A Safe Place – A Short Story

The apartment was more of a room, really. The sleeping area was only guarded beyond a large bookshelf and a neatly hung tapestry. Christopher had painted it himself.

Never wanting Eden to feel like he was intruding her space, night three he had brought home a king size bed sheet he’d found in the second hand store up the street and proceeded to turn the pretend wall in to his new studio. He meticulously drew up the lines to centre the mandala, and created seven shades of blue (no easy feat with cheap material paints).

Their living arrangement was temporary but necessary for both of them. They had met at a love-in the weekend before. Eden’s long, copper blonde hair had captivated Chris from the moment he saw her. She would toss is over her shoulder and it would slide right back over again, thick and fast. He had never seen so much hair in his life.

His own dark blonde matte sat miserably around his ears. It seemed no one in the new group he had infiltrated had ever been forced to a hairdresser by a strict father. He tried not to envy, but he was certainly curious about their stories.

James was the central point of the gathering. Cross-legged and calm, his aura gathered the group without the need for words or gestures. He simply smiled with his eyes closed. His moustache was thick and groomed to perfection. He had no beard, and some impressive sideburns.

When James felt the presence of six other bodies in a circle around him, his eyes opened. He took a long, slow breath and looked at each of them. His gaze was piercing and all-knowing. Most of the group smiled in return. It took everything Chris had no to look away after two seconds. James stared at him the longest.

The record player crackled in the corner as it reached the end of A side Revolver.

One of the men rose to change it. He had on brown corduroy trousers, the most flamboyant vest Christopher had ever seen, and nothing else.

The four others in the circle were equally as interesting to look at. One had hair pulled back in to a waist-long pony tail and wore no shirt at all. The man to her right was staring intently at his hands, as though he was seeing them for the first time. Earlier someone had referred to him as Leo; to his right, a remarkable blonde wearing a handkerchief as a top. Finally, next to Chris, there was Eden.

Chris already knew he was in love with her. Hidden behind the unruly curls were hazel eyes and a magnificent smile; a smile which she had already turned to him twice. Chris didn’t necessarily want this kind of distraction in his life, but there’s no use fighting it. One love to another, he knew he was the worst for it.

Was this one different? It was too soon to tell.

At that moment, Leo distracted him by reaching his intriguing hand out, as though needing help with something. Chris took it, and they awkwardly held on.

After a few moments, the woman on Leo’s left reached forward and placed her hands gently at either side of their clasp. Corduroy stepped inside the circle when he returned from flipping the record and did the same. Soon they were all wrapped in a strange hand embrace, and James was the last to join.

“You are all so welcome here,” he said calmly. They broke apart, and each person settled back in to their space.

“You’re beautiful,” said Leo to the handkerchief wearer next to him. She raised her lips to his and kissed him in response. He bowed his head with a smile. Chris was confused.

Meanwhile, the topless lady was resettling herself on James’ lap and then the striking blonde and Eden were leaving the room hand in hand.

Corduroy laughed and laid backwards, pipe clamped between his teeth. After a few minutes of Chris glancing around, trying not to look completely out of place and uncomfortable, Corduroy raised his body back to seating position and held the pipe out for him to take.

“It’s all good man,” he said with a steamed grin. Chris wasn’t big on drugs, but he was big on a good time, and right now felt like he was living in a different decade to these people. Try new things, he reasoned with himself. And so, he did.

Two hours later Christopher knew everyone by name. Corduroy was named Mikey and was a musician. Topless was named Mary and worked in a law firm as a secretary. The handkerchief blonde, Jane, and Eden were heartbreakingly in a relationship, and James was a full time ‘healer’ also known as a drug dealer. This he already figured from their meeting at the ferry port earlier that day.

The night had been a blur of heavy conversations, shouts of ecstasy and clouds of smoke.
When he woke the next morning on Eden’s sofa he couldn’t remember getting there, but was sure glad he had.

Jane sauntered to the kitchenette in a sheer nightdress and held a pot under the tap. She placed it on the stove and began boiling the water for a morning brew. It was bitter cold, Chris was beginning to realise, and he wasn’t quite sure why they both weren’t more clothed.

“You’re Scottish aren’t you?” cooed Mary without turning around.

“Irish, actually.”

“Different.” She pulled the pot away as the bubbles appeared and poured the steaming hot water in to three tea bag-filled mugs. They were mismatched and chipped but charming non-the-less.

Chris rose to take one and brought the patchwork blanket with him. It was wrapped around his waist, protecting his modesty. Mary really couldn’t care less.

Eden yawned loudly from behind the bookshelf. A rustling of the bed sheets gave her movements away. She appeared from behind it wearing Chris’s shirt and underpants, and smiled at him knowingly. Her hair was even wilder now than it had been the night before. She made no attempt to tame it.

