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suspended like spirits over speeding cars

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There’s a sign above Peterkin’s head that says SHOW NO WEAKNESS, SHOW NO MERCY, and for the first time it’s not the most daunting thing in the room. Kie’s been staring at it for close to what feels like ten minutes at this point, which is a long time to be sat staring at a poster that probably came from the barracks, all the while silently picking at a hangnail under the desk and jogging her foot up and down. (She tries not to let it show on her face, though, lest Peterkin starts snapping to her about not having a winner’s expression, or whatever drivel.)

Peterkin has never been the most expressive of women, but Kie can’t help feeling a little unnerved at the lack of anything. She’s probably excellent in poker.

It’s not a long proposal, either: Kie had typed up just under a page of A4, with another sheet with a handful of screengrabs taken from concert videos she’d found online. It definitely should not take ten minutes to read (though it’s infinitely better than the alternative of her not reading it all). Peterkin hasn’t even just touched the pages from where Kie slid them across the desk, just sits silently reading them, eyes flicking from page to page, comparing information against each other. Four members, one with hair like coal, another with hair like snow, the other two in between. One girl, three boys: keyboard, bass, drums, guitar. She sees her pause over the words Outer Banks, and silently crosses her fingers together under the desk.

The clock has just ticked away the fourteenth minute when finally, Peterkin sits back in her chair, fingers under her chin. “You put together a convincing case,” she says.

Kie just nods.

For the first time, Peterkin touches a finger to the pages, right on top of the location. “You grew up in the same area,” she says.

Kie is a little touched she knows that, before remembering Peterkin is also probably part robot with endless memory storage. “Yes,” she says.

“Do you know them?”

“Personally? No.”

In theory, though? Absolutely. She went to school with Sarah Cameron (keys, the only girl), is pretty sure she even spoke to her a handful of times. They didn’t exist in the same circles, because Sarah was the kind of girl who would always be the centre of a room, whilst Kie existed somewhere near the back stress-eating the refreshments, and they took none of the same classes: but she lingered in her peripheral long enough to be a surprise when she showed up in a local paper behind a keyboard, surrounded by boys (drums, guitar, bass) from the other side of the Island. Now, them , she doesn’t know so well, only abstractly, in the way she knows of all boys from The Cut – but some Pogues and the richest Kook on the island making their name through the seedy underground of punk bars?

It felt a little like magnetism; a little like fate.

Peterkin’s gaze is steely. “And what makes you think I’d let you go on a paid goose chase across the States following some band?”

This is what Kie’s been waiting for. She sits up a little straighter, sets her shoulders, and tucks her crossed fingers under her leg. “Because,” she says, “I’m a good writer. Because this is a story that means a lot to me, and because yesterday you talked at the editor’s meeting that you’ve been meaning to push our demographic, and I think this is a really good starting point. An up-and-coming punk band from the undergrowth of North Carolina – a band no news outlets have managed to even get so much as interview with? I think this is just what you need.”

“What makes you different?” Peterkin says. “How can you be so sure they’ll let you be the one to get the story?”

“I have a good feeling about it.”

Peterkin holds her gaze, and Kie breaks.

“And I already emailed their manager,” she says.

And then, as rare as a double rainbow, Peterkin’s lips twitch into a fucking smile. “Well, then, Carerra,” she says. “The story’s yours.”

*

Kie has always had a thing for angry revolutionist punk music.

She thinks it was born somewhere during her time at the Kook Academy, when she would stomp around in her Mary Janes learning about the corrupt capitalist system and needed some sort of outlet for all her steadily growing anger. (Growing up as a budding anarchist in one of the most manicured areas of North Carolina probably fed into it too.) Of course, she’s no longer fifteen and angry at everything, and she’s also gotten the fuck out of Figure Eight, but there’s something still smouldering in the back of her mind that she sometimes likes to get into, residue from teenage Kiara who would crossly tug at her school tie and draw on the insides of her pleated skirt during Econ.

