Chapter 13: Boys In The Band
He was confused. Fuck it, he didn't understand. What the fuck went on in that head of hers?
His hands linked at the back of his neck, before sliding over the top of his head and flinging downwards in a huff of frustration.
Why? Whywhywhywhywhy? Why would she do something like that?
And for him?
Sod it all. He needed a cigarette. And then some vodka. Lots of vodka. He needed to get trashed. Maybe then he'd get his head round this twisted logic of hers.
Where in London did one get thoroughly drunk at four in the afternoon?
He smiled bitterly to himself. Where else better than some seedy bar in weird and wonderful Camden?
The pub was empty when Archer pushed through the doors, except for the bartender polishing glasses at the bar. The place reeked of cigarettes and sweat and God-knows-what. But it was cheap. He made himself comfortable on a rather unsteady stool at the far side of the bar.
The balding, stocky bartender said, "Wanna sit down here in the middle, mate? Would save me a lot of walking back and forth."
"Do I look like I give a fuck?" replied Archer wearily, turning to lean back against the wall.
To his surprise, the man chuckled. "Bad day, eh?"
Archer sighed heavily. That would be an understatement. He nodded towards the impressive array of alcohol behind the bartender. "Give me something strong, will ya?"
"Comin' right up, sir. Want to watch some footie while you wait?"
He shook his head no. The last thing he needed was some idiotic football game disturbing his peace of mind. Or whatever was left of it.
"Alright, here you go, mate." A dull thump of glass on wood. "A few more of those and you're good to go."
The damned glass was sticky, but Archer ignored it and took a big gulp. He couldn't help wincing. It was absolutely disgusting, and he deserved it.
"Cheers," deadpanned Archer, and knocking his head back, drained the whole bloody glass, down to the last bitter drop of the amber liquid. "What the fuck is this?"
The bartender grinned and scooped away the empty glass. "Trust me, bro, you don't wanna know. Another one on the house?"
Archer watched him mix the drink from stinging eyes. The stuff was strong. But he'd laid off drinking for a while, except for beer and some wine, since Alex didn't exactly encourage binge drinking. He'd needed the sobriety around her too.
The glass appeared under his nose again. Moodily, he swirled the drink around until it sloshed and wet his fingers. He took a mighty swig, and nearly coughed at the taste.
"It's terrible," he told the bartender.
"I know, but it helps," said the bartender sagely. "Wanna talk about it?"
Did he want to talk about it?
Archer shrugged. "D'ya wanna know?"
He mirrored his shrug. "It usually helps to talk, you know."
Did it really? Maybe he should have made more of an effort at talking to her then.
Huh. He laughed bitterly to himself. Yeah, they seemed like the communicative type. Not. But having seen how things turned out, maybe they should have talked more. Maybe he should have told her how she really shouldn't look at him like that, because it made him want to look back the same way. Should've told her not to fall asleep on the couch every Friday night when she tried to stay up for some Italian art documentary. He had to carry her to bed and she'd cling onto him like she didn't want to let go. Thing was he didn't either.
"She shouldn't wear those fuckin' tiny shorts when I'm around," he complained aloud, half to himself.
Archer was rather peeved by the bartender's snicker. "Ever told her that?"
"'Course not, you out of your mind?" scoffed Archer, then made quick work of finishing the drink. They didn't talk about things like that. They were friends. Even though she didn't want them to be just friends. But she was too young, he was too jaded, blah blah. There was something else too…
Oh, yes, Maddy.
"She your gal?"
The alcohol was going to his head. "What?"
"I said is Maddy your gal?"
He didn't realise he said that out loud.
"No. She's… I dunno what she is," said Archer, with unexpected honesty. "You see, it's complicated."
The bartender gave him another glass. "Trust me, it always is. Just got divorced from my wife, so I'd know."
"Sorry 'bout that."
"Me too. We just don't get along no more," he said with a shrug. "We've been married for eleven years, you know."
Archer took a sip. "Wow. Impressive."
They hadn't even been together eleven months.
"How long you've been with your girlfriend?"
"She's no girlfriend," answered Archer, a bit sullenly. "I just live with her."
The bartender arched an eyebrow. "Complicated, eh?"
Archer nodded. Damn well it was. And now that he'd gone and insulted her, he was pretty sure he didn't live with her anymore.