Mary walked the mug up to her girl, cupping the rim with her hand so that Eden could take the handle. They shared a gentle kiss and Christopher looked away.

He felt guilty but he wasn’t sure why.

“How long will you be living with me?” Eden enquired and she perched herself next to him on the small sofa. She sat sideways with legs crossed, facing him expectantly.

“When did I-“ he began and Mary scoffed.

“Honey, were you present last night?” Eden placed a hand gently on what she presumed was his knee. Chris grinned nervously.

“I’m sorry. That was my first time trying… that.” His tone was uneasy. If he’d agreed to move in with this lovely lady with no memory of it, what else had occurred that evening?

Mary took a seat on the coffee table in front of them and rested her head in her hand, mug curled in the other.

“You said you needed somewhere to stay while you set yourself up. You got here yesterday? You did well to run in to James. He’s a good man.” She leant back and took a sip, narrowing her eyes at him.

“I, well, suppose I did, yeah.”

The specifics were discussed at length. In other words, Eden told him it was to be six months, no more or less, and she wouldn’t accept any money until he had a proper job. She had a good income as a switchboard operator, which was enough for both of them to get by.

Mary wasn’t as pleased about the situation, but she had to go away for a while, and she didn’t want Eden left alone.  Chris had asked her where she was going, but he didn’t receive an answer. Instead she took her leave and he was left alone in an apartment with sweet Eden.

The tapestry was coming along nicely one week later. When James and Leo arrived in the afternoon his tee-shirt was more blue than white, so he decided to change. As he placed it in the second sink, in the corner of the sleeping area and next to the only toilet, he heard the group’s hushed voices.

Chris hadn’t wanted to eavesdrop but he had so many questions about these new people. He crept towards the bookshelf and listened.

“How is she?” asked Leo, his voice heavy with concern.

“I haven’t heard a thing,” replied Eden.

“I’m sure there’s a way we can track her. I know people in London. I can put the word out.”

“No,” Eden hissed back. “We can’t do that to her. She’d never forgive us. This is something she needs to do. We just need to be here to support her when she gets back.”

“You’re a fool,” boomed James, making no effort to lower his tone. “She’s not coming back.”

Christopher knew he better re-join the group before things got heated.

“Where are we going tonight?” he attempted brightly as he walked towards them, buttoning his paisley shirt from the bottom.

James had Eden pinned against the fridge, but pushed himself away from her as Chris approached.

“The Bar,” he muttered as he made his way back to the door.

Leo shrugged with a half-smile, gesturing for Eden to follow. She bowed her head, looking more worried than angry, and did as suggested.

The Bar was below Eden’s building.

When they entered James made his way directly to a gentleman in a fur coat waiting by the taps and they embraced. Eden and Leo took a place next to them and waited to order.

This establishment was unlike any Chris had seen before, and a stark contrast to the old pubs of Dublin. The room was long, with a heavy brown hue and a swirl patterned carpet. There were booths lining the wall to the right and left, and a large circular bar in the centre. It looked like a stage was placed at the far end with a large green curtain covering it. The jukebox blaring ‘Help Me, Rhonda’ was positioned right next to the main ordering station. A young and slim man with perfectly slicked blonde hair was bent over before it, reading the selection.

When Chris took a step he was knocked sideways by an overexcited young woman making her way to the exit. “Sorry,” she blushed, before sweeping past him. A huge man in a leather jacket followed her out. He was old enough to be her father, surely.

Chris started to take more notice of the patrons and nearly lost his footing again when he spotted two men in the corner booth staring intensely in to each other’s eyes. When the record ended and the next song began to play, the man to the edge of the booth pulled gently on his companion’s hand and guided him to the dance floor. They bopped in a loving embrace across the room, miming along with Diana Ross to ‘Stop! In The Name Of Love’. The sight was so foreign to Christopher that he had no idea how to feel. Staring is rude, lad. He shook his head and made his way to the bar, where his friends already had their orders. Eden handed him a dark ale and he downed half of it in one.

“Thirsty?” she breathed with a smile. His heart pounded and he turned away, searching for somewhere to take refuge. When his gaze reached the door, the young girl who had ran in to him before had re-entered, looking proud as punch. Behind her came two blushing men, one the same as before, and the other new and just as large. Their leathers did nothing to hide the coyness of their expressions. Was she setting them up? Chris realised.

“What is this place?” he said out loud without meaning to, and turned open mouthed to Eden.

“It’s a safe place,” she said quietly. The group moved towards a free booth at the back of the venue, past the now-busy dance floor. Chris climbed in first and took his place next to Leo. James and his friend sat to the right and Eden, to his left. She spent most of her drink gazing longingly towards the dancers.

After a while, when Chris was ready for a refill, the unmistakable opening notes of Dusty Springfield’s ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’ sounded. Eden’s eyes grew wide and her lip trembled. Chris thought he should do something about it.