It’s what led her to The Pogues, anyway: a trip down a YouTube rabbit hole late one night, flicking through the music videos of all her old favourite bands, when, just past two am, far drunker than she had any right to be when she had work the next day, something autoplayed. Something dirty and grungy, something with bass that reverberated her spine and told a tale of longing, of want and anger and frustration. It was a camera-phone video from a dimly-lit concert, shaky enough that Kie could see the entire room with just a few degrees to the left and right. It couldn’t be anything bigger than a bar, but it was still full. The person filming was too far back and the quality was too grainy for her to be able to make out anything other than four people onstage, either three dudes and a girl or four dudes, one of whom had very long hair, and Kie was too drunk to think much other than I like this song to pay any further mind.

Then, the next week, she’d caught sight of Sarah Cameron, the epitome of everything she hated about Figure Eight, in the local paper, behind a keyboard, long hair flying, almond eyes lined in eyeliner, next to the line The Pogues: The Emerging Punk Band You’ve Never Heard Of .

From there, it was history.

It was an itch she couldn’t scratch, knowing that the most popular, promising girl at school had turned to music in seedy underground bars. The very thought of Sarah Cameron in a punk band felt like a juxtaposition in itself, and deep down Kie was privately more than a little irritated by it. Sarah thinks she can come into something that celebrates the very antithesis of everything she represents? (Teenage Kie would have been a lot meaner.)

She’d dug deeper, on curiosity rather than anything else; found that the three boys were from The Cut, attended public school and between them had a criminal record probably the length of the declaration of independence. She’d found that online, too, mainly just small charges like noise complaints, destruction of property – predominately Kook – and in one case, the sinking of a one Topper Thornton’s expensive boat. Topper Thornton, who she’s pretty sure she remembers Sarah dating throughout senior year.

Her eyebrows lifted. Huh.

Other than that, their existence on the Internet was limited to shoddy iPhone videos and short pieces from local papers about live shows. No interviews, no website – nothing. She’d tracked down a Facebook page which seemed to be their central hub, though it had mainly served to confuse her more, because who the hell still uses a Facebook? Seemed to work, though, because their page was filled with comments about how much people enjoyed the shows and pictures of fans in merchandise. The official band account didn’t seem to be hugely active, only posting about upcoming show locations – all small venues, Kie noted – and occasionally responding to various other comments.

(Sort of amusedly, Kie noted that there were at least two very different people who mainly used the account. One responded to fan comments usually in lowercase, with typed-out emoticons, as though they were still living in an alternate timeline where Facebook was still the predominant social media platform and emojis didn’t exist, and the other in all caps with a surplus of sparkly emojis. She amused herself with the idea it was one of the guys.)

She’d hunted down a CD, bought it only because on the back of the front cover was a photo. Their contact details were buried in the bio of the Facebook page, and on a whim, before even asking Peterkin, she’d shot off an email asking for the potential of an interview.

Honestly, she hadn’t been anticipating much. The manager of the Pogues had an email address that looked like it belonged to someone who still wrote in a diary with glitter gel pens. The response she got didn’t make her feel any more confident that it wasn’t.

From: sneezywheezyglittersparklez300@hotmail.com

To: kiara.carerra@thekildarenews.com

Hi Kiara,

Thank you for your email! That’s totally cool that you would reach out. I’ve never read your magazine but I googled it and it looks very professional, like something my dad would read, or keep on a coffee table, so kudos for that. To be totally honest, I was gonna throw your email out, but then Sarah spoke on your behalf and I decided against it. (No offence.) Apparently you guys knew each other in high school? That’s super sick. You know in high school I used to run a sticker business. Very lucrative. Probably made more than you do now.

Anywhoozles, the band is totally down for a view! (That’s what the kids call an interview, FYI.) Send over your deets and we can work something out

Wheezie xoxoxo

Sent from my iPhone

There were even customised emojis . Kie stared at them very hard.

