Alone again, the only choice seemed to be clear. Paul had to go out into Fuse and do exactly what he would have done in the first place. He would mingle with anybody who had heard them, tell them their next booking was 'in limbo' and get as much alcohol down his neck as possible. He was not in a good mood. His ability to stand for long periods of time was still severely impaired by the uncontrollable lack of energy, but he was periodically feeding himself soft mints in the attempt to get some fuel back in his system.
He left the back room empty but for their instruments. The arrangement had been to pick them up the next day, and there were more than enough hours in a day that each member of Disbelief could completely avoid each other when coming to pick theirs up. This was another major setback, but Paul had managed to pull his band back into a unit before; there was still a chance now.
Disbelief was the only band that were performing tonight, so, with another two hours of time left in the club, the DJ had taken over. He had filled the dance floor by putting on the usual generic metal. Paul had heard it all a thousand times, but he still felt the urge to get us and bounce around with the rest of the angry Fuse patrons. Instead, he simply made for the bar to take advantage of their free drinks.
To his surprise, as he approached the bar he felt the light touch of a hand on his shoulder. Turning to see if it was a fan or an enemy, Paul was presented with a sympathetic smile from Ed. It was only small, but it meant the world to him, so he surrendered to Ed's widespread arm and the hug that followed.
"I need a drink," he said quietly to his friend. "Something hard enough to drown the world, you know?"
Ed nodded happily and directed Paul towards the cramped and crowded bar near the stage. The stage was now occupied by a collection of young women and the occasional man who went up purely to fail in trying his luck. It would be rather comical, but current situations had pushed the pleasure of the day out of his head. Even knowing how impressive a performance that they had put together, he still felt like a letdown all of a sudden. He had completely failed to hold his band together, and that meant that any more shows due to come were severely questionable at this point.
The hour that followed proved to be the most alcohol-fuelled hour of his life. While Ed held back from drinking all that much, Paul hit the vodka, the whiskey and the absinthe with a passion. As he sent the intoxicating liquid sliding down his throat, his mind continued to attack him with the usual questions. He needed to know where he was going from here, and where Disbelief were going to go next. They had a web page set up saying that they would be performing, but if they didn't manage it then there would be no point even having it.
It was then that he realised the main reason that Jace was so angry with him. You know this web page of ours on the Fire Brand channel? he asked of Ed, who didn't answer, but at the very least looked as attentive as possible. Was it advertising all of us? Cooper kind of hinted it would be just me, but I didn't think much of it at the time because he said the guitar battle would be up there. Who was it?
In silence, and looking quite nervous, Ed stretched out his hand to point directly at Paul himself. He then went back to his little glass of cola. Paul went over the page that Cooper had had somebody in his office put together. There had not actually been any pictures of Disbelief, but there had been a picture of Paul up front and singing. There had been a clip of Thrillseeking that had been taken from somewhere, likely the Indy's gig, and one from Ruin. Then, of course, there was the guitar battle with Ed, Adam and Rick Ash.
So, for all of the promotion we're getting from this, Jace wasn't actually on the page at all? Paul asked of his guitarist. Ed shook his head slowly and sadly. Evidently, Jace had checked out what Paul had told him was a Disbelief web page and found no evidence of himself at all. Even Rick Ash was on it purely because he was available to play against the two Disbelief guitarists. Well I screwed up big time here, didn't I? Pretty much all of this can fall on my shoulders, right?
He looked to Ed for an answer, which was provided with a smile and a nod. It seemed as though Ed wasn't going to lie here; it certainly was completely Paul's fault that this has happened and he wasn't going to get away with it. The smile was still sympathetic, but it was not something that was going to go away easily. There wasn't going to be any surrender of guilt or blame when it was obviously the truth. Not feeling his best, Paul emptied his half-empty glass of vodka.
What do you think we can do now, Ed? he inquired in a tone of defeat. He was having to speak loudly in order to be heard, though Ed seemed to be able to understand his every word regardless of tone or volume. It made Paul wonder if his friend could read lips and he'd just never known about it. Before Ed had answered, another question came to Paul's mind. Why didn't you leave anyway? Adam stormed out and Jace marched off soon after. What about you? Aren't you mad at me?
