Chapter 20: April 1999

I look out in front of me. It’s either pitch black or the room is completely empty. I feel as if I am in some sort of remote and distant land. And then I hear it, like a voice in the distance, calling me – the same beat that David had played that first time he stepped behind our – his – drum kit. It loops over and over, and I let it. The rest of the band are waiting for me to join in, but I don’t.

Not yet.

Not yet

Then I bow my head over my guitar, the black hole of a room disappears out of sight and I play.

The universe explodes.

When the set is over, I’m sweating. The room of course is both pitch-black and completely empty.

“Let’s get out of here,” David says.

And so we don’t hang around for the other bands to play.

“No one came to see you,” the man on the door tells us.

It means, he says, that we don’t get paid. David shows him his middle finger and we leave.

“Shouldn’t they be the ones promoting their own nights?” Sawyer asks as we climb back into the van. “Why should we get punished if they can’t get people to come and see us?”

David shakes his head as if he’s seen it all before but Sawyer’s pissed off.

“Surely they can’t just rely on unheard of bands – bands from a completely different city – to bring people through the door?”

No one says anything.

“The promoters should have a reputation for putting on exciting nights, right? That should be what pulls in a crowd…”

We all shrug.

“Just wait ’till you get to Europe,” David says as if he knows from experience that touring around France or Germany is a much more luxurious alternative to trekking across England.

“Or Japan…” he sighs as if remembering a moment of ecstasy.

I’m sitting in the passenger seat and I look at myself in the side mirror. I haven’t bleached my hair for too long and my original yellower colour is seeping back through. My eyes are like marbles. I turn my attention back to the road. Behind me, the others are laughing at the prospect of the headline band back at the animal den having to ask someone else if they can borrow their instruments.

Motherfuckers.

The next night, there’s no one watching us again but two nights after that, we earn actual money.

“I know what it’s like for a new band on the road,” the promoter says as he hands over forty-five pounds. We’re grateful to him. All the other gig organisers have been impatient or rushing to be somewhere else or absent altogether.

Motherfuckers.

“I don’t understand how most bands can afford to do this,” Sawyer says. “We’re lucky we’ve got Carlito.”

We nod. We’re quickly starting to realise how unusual it is for a band in our situation to have a three-week tour arranged. Most venues are nervous about booking bands with no reputation or agent but we are due to play nineteen out of our twenty-one nights on the road.

“Maybe he belongs to some kind of mafia mob and he’s threatened all the promoters,” Sawyer jokes but no one laughs and out of the corner of my eye I notice David looking at me over the top of his sunglasses.

On the nights that we go out, Sawyer and Ace usually go to bed before everybody else. Arriving back later and finding them asleep, I try not to think about what they might have been doing but Sawyer’s in my head.

It’s a dangerous place to be.

Just ask Ami.

Halfway through the second week, the two of them announce again that they’re going back to the youth hostel early.

“Don’t go,” I say as light-heartedly as I can, but it makes no difference.

“I think I’ll head back too,” I tell David and Chambers ten minutes later.

Chambers looks at me like he knows what’s going on in my head – which surely he can’t do because not even I know that – but I ignore him and leave. Outside, it’s cold. I shove my hands into my pockets and make the short journey back to our hostel. It’s a sticky, unfriendly place and it’s weirdly quiet. I creep up the stairs. I find the door to the room we’re all sharing and try the handle. It opens. The light over the sink is on so I see immediately that Sawyer is the only one in the room. Her bedclothes are already tangled up around her in a way that suggests she is fast asleep, but there’s no sign of Ace. I undress and lie down on my own bed. In the silence, I can just about decipher the sound of the music on Sawyer’s headphones. Whether she’s put it on to relax or to block out the noise of us coming back I don’t know. I wonder where Ace is.

And then he appears.

I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even see me or realise I’m in the room.

He climbs in next to Sawyer and goes to sleep.

How did JD and Chambers end up here? Go back to the prologue.