But now Peterkin has given her permission, and that weight is off her shoulders, the gravity of what she’s signing up today is like a flash-bomb in the pit of her stomach. It’s not just even coming face to face with Sarah after all these years – Sarah, who somehow remembered her, despite the fact that they could not have spun in more different social circles – though that’s enough to make her feel a little queasy.

This could be her big break. She’s been busting her ass at The Kildare News for months now with little to no success, other than short featurettes about the hot tourist spots or the new barber’s that opened up down the road, and the idea that now she finally gets the piece she’s been dying for – a piece that no other journalist anywhere has managed to secure – she’s more than a little terrified. Jesus, what if the band is terrible? What if she’s terrible? What the fuck does she even bring ?

One thing at a time, Kie , she tells herself. For now you’ve just got an interview. Calm your tits .

She emails Wheezie the manager back with her details and the possibility of a meeting between the two of them. In response, Wheezie sends a gif of Kim Kardashian and meetings are for old people. Kie stares at it until three minutes later, another email comes through.

Are you free tomorrow? You can do your business talk with Sarah.

And with it, Sarah’s email.

Kie won’t lie when she says her heart thumps a little as she hovers her mouse over it. She doesn’t really know what she was expecting, but definitely not to be in direct communication with the band so early. And not just anyone: Sarah Cameron.

Sarah Cameron, who vouched for her. Sarah Cameron, who’s probably the only fucking reason she has this job.

Kie steels herself, and copies the address.

*

Sarah is already seated when Kie arrives.

She spots her through the glass storefront, sat at a table tucked away in the corner, already perusing a menu. She is turned away so all Kie can see is the tan line of her shoulders and a wide-brimmed sunhat, long honeyed hair spilling down beneath it. It’s been a few years, but this is exactly how Kie remembers her being. No one else could get away with wearing a sunhat like that other than Sarah Cameron.

Sarah doesn’t spot her until she is only a few feet away from the table, and even then Kie has to uncomfortably clear her throat to get her to look up from the menu. Honestly, she’s not sure what she’s expecting – probably the close-lipped polite smile she has become accustomed to receiving from the people she’s meeting, in the way she supposes anyone would do when a stranger is being invited into their life with the capability to ruin their career – but certainly not for her to grin broadly, and pull her heart-shaped sunglasses down her nose to look at her properly.

“Well, shit,” she says, “it is you. Kiara Carerra!”

It’s enough to startle a laugh out of her, and she feels any tension in her shoulders drop. “Sarah Cameron,” she greets, as she takes the seat across from her. “I wasn’t sure you’d remember me.”

Sarah takes her sunglasses all the way off – but not the hat – and rests her chin on her closed fist. “The girl petitioned against the building of restaurants along the coastline as to not ruin the aquatic ecosystems? Of course I do. It’s nice to see you again.”

It couldn’t have been her academic prowess, or anything. Well. “You, too,” Kie says. “How long has it been? Four years? Five?”

“Five, I think. You look just how I remembered you to look.”

“That’s unfortunate,” Kie says, only half-joking. (She had braces and exclusively talked about socialism. Which, granted, is not a far cry from who she is now, but at least now her boobs have come in and she can properly wing her eyeliner.)

Sarah just laughs. “No, you know what I mean. You look good! Like you’ve grown into yourself.”

She is the kind of girl to get away with these types of compliments, make them effortlessly cool instead of sort of strange. Kie hadn’t realised she’d paid that much attention. “You, too,” she says honestly: because while keyboardist in a punk band had never been the first thought to come to mind in Sarah Cameron Word Association, the fact she’s doing so in her pink crop tops and expensive necklaces feels almost ridiculously fitting. “When I saw your picture in the paper I almost couldn’t believe it.”

Sarah raises an eyebrow. “What, I don’t strike you as the type to join a band?”

Kie’s gaze drops to the heart-shaped glasses. She isn’t sure if she’s joking. “Uh...”

Luckily, Sarah just laughs. “Kidding,” she says. “Trust me, you’re not the only one who thought the same. Dad almost haemorrhaged when I told him I wasn’t going to college.”