He kissed her too. None too nicely, just him, taking and taking because he was so goddamn pissed off.
Oh, and he'd made her cry. A remarkable achievement. Alex never, ever cried. He hurt her real bad this time.
"I really fucked up," he grunted. "I'm fucked up."
He told her he was a fucked up person- he was sure he did- he told her so that she'd stay away. But she didn't. Clung to him like some sodding koala to a gum tree instead. So he tried to become a better person 'cause- well, he didn't want to hurt her. Couldn't stand it. He didn't run when he wanted to, run away to get his diamond and just leave her, because he knew she needed him. Him, a bad, bad man. Nobody ever needed him, unless they wanted to smuggle some stone out of Sierra Leone, that or they needed guns.
Fuck, no. She just needed him because she was lonely. That sharp tongue and real nasty sarcasm kept most people away, he supposed. So he stayed. He stayed and played mum when he should have taken off before it all went pear-shaped.
Worst thing? She didn't want him to play mum. She wanted more. He would have given her more, the old, bad Archer. He would've gone and made her his, because fuck it, he wanted her too. Yeah, despite all the "she's too young" and "she deserves better" bullshit. She made him happy. She understood his sense of humour- hell, she understood him, period. She knew when to leave him alone when he needed some time to himself. She was always yelling at him, but was sensitive enough to know not to go too far.
Well, okay, not always. When she did go too far, they fought. But he could never stay angry with her for long.
So there. But he was the better Archer now. This Archer looked ahead, he didn't live for the day anymore. This Archer knew that one day, he would be gone, had to be. He would be on the run again. He'd stayed in one place for too long, and a couple of weeks ago he would have thought that he could stay longer. But now that the authorities knew where he was, old friends and foes would know soon enough. It wasn't safe, not for Alex.
Which was why this Archer kept Alex at arm's length in the first place. No good ever came out of him. So he hid behind the façade of his little infatuation with Maddy to keep her from come any nearer. That was the plan. Well, a fine plan that was. Look where it got them now.
He had to do it though. He had to push her away, so nasty Archer reared his head. Lashed out at her, laughed at her for thinking she could help him still. By becoming Mrs. fucking Cooper. Couldn't she tell he wasn't worth the fucking effort? Really, nobody could ever make him feel guilty. Maddy did, a little, but Alex? She practically spoon-fed him with guilt.
But, really- who was he to judge? Ben Cooper was a much better person than he was. By miles. He might be a pansy ass, but he was successful, good-looking and rich. Fucking loaded. If she couldn't love him, at least he could afford to give her a good life. One she deserved.
Arched brought the glass up, but was disappointed to find it empty.
He looked up to find the bartender staring thoughtfully at him.
Fuck. "Did I just say evr'thin' out loud?" he slurred, feeling exceedingly stupid.
He nodded. "One question, mate- why haven't you told all this to your lady already?"
Alex shrunk into her leather jacket and tried to look inconspicuous, a lit cigarette dangling from her right hand, her left arm crossed defensively across her chest. She tried not to gawk at a guy who just walked past, sporting a rainbow mohawk like it was, well, normal.
After the waterworks stopped and when she decided that she had wallowed in self-pity for long enough, the fact that she had a date that night suddenly sprang to mind. It took a while to clean up and more than eyeliner to cover up her puffy eyes, but by the time she made it out of the door she looked fairly presentable. She had taken Seth's advice and wore comfortable jeans and Chuck's, a far cry from what her everyday attire.
Still, she stuck out like a sore thumb. Like a Sloane Square girl in the middle of Camden. All similarity with the surrounding demographic ended with the leather jacket and the cigarette.
Oh well. She was used to this. Being different. Not fitting in. She hadn't fitted in to anything since fourth grade after all. Maybe that was why she connected with Archer. He was a misfit too. A white boy in Africa. His own people looked at him and saw a foreigner. Caucasians heard him talk and didn't know where to place him.
They were a match made in heaven, really. Too bad he didn't want her.
A dodgy-looking guy strayed a bit too close and she smelled marijuana on him. Wrinkling her nose, she checked the time and frowned. It was already ten past nine. Where was-
She shrieked and clutched her bag to her chest in a sort of defence reflex, eyes wide as saucers. he let out a puff of air and dropped her hands when she realised she knew the man now laughing teasingly at her.
