Chapter 9: October 1998

I pull my clothes on and throw myself up the steps and out onto the street. We travel halfway across town, using the tube for the first time. Our hair is blasted all over the place by the wind at Camden station and I stand on the wrong side of the escalator until someone tells me to move out of the fucking way.

Bethnal Green is dark but I’m used to dark and we find the party in a house that looks as if it might fall down if it weren’t for the buildings crammed either side of it. Inside, its stairs are narrow and run around a hollow central area that goes down below ground level.

There are people all over the place but they aren’t like me and Chambers and they all seem to know each other. People bunch together in a way that makes the space around Chambers and I even more pronounced.

“Reminds me of home,” Chambers says.

More and more people arrive but that only makes me feel more on the fringes than ever. And then I see her. Her hair is pulled up in a wild, incoherent style and her face is a candy mix of pinks and yellows. I take her in completely before noticing the boy at her side. He has hair the colour of vermilion and, as soon as he sees me looking, he drapes his arm around Sawyer like a leash. A boyfriend. Of course there’s a boyfriend. Still, when Sawyer turns and sees me and Chambers, she moves in our direction.

“It’s a horrible party,” she says when she reaches us. “My housemates arranged it.”

She looks in the direction of the girls she was with the other night, then she introduces us to Ace, the boy slouching over her.

We follow the two of them down the staircase; it leads directly into Sawyer’s bedroom. Chambers and I have been carrying a bottle of tequila around since we arrived and Sawyer steals it from me, taking a sip before passing it back.

“Perfect,” she says.

I offer the bottle to Ace and he drinks from it before then returning it without a word. I look around at the Eddie Vedder poster on the cupboard door and the pile of CDs stacked haphazardly on the chest of drawers.

“Cool room.”

They’re the first two words I’ve spoken to Sawyer but something about her makes me feel like it doesn’t matter what I say or how long it takes me to say it. When I pick up Siamese Dream, she grabs it from me and puts it on.

“So, where you from?” she asks.

“The middle of nowhere,” Chambers tells her.

“Ah, yes, I know it well.”

We’re hardly through the first song on the Pumpkins’ album, but Sawyer’s already swapping the CD. She plays Blind Melon, then Screaming Trees, then music Chambers and I would never have chosen – seemingly random tracks by everyone from Marilyn Manson to Counting Crows. I watch her as she kind of dances across the room, back and forth between the beanbags we’re sprawled on and the stereo, and I know for sure that I’ve never met anyone like her. Ace barely speaks but I get used to his silence. Really, I try to pretend he’s not there at all. Not that it’s completely possible to do that; he makes small noises whenever I say anything he thinks is stupid.

“So now you’ve left your no-town hometown behind, what’s your plan?” Sawyer asks us.

“We’re going to be rock stars,” I say in a way that’s meant to show I’m not being serious.

Even though I am.

Cue small noise from Ace.

“And you’re really living at Carlito’s? How did you swing that?”

“Just good luck.”

Cue small noise from Ace.

“He doesn’t believe in luck,” Sawyer explains, before asking who writes our lyrics.

“Mostly JD,” Chambers says.

Cue another small fucking noise from Sawyer’s boyfriend.

This time the sound prompts Chambers to turn in Ace’s direction.

“Who’s your favourite band?” he asks.

He poses the question gently because that’s his way.

“Favourites don’t mean anything,” Ace says.

Chambers nods and gives up.

Before I know it, the night has vanished and we’ve listened to a hundred records. Sawyer leads me and Chambers back upstairs and it’s like we’ve landed on a different planet. The party is over but there are people slumped against the walls.

“Well, I’m certainly not tidying this up,” Sawyer says.

She opens the front door and flickers in the pale morning light as it leaks into the house. The sky is a faint blue, the colour of her denim jacket.

“See you later, koala bears,” she says.

“See you later,” I reply.

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