The audience gave them quite a round of applause and, for a moment, the members of Disbelief stood and enjoyed the sounds of affection. Then, Paul bowed to his crowd. Quickly, the other members of the group followed suit.
"Thank you!" the singer called out across the hall as he rose from his bow. "We have been Disbelief! Hopefully they'll fix the power soon, or we won't get to see a live band tonight, so fingers crossed. Otherwise, we hope you enjoyed the show. Goodnight!"
In accordance with his last word, almost as if it had been planned, the stage was bathed in artificial light. The sounds of applause were joined by laughter, caused by the irony of the situation. Laughing to themselves for the same reason, Disbelief took their gear and left the stage, leaving the applause to die down.
They did not look back at any point as they walked through the crowd. Paul felt innumerable hands on his back, but he did not allow himself to be distracted. The first job was to make sure that their equipment was safely in the bar. As they walked they were joined by Ally and Veronica. If the two women did not enter the room with the band, they would be stopped by the bouncers on either side of the door.
It was quiet when they first entered. There was neither applause nor interest here. The dim lighting cast eerie shadows across those few people still there, practicing. There were no remarks; only one or two even raised their heads as the young collection of musicians entered the room.
They piled their amps beside the nearest table and set to work putting their guitars away as carefully as possible. Being without a guitar himself, Jace opted out of this little ritual and, excusing himself, went to the bar to order drinks.
The barman was not busy. It was still early in the night, with four bands left to go. As such, only two people, both dark haired women, were ordering drinks. The policing major was not one to evade the closest place at the bar, so he placed himself, with his elbows on the counter, a mere two feet from the girl on the right. As one, they turned to regard him. He moved to do the same, but, fast as blinking, they were looking elsewhere. The one look was enough to confirm his suspicions; they were both frightfully underage.
The barman seemed not to notice, as he was serving them anyway. Jace decided to let it go, while in his mind he thanked everything he could that his own sister was not like the two girls beside him. She was only recently fourteen, but looked much the same age.
As the teenage females departed, Jace found himself joined at the bar by Paul. The singer's energy, optimism and enthusiasm were still very much present. This was especially evident in the welcome he gave. He patted his drummer on the back fervently with a wide smile. Almost all of his teeth were on display. Jace merely raised his eyebrow in response.
Luckily, the barman reached them before Paul began speaking. "Can I help you gentlemen?" the shirted man inquired in the polite and helpful way that people do when their jobs are on the line.
The answer came quickly to Paul's lips and soon the barman was moving just as quickly, armed with several empty glasses, to tackle his upside down bottles of alcohol.
"I've got some good news for you," Paul announced, near bouncing in his excitement.
Expecting to hear something far from exciting, Jace did not even attempt to feign anticipation. Paul typically became this excited when Ally so much as smiled at him. With this in mind, Jace decided not to hold his breath.
"Fire Brand Records left a card for us with Ally!" Paul near shouted, unable to withhold the news a moment longer.
Briefly, the short-haired student was stunned into silence. During this time, Paul paid for the drinks, offering the barman gratuitous thanks as he did. Seemingly flattered, the barman supplied Paul's change with a curt and practiced thank you of his own, before rushing off to serve the bassist of the headlining act.
"While you're working that one through, let's get these to the table shall we?" Paul said, indicating to the numerous glasses before him.
Together they gathered the five glasses and made their way back to the table. On one side, sat so close together that they were difficult to distinguish from one another, were Adam and Veronica. Opposite them, alone and looking distinctly uncomfortable, sat Ally. At current, Ed did not seem to be present. In the centre of the table lay a piece of paper containing the scribble of italic handwriting. Jace's eye was drawn to the object beside it. It was a small card emblazoned with a phoenix emblem.
Taking a seat noisily on the bean bag to Ally's right, Jace reached for the letter and perused its contents hungrily. What he found, however, did not fill him with confidence.
Paul took the bean bag on Ally's left in an equally noisy fashion. Glad to have some company who weren't completely lost in each other, Ally leapt at the chance to begin a conversation.
Veronica detached herself from Adam's face long enough to reach for a glass that wasn't there. She hesistated momentarily, then lifted her eyes from the table to Jace's face.
"Where's mine?" she demanded of the Disbelief drummer. "Didn't think you'd get me one did you?"
"As it happens neither of us know what you drink, or even if you drink," Jace replied calmly. "Besides, I wouldn't want to make the decision for you. You can go to the bar yourself."
Furious, Veronica could not come up with a reply and, instead, she stood up straight away and marched off towards the bar. Adam, as was becoming typical, looked at them all apologetically, then ran to follow her. He left his drink behind without so much as touching his glass. Jace returned to perusing the piece of paper as if he had not been interrupted.
"What did the scout look like?" Paul asked of Ally. His feelings of euphoria had not ever begun to dissipate.
Ally's answer however, was not so enthusiastic."He was dark," she hesitated, trying to bring Cooper's image back into focus. "I only saw him for a second and it was really busy in there. He was really dark though, even though he was kind of pale. I guess I'd call him cute. He looked a little shy. It's all kind of mysterious isn't it?"
Several times, as Ally spoke, Paul felt his high spirits take a tumble. When she had labelled this man as 'cute,' he had actually felt a portion of his good mood plummet and vanish. Resolving not to submit easily, Paul responded:
"You best be careful or people are going to start questioning your fake boyfriend. We should start kissing to keep up the charade."