Seth shoved his hands into his jeans' pockets and flashed her a disarming grin, "Relax, it's just me."
She wasn't quite sure what came over her. It must have been that beautiful, genuine smile, because the next thing she knew she'd launched herself at him- arms tight around his neck, her face buried in his chest.
She felt a hand come up to cup the back of her head, while the other rested comfortingly on her back. To his credit, he only sounded slightly thrown by her assault as he soothed, "Whoa, whoa, sweetheart, what's wrong?"
God, this was embarrassing. He actually sounded concerned. He smelt really good too, warm and solid. And he was here.
She was tearing up then. Fuck him, seriously, fuck him.
"Alex?" asked Seth gently. He must have felt her tears through his thin t-shirt.
She pulled back, a teary mess, and wiped her eyes carefully, half a mind lamenting the fact that her mascara was running and her eyeliner was probably half gone.
"I'm really sorry," she sniffed, eyes on her shoes as she felt a blush creep into her cheeks. "It's just… I've been through a lot of shit these couple of days."
She nearly jumped when he brought his hand up to tuck her bangs behind her ear. "Hey, I'm here if you wanna talk about it, okay?"
She looked up at him then. A guy who wasn't scared shitless by crying girls? What a gem.
She nodded then, and she couldn't help a broken laugh when he whipped out a hankie from his shirt pocket.
He grinned at that and faked a defensive tone, saying, "What? Gentlemen always have a 'kerchief handy. C'mere, I'll clean you up. If you don't mind, that is. I know how fussy girls are about their makeup."
Alex smiled and shook her head. He tilted her head up and, with a serious face, began dabbing around her eyes and down her cheeks. A chuckle slipped past her lips as she watched him.
"What?" he asked with an arched eyebrow.
She gave him a wobbly smile. "It's just really sweet of you. Thank you."
Seth arched an eyebrow, and Alex just noticed his eyes were a beautiful green. "Did you hit your head or something? Why aren't you snapping at me?" he teased.
"Give me a beer or two and I will," she replied.
He winked. "I know just the place then."
"This place is disgusting."
Her face softened with a small smile when Seth laughed at her remark. He grinned down at her- he was actually quite tall now that she was in flat shoes- and she felt him put one hand on the small of her back, gently pushing her towards the bar.
"This is Camden, darling," he jokingly chided her. "We do it cheap and dirty."
Her smile faltered somewhat at the "darling", but she kept up the snobbish front and wrinkled her nose. "Ever heard of the concept of hygiene?"
"Nope, the only concept is sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, baby!" declared Seth, doing something that could only be described as a macho dance move. "C'mon, I'll introduce you to Neil. Best barkeep in these parts of town."
Alex had to crane her neck to spot the baldie behind the bar across the pub, crammed to the brim with weekend party-goers. She said sarcastically, "Yeah, definitely looks like some big-shot bartender to me."
"Have some faith, sweetheart," returned Seth smoothly. "He'll prove you wrong."
Seth moved to walk behind her as the crowds thickened, one hand on the small of her back. They wove in and out of groups of people drinking and shouting to each other over the speakers blasting out rock classics, which got louder as they moved into the thick of the action.
Throngs of people hung about the dark mahogany bar, but Seth managed to squeeze in between a girl with a fearsome full-sleeve tattoo and a scrawny Hells Angels wannabe. He ushered her to join him, and when she was comfortably nestled in next to him, he asked, "So, what's your poison?"
"A beer," replied Alex, propping an elbow on the counter only to snatch it back as it was wet and sticky. "And then some."
Seth ran a hand through his tousled hair with a nod. "Is Guiness ok?"
"Wonderful," smiled Alex.
Seth bowed his head and said, "Comin' right up, ma'am." He looked somewhere behind her and yelled, impressively loudly, "Hey Neil! I can do with a drink down here, man!"
Alex turned and watched, slightly amused, as the bartender gave Seth the middle finger without even turning around.
"Full marks for courtesy," joked Alex.
Seth grinned. "Yeah, that's his way of treating his most loyal customers."
It didn't take Neil long to stop by to take their orders. He exchanged greetings and manly thumps on the back with Seth, and grinned good-naturedly at her. "And who is this pretty lady?"
