It's already dark by the time we hit the road. We're squashed into Sam's beat-up car, Angie's thigh wedged against mine, Jessie's wedged against hers. Cullen called shotgun, which was fine by me. We've hardly had chance to speak at school,or meet at the club, with Cope coming down on us like a ton of hot bricks about late homework, so I've not told him about my run in with Marcus. At least, that's my excuse. The words are wedged in my throat, leaving a bad taste I want to get rid of. Alcohol seems like a potential winning solution, so when Sam mentions a gig on the other side of town where the bouncers will turn a blind eye to our fake IDs, I'm the first to say yes.
The streetlights flicker as we drive past, the night smells fresh with rain through the crack in my window. Sam keeps trying to catch my eye in his rear-view mirror, but I avoid him. I'm still pissed at whatever he and Cullen were up to behind my back. I've not given him the chance to explain, partly in case he won't. I'm aware it's unfair to take it out on him alone, but the length of time I've known Sam seems to coincide with how pissed I get with him.
We make it in time to see the support act before the crowds crush closer to the stage. The place is a dive, with sweat-stained walls and sticky floors, but the cheap beer and deafening drums make up for it.
All my worries are rattled out of my head and I make it my mission to numb the stubborn ones I can't seem to let go of. Cullen hands me a cold bottle and I thank him. I see the frown flicker across his face even in the half light. I'm being weird and he knows it, but lets it drop. I'm grateful for that. I stand on my tiptoes and plant a kiss on his lips. I hope it's reassurance enough so he won't worry.
He leaves me with the girls and stands by the bar, talking to Sam their backs to Ben and Paul, who I'm not surprised to see. Half the school got tickets for this gig before it sold out. The lights are still bright enough to see around the room; it's not full yet but I recognise enough faces. I'm drawn back to the same one though, and more often than not, his eyes are on me too.
Rose is shouting in my ear about her plans for the bank holiday weekend, it's almost impossible to hear. She slips me a flask from out of her bra. I almost choke, the burn harsher than the one I was expecting.
"Jesus. What the hell is that?"
"Sorry, Mum's out of vodka. This brandy was all that was left.
Reckon it's been there since Christmas 1983."
I laugh knowing it wouldn't have lasted a day in my house. I can already feel the booze lazily swirling through my veins, making my arms feel heavy. "It'll do," I say, and down another few gulps, ignoring the fire this time.
The whole place drops into darkness and the noise surges to a deafening chant as the band appears on the small stage. Everyone pushes forward, filling every space.
As the first blast of guitar thrashes through the crowd, I feel an arm snake around my waist and a pair of lips press against my neck. The amps thump the beat through the floorboards, rattling my bones. Rose winks at me and turns to face the front, grabbing Jessie's hand and dragging her closer to the stage, stumbling against the crowd.
I twist and steal a kiss from Cullen. He tastes like beer and the gum he's chewing. The closeness to him has more effect on me than the music ever could. I pull him closer, taking as much of him in as I can, until he pulls back with a laugh I can feel against my heating skin.
He leans down to my ear. "You're missing the gig."
I roll my eyes and turn back around to face the stage, feeling his hands roaming. The warmth in my cheeks flares as his fingers ride under my T-shirt, pressing into my stomach, tracing the edge of my bra. I push myself back into him and feel the effect it's having. I close my eyes and let his fingers rise higher, then lower. The thrill of being surrounded by so many strangers turns me on and I'm delirious as we sway to the beat.
We're lost for what feels like hours, and I'm ready to leave with Cullen to take this further, when the music stops abruptly. The lead singer is gesturing to the front of the room, shouting, "Lights on. Lights on."
The darkness erupts into violent spotlights as I look where the singer is pointing. "We need some help here." The crowd parts and I try to see over people to what's happening. Turning to Cullen, "Can you see?"
"Shit," he says, grabbing my hand and pulling me in the direction everyone is looking. We work our way through the crowd, Cullen shoving people out of the way as my panic rises. I ask what's happening but he doesn't respond. Security is forcing its way through from the opposite side of the room and my heart has relocated to my throat.
I see Rose first, tears streaking blue mascara down her face. She's frantic when she spots us, just as security arrive to deal with whoever is on the floor.
I push further forward to see familiar denim shorts and a red velvet top. One I lent her only last month.
"It's Jessie. Something's wrong with Jessie." Rose's voice is hoarse as she screams at us.
I try to get closer but get pushed away by a man in a yellow jacket, his job spelled out on his back as we hear the wail of an ambulance in the distance.
Cullen takes hold of my hand and pulls me away. "Let them look after her. They know what they're doing," he says, his eyes black.
"What happened?" I ask Rose and Sam, who joins us.
Rose shakes her head and collapses into Sam's arms, smearing her makeup across the shoulder of his shirt.
One of the security guards looks around at us, sweat glistening on his forehead as he yells, "What did she take?"
We all look at each other in shock. "Nothing … she doesn't take anything," I say, feeling stupid.
"Well, she's got something in her system," he snaps back, before turning back to Jessie, his voice softer, "Come on, Darling, let's get you out of here."
They carry her into a waiting ambulance while we follow. Rose climbs in the back but they won't let anyone else in. "We'll meet you there!" I shout as the paramedics slam the door on us.
The sirens are piercing as the ambulance swerves off onto the road.
We all stand in silence. I look at Cullen, then Sam, and I see Paul, waiting in the shadows.
Then I see red.
I've missed these two and you lot.x