It had been quite an adventure dragging the limp and battered Jace home. They had kept to the back alleys, evading attention as much as possible. It had not been easy Jace was not a light man. Then again, if Paul had had anybody leaning on him for so long then he could imagine his shoulder would be aching as much as it was at current.
The most annoying part had been having to listen to Jace's depressant ramblings. For the vast majority of the journey, Jace had been detailing every moment of his life that he considered a failure. These little speeches were punctuated with tears and demands to stop walking. The breaks that he took, though he constantly promised that they would be brief, tended to result in Paul pulling on his drummer's arm and begging him to get up and move.
Paul found it something of a miracle that he had finally managed to steer Jace to his semi-detached house between ASDA and the airport. Supporting Jace down the narrow street, Paul noticed Ally sitting alone on the wall outside of the house he was aiming at. She didn't smile at the sight of them, but her shock was apparent. She looked cold. Still, in such a short skirt and no tights, that was to be expected. As he came closer, he could see the goose bumps on her bare flesh.
Upon seeing her, Jace's incoherent mumbling ceased. Quite abruptly, he removed most of his weight from Paul's shoulder. He wasn't completely upright, but it was a definite improvement. Paul sighed in pure relief, rubbing the shoulder that Jace had now retreated from.
Pride had kicked in for Jace. He didn't like people seeing him like this, especially people he cared about. Unfortunately, this was not the first time that Paul had been a witness to the insecurities of his friend. It was rare, but it lived deep inside Jace's heart.
Are you guys alright? asked Ally, as the two men reached her at the wall. Her breath came out as a mist from her lips.
Jace replied first, though he did so without answering the question. Where's Anna? he inquired sharply.
The briskness of the question annoyed Ally. Paul could see it in her eyes. However, to Jace at least, she covered it well.
She's inside, Ally responded. I told her to go in and go to bed and I'm going to tell you the same. Be quiet about it too. Any shouting and you'll wake everybody up.
She's right, man, Paul added, hoping to further stress the point. The last thing you want to be doing is starting an argument at this time. Go to bed. Get some rest.
Ally hopped smoothly from the wall to stand at Paul's side. Together, they watched Jace as he limped and stumbled through his front door, muttering various apologies and exclaiming various reasons for gratitude. Neither of them replied except to say good night just before his head disappeared behind the door.
They stood in silence for a moment. Then, with only a casual glance at each other, they both turned and began the long walk back towards the student dormitories. Half way down the street, she took his arm in hers. Despite his current level of exhaustion, it still sent a thrill through his body.
Well he's acted like a real rock star tonight, she said quietly. She held her body close to his, fighting the cold that was undoubtedly causing her no end of discomfort.
Ronnie doesn't binge drink and throw his friends into mosh pits, Paul answered. He stopped briefly, causing a confused Ally to pause also. Her answer came swiftly when Paul wrapped his coat around her shoulders. His arm followed quickly and they began walking again. She didn't thank him. She didn't need to. Feeling her against his body was reward enough.
Thankfully, the student dormitories weren't far from Jace's home. They were a little further from the airport, just around the corner from one of the major parks of the city. The Halls, as they were generally referred, were home to a great majority of the first-year student population. Paul and Ally were first years, and, as such, they both had rooms there. Adam and Jace lived with family. Not many people were born here - it was a student city. Paul, Ally and Jace had all moved from the same little town nearby. It had felt right to go to university with their closest friends. Nobody knew where Ed lived. Of course, there was no point asking questions of a man who didn't talk.
They didn't walk in silence. Instead, they exchanged the usual pleasantries. They talked about family, common friends and university. Ultimately, the conversation wandered, as it usually did between the two of them as it had done for years. They went back and forth from topic to relative topic. However, she did manage to surprise him when she decided to change the subject completely.
So Cooper told me you'll be on Cause And Effect's new album, she said quietly. Paul looked down at his with his mouth slightly ajar in shock. Ally didn't look judgmental, but he suddenly felt extremely nervous, as if he had been caught in the act.
The silence held, but not for long. Her eyes, enthralling as ever, demanded an answer. I don't know, Paul responded, lowering his eyes so that he wouldn't have to look at hers. Cooper still hasn't really told me much. I went in to do some lines a while ago, but there's no guarantee they'll end up using them.
You don't really want him to, Ally stated clearly.
I don't really want him to, Paul confirmed. He glanced across at Ally, but she was looking straight ahead. Whether it was to keep him from watching him or to keep from being watched, he wasn't sure. He mimicked her, examining the leaf-strewn path that they were walking down.
