The back of the class is where I was, keeping quiet, playing dumb. Can't you see these skies are breaking? Cause the back of the class is where I'm from. And I am one.
‘Hi, I’m Stuart.’
Nick looked up at the boy who had sat down at the desk next to his. The boy smiled.
‘Nick,’ said Nick.
‘Nice to meet you, Nick.’ Stuart looked Nick up and down, as though he were appraising him. It made Nick feel slightly uncomfortable, so he stared back, taking in broad shoulders, short cropped dark hair, and sparkling hazel eyes under thick eyebrows. Then Stuart spoke again. ‘So, what’s your instrument?’
Nick blinked. ‘Huh? Oh! Guitar.’
‘Er, no, rock.’ Nick grinned. ‘What about you?’
‘Percussion,’ said Stuart, miming a pair of drum sticks. ‘I started in a marching band, but I did some pop and rock stuff back in high school. Ever been in a band?’
Nick shook his head. ‘Back where I came from, I’m not exactly the sort anyone’s interested in starting a band with . . .’ He winced internally at his own words. Right, Nick, go ahead—tell him what a loser you are. That’s a brilliant way to make friends.
‘Oh? Where’s that, then?’
‘Windfield Green,’ said Matt’s voice, and Nick turned his head to see him sitting down on his other side. ‘Who’s your friend, Nick?’
‘Oh, er, this is Stuart,’ Nick informed him. ‘Stuart, this is Matt. We went to school together last year.’
‘Yeah, but as opposed to this loser I’m not actually from Windfield.’ Matt grinned. ‘Good to meet you, Stu.’
‘It’s Stuart,’ Stuart corrected, but shook Matt’s hand all the same. ‘You’re a Brummy.’
‘Is my accent that conspicuous?’ Matt laughed.
‘And what’s your instrument, then?’
‘Hey, we’ve got a rock band between us,’ said Stuart with a smile. ‘Maybe we should play together some time?’
Matt shrugged and leaned back in his seat. ‘Don’t see why not. Provided you’re any good. I know Nick can play, but . . .’
‘Anyway, we’d need a singer,’ said Nick.
‘No, we don’t, you can sing.’ Matt nudged him with his elbow. ‘Dave’s told me you have a really pretty voice.’
Nick blushed. ‘Piss off . . . Besides, he’s not exactly unbiased, is he?’
‘I dunno, from your speaking voice you sound like you could sing well,’ said Stuart. ‘How’s about we jam some time?’
‘That might be fun,’ said Nick.
‘Cool! I’ll book us a rehearsal space for tomorrow afternoon, if you’re both free? Oh, and let me have your numbers.’
* * *
‘Weird kid,’ said Matt, as the two of them left the classroom. Stuart had vanished almost as soon as the bell rang. ‘He seemed really insistent on playing with us.’
‘Maybe he thought you were hot,’ Nick said, poking Matt in the side.
‘Don’t be silly, Nick. If he swings that way it’s you he’s interested in.’
‘No way! You think?’ Nick glanced sideways at Matt, who was smirking at him. He turned his eyes down as nonchalantly as he could. ‘Anyway, you and I know we play well together. If we want to start a band we do need a drummer.’
‘True.’ Matt gave a stretch and ran a hand through his long hair. It had grown a good inch over the summer and was slightly bleached by the sun. ‘What have you got now?’
Matt laughed. ‘They really do teach everything here . . .’
Nick shrugged. ‘I thought it might go well with the music. You know, for songwriting and stuff. A good companion to the Composition unit. I dunno, I picked everything but Music mostly at random. Music is the only thing I really know I want to do, you know?’
‘Yeah, I know what you mean,’ said Matt with a nod. ‘Well, I’ve got Drama, and I thought I’d slip out for a fag before. I’ll see you later.’
‘Yeah.’ Nick gave his friend a wave and watched him disappear down the corridor.
It was nice having friends. The last couple of months of secondary school, once he and Dave had come out, had been the best time he’d ever had in school. He’d been able to hang out with his boyfriend openly, and Matt, Chas, and even Alan had become his friends. They’d had good times together, watching movies, playing video games and even going out for pizza a few times. The others might have experienced a slight drop in their popularity, but over all it had been fairly insignificant.
Could Matt be right about Stuart? He rather hoped not, really. It had been hard enough dealing with Alan and Matt’s misplaced affections the previous spring. Nick wondered fleetingly if Alan had come out to anyone else yet.
His phone buzzed in his pocket, and Nick pulled it out to find a text from a number he didn’t recognise.