“Hey, let’s go,” he gently nudged her out of the booth and took her hand, leading her to the middle of the crowded floor. Everyone held each other close, and Chris twirled his fingers in to Eden’s thick mane, resting her head against his chest. His heart was thudding and he hoped she couldn’t feel it. Eden burrowed closer. They moved so slowly they were barely moving at all. He clasped her right hand in his left.

Chris looked up, and was struck by the fact that everyone around them was in love. It was a truly beautiful moment.

As Dusty hit her final high a huge crash and screams forced the entire dance floor in to panic.

Before Chris knew what was happening he was being forced by the crowd backwards, towards the stage curtain, and he pulled Eden along with him.

“POLICE,” echoed the roars from across the room. Chris glanced back over his shoulder, and through the crowd spotted a constable fling his baton across the head of one of the leather-jacket-clad men from before. The other came to his aid and was punched hard by another officer.

“What the fuck is going on?” he cried as he stumbled up the stage and attempted to lift Eden up with him.

“Just run,” she firmed, absolute fear in her eyes.

They pushed with the horde through the stage doors, the screams and crashes following them to the alleyway to the side of The Bar.

Eden halted Chris as he tried to run towards the road. “They’ll be waiting out there; we need to go this way.” They fled towards the back of the building and Eden released his hand. She pointed towards a metal staircase about six feet off the ground, the bottom ladder missing. “Gimme a boost then I’ll help you up.” Her fear had turned to determination, and where she had caught her breath, Chris had lost all of his. Speechless and terrified, he boosted the small woman up to the first rung and she pulled herself up with all her might. He had the sickening realisation that this wasn’t the first time she’d had to do this.

After clinging to the bottom of the ladder and using the wall as a boost, he made it up to the second level of the stairs; someone’s terrace. Eden stopped and crouched, breathing and listening hard. Sirens were blaring as backup was called in. A man was shouting the name Simon over and over somewhere nearby, with no reply. A woman was shouting angrily, until she wasn’t anymore.

After twenty minutes of absorbing the situation, they slowly climbed the remaining stairs to their level and Eden cracked open the window. Once in, they sat together on the small sofa and didn’t say anything for a long, long time.

Finally, not being able to re-watch his mental footage any longer, Chris turned to Eden.

Her eyes were glazed over and lips hung apart. She didn’t move, so he raised a finger to stroke her arm.

She shuddered, but didn’t pull away. Slowly, her gaze turned to his.

“What just happened?” he whispered.

“That was a raid. It’s illegal to be us. We are against the law.” She pressed her lips together. “A lot of those people have been beaten and taken away now. Some are probably in hospital. A few might never see their loved ones again. Fuck, James!” she leapt to her feet and to the phone in the corner of the room. She dialled furiously. Her finger slipped out of the coil and she cursed again. This time she dialled more carefully, and hung her head as she listened to the ringing.

Chris’ ears perked when he heard James pick up from across the room. He stood and stepped closer to Eden, in the hopes he could catch the conversation.

“Thank God,” she breathed, clutching the handset closely. “Are you guys okay?”

Christopher wished he hadn’t heard the words that came next. It was quiet but clear as day.

They got Leo.

Eden threw the received down and marched towards the front door.

“Where are you going, Eden?” Chris called after her, completely unsure if he should follow. She turned on her heel, eyes blazing with fury.

“Down to the station, because I’m sick and fucking tired of losing everyone I love.” She threw open the door and it slammed hard behind her.

Chris stayed.

~

Since 1814 homosexuality was considered a ‘Crime Against Nature’ and this was used to justify the raids of bathhouses, bars and restaurants known to be frequented by the queer community. The official charge was ‘Sodomy’ and men could receive up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

In the 1950s activists began campaigning for fairer treatment, though ‘solicitation’ was still punishable by prison. It was legal to fire someone for their sexual orientation, and thus blackmail became a common form of power play during this time.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that things really started to change, though there was still a prohibition on serving alcohol to gay people.

The modern LGBT civil rights movement began on Saturday, June 28, 1969 with the Stonewall Riots. When police raided a New York gay bar called the Stonewall Inn, the patrons fought back.

What should have been a safe place for people shunned by family and friends, or a small escape from the closet, was instead a danger zone. The threat of harassment, violence and imprisonment wasn’t enough to deter them, for where else did they have to go?

It wasn’t until 1973 that it became illegal for someone to be dismissed purely for their sexual orientation.

The AIDS epidemic of the 1980s was a new challenge to the community. Fear reared it’s ugly head as the general public once again took a firm stance against the gay community.

In 1993 ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was put in to place, designed to stop witch hunts against queer people within the military. However, it wasn’t until 2011 that the military were no longer able to expel people based purely on their sexual orientation.

In the early 2000s, civil partnerships became recognised in the place of marriage, so that queer people in loving relationships could have some of the rights that married straight people are afforded.