In response, Ed shook his head and placed a comforting hand back onto Paul's shoulder. It was likely the best way to answer that Ed could possibly have done other than the fact that it actually made Paul want to cry a little. Through all of this, Ed was more than willing to stand by him, despite the numerous failings that he had.
I was only trying to help us out in the long run, began Paul in the attempt to explain himself. I don't know why Cooper makes so much use of me, but Cause And Effect wanted to use my voice and, if I didn't let them, we'd be missing out on a hell of a lot of different gigs and shows and promotional possibilities. I've been making Disbelief one of the major players in the city. We completely leapfrogged Redchip, the only band with a bigger name than them is Objective Insanity. After that, what record label wouldn't be hounding us and begging to get us signed and involved? We could have made it and now we've completely fallen apart. We didn't make it after all.
During his words he began to trail off when he saw Ed's eyes being drawn by something behind him. He eventually turned when he felt another hand tapping him on the shoulder and turned to find himself looking directly into the eyes of Cooper's secretary, Julia Barratt.
How very droll your life is Mr. Taylor, she told him with a smirk. How very fun my own is having to come and watch you in action for this damned web page of yours. Introduce me to this friend of yours, Julia instructed. Ed had only raised an eyebrow at her when Paul turned to look back at this friend. Paul could feel more than a little dread coming over him. This was actually the first time that he had actually seen her outside of the Fire Brand Records building.
Julia, he began fairly monotonously, this is Ed. He doesn't talk and he won't be affected by how miserable you always are. Ed, this is Julia, she works for Matthew Cooper and she's probably the most depressive people I've ever seen who hasn't actually killed herself yet.
Though I have tried, added Julia by means of introduction. She stepped forwards with a meagre smile and offered Ed her hand, which he took happily, brought to his lips and kissed. She didn't blush, or seem to react at all from what Paul could see. I'm here purely to make sure that everything's okay. If you guys aren't that happy then our fancy new page ends up suffering. If we end up with no band then we end up with no show, right? So where's everybody else?
A bitter laugh erupted from Paul's throat before he responded. Looks like you guys have got no show then, he told her. Jace and Adam aren't here. They left as soon as they found out about this Paul Taylor page of yours. At least we had a show to give.
Ah, well Matthew won't be too happy about that, she told him, seemingly completely unaffected by the news herself. In fact, she could actually have been trying to hide a smile. She turned away from Ed for a moment to speak directly to Paul. I even have a notebook in my purse so that we can make it into a Disbelief page instead. You know the rules of a work in progress, right? One thing at a time and all that. Do you think you'll be able to sort it all out or should I just order the page closed?
Do you think Cooper will actually close it? asked Paul in pure disbelief. I would say that it would save me a lot of trouble but it's a bit late now. I have no band and I've lost some quite awesome friends.
Do you think he'll be reconsidering Matthew's offer to be in Rick Ash's super group then? she said next, confusing him for a moment.
I wasn't even aware he was offered something like that, replied Paul, now on to the third of his five ordered glasses of vodka. He put one of his palms up to his head to wipe off some of the sweat that was beginning to gather there again. Nobody bothered to tell me about it. I thought he would at least. I'm not sure where to go from here. If he has a good deal offered from Rick Ash then what hope is there for Disbelief? He'll be able to slip into a signed band. I can't offer him that. Where's Ed gone? he finished, noting that his friend had quite simply vanished once again.
Julia turned around in the attempt to find Ed, but the man had quite literally dissolved into air. Well, she began slowly, it looks like it's just you and me for a while Mr. Taylor. Would you like to have a few more drinks or would you like to finish those as quickly as possible and go somewhere else?
He moved away from the bar and his final glass, but the ground suddenly began to rock beneath him. He stumbled, but Julia caught hold of him in a tight and firm grip. I think it would be safer to get you home before you depress yourself into unconsciousness. Come on, you'd best not throw up on me.