Room 318, tomorrow, 5 pm. Good? Stuart
Nick smiled at the text. The oddball kept his promises, at least. He wrote back:
Then he started off towards his next lesson.
* * *
Nick cowered as the dark shape came towards him with heavy steps. He shut his eyes tight, but even through his eyelids he could see him. Feel him coming closer.
‘This is what you want, isn’t it? This is what you like. Well, if you like taking it up the arse so much I’ll fucking show you, you pathetic little faggot!’
Nick sat up in his bed. His duvet was twisted around his legs and his sheets were drenched in sweat. He touched his hand to his cheek and it came away wet. Trying to calm his racing heart and rapid breathing, he pulled his knees up to his chest and took several long, deep breaths. His breath caught and he released a sob he hadn’t realised he’d been holding. Covering his face with his arms, he wept silently until the tears stopped on their own. He reached over to his nightstand and checked the time on his mobile. Ten to seven. He might as well get up.
The worst part wasn’t really even the dreams, he thought while he pissed. The worst part was that he was becoming used to them. Waking up shaking and sweating and sobbing was becoming routine. That scared him. Still, it was better to put it out of his mind. He had a jam session to look forward to today.
He brought his Telecaster with him on the bus. He wouldn’t be meeting his guitar teacher until the following day, so the instrument spent most of the day in its case, but Nick’s fingers were itching to play it, so during a break he sat down on the green and played a few scales. In the hour he had free between his final lesson and the planned jam session, Nick browsed sheet music in the library. They had a decent selection of rock music, and he checked out a couple of volumes he thought might be interesting for their jam session.
At five o’clock he went to room 318 and found that both Stuart and Matt were already there. Stuart was fixing cymbals to the drum kit, while Matt had plugged in his Warwick bass and was tuning. Nick opened his case and pulled out his guitar.
‘That your instrument?’ asked Stuart, stepping over to him.
‘Yeah,’ said Nick proudly. ‘My baby.’
Stuart scrutinised it with a frown. ‘Fender, eh? Never been a fan of Fender.’
‘Uh-oh,’ said Matt, grinning. ‘Never insult a guitarist’s brand of choice, mate. Especially not if you’re talking to a Fender-whore. They bite.’
‘Can I try it?’ asked Stuart.
‘At least let me plug her in first,’ said Nick, rolling his eyes and trying very hard not to appear offended. He picked a Line 6 amp and plugged his guitar in, tuning it quickly and efficiently, before handing it over to Stuart.
Stuart played a simple but rather pretty melody in E-minor. ‘Yeah, all right, not too bad, this,’ he admitted grudgingly after a few moments. ‘It’s got good tone.’
‘Yes. It does,’ said Nick, perhaps a bit more smugly than was his norm. ‘Now, shall we stop faffing about and actually play something?’
‘All right, let’s do this, then,’ said Stuart, handing back the Telecaster and sitting down behind the drum kit. ‘What sort of music do you guys like playing?’
‘Noisy indie-stuff, grunge, garage rock . . . You know. Things that are loud and hard and awesome,’ said Matt with a grin. ‘I’m up for anything, though.’
‘How about you?’ asked Stuart, turning to Nick.
Nick shrugged. ‘Well, my favourite band is Placebo. I also like Manic Street Preachers, Smashing Pumpkins, Jesus and Mary Chain, Queens of the Stone Age, Death Cab for Cutie, The Cure, Depeche Mode . . . I dunno. I like loads of stuff.’
‘Do you guys have anything you’ve played together, that we could start with?’
Nick glanced at Matt and grinned. ‘Hey, remember that bass line you came up with in A? Where I did the major seven chord and then moved into C major, but with the discordant harmony in the bass?’
‘Oh yeah, you mean this one?’ Matt played a reasonably simple bass line.
‘Yeah, yeah. Let’s start with that.’ Nick added the guitar, and they played the progression around a couple of times. Then they looked up at Stuart expectantly. Stuart snapped his fingers a few times, tapped his foot on the hi-hat pedal and picked up the drum sticks.
Then they played.
* * *
‘So, same time next week?’ asked Stuart, letting the door slam shut behind them.
‘Yeah, definitely!’ said Nick, still grinning. Stuart had impressed them both, turning out to be a rather excellent drummer capable of complex breaks as well as tight beats. ‘You’re like a fucking human metronome,’ Nick told him.
‘Yeah, well, I’ve been playing drums for years. Always loved music, so . . .’ Stuart shrugged. ‘You guys aren’t half bad yourselves, though. I mean, your melodic technique needs work, Nick. And Matt, you could tighten up your bass playing considerably. But not everyone can keep up with me, so that speaks greatly in your favour, and that unpolished sound goes well with the sort of music you both like. I’m looking forward to playing more with you.’
