Adam had always been a nervous person. He was the type to fidget and to chew his nails. His hands would shake constantly, even when he was holding his guitar. On stage, before the expectant gaze of a crowd of people, Adam could almost feel the spotlights burning holes in him. Disbelief was due to be on stage in thirty minutes. Their rhythm guitarist was downstairs in the bathroom, absolutely terrified.
The counter he was leaning on was cold. His hands however, were warm and sweating. The palms were sticky on the smooth surface. His eyes were fixed on the mirror in front of him. Looking back was a pale, bruised and perspiring creature. Adam could see the fear in its eyes.
The young musician had come here to escape the optimism. The rest of the band were filled with an energy that seemed relentless in the attempt to assail him. Even Paul had been monstrously happy. The recovery had been slow and painful, but the damage was not too severe. Sean had not been seen since. Paul could play his bass and, as far as their energetic singer was concerned, that was all that mattered.
In truth, the band were easy enough to deal with. If it were only them, Adam would likely have been dragged along on the wave that was their energy, but he had wanted to escape from Veronica most. The woman's constant enthusiasm for everything he did was nothing if not irritating. Her bland and blatant refusal to accept his faults was equally annoying. Adam knew he was far from a perfect guitarist but his girlfriend was not helping him at all by ignoring that fact. Also, she never let him practise. Still, female attention was female attention. It was, after all, the first female attention he had ever had.
"Are you going to do this every time?" came the voice of his vocalist behind him. Adam was not surprised that Paul had found him here.
"How are the ribs?" Adam inquired after a brief pause, obviously evading the question. He chose not to turn and look his bassist in the eyes, instead looking directly into his own reflected pupils.
"I can play," Paul replied. He walked up to the counter on which Adam was leaning. "I think I can sing too, or at least I hope I can or it's going to be a short set. What are you doing down here? It doesn't take this long to do anything in a toilet."
The guitarist gave a dry smile, then sighed and allowed his head to droop. "How many people are going to be watching us?"
"A couple of hundred," Paul answered with a smile on his face. The answer came easily to his lips; the idea of playing to such a crowd had cheered him considerably. Unfortunately, Adam had never been particularly confident, on stage or off. He needed a little encouragement every now and then.
"I think I'm going to pass out," Adam confided. He both looked and sounded quite ill. "I'm sweating and I'm shaking. I feel like I'm going to let you all down."
"Don't worry so much man," Paul replied quickly, leaning close and wrapping an arm around his friend, "If I didn't think you were capable of this, I would have told you so a long time ago. We can't do this without you so cheer up. Veronica's waiting for you."
Finally, Adam took his eyes from the mirror to glare at Paul. Close up, the rhythm guitarist looked terrible. There were dark marks around his slightly bloodshot eyes and he was extremely pale. It was as if all colour had been drained from his face. He didn't say anything in reply, but Paul could gather what he was thinking easily enough.
"You guys having problems again?" Paul asked, his smile fading. "She was very upset when you left you realise? You've been gone for nearly an hour."
"She hates everybody in the band you know," Adam stated. His eyes had returned, once again, to the mirror. "She keeps saying that you're all bad influences on me."
Slightly taken aback, Paul took a moment to consider the information Adam had chosen to confide in him. Then, furiously, he rejected it. "She sounds like an angry mother," he offered simply. "I think I know what might cheer you up."
Onto the counter, beside Adam's right hand, Paul placed a small bottle of something green he had extracted from his pocket. Distracted from his own image, Adam looked down and casually wrapped his hand around the bottle, then raised an eyebrow in Paul's direction. Paul smiled and winked at him.
"This is the most painful alcohol known to man," the singer began in response. "You open the bottle, close your eyes and get as much down your throat as possible. Be careful though, and not just that you're still capable of performing. It's painful because it makes you tell the truth and, in case you don't know already, the truth hurts."
There was a steady buzz of noise coming from the electrical equipment arranged on the stage and a murmur of excitement all around it. The crowd seemed to be in a state of anticipation. Disbelief was not the reason for it, but they were happy to steal some of the ensuing attention. Jace was crouched behind the drum kit, making adjustments. The second band that were to perform had offered to share, as long as Jace set them up. This was no problem at all; Jace loved playing with drums.
Two feet from him, sitting on the low stool he would soon be using, was Ally. This was the first time Jace had seen her in jeans rather than a skirt. She was wearing all black and her hair was tied back. She looked very unhappy. Finding out the problem was so far proving very difficult.
"Was Sean planning on coming tonight?" he inquired, hoping to sound nonchalant.
"No," Ally answered with a smirk. "He won't be coming near any of you guys again."
"I'm sure he's more scared of you," Jace included. He knocked on the tom he had been playing with. "It seems to me that you know how to handle a pair of testicles."
"Well he shouldn't have hit me, should he?" she reacted angrily. "After everything he did, isn't he supposed to be sorry or something?"