Finally, on 26th June, 2015, marriage equality is legalised through the United States.

On 11th June, 2016, a mass shooting occurred at a gay club in Miami and 50 people were killed.

In August 2017, the Australian government, unable to come to a decision in house, ignoring the overwhelming poll results of the Australian public, decided to spend approximately $158 million dollars by arranging a plebiscite on same sex marriage. This is a compulsory postal vote asking the public if they believe that queer people deserve the right to marry in Australia.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-03-14/525-million-price-tag-on-same-sex-marriage-plebiscite-study/7243298

When we win, which we will, I hope this government realises what their spinelessness has done to our Country. Our people are having their lives put in strangers’ hands. They are having their love debated by people who don’t need to have an opinion, because it has nothing to do with them.

I hope that one day we have a government who represent the majority, like they are supposed to.

I hope our people know that they are loved, and that we will win this.

I hope that we can finally move out of the dark ages and in to the light of love and acceptance.

I hope that one day some people will realise they don’t have to have an opinion on everything, and when it doesn’t affect you, sometimes it is better to just listen.

I hope that one day we can all be capable of empathy.

I hope.

http://www.equalitycampaign.org.au/

Let love win.

Harleigh Q

xo

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The Trouble With Social Media

Hello Millenials, Gen X & Y and Boomers.

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How are you?

Good I hope.

This week I fell from my perch a bit. I have been making a shift in to profiting on this little talent for eloquent bull-shitting lately. I sponsored a couple of my posts to reach a vaster audience and started a little hub of love on Instagram named @HippieHarleighQ and my very own Facebook like page.

It’s a big stretch for me. You guys know I’m an open person, but I’m also extremely sensitive.

Like, very.

I guess I don’t care if people judge my selfies or photo shoots because I know I’m just a normal girl trying to love myself and inspire others to do the same, and the overconfidence is just my sense of humour. But when it comes to someone questioning my insides? Oh boy…

Someone that I don’t know commented under one of my posts ‘sponsored? Hahah’ and I was bubblingly upset for the rest of the day. Yeah. I’m that bad.

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I promptly deleted the ad for the day it had left.

One thing I don’t want to be is ‘Insta-famous’. However, I do want to connect with more people. I guess it’s the same thing, isn’t it?

As a result of my new found need for money, I’ve been spending more time analysing my online presence. I’ve been looking at other people’s pages, reading their captions and hashtags and working out just how they do it.

Due to my ridiculous hyper-sensitivity I’ve also been questioning myself a hell of a lot more than usual.

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Where my anxiety had become very manageable, suddenly I am opening myself up to the devil known as comparison; the thief of joy, they say.

Oh boy, they are right.

I’m not happy at the moment. I have stopped enjoying my moments and I have started caring way too much about other people’s opinions. It’s like being a looney teen again. I’m a 26 year old woman! I thought I was supposed to be over that by now!

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I’ve been working out, eating right and I’ve cut right back on the naughty drinking. I’ve practically quit smoking. I’ve also stopped reading, I’m struggling to write and I’m losing my connections with my friends. Why? Because I’m thinking too much.

One of my spectacularly beautiful and intelligent girls said to a few of us a while ago that she found Instagram depressing. I couldn’t relate.

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I loved Instagram. I loved the amazing #bopo pages I follow; the gorgeous vintage collections, artists and hippie clothing companies that fill my feed. Facebook was much the same; interesting news articles, friend’s hilarious titbits about their day to day and some cool travel photos. I thought it was maybe something she could control by changing who she follows.

I was so wrong.

When you’re in the headspace of comparison (aka: thief of joy) the things you were looking at before that made you smile suddenly cloud your mind in a dark way. I enviously analyse the photography skills of my #bopo girls. I skip over friends’ posts and seek out my target audience to see why they aren’t engaging with me more. I’ve picked people who aren’t giving me as much attention as they used to and I’m agonising over it.

I have stopped valuing the good in favour of the goal.

Specifically, artist friends, do you know what I mean? The success of something locally doesn’t mean much when your reach isn’t vast enough? Something you wrote is no longer measuring up because something from last month did way better?

I want us all to stop.

Stop stop stop.

Social media is not real. We also can’t control who is seeing our posts due to the very money-focused algorithms. Don’t think less likes means people aren’t loving you. They aren’t seeing you.

~

Today I scrolled back through my Instagram for photos that looked out of place (I’m notorious for archiving mismatching colours in favour of a flowing theme rather than honest expression).

I came across my America and Europe photos.

I zoomed in on my and Martina’s smiley faces on our way to the opera dinner in Rome. I remembered vividly how incredible that night was, and how none of us had had signal in that little underground restaurant so we just talked and talked and talked like it was going out of fashion.

I saw myself standing at the top of the Rocky steps, one of my biggest life goals, for the second time.