“He must have thought you mad,” Kie agrees. “I mean, a Figure Eight girl becoming something other than a trophy wife?”

For a split second, she thinks she’s stepped too far, and her blood runs cold at her big mouth ruining something for her again, but then Sarah laughs so hard the table shakes, and relief floods her body. “Jesus, Kie, you bitch,” she says, but joyously, like she’s glad. “I don’t need to ask what you’re doing, then. Journalism?”

“That’s me.”

“No turtles?”

“Jesus, my legacy,” Kie groans, and Sarah smirks. “No, no turtles.”

“I didn’t know you liked writing.”

“I didn’t know you liked music,” Kie counters.

Sarah grins at her, and all of a sudden Kie feels like she’s just passed some sort of unspoken test. “Touché,” she says. “Shall we order? I’m sort of hungry.”

She flags over a waiter before Kie even has time to respond, or in the very least glance down at the menu, and rattles off a complicated-sounding meal with a coffee order that would require a scroll the length of a fucking piano to remember. The waiter turns to Kie, looking a little flustered.

“And for you, miss?” he says. Kie takes pity on him.

“Just a black coffee, thanks,” she says, and he visibly deflates in relief. “As for a meal...”

She glances down at her menu. She hadn’t eaten all morning because she had been so anxious about the meeting, but now the knot of tension in her tummy has eased a little, she finds she’s starving.

“I’d recommend the eggs benedict,” Sarah says, as if she can read her thoughts. “It’s my personal favourite.”

Kie raises her eyebrows, but folds her menu closed and hands it to him. “I’ll have that, then.”

He takes them gratefully, bobs, and then disappears into the kitchen.

“Jesus,” Kie says, “I didn’t know a coffee order could have that many parts. God bless your baristas.”

“I like to leave a mark,” Sarah says. “Besides, he’s clearly new.”

Kie raises an eyebrow. “You come here a lot?”

“Used to, back at Kook Academy.”

“Really?”

It’s out before she can stop it. Sarah grins at her. “You’re such a bitch,” she says. “Yes. I know. Sarah Cameron frequenting a place where the cheapest meal isn’t over twenty dollars.”

Kie winces. “Sorry.”

“No, it’s okay. Really,” she says, when she sees Kie’s disbelieving expression. “I get it. I know what I must’ve looked like in high school. This just... I don’t know. This was a nice place to come to when the expectations got too high. You know? Like, away from everything. All the eyes.”

Kie watches her. “But... being in a band. Isn’t that just more eyes?”

Sarah shakes her head. “Not like that. Not like they’re waiting for me to mess up. I know that’s what everything was waiting for, back then. My fall from grace. Now I’ve already... fallen, you know? Can’t get any worse than running away and joining a punk band.” She smiles, a touch wryly. “They’re not looking at me like I’m the Kook Princess, about to make the mistake of my life. To them, I already have.”

Involuntarily, Kie feels the corner of her mouth twitch up. “Still,” she says. “I... shouldn’t have stereotyped. I mean, I should’ve known, right?” She gestures towards her, and Sarah laughs. “And for what it’s worth? I always thought you were the nicest of them.”

Sarah’s gaze becomes consideringly hopeful. “Really?”

“Pretty sure you’re the only one who remembers my petition as anything other than cringey .”

“I should’ve spoken to you,” Sarah says. “Can you imagine how unstoppable we would’ve been?”

Kie grins. “The socialist and the princess. Kook Academy wouldn’t have known how to handle us.”

“It’s why I vouched for you, you know,” Sarah says. “When Wheezie showed me the email and I saw your address I just knew that this was the story we had to do.”

Kie stills. “Seriously?”

“I trust you with us. More than other soulless journalists.”

“You’ve had a few requests?”

Sarah rolls her eyes. “Here and there. Lot of people like the story: two ends of the class spectrum coming together, one from privilege, the other three not – you know, the sort of shit they know readers will eat up. Wheezie’s become pretty good at dodging emails.”