He picked up his cymbal bag, gave them each a curt nod, and vanished down the stairs, leaving Nick and Matt to stare after his retreating back. Then they looked at each other and both burst out laughing.
‘Is that guy for real?’ Nick shook his head and picked up his guitar case.
‘Arrogant sod, isn’t he?’
‘Damn good drummer, though.’
‘Mhm,’ Matt acknowledged with a nod. ‘You know, I think this might actually work out. Bus home?’
Nick nodded. ‘Yeah. And yeah, I think it might work too. Maybe. We’ll see.’
Matt pulled his gig bag onto his back and they headed off towards the stairwell. ‘So, what should we call ourselves?’
Nick pretended to give it a good long think. ‘The Nick Davis Band? Nicky and the Guys? The Nickelodeons?’
Matt elbowed him gently in the ribs. ‘Yeah, yeah. Peel your ego off the ceiling, Simon Cowell.’ He suddenly stopped in the middle of the stairs and pulled his buzzing mobile phone out of his pocket. Turning away from Nick, he answered it. ‘Yeah? Just finished the jam session. Yeah, it was good. On my way to the bus now. With Nick. Yup. Well, you could come over later if you like . . . Yeah? See you then. I’ll text you. Mm. Bye.’
Nick glanced at him curiously as he put his phone away. ‘Who was that?’ he asked, trying not to seem too interested. ‘A . . . friend?’
Matt looked up at him and smiled sheepishly. ‘You could say that.’
‘Are you shagging someone and not telling me about it?’ Nick put his free hand on his hip and cocked an eyebrow, trying his best to look offended.
‘It’s no one you know,’ said Matt and brushed past him, continuing down the stairs. If it were someone who could just ‘come over later’, Nick highly doubted that, but he didn’t push the matter. Instead he followed Matt down the stairs. He supposed he would find out soon enough.
* * *
‘So, how was the jam session?’ Dave asked. He was lying on his back on Nick’s bed in nothing but his pants. Nick himself was seated on the floor in a similar state on undress, with his back to the bed and his blue Ibanez in his lap, playing a new chord progression that had just appeared in his head.
‘It was good. Stuart’s kind of odd, but he’s a good musician. If we can all get along, I think we may be looking at a fairly decent band, actually.’
‘Not bad,’ said Dave. He rolled over onto his side and stretched out his hand to run his fingers through Nick’s hair. ‘Does that mean I’ll get to watch you up on a stage, looking fit as hell in leather trousers and shredding on your Telecaster? Shall I be your groupie?’
‘Well, we’ll see about the shredding and the leather trousers, but you will never be a groupie.’ Nick deposited his guitar in its stand and climbed up onto the bed. Dave scooted back against the wall so they were facing each other, and Nick stroked his upper arm with the backs of his fingers. ‘You’ll be my one and only. You’ll never be anything less than that.’
Dave smiled. ‘Yeah?’
‘Yeah.’ Nick kissed him lazily and gave a happy sigh. ‘So, birthday party this weekend?’
Dave laughed. ‘Yeah. You know, I can’t believe my dad actually agreed to it . . . They’re going to some charity thing in Birmingham, at some hotel. I’ve mostly invited people from around here. I tried to invite Mandira, but she wasn’t sure if her parents would let her come. We’ll see. Oh, but Mellie’s coming down from Manchester, she texted me today and said so.’
‘Fantastic!’ Nick grinned. ‘Feels like it’s been ages since I’ve seen her . . .’
‘Only because you saw so much of her over summer.’ Dave poked him.
‘Very possible,’ Nick conceded. ‘Can I ask Stuart if he’d like to come?’
‘Sure. The more the merrier,’ said Dave.
They kissed again, slowly and tenderly, savouring it. Then Dave sighed heavily.
‘I should probably get home soon. It’s got to be almost eleven and it’s a school night.’
‘Just five more minutes?’ Nick pleaded. ‘Or ten . . . Or long enough for a quickie?’
Dave chuckled. ‘If we go that far I won’t get out of here tonight at all. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Maybe I’ll be able to make it over tomorrow night as well, we’ll see. They’ve started piling homework on us already. Maths is a lot harder at this level than I thought it would be. They put us straight to work on logarithms. I fucking hate logarithms.’
‘Well, I’ll see you this weekend anyway,’ said Nick, smiling. ‘Now put your clothes on before I change my mind and make you stay. You know I can.’
‘Bitch.’ Dave shook his head and gave him a fond smile. ‘I love you.’
‘I love you too.’
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