Jace looked up at her with a smile. "So would this be the reason for the rumour spreading?"
A shrewd and calculating look overtook her face. For a moment she paused, seemingly weighing up her options.
"I didn't spread any rumours," she announced finally. Her face remained impassive and she didn't offer any more information willingly.
"You went into random lectures and passed out leaflets on his bizarre sexual preferences," Jace said all at once to keep her from interrupting. "Sean's bizarre sexual preferences was the title you put on the front of the leaflet!"
"Hey, those leaflets took a lot of work," Ally stated quickly, the first signs of happiness threatening the edges of her lips. "I didn't spread any rumours though. It was all true."
"Even the pictures?" asked the bulky drummer. The film and media student lowered her eyes, but failed to mask the blush that brightened her cheeks. "It wasn't his, surely?" Jace continued.
"No," she replied quietly. Finally, a smile appeared across her face. It was a mischeivous smile, but that only made it more beautiful. "A girl can steal pictures from Asian porn if she wants to. It was surprisingly accurate; might as well have been the real thing."
Glad to see the happiness on her face, Jace returned it, shaking his head at her chosen style of revenge.
"Right," Jace began as he stood and towered over Ally, "do me a favour and go find Bass. I need to warm up and you're in my seat."
"Do you need me to find Ed too?" she asked as she rose from the stool.
"Oh no," Jace answered, tapping the pedal for the bass drum as he sat down. "Ed will turn up and wow us all as soon as he's good and ready."
"I'm just trying to look out for him," Veronica stated, her hands moving to emphasise the point. "I've got his best interests at heart, really. He's young, he just needs guidance, that's all."
In response, Ed simply nodded his understanding. She had gone on like this since Adam had left, which had seemingly driven Paul, Jace and Ally away. Instead of being annoyed by the fact that she was obviously being avoided, the first year student had taken it in her stride. She was genuinely much more happy now that they had gone. Her drink - a tall glass of vodka and orange juice - stood forgotten beside Ed's former glass of whisky. It seemed as though she had singled him out. However, that was to be expected; the mute guitarist was the only one still there.
"You understand, right?" the brunette queried. Ed answered with his typical smile and nod. Veronica mimicked his expression.
The caf-bar they were sat in was mostly empty. This was the room in which all the bands were sitting, preparing to perform. Dotted around the room, gathered around the tables or sat on cushy black bean bags, were electric and bass guitarists tuning and warming up. The background noise was varied and messy. Nevertheless, if a listener focused on a sole guitar, it resolved into something beautiful. It was quite idyllic.
Ed's white Fender Stratocaster was perched upon his knee. His fingers were moving slowly and calmly across the maple frets. Veronica was leaning on the small table between them. Her elbow was on one of the cream coasters, while her arm was straight to hold her head up. Her chin was resting in her palm.
The music was pumped straight from the main hall through overhead speakers. At the moment, The Killers were being played, but as the song came to a close a voice came over the speakers. It was a quiet, male voice:
"Ladies and gentlemen," the voice announced, "our night of entertainment will begin in five minutes with the first band. Anybody who wants to watch Disbelief in action, please make their way to the main hall."
Near silently, Ed rose from his bean bag. It was impossible to be completely silent when moving from this bean bag, he had been far too relaxed, so he made no effort to be quiet. Jace had already taken his amplifier up, so all the black haired man had to take was his guitar and himself. Quickly, Veronica made to follow him. Her royal blue dress reached all the way to the floor and dragged across the panelled wood as she walked. Neither of them spoke a word.
The main hall was only a room away. As Ed pushed the door open, he was greeted with a wave of sound. At current, My Chemical Romance were playing through the speakers, but this would be the last song before Disbelief were due to begin.
"Give my love to Adam!" Veronica called out as Ed began to march through the crowd. The young guitarist made no effort to acknowledge her, choosing instead to lock his eyes on the stage and continue forwards. Soon, she was swallowed up by the busy and excitable crowd.
As he stepped onto the stage, he glanced at each of his companions. They were all there. Paul was playing on his laptop as usual, completely at ease with his surroundings. Everything he needed to set up was set up and ready to go. Jace was behind the drums, tapping his sticks together and bouncing ever so slightly, obviously raring to go. Adam looked as though he was about to be sick. He had his ruler out, checking the tension in his strings and tuning them slowly and finely.
Last on stage, Ed strode straight up to his amp, plugged in, and turned up the volume. Calmly and confidently, he marched to his allocated spot on Paul's right, and strummed a loud and powerful A minor chord.
Paul looked up to see hundreds of eyes looking his way. A wide smile captured his features. It felt as though the front of the stage was beckoning to him as he stood, and he could only answer its call.
With his bass guitar still leant against the wall behind him, Paul took the microphone from its stand to address the crowd:
"We're Disbelief," the singer began calmly. Despite his bruised face and mildly bruised reputation, everybody in the room had just focused on him. "And we play rock music. Are you ready for us?"