"This is Alex, and this is Neil," said Seth in ways of introduction. "Who will be treating us to some good ol' Guiness before the night is through."
Neil stuck his hand out and Alex shook it. "Pleasure, ma'am. A Guiness coming right up on the house, but you're paying for yours, son!"
"What?!" exclaimed Seth in mock outrage. "But I told Alex here that you're the coolest barkeep in Camden! Can't go back on my word now, can I?"
Neil had a good laugh at that as he filled up two pints for them. "Good boys shouldn't lie, son. So, Miss Alex, you well acquainted with Camden Town?"
"Not really, I prefer cleaner places," she replied dourly. Then she grimaced when she realised hadn't done this polite chit-chat for a while… and what she just said wasn't exactly polite.
Shit, she was really bad at this civil conversation thing, wasn't she?
To her surprise, Neil laughed and shook it off easily, and presented to them their overflowing pints of beer. "A lady with spunk- surely you can do better than an amateur rock band guitarist."
Alex arched an eyebrow at that and peered at Seth dubiously. "What, you're in a rock band?"
He shrugged and took a sip of his Guiness. "Would it have made a difference?"
"Well, for starters, it would have made you much more attractive," she answered, smiling at him with her eyes as she brought the beer to her lips.
Neil chuckled and mockingly punched Seth in the chest. "Pow! You just got owned, son. You keep him on his toes, sweetie, he needs to be taken down a peg or two sometimes."
Seth snorted and made a face, and with a shake of his head, called after Neil as he bustled away, "Fuck off, man! Go recycle your beer bottles or something."
Before Alex could stop herself a giggle had escaped at the easy banter between the two. She gave Seth a wide-eyed look as he narrowed his eyes at her. "What? You two were bickering like a married couple."
"Rock stars don't do marriage," joked Seth with a wink.
"So, tell me about your band."
Seth started on what sounded like a well-rehearsed speech, drawling, "We're the lovechild of Nirvana and Whitesnake, with the vocal flexibility of Faith No More, the fuck-all attitude of AC/DC and soulful lyricism of… I dunno, Oasis?"
She nearly choked on her beer. "Damn, if only you've left out the last bit, I would have been impressed. But no, seriously."
"Seriously? We're just a bunch of guys who want to make some noise," said Seth with a nonchalant shrug, then added cheekily. "And bagging some hot girls in the process, since women like boys who play music."
Alex rolled her eyes, but she was smiling. "I wonder what gave you the idea."
"Personal experience," said Seth, roguishly. He glanced at her nearly empty glass. "Can I get you another one?"
Seth patted her hand and took both of their glasses. "Stay here, I'll go sneak in and get us a refill."
Alex leaned back against the counter and savoured the slight buzz the beer gave her as she glanced around her. Scrawny wannabe Hells Angel had disappeared but tattoo girl was still there, talking somberly with another girl. Uproarious laughter came from one of the circles of friends standing around small, high tables, while others were more subdued. She absent-mindedly nodded her head to a Rolling Stones classic currently on play, listening to snippets of conversation and watching bits of action.
Then she heard it, a voice too familiar, slightly slurred, somewhere to her left. She wheeled around sharply, and fuck, there he was. Practically climbing over some man in his way as he shouted and waved his arms to get Neil's attention. And well, someone was climbing him too, a scantily dressed petite blonde leaning on his back, arms around his waist.
Wow, good to know that Archer didn't have any qualms about picking up random sluts while pining after a certain Maddy Bowen and at the same time breaking a certain Alex Devereaux's heart.
First-class bastard. He could burn in hell for all she cared.
I don't want to end the chapter in such an awkward place, but in between packing and more packing, I don't have time to write more, and the chapter has run on for too long. I'm going off to university! YAY! Before that I'm going on a 10-day holiday, so unfortunately, I'll be too busy touring to find time to update Red Earth. Please forgive me if a rather lengthy gap in between updates follows… know that I am just as anxious to know what Alex and Archer will do next! Cheers for the kind reviews, everyone, the next update will quite a read… I'll promise you as much. Wishing you all a happy back-to-school!
EDIT: I didn't realise the dividers don't show up- I'm very sorry if this has impeded your reading somehow, I'll have to go back and fix the previous chapters!
EDIT 2: I apologise, but I was re-reading this chapter and found some grammatical mistakes. All corrected.