Unsurprisingly, that is not a shock. “You really accepted my offer because you knew me from high school?”

Sarah shrugs, entirely unself-consciously. “Sure,” she says, simply. “I remembered you. You were hard-working and always favoured the truth.” Good to know that one of them clearly hasn’t repressed the memory of Kie’s fake news phase at fifteen. “I mean, with all your activism I can’t say I was expecting you to emerge five years later as a writer, probably in the same way you probably weren’t expecting me to appear in a band. But... I don’t know. If anyone was going to do us right, it would be you.”

Kie feels her heartrate begin to pick up. “So... you’re accepting my offer?”

Sarah blinks. “Haven’t we already?”

“Your manager was pretty ambiguous on that front.”

Sarah snorts. Before she can respond, the waiter appears with their food, sliding it in front of them with a polite, “Your meals.” They are both momentarily distracted as they thank him and begin to dig in, silence settling over them for a few seconds. (Unsurprisingly, the eggs benedict is pretty fucking good.)

After a short pause, Sarah says, “We’d love to have you. Seriously.”

Kie smiles. “Yeah?”

“Well, it’s not entirely selfless,” Sarah says, “I’ve always wanted to know how I’d be described,” and Kie rolls her eyes. “I was waiting for a writer to fall in love with me and then write a poetry collection after I break his heart about how great I was in bed and how nice my eyes were, but this works, too.”

“Sarah Cameron: biggest bitch I’ve ever met. Ass like a pancake.”

“Fuck you ! I do squats!”

“In denial,” Kie continues, and Sarah laughs so hard it comes out in a snort. “The last person you’d want to comfort you in hospital. Bedside manner of a mangey dog. Probably not even that great at piano.”

Sarah aims a poor kick at her leg under the table, and Kie kicks her back. She is surprised to find it’s the most she’s laughed in a long time.

“Well, in that case,” Sarah says, but she’s grinning. “No, we’d love you with us. Me and the boys: you’ll have to meet them at some point before you join us on tour. Which... you’re doing, right?”

Kie chews thoughtfully on one of her hash browns. “I have funding for a month,” she says. “I’m scheduled to be with you probably until you reach California. If all goes well, anyway.”

Sarah waves her hand dismissively. “Of course it will. You’ll fit right in with us.”

As someone who spent most of her adolescence not fitting in , it warms something in her chest to hear that coming from someone who probably never had a problem with it.

“You’ll meet the whole team before we leave, of course,” Sarah continues. “The boys, obviously, and Wheezie, and our sound technician and all the roadies. You’re joining us from the tenth, right? After our Columbia show?”

“Yeah.”

“Our show in Richmond is a few days after that, so we’ll leave on the eighth. You should join us for breakfast that day before we start driving in the evening! I can introduce you to everyone and you can spend a few hours with us on the ground before we pack you in the bus.” She takes a sip of her coffee. “As much as I love the boys, having another girl there will be so nice.”

Kie raises her eyebrows. “Wheezie not much of a reprieve?”

Sarah snorts. “Wheezie is the opposite of a reprieve. Someone like me, I mean. I’m glad you’ll be there.”

“Maybe I’m a terrible roommate. What if I snore?”

“Worse than three boys? Unlikely.” Sarah grins at her over the rim of her cup, dark eyes glittering in the daylight. “I think we’re gonna have a lot of fun, Kie.”

Yeah. Kie thinks so, too.

*

Maybe it’s sentimentality, or an insatiable curiosity about the most inexplicable group on the planet, but Kie purchases a ticket to the Columbia show.

She knows that she’ll be with them in the morning, that over the course of the next month she’ll be witness to so many of their shows that the pound of their music will become as engrained in her DNA as it is theirs, but the itch at seeing then live doesn’t allow her to wait another few days for their next tour date. She books the cheapest, closest hotel to stay in overnight and brings her suitcase that is packed full with clothes: tries to Google what to bring when you’re on tour but is only left with aeroplane hacks and a blog from a girl who spent the summer after her senior year chasing a band across the states with nothing but a pack of gum and condoms, so instead packs twelve pairs of socks and the first two books from her Judy Blume box set.