I scrolled a little further and saw the gorgeous beach photos I took when I went down the coast with my Kate for a sneaky getaway, and the Melbourne food market tour I went on when I was learning how to use my new DSLR.

Not a single one of these times did I have my fucking phone in my hand.

I then scrolled back up and looked at my tagged photos, and I saw my face hanging in an art gallery in Maryland.

No, no one has written a song about me and no, I haven’t appeared in a music video and no, I haven’t collaborated in writing a great song, but someone liked my face so much that they decided to stare at it for hours and create a beautiful work of art that is now selling for $650USD. One day I might be hanging on someone’s wall. Wow.

What the fuck is wrong with us? Why do we always strive for what we don’t have or feel discontented when our lives are filled with amazing things to be proud of?

We can’t blame the media for everything. It’s not going to change any time soon. I think it’s our own doing, in a lot of ways. When we don’t switch off, we don’t absorb.

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Our phones are glued to our hands and life is witnessed through a screen instead of through our square little eyes.

~

I’m going to try to make a conscious effort to switch off more often and get out in to that big bad world without a shield of phone to guard me, and I’m going to see how my happiness level goes.

I have an inkling I might feel just that little bit lighter; and not just because my phone is a brick for the blind.

If we don’t get out there and do, how can we be?

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I hope this little shake up helps some of you guys too. I hadn’t been able to pinpoint my lull but now I have, I’m going to try to fix it as best I can.

One hour free of technology after work each day to focus on my other things e.g. pile of unread books and neglected keyboard and guitar.

You’re all beautiful, interesting people. That’s why you’re my friends.

Now let’s go and be that without validation (said the queen of needing validation). Life is short, don’t spend it sad because some people are cooler than you.

No one will ever be as cool as Ringo Starr. It’s time we accepted it.

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Forever your honey,

Harleigh Q

Xo

Band Aid – A Short Story

Trigger warning: this story contains references to some heavy shit. I’m not going to say exactly what because I don’t want to ruin it, but you get the idea. There is also time hopping, and neither the characters nor the story are based on personal experiences.

Enjoy xo

~

The scream of the crowd was so coarse it almost sounded like waves crashing in to rocks.

P’s knee-high boot heels clacked and echoed through the empty hallway. Everyone was watching the show, and she was on her way out. Her once soft blonde locks were pulled back in to a messy bun. Her chiffon maxi was fraying at the bottom and torn at the knee. She hiked it up and slung the oversized denim jacket she stole over her shoulder. One of her three lighters fell from the pocket to the tiles below. She didn’t stop to collect it.

~

The tour had been grand, to say the least; twenty five shows in thirty days.

The bus stank of stale cigarettes, spilled bourbon and sweat. It was dirty and it was home.

P usually slept on the top bunk, far right. Reuben was on the bottom. He was always on the bottom.

He wasn’t married, which was a bonus. He was one of the few she knew who let the life consume him without pretending to be a human outside of it. The only person he was hurting in the process was himself. He had a bad habit involving injectables and could fall asleep anywhere, guitar laid gently in his lap.

Smith was the daddy. He would carry the boys both figuratively and literally from time to time. He always had time to talk because he was the singer. Making noise with his mouth was his favourite pass time, and he especially loved the sound of it. He tried to be sober once and it lasted three weeks. In P’s mind, that was an excellent effort. His bunk was always immaculate.

Mick, the bassist with the permanent chip on his shoulder, was the polar opposite. Purposefully destructive, his anger was palpable. Everyone but Smith wanted him to leave. Even he wanted to leave. Coke doesn’t pay for itself, however, and he wasn’t going to get girls outside of his rock star persona. Matted brown hair hanging in his face, deep set green eyes and a forever furrowed brow; P thought he would almost be attractive if only he’d lighten up. Smith and Mick had known each other since they were four years old. Smith was the kind of man who made family out of anyone. Mick knew he wasn’t going anywhere without destroying the only long term relationship he had.

Shane was the happy-go-lucky drummer with a permanent grin and glint in his eye. He was just happy, man. He knew how good he had it. His sandy blonde hair sat in a Beatles’ style mop. Often compared to a young Ringo, there was a constant stream of giggling fans in his presence. The girl he’d married at twenty one only ever made an appearance when they approached places she found interesting. She flew to Sydney last week for a two day shopping and fighting spree. The rest of the group avoided the bus like the plague in that time. The usual complaint was the fact that Shane refused to book them a hotel. P suspected she knew exactly what ghosts were haunting that bed.

Lastly there was Matthew; Matthew the Manager. Matt was kind and intuitive, older and a gentleman. He was P’s favourite person. He was British. His thick Yorkshire accent could calm anyone. His hair was long and grey, often in a neat pony tail. His beard was trimmed, beer belly was prominent and hairline was receding, though no one would ever say that out loud. His shirts were always pressed to perfection.