Ally laughed at him, the slightest hint of pink covering her cheeks. Paul thought the slight dab of colour made her look even more beautiful.
"I don't think you've got this right, Bass," Jace interjected, still examining Cooper's slanted handwriting. This announcement brought Paul out of his revelry and back to the business at hand.
"Why?" he questioned his band mate. "It says he has business with Disbelief and he's from Fire Brand Records. I'd think it was fairly self-explanatory from there, wouldn't you?"
"Well no, no I wouldn't," Jace contradicted. "It mentions Ed by name, but not the rest of us. If this Matthew Cooper put in the effort to learn Ed's name, why didn't he put in the same effort for us? No, I think they just want to sign Ed. I think you should call them and find out."
Paul sighed, shaking his head. "Fine," he conceded. "Pass me the card and I'll go somewhere quiet and call him."
Ally slid the card across the table, where Paul took it up and left them. Jace turned to regard Ally with a lax smile.
"What do you think?" he inquired of her. She didn't answer, however, for that was when Veronica and Adam returned. They sat opposite Jace and Ally and, Veronica pointedly distracting Adam, began to lock lips furiously. They ignored the drink they had just bought, leaving it untouched on the table.
Soon, Ed joined them again. Nobody asked where he had been, as Ed was a very private man. He gave Ally a brief hug of welcome, before settling down to read the message that Jace offered to him. He offered the other two the same sign of greeting that they had given him, which was none at all.
"What would you do if it's only you they want to sign, Ed?" Ally inquired curiously.
Other than a cursory glance in her direction, Ed did not react. However, the affect of Ally's question was felt by the mute guitarist's two band mates. Wondering the same thing, Jace quite suddenly became very still. Meanwhile, Adam detached himself from Veronica to fix Ed with a look of concern. Unfortunately, his lady did not approve of this.
"Adam, I'm supposed to be your girlfriend," the brunette demanded of her partner near instantly. "When are you going to grow up and realise that I should be the most important thing in your life, not some damned band."
Regardless of this, Adam, for once, did not fall in line. "We're only kissing," he stated clearly, venting his annoyance for the first time in a long time. Affronted, she stood up, but Adam decided to press the advantage. "We kiss all the time. They're talking about signing us. That's big news. I'm your boyfriend - you should be supporting me, shouldn't you?"
Her answer was clear and simple. She picked up her handbag from the floor beside the table, glared at Adam with anger clear in every line of her heavily made-up face, then stormed off for the second time that night. She left her drink completely untouched.
"You could have saved yourself a lot of hassle there," Ally proclaimed. Her voice, as usual, was uniquely high. "All you had to tell her was that once you're rich and famous, you'll buy her lots of presents and pretty things."
Jace laughed a little, but Adam didn't take the information in. "Do you think they're really going to sign us?" he began, his tone betraying his true concern. "I don't think they'd want to sign me. You guys are awesome, but I suck. All I'm doing is holding you back."
"Now don't you be talking like that," Jace said, cutting off what would undoubtedly have become a tirade of self-doubt. "You're a valuable, irreplaceable member of this band. If they want Disbelief then it's all or nothing, right? Sure, they might just want Ed, but that's his decision. As a band, if they want us we stick together."
The sound of tearing paper drew their eyes as Ed ripped the note into several pieces and scattered them on the table. Smiling at them all, he gave Jace a thumbs up and a hand-signal to continue. The feeling of relief that overcame both the drummer and rhythm guitarist was quite surprising to both of them.
"We don't know what they're after yet anyway, not for sure." Jace continued, speaking to them all now instead of just Adam. "We're just going to have to wait until Bass gets back with the news."
Escaping the noise had proven exceedingly difficult, and, as such, Paul had found himself back in the bathroom. The main hall had gone from busy to hectic - while the second band were currently setting up on stage. They were more well known and more popular, so a lot of people were coming to see them.
Sequestered in a cubicle, Paul had his mobile phone held closely to his ear. He had been on hold for ten minutes and the tune they were playing was incredibly annoying. Thankfully, he did not have to wait much longer. The music cut out abruptly, leading to a distorted voice coming across the line.
"Cooper," it said, and nothing more.
Left to begin the conversation himself, Paul hesitated. Then, finding his confidence, he began to speak:
"Hey, my name's Paul. I'm the singer and bassist for Disbelief. I have your card here and I'm looking for a little more information on what you're looking for from us."
He noticed a waver in his voice. He was nervous and it seemed he would be unable to hide it. There was a pause, during which the student singer began to bite his nails.
"I'm dreadfully sorry to say this but you seem to have the wrong impression. My employers are only interested in Ed."
Disappointment hit Paul hard. For a moment he could only focus on the mental image of the faces of his friends when he gave them the news. The imagined scene played on in his mind. Ed left, Ally hooked up with the faceless Matthew Cooper and Veronica made Adam choose her over the band.
"You're Ronnie Taylor's kid brother aren't you?"
Still feeling drowning in pessimism, Paul answered without thinking. "Yeah."
"A name like that gives quite a push in this business," Cooper announced thoughtfully. "I heard your singing, it was quite good. Would you like to come down and sing some lines for us?"
Briefly stunned, the conversation paused again as Paul clamoured for words.
"Yes," he answered finally. "Yes, I'd like that."
"Good," Cooper said swiftly, cutting off anything else that Paul might say. "Call me tomorrow at one. I have to get going now, my clients are coming. Goodbye."
With that he hung up, leaving Paul wondering what he'd just agreed to.