It’s an hour drive from her tiny box-cupboard of an apartment in the Outer Banks to the venue, and she spends it listening to The Pogues’ debut EP for the first time. It’s the CD she managed to track down when she first fell down the rabbit-hole, nineteen and a half minutes long and encased in a slippery brown pamphlet with their faces on the front.

Unsurprisingly, it’s good. It’s really fucking good. The first song is just under four minutes and throughout the entirety there’s a whiny electric guitar that grits at something under her ribs. Over the top, a male voice: John B Routledge , the pamphlet says, on the lyrics. Kie wonders what the B stands for. At a red light she looks at their faces on the cover and tries to guess which one he is.

The entire thing is only five tracks long, and she lets every single of them seep into her bones as she drives: plays each song four times before moving onto the next. They’re fun, loud, angry and homemadeand, homemade in a way that is charming rather than grating. It’s exactly the kind of music she would have blasted at full volume in her bedroom back at Figure Eight when she was sixteen, lying on her floor with her feet up against the door and staring up at the ceiling, and it tugs at a heartstring so keenly she is hit with a sudden wave of nostalgia so sharp it makes something in her almost ache.

Jesus fucking Christ. Sarah Cameron did it well.

The last song, though -- the last song is her favourite. It plays when she is on the interstate only fifteen minutes from the venue, having drained the other four songs for every note they were worth with the previous forty-five. As soon as it starts, something dark and sad and yearning and hungry , she knows.

It is the shortest song, just over two minutes. Every second is used to its potential, filled with weeping keys and a keening guitar, and a bassline that she can feel reverberate between her ribs. And then, over the top: a male voice. One she hasn’t heard before on the other four tracks.

Something gritty and sad and beautiful. It sounds like North Carolina in a way the others haven’t: there is an accent to it, something that feels like the waning sun in autumn, hours at a time in between the waves on a surfboard.

At a red light, she checks the name.

JJ Maybank.

He takes the whole song: uncharacteristically, as she is learning. This John B Routledge takes the choruses most often, frontman, probably, but this last track is all JJ. Routledge has a voice for a frontman, something palatable that turns angry, frustrated songs into something just digestible enough to make it onto radio, but JJ sounds how like she felt at Kook Academy. Strangled on her tie, trapped in her uniform, wanting nothing more than to scream.

When the song ends, Kie pulls over to the side of the road, rests her head against the steering wheel, and just breathes.

This is either the worst mistake or best decision of her life.

*

The concert is in a venue no bigger than a school hall. There are no seats, only a dance floor backed all the way back to the bar, filled with writhing, shouting bodies, with thickly black-lined eyes and at least four facial piercings.

Kie sits at the back sipping her flat beer and thinks, this. This is it .

Onstage, the band is magnetic. They feel like they are in another realm up there: separated from the crowd with an elevated platform, sweat pouring down their faces, hair flying. They are giants, witches, something phantasmagorical and beautiful and inexplicably compelling. The music pours from speakers stacked either side of the stage, backlit with huge stage lights, like something from a movie.

Sarah’s hair forms a halo around her head. The lead guitarist, with the shaggy hair and headband, croons into his microphone as the drummer kicks them into gear. Kie can feel every thump of the base drum rattle her skeleton, finds herself swept up in its beat, until she is part of the writhing, swarming mass on the floor, arms above her head: amorphous, intangible, an indistinguishable body responding to a siren call.

In the final chorus of the last song, when it pulls back right before it crashes in, she spins into the middle of the dance floor and risks a glance up at the band onstage, almost close enough to touch. From her vantage point she can see their legs, the strong hands on the guitar fretboard, close enough until every breath into the microphone she feels in her whole body.

She looks up even higher: meets a pair of eyes so blue they look like they are filled with seawater. Framed with sweaty blond hair and dark blond eyelashes, in a face streaked with perspiration on a body playing a bass guitar as easily if it were a second limb.