Matthew had been big in the 70s. He was part of a folk trio who had taken off in the hippie community. Their songs about love and unity still struck a chord today with many wandering music fans, and he often had groupies of his own after each show. He’d always take time for a chat and an autograph. He never lost patience with anyone. It was a gift.

The other boys were less inclined to be so accommodating, though that depended on how short the skirt was.

P shivered as she used her modest body weight to press open the emergency exit door. The air was bitter cold. Their tour was ending in Melbourne, and at 11pm this August night the atmosphere was unkind. A speck of rain tapped her nose, and she pushed her glasses further up the bridge. She wouldn’t normally wear them at night, but she wasn’t in the mood for answering questions and her eyes always betrayed her.

Passing a pack of huddling fans in fur coats and Doc Martens she made her way towards the main road. She felt the looming tour bus presence behind her, but daren’t chance a glance at it. The events from the night before still brought a heap of bile to her throat.

She shook her head firmly to remove the thought and pulled the denim jacket tighter around her shoulders.

A taxi with their light off wizzed past her. Her phone screen was too damaged to order an Uber. She could barely receive a phone call.

On the corner she waited, for a touch too long. The cold was creeping its way in to her bones. The shallow breath escaping her mouth appeared in small clouds before her.

The girl had been young; too young, P had known from first glance. Buried beneath the layer of beautifully applied mac products was a child, no more than fifteen. Her gold halter neck hung loose at her undeveloped chest, but she supposed the boys were more likely looking at the shapely thighs on full display under her barely-existent mini. P had watched her carefully from her perch on Reuben’s lap. She had won her way in with her armful of flowers and gram of cocaine poking out of the wrapping. Where the fuck did she get that? was all P thought at the time. P was very used to sharing the group with other women, but she hadn’t expected this girl to hang around. The young ones get a bit giggly and see themselves to the door when the hard stuff comes out. Not this one though. She knew what she was doing, and it was equal parts mesmerising and terrifying.

P had shook her head as her brown leather boots found the floor. She lifted herself up and walked slowly around the circle that formed at the coffee table. The girl glanced up at P, and with a little smug smirk she made herself an enemy.

P marched from the room and found her way to the bathroom. A moment’s reflection in the mirror had her questioning her own motives. Do I want rid of her for her wellbeing, or because I think she’s a threat? She bit her lip. P was older when she hit the music scene, early 20s, passion before sense. She’d always been prone to hero worship in the place of love, but times were changing. These boys were now men in their 30s. She’d began following their tour three years earlier until eventually she’d become part of it. Every June she waited for the call, and this year it was Matthew instead of Reuben.

“’e needs you, Miss Thing,” he’d affectionately referred to her. It started the day they met. Her vintage Harrington had caught his eye and he nodded with fatherly approval and pride. You’ve really got it girl. You’ve got that thing they all want. Mystery.

Mystery is loneliness, thought P.

Apparently one bad trip too far, Reuben was on his final warning. Maybe his muse could fix the problems six months in the studio had festered. Maybe not.

The tour started wonderfully. Family nights, as P liked call them. They’d sit around and wax poetic about dreams and ideas, their solutions for all misery and corruption. Matthew would let out his billowing laughs and shake his head affectionately at the dreamy souls that surrounded him.

“You young ones, just you wait,” he’d say. “I once thought I could change the world too.”

P and Reuben were as close to love as two broken people can be. She sought therapy in his affections and he seemed to find his own in illegal substances.  He needed her physically, but mentally he was never quite there. In a way P never thought of herself as the type who would enjoy someone actually loving her, so this was easier; a story, with highs and lows and adventure and nothing else. It would end, as everything did, and she would go back to… what? Nothing. Sometimes nothing is better than the alternative.

Oh how her mind had changed. P used to dream of taming a wild musician, someone to share her passions, to dance and sing and dream with. Now she knew better. Artists can’t love. They’re too busy giving their all to their creativity. There’s nothing left but scraps.

A taxi pulled around the corner, yellow top light beaming. P raised her hand and it slowed before her. She wasn’t really sure where she was going, but it would be far away from here.

~

“Can you see with those glasses?” remarked the driver. He had a thick accent, it sounded Eastern European. P couldn’t manage a reply. Her gaze didn’t shift from the passing street lights.

A flash of big brown eyes returned to her mind, large and bewildered, pleading. P let out a heavy breath like she was trying to expel the memory. This time it wasn’t working. Her eyes welled painful but blinking away the tears just caused them to spill down her cheeks. Now she wanted to vomit.

That’s not my world, she told herself over and over. It’s not me. It’s not my fault.

The taxi stopped at a red light and P pushed open the door just in time for the puke to hit the pavement below.

“Hey!” growled the driver. “You can get out if you are sick. I will have no mess in my car. You will pay for it.”

P wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and slowly pulled the door closed with the other. “No,” she gasped, “I’m sorry, I’m okay now.”

He narrowed his eyes in the rear view mirror, but continued towards the city no less.

P pulled at some material in her hold-all and out came a t-shirt of Reubens. It was black, the band’s logo emblazoned on the back. She wiped her mouth and hand on it before throwing it on to the seat beside her.

~

When P returned to the room that night, the bouncers had already moved away. The music from inside was thumping. Smith had on Appetite for Destruction, his favourite post gig blow out album. Matthew pulled the door open just as she had reached for the handle. His face was paler than usual, and he avoided her gaze.

“I don’t think you should stay around, Miss Thing. Those boys don’t know what’s good for ‘em.” He bowed his head and gently moved past her, his hand grazing her shoulder as he went. P watched him go. The drugs are out, she guessed, before turning back to the door and letting herself in.

She wasn’t expecting the half-naked teenager to be even more naked than before, nor was she expecting Smith and Mick to be watching hungrily from the couch as she danced to Rocket Queen on the coffee table.

Shane had two slightly older but still young ladies perched on his knees at the far end of the room, joint hanging out of his mouth and eyes closed as he head banged to the beat.

Reuben was holding a pipe in one hand and reaching to the young one with the other.

She hopped off the table and bent over before him as he placed the pipe between her lips. The wind was knocked from P’s lungs.

“Reuben!” she snapped from across the room, but he wasn’t listening. A cloud of smoke shielded his face from her. When it dissolved she saw the wide smile once reserved for her. Every cell in her body wanted to rip him limb from limb, but something was holding her back. No, it was someone.

Mick had his arm wrapped tightly around her waist, holding her firmly in place. He had a good five inches on her, and was the only one in the group to frequent a gym. She saw his tattooed bicep flex as he pushed her backwards against the door, blocking her view.

“Don’t,” was all he said in his deep, intimidating way. P didn’t.

What felt like an eternity passed and Mick still hadn’t let her go. P found her words. “What are you doing?”

“What I was told to do. Reuben is busy. Why don’t we leave him to it?” It wasn’t a question, and he was standing so close she could barely catch a breath.

“What do you want?” came out as a whisper, which frustrated the shit out of her. She was strong; she wouldn’t be intimidated by this idiot. She tried to stand up taller, so his right hand closed around her arm.

“It’s almost the last night on tour, what do you think I want?”

“Fuck off Mick,” she snarled. “How dare you?”

“You think Reuben gives a shit?” he retorted with venom. He moved just far enough to the side for her to catch a glimpse of the girl now straddling the only man she’d ever let herself get close to. Her stomach dropped completely. Her throat went dry. Her words were gone again.

Mick didn’t speak this time either, he just yanked her forwards painfully, throwing open the door and tossing her outside of it in one fluid motion. She hit the floor with a thud and felt something sharp pierce her knee. He stepped out and closed the door behind him.

P looked down at a small pool of blood, a piece of glass. She pulled it out quickly and covered the wound with her other hand, her back to Mick the whole time. She had never liked him, but now? Now she hated him.

“He’ll fuck anyone, and I’ve heard the same about you.  I know what the fuck you do when you’re not with us. I know who you hang out with. You’ve got a reputation to uphold Miss Thing,” At that he pulled her up by the back of her shearling jacket. P spun and held the piece of glass up to his throat.

“You fucking touch me and I swear to God I’ll slice your neck and your wrists. You’re a shit bass player anyway and the boys would be a lot better off without you.”

Mick stepped back with his hands up, utter fury across his face. P lunged for the door.

It slammed hard against the wall when she flung it open. She saw the back of two heads, one blonde and one brunette, both messy and unkempt. Between them she saw wide, glazed over eyes and lips parted in an ‘oh’. The wild eyes fixed on hers and filled with tears, the girl was crushed beneath the weight of them both, but she didn’t make a sound. Reuben flicked his long dark hair over his shoulder and let out a howl of laughter, Smith took the girl’s chin in his hand and her eyes flicked to him. That was all P saw.

Her head was ripped backwards as Mick grabbed her by the hair. He pulled her so hard that she hit the floor again, this time with her head catching a badly placed amp on the way down. He entered the room and clicked the lock behind him.

“Who invited that cunt anyway?” he barked, but that’s all she heard. Welcome to the Jungle was playing now. Her vision went blurry, and then it went completely.

~

When P awoke she was still in the hallway. Her head was in someone’s lap, and her hair was being stroked. When the haze subsided, she saw the young girl gazing down at her. Her cheeks were streaked with mascara and dry tears, but when P’s eyes flickered open she had smiled.

“I’m Isa,” she whispered.

P couldn’t move, her head was still pounding, so she stayed in Isa’s lap. “I’m P,” she replied eventually.