Why haven't you told anybody? she continued. They were both talking quietly, as though even the air and the trees should not hear Paul's secret.
I don't know how to start, I guess, he began. I feel sort of like I'm cheating on them. But this is my dream, you know. Ever since Ronnie made it, it's all I've wanted to do. We've all got the talent; we just need a push. I could get that; I just have to play the game a little, that's all. It's for all of us really.
Are you trying to convince me or yourself? Ally added. Her intuition, as always, was quite impressive. Unfortunately, Paul had no answer for her. He just didn't know. Do you remember when we were kids and we used to go to the park?
Somewhat nonplussed, Paul finally returned his eyes to Ally. She was looking up at him wearing an expression so cute that he could feel himself being drawn in. Still, her question was rather abstract.
Yeah, he answered with a little hesitation.
Well, she continued slowly, do you remember when we were underage and we used to go to the park with alcohol?
Wonderful memories washed across Paul's mind. One particular memory fought it's way to the forefront of his attention one wonderful night at the park with alcohol and Ally.
Let's do that again, she suggestion. We can drink and talk about this.
Every fibre of his being cried out in agreement.
Ed was standing somewhere behind him, beneath the archway between two houses, but the shadows obscured him completely. Ed's natural talent for disappearing made Adam wonder if he was even still there. Nevertheless, it was better that he was out of sight.
They had reached Veronica's home quickly: it wasn't far from the town centre. Adam was left alone, throwing rocks at one of the bedroom windows. This was made especially difficult by the fact that one of his arms was still barely working. It made throwing rocks very difficult but he persevered.
His aim had always been poor, but he made enough noise to wake the occupant of the room. First, the light came on, illuminating the curtains in yellow. Then, the curtains were pushed aside to show a very angry and bedraggled Veronica. Her eyes visually narrowed at the sight of him, but only briefly. Adam assumed that the reason for the startled look that followed was the mess that the pit had made of him.
She threw the window open and leaned out. Her hair was a mess, which was no surprise. She wore no make-up and her only clothes were pink pyjamas. A wide smile overtook his face at the side of her looking so dishevelled. This was not typical Veronica - this was his Veronica. Without the mask that she hid behind, she looked even more beautiful.
What happened to you? she whispered down to him. Her eyes examined him as closely as she could. Her look of concern flattered him.
I got beaten up, Adam replied. There was no need to elaborate. That one sentence said everything that he wished to say. Can I come up? I really want to talk to you.
For a moment she looked sure to comply, but that moment didn't last. Her expression quickly changed to one of suspicion. Clearly, she was still very angry with him. She looked all around him, as if for others witnessing her current state. It quite upset Adam.
I don't want to talk to you, she answered finally. Can't you take a hint? I've been ignoring you for weeks because I want you to go away. Your friends are obviously more important than me, just like that stupid band of yours. You should go home, you don't look good.
Adam sighed, but didn't take his eyes away from Veronica's own. That's what I need to talk to you about, he said. He felt weighed down, like the world had decided to drop drama straight onto his shoulders. I think I might have made a mistake. Can I just be your friend for a bit? I really need one right now. I don't think I really have any.
Slowly, Veronica's suspicious expression gave way to one of kindness. He knew what he was offering her. She could play nurse to him, and then he would be in her debt forever. He did love her. This was what Adam wanted.
Okay, I'll open the door, she said briskly. Just be quiet, alright? My mum doesn't like it when you're here, you know. She thinks we're having sex or something.
As she disappeared from the window, gratitude washed over Adam. She would look after him at least. She would always look after him, just as long as he was hers and hers alone. As quietly as he could manage, he crept up to her front door and waited patiently for her to welcome him back into her life.
It seemed as though everybody had gone his or her own separate way. Of course, standing in the shadows wasn't much of a way, but it was quite fitting. To be virtually forgotten was something that Ed was quite familiar with. Perhaps he preferred it - loneliness was natural to him. Perhaps he even encouraged it. Perhaps.
As Adam went into the house, Ed was left, once again, completely alone. His friends had all gone and, of course, there was no family to speak of. That was why he liked this city. It was so easy to disappear, even in plain sight. It was a welcome choice that he had made. Edgar Finn was not worth knowing.
As quietly as breath, Ed slipped out of the shadows beneath the alleyway and, unwanted and unseen, he disappeared into the night.