Their gazes cannot be holding each other for longer than a few seconds, until the chorus crashes in and she is swept back into the crowd, but for those seconds she feels like she is suspended on a precipice, hand outstretched. Like the boy attached to those eyes was reaching for her too.

She closes her eyes, and lets the music carry her away.

*

After, it’s a little like this:

Backstage, dark and dimly-lit, filled with people. There’s a girl in glasses who looks about twelve sat on a picnic chair amidst the chaos, swinging her access all area pass on her finger like a ring of keys and scrolling through her phone, which is fluffy and has bunny ears. Kie learns quickly that this is Manager Wheezie: partially because it’s what she introduces herself as to Kie and the other journalists, mostly because the back of her chair is emblazoned with Wheezus Christ Superstar. From where she’s stood, Kie has a good view of her phone screen, which is currently playing 10 Things I Hate About You.

The house lights of the venue have come up, and the stage, previously turned sultry and studded and mysterious from the magnetism of the band, becomes ugly and mundane again. The band, slick with sweat and drenched probably through their clothes, come through the side: The Pogues, in the flesh.

Next to her, the journalists’ eyes widen like they have just landed on their prey.

Kie has to admit, they’re impressive up close. Even Sarah, who she’d known through the tail-end of puberty, who’d she’d been sat across from a fucking week ago, feels like a wholly different person. They are like giants, the four of them, and the stage is their kingdom. Them in the normalcy of backstage feels like they have climbed down a beanstalk to a normal land and are wading through waist-high houses.

She hangs back as the other journalists shyly surge forward; instead, watches. Pope – drums – moves straight for a towel, throws one behind him to John B – guitar – who catches it without so much as batting an eyelid and says hello to the journalists like they’re all old friends. He’s good with them, she notes: doesn’t condescend like he’s a celebrity. Asks them all for their names, apologises for the sweat. Natural leader , she thinks.

Sarah gets a towel as well, and a bottle of water, brushes her long hair out of her face. One of the temps can’t stop looking at her. Kie doesn’t blame them. She never knew she had a thing for fishnets until she saw them on Sarah Cameron.

There’s the fourth member, too. JJ. Bass, the boy who sounded like every sun she had watched crawl over the horizon from the beach. The boy whose gaze she had met in the crowd like their eyes were magnets seeking each other out. Quietest onstage, but used his instrument like he was born with it. He doesn’t go for a towel or a journalist: instead, one of the roadies come up to him, takes his bass, then tapes up his thumb with gaffa tape and cotton wool. There’s a line of dried blood that runs down the inside of his palm, and he sucks it into his mouth, pink mouth becoming even pinker. His hair, dusty blond, dark gold with perspiration, sticks to his forehead.

Kie thinks, oh .

Across the room, Sarah meets her eyes, gives her a wink. Her mascara has miraculously not budged from around her eyes. (Kie’s melted off somewhere between the third and fourth song.) She takes a sip of water and then passes it to JJ, who takes it wordlessly and drains the rest in one go without unsealing his mouth from around the rim. It’s a lot hotter than it has any right to be.

“All right, time’s up.” That’s Wheezie, rising from her chair. Standing, she is about a foot shorter than everyone. “The band needs to freshen up and get back. Thanks for your time everyone.”

Kie’s only starting with them in the morning, so tonight she leaves the rest of journalists. Tomorrow, though -- tomorrow she joins them on the road, will see them up close in startling clarity, away from stage lights and the smudge of night-time. Sarah makes a call-me sign with her hand as she is ushered through the door, and Kie turns around to give her a small thumbs-up – in doing so, she accidentally makes eye contact with JJ, who is giving her an inscrutable look.

She pauses.

Did you feel it too? she wants to ask. Did you see me in the crowd? Do you recognise me?

But she doesn’t. She just leaves with the rest of the journalists who are all excitedly chattering amongst themselves, mind whirring.

This is going to be an interesting month.