“Oh, I know who you are,” the girl grinned back. “You’re my hero.”

What a bizarre thing to say, thought P. But the pit of her stomach was still churning, and what she had witnessed came flooding back to mind.

“Are you okay?” she asked meagrely, knowing what stupid question it was.

“I’m better than you,” Isa giggled. Her youthful jubilance seemed betrayed by the state of her hair and makeup. P had no idea what to make of her.

“I’ll take you to the hospital,” P said, slowly forcing herself up in to a seated position. The aching inside her skull was almost intolerable, so she lowered her head in to her hand to block the light. They were alone, and it was silent.

“Why would you do that?” Isa asked quietly. “I’ve been having fun.” Fuck, thought P. That’s not what it looked like. She turned one squinty eye towards the girl, who in turn raised her eyebrows at her. “I’m here because I want to be, and they wanted me to be, and you are lucky I am.” That petulant smugness had returned. P lost a few sympathy points.

“Fine,” she muttered. “Help me up then.”

The girls struggled to their feet. P looked down at her bloody knee and sighed. It looked worse than it felt. “Are you going home now?”

“Smith said I could stay the night, actually. He said there’s a free bed on the bus and my mum thinks I’m at a sleepover anyway.” She was proud of herself.

P knew the free bed was hers.

Both girls stood in silence for a moment. Isa shuffled awkwardly.

“Well, I think they’re waiting for me in the bus so… I don’t know if you’re invited.”

P wanted to spit. Her whole world was being torn apart by a Lolita. “Fuck off then,” she barked.

Isa sighed heavily. “I don’t want you to hate me.” P turned to look at her fully.

“You have no idea what you are getting yourself in to. I just hope for your sake they treat you better than they have me,” and with that she bolted down the hallway, never looking back.

Sitting outside the emergency exit door was Matthew. He had on two knitted jumpers and a parka, and was holding a cigar. He jumped to his feet the moment P appeared, and within seconds she found herself in one of the tightest, warmest hugs of her life. The tears weren’t voluntary but they came anyway, like a flood gate giving way after a long, wet winter.

Several minutes later, when the weeping subsidised to sniffs, Matthew placed his hands on her shoulders and pulled her back to see her face.

“P you’re one in a million darlin’. I really can’t ‘elp this. It’s the life they want to live and I’ve got to let them live it. If they aren’t ‘appy, we don’t get a record and then we’re all finished.” He brushed a limp blonde strand behind her ear and lifted her chin, so she would meet his eyes.

“Matt you’ve got no idea. She’s a child and they’re disgusting.” He looked hard at her for a moment.

“No one forced her to be ‘ere.”

Those were not the words P was expecting. Her world began spinning. They’re all as bad as each other.

~

Matthew begged P to stay for the last night on tour. “We’re in’t middle of nowhere,” he’d pointed out. Out of a sick sense of desperation for that not to be the end of her story, she agreed. One more day, she told herself; one more night.

When P returned to the bus at 4am, all was dark and silent. Isa was not in her bunk, nor anyone else’s.

The sun rose a few hours after, and having not slept a wink, so did she.

She ambled in the brisk morning air to what looked like a tradesman’s deli and bought herself a black coffee that tasted like tar. She just needed a purpose at that moment, and a morning coffee seemed appropriate.

After staring in to nothingness and smoking three cigarettes, P wandered back. She passed Shane’s ladies of the evening on her way in to the car park. Their hushed whispers rung heavy with excitement. Smith was standing by the door of the bus, cigarette in hand.

“Good morning beautiful,” he purred. P narrowed her eyes at him. Are we really just going to behave like normal? He furrowed his brow at her.

“Get out of the wrong side of the bunk this morning?”

P made a decision in that moment. She reminded herself why she was still there, she needed to get to civilisation, she didn’t want her adventure to fall to pieces, and from then on it was quite easy for her to pretend like the night before never happened. In fact, it was almost as if it didn’t.

Mick ignored her like always, and Reuben had given her cheek an affectionate stroke as he passed her on the way to the bathroom. They dozed through the four hour drive, interests only peeking when the Melbourne skyline came in to view.

“Honey, I’m home!” cooed Smith as he gazed out the window. Reuben wrapped his arm around P and kissed her gently on the top of her head. She tingled from the spot his lips touched to the tips of her toes. “It’s almost the end,” he sighed in her ear. She leaned back to look him in the eyes. He grinned that same old grin at her and her heart melted just a little less than usual.

~

The show was due to start at ten but the supporting act was running over. It gave the boys time for one more beer. As she followed them on their purposeful march to the stage she felt her heart break in to a million tiny pieces that she wasn’t sure she would ever be able to put back together again.

One by one they pulled back the curtain. The excited screams from the crowd grew louder each time. Reuben was the last to enter, and this time, he didn’t look back.

Neither would P.