Excerpt: Keeping It Together

“Come on,” Tilly pleaded. “It’ll be fun, I swear!”

Sian glanced at her watch. It was almost midnight. Her dad would kill her if he knew she’d stayed out this late. “I don’t know…” she said, but there wasn’t much conviction in it. She wanted to stay; she just didn’t think she should. After all, they had college in the morning.

“You’re staying at my house, aren’t you?” Tilly said. “It’s not like anyone’s gonna know. Besides…” She grinned. “My house, my rules.” She didn’t even wait for a reply before she was half-dragging Sian across the room.

Sian took a deep breath, and went with it. When Tilly wanted to do something, there was no arguing with her. And what she wanted right now was to snog her new boyfriend’s face off.

Tilly dragged her through a door leading to the back of the club. Sian half-expected to be stopped by a bouncer, to be told they weren’t important enough and needed VIP passes or something, but there wasn’t anyone to hold them up, and they slipped through into a small hallway that smelled of sweat and bleach. Sian had never been backstage anywhere before, unless you counted compulsory school drama performances, where ‘backstage’ was really just a classroom around the corner. It made her nervous. Really, the club wasn’t that big or that popular, and the band weren’t famous or anything, but still, they were the band, and this was backstage. Even if it wasn’t really, it still kind of felt like trespassing.

There were a couple of people milling about outside one of the doorways, two guys, one she recognised as the drummer, with long, straggly black hair and thick-framed glasses, and another unfamiliar man, whose hair was dyed green and spiked up like a punk from the seventies.

“Alright, loves?” the punk greeted them, leaning against the wall. He didn’t seem annoyed that they were here, and some of the tension eased from Sian’s shoulders.

“Great, thanks.” Tilly beamed at him. “Is Mac back there?”

“Aye.” The punk jerked his head toward the open door, and the drummer moved aside to let them pass.

The room was full of people, most of them sitting on upturned crates, some leaning against the sturdy metal shelving units that lined the walls. It had probably been used as a stock room at some point, but tonight it was the band’s storage and dressing area. Most of the people were men. The only other woman in the room was the band’s lead guitarist and vocalist. She was leaning against the wall and lighting up a cigarette despite the red No Smoking sign right next to her head. Nobody seemed to mind.

“Mac,” Tilly breathed and abruptly let go of Sian’s hand, pushing past a guy with blond dreadlocks and jumping into the arms of the bass guitarist, a man in his 20s with red, spiky hair.

Someone shoved past her to get out of the room, and Sian was almost knocked into the doorframe. Nobody was paying her any attention, and she just hovered there, feeling awkward and out of place. Someone laughed, and she twitched, wondering if they were laughing at her.

“Mac.” The band’s front woman pushed away from the wall. “Do you have to keep inviting these kids? It’s getting to be a thing with you.”

Mac just grinned at her and went back to kissing Tilly.

“How old are you, love?” the woman asked, stepping closer and eyeing Sian up. Sian shivered; she felt like a sheep locked in the gaze of a hungry fox. Her skin tingled.

“Nineteen,” she said. “Hardly a kid.”

Smoke curled up from the woman’s cigarette, and Sian could taste the bitter tang of it in her mouth and the back of her throat, making her want to cough. “Nineteen?” The woman laughed. “You’re not nineteen.”

“Do you want to see my ID?” Sian asked, and the woman laughed again.

“Leave the girl alone, Alisha,” a tall, thin guy with cropped blond hair said, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “She’s here to have fun, not to be interrogated, am I right?” He turned to her, and Sian nodded.

“Alright.” Alisha shrugged and returned to her spot against the wall. “Come, then, sit. Have a beer.” She grabbed a bottle from the crate, pulled her cigarette away from her mouth, and bit down on the cap. Sian winced, expecting her to crack a tooth, but when Alisha pulled the bottle away from her mouth, the cap was still clenched between her teeth.

Sian gaped. “How did you do that? Didn’t it hurt?”

Alisha shook her head. “Just a talent I have.” She kicked a plastic crate with her boot, indicating that Sian should sit. “You’re really nineteen?” she asked.

Sian nodded, and watched as a slow, wicked smile spread across Alisha’s face. Her stomach did a weird flip, and she clutched the beer tighter.

“Guess that means you make into my bracket, then, huh?” Alisha said, and winked.

Sian wanted to ask what she meant by ‘her bracket.’ Instead she said, “How old are you?” She knew she shouldn’t really ask strangers their age, but Alisha had taken an interest in hers, so the rule probably didn’t apply here.

“I’m twenty-six,” Alisha said, shooting her a rueful grin and running a hand through her hair.

Sian smiled, the alcohol making her bold. “Wow,” she said. “You’re old.”

Alisha arched one eyebrow, something Sian had always wanted to be able to do. “Oh, am I?” she said, and Sian’s stomach knotted.

“I was just joking,” Sian mumbled, backtracking quickly. “You don’t look old, like, old, I mean… you’re beautiful.” And she was, with smooth, perfect skin the colour of strong tea, a ring of roses tattooed on her left wrist, and perfectly straight, black hair that stopped just above her shoulders, the ends dyed a vivid, electric blue. Sian had thought Alisha was beautiful back when she’d watched her sing. She’d gotten caught up in every sweep of her arm, every swish of her head, every word that fell from her mouth, and now… now Sian had made herself look like an idiot. She blushed furiously, ducking her head, hiding behind her thick frizz of hair.

Nimble fingers tickled her chin, pressing her head back up so her eyes caught Alisha’s. They were very green, Sian noticed, dark like seaweed.

Alisha didn’t look offended or disgusted. She was smiling, an amused quirk to the corners of her lips. “You think so?” she asked, and Sian nodded, her face red. Her stomach was doing strange things, like little jolts of electricity were being generated there and zapping through the rest of her body, like she’d been quickly turned inside out and back again but could still feel the exposure to air and light on the inside. Alisha’s face was very close to her own, and she couldn’t look away from those kohl-lined eyes, her jaw caught in Alisha’s grip.

And then Alisha’s mouth was pressed against her own, and although Sian’s first instinct was to tug away, Alisha held her still, and when her tongue pressed against Sian’s lips, she didn’t resist, just opened up and let the heat flood through her.

When Alisha pulled away, she was smiling and her cigarette had burnt down to the butt. Sian wasn’t quite sure what had happened. She felt very strange, lightheaded and a little bit nauseous.

When she turned around, Tilly was staring at her like she’d never seen her before.

Sian stood. “I want to go home,” she muttered, and for once, Tilly didn’t argue.

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