys who made you sad…”

“…because Alex feels that Will hasn’t put in any of the hard work that we’ve put in…”

“Those other boys never did realise just what they had…”

“…Will’s getting a free ride…”

“They never look the time to see your hidden soul unfurl…”

“Alex feels that if it’s necessary to have a fourth member then it should really be Will stood at the back, making up the numbers.”

“They never took the time to see the heart within the girl.”

“I’ve finished now, Alex.”

When they arrived at the rehearsal space it seemed that Will hadn’t been able to hear any of the conversation in the back of the car. There was no uneasiness and no change in Will’s behaviour from what Alex was used to. A few staff were scattered around the room, hooking up the PA system. Today’s practice was going to be a full rehearsal of all Love Letters’ songs. There was a lot of noise and sound checking and the group’s vocal coach led them all into the toilets to do their warm ups. The coach was focusing on Will and teaching him some vocal exercises. Callum and Joe were helping him by singing some scales and encouraging Will to imitate them. Alex was singing the scales too but he was very much on auto-pilot. He was looking at Joe and Callum giving Will pointers and trying to be friendly. Joe and Callum were probably more clever than Alex had given them credit for: the King was dead and now they were trying to curry favour with the new King. There was a definite pecking order in the group and Alex had always been third out of four. Perhaps Joe’s relentless adorning of attention upon Will was an attempt to leapfrog Alex and send Alex crashing to the bottom. Perhaps all of Alex’s plans could end with him being worse off than before.

It was a thought which Alex dismissed quickly. It would be stupid to be protective of his lowly position in the group, even if he wasn’t rock bottom. Third, fourth, what difference did it make, really? There were only ever two positions in any pecking order: First and Other.

After the boys’ voices were sufficiently warmed up, they returned to the practice room, where the professionals were finishing their prep. There was no opportunity for rest though. The boys’ choreographer, Dwayne Williams, wanted to run through a few of their steps, mainly for Will’s benefit. Dwayne was muscular, dreadlocked and most of his six foot two inch frame consisted of legs, which were clad in the world’s longest jogging bottoms. Dwayne’s Caribbean heritage sometimes caused his cockney accent to distort into an Antiguan burr whenever he was annoyed. On good days, he feigned enthusiasm for his work with the boys. On bad days, he made no effort to disguise his boredom. He was used to working with professional dancers and teaching complicated, athletic steps. Frankly, he was overqualified for this job.

Once Dwayne had finished with them, the boys sat in a corner and waited for the sound engineers to give their go ahead. Alex’s attention was aroused when he saw Joe, Callum and Will approaching.

“Alex,” Joe said, “we were thinking that maybe the four of us should meet up some time outside work. How about we all come to my house this evening, eight o’ clock?”

“…I think I might be busy,” Alex said.

“Yeah?” Callum asked. “Busy doing what?”

“I’m meeting a friend,” Alex replied.

“Yeah? Who is he?” Callum asked. “Do we know him? Bring him along.” Callum obviously didn’t believe what Alex was saying, and he was right to. It riled Alex that Callum automatically assumed that even Alex’s imaginary friend was male. Once again, Callum was playing the sexual seniority card.

“How about tomorrow night then?” Joe asked.

“And my Mum’s a really good cook,” Will said. “She’d really like to meet you all so maybe one night you can all come round to my place and have a meal.”

“Yeah,” Joe said. “That sounds alright, doesn’t it?”

“Will’s mum’s already met us,” Alex said to Joe. “She was at his audition.”

“She never got to talk to you all though,” Will said, “she saw the three of you but she wants to know what you’re all like.”

“To check if we’re worthy?” Alex said.

“No, she just…” Will tailed off. He didn’t like arguments.

“What’s your problem?” Callum asked Alex.

“It’s like you were saying in the car earlier,” Alex replied. “We work together but we don’t have to like each other. Your words, Callum, not mine.”

“Yeah, but–”

Alex swivelled his gaze to Will. “See, Will, I don’t really want to get to know you. I don’t particularly like you. And deep down, I don’t think Joe and Callum do either.”

Joe piped up “No, it’s–”

“Let me finish,” Alex said to Joe, before turning back to Will. “I am still grieving for my friend. You know about my friend, don’t you? The friend who was killed in the most horrible way, whilst he was playing a concert with us? When something like that happens, Will, it creates a bond between the people involved, a bond based on loss and grief, and you can’t even begin to understand what that’s like, so you can’t be my friend. As far as I’m concerned, Oliver is still in this group. He may not be here physically, but he’s still in my heart. You can’t replace him. And you know what? I think a lot of our fans will feel the same.”

Alex noticed that Callum had folded his arms and was staring at Alex with a ‘who do you think you’re kidding?’ expression on his face.

At that point, a voice came through the PA speakers behind them: “Okay lads, we’re ready.” It couldn’t have been timed better.


© Copyright 2018 Rueben Holland. All rights reserved.

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