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Chapter 26

The following afternoon, I was sitting in the bay window on the first floor of a Victorian town-house looking out at the view of the park opposite. What I had liked most about the room was that it had its own shower and mini kitchen. The park was bathed in an extraordinary, clarifying light, that gave it an ethereal beauty, but I all I could feel was an all-engulfing sense of loneliness and sorrow.
I wasn't supposed to smoke in my room, but I really needed a cigarette, just one, and I decided it would be alright if I smoked with my head poked out of through the back window, no one would know.
Five minutes later there was a knock on the door.
A middle-aged woman with an uptight, tense-looking face, was standing there.
We don't smoke in the apartments, it's not allowed.”
Apartments, I thought, talk about glamorising your circumstances.
Oh yes, I know.”
Well, you are, I can smell it drifting up and in through my window.”
Oh, sorry, it was just the one, I'll go outside next time.”
Well, if it happens again I shall have to tell the landlady, I really can't stand the smell of cigarettes, it's disgusting, and I certainly don't intend to tolerate someone else polluting the air I breathe.”
Fine, I get it, I won't do it again.”
Good, and I hope there won't be loud music, I have very sensitive hearing.”
I just looked at her, thinking, what a miserable old bitch.
Then she left without any introduction.
My mood sunk even lower.
I decided to wander out to the shops to buy some food and maybe a bottle of wine to celebrate. Though, to be honest, I felt far from celebrating. If anything, I just thought I'd made a big mistake moving into this place, even though the room was nice, it felt like unfriendly, unfamiliar territory.
As I was leaving another woman, who must have been in her seventies, was coming in.
Hi there, are you the new tenant?”
Well, I'm Margaret, from downstairs.”
Margaret was tiny, with sharp beady eyes and curly grey hair.
I'm Zeta.”
Oh, Zeta, what a lovely name.”
Then I burst out crying, I don't know why.
Goodness me, what is it! What happened?”
I don't know.”
Come on in for a minute, have a tea.”
I followed her into her flat and sat down on the sofa.
Margaret asked what had upset me and I told her about the tenant upstairs, how she had been really rude and hostile and not even introduced herself.”
You've met Jane then.” She said.
Yeah, I guess, if that's what she's called.”
Well, don't mind her Zeta, she's really not so bad, just going through a rather ugly and messy divorce. The usual story, twenty-five years of marriage and then they're off with some young thing from work, men! I said to her, you can't trust them, they're a complete waste of time. Anyway, she's not in the best frame of mind so I wouldn't take her too seriously.
This made me feel better, not that the woman was getting divorced, just knowing that there was a reason for her behaving the way she had.
You can smoke in the garden, I know it's cold, but I'm afraid it is house rules, and the landlady already knows, because you've just told her, that's me. I let the agency deal with showing people the flat, they're more business-like. I can't be bothered with tenancy agreements and references, all that paperwork, and I let my heart rule my head.
Then I had no choice but to sit there drinking my tea while Margaret told me all about the awful men she had been out with over the years, which was quite a few, and I was stuck listening to her for over an hour.
Half an hour after I had come back from the shops, I heard the doorbell. I didn't know whether I was supposed to answer it or not, then I heard Margaret talking to someone.
Yes, she's on the next floor, just wander up, she came in a short while ago.”
It was Ben.
Hello Zeta, I thought you might need some help unpacking.”
No, I've hardly got anything to unpack, I'm going to have to buy a load of stuff.”
Oh, well then, maybe we should go for a drink, you know, celebrate your move, we could go past your friend's place, see if Oliver's there, all go to The Seafarers.”
I liked the idea of seeing Tammy, telling her about the other tenant and the landlady, so I agreed.
Tammy and Oliver weren't in.
Oh well, another time,” I said.
Ben thought we should go for a drink anyway.
I was disappointed that Tammy wasn't at home and told Ben I'd just go back and sort my place out, but then he said that Oliver and what's-her-face might already be in the pub.
So we wandered down, but the bar was almost empty.
It was awkward, the two of us, sipping our drinks, racking our brains for something to talk about that wouldn't dredge up my grievances over Ben's recent behaviour.
So then, when do you go back to Uni?” I asked
Next week.”
How long have you got left?”
Just one more year.”
Then what?”
Haven't a clue.”
How's your girlfriend, Lucy?”
Oh, we've split up.”
Another one hits the dust.”
It just fizzled out. I'm not like that, you know, like my mother says, always looking for someone new. I just want to find the real thing.”
Which is?”
Well, you know, my soul mate.”
Christ, soul mate, I really hate that expression, it's so silly, kind of naïve and childish.”
You think I'm naïve and childish?”
Well, going through my files and telling Rupert all about me certainly was.”
Are you ever going to forgive and forget that Zeta, or am I on a life sentence?”
I don't know, probably.”
Probably what, that you will or won't ever forget?”
Won't, I'm like that, like an elephant, I never forget.”
You certainly don't look like an elephant, far from it.”
Ben was trying to be funny, lighten the mood, and I guess it worked.
Then Tammy and Oliver walked in.
We all ended up laughing about the police coming around and Ben being forced to confess.
Your face,” said Oliver, when the policewoman asked if you often broke into people's houses, oh God, it was so funny.”
Then Tammy joked that I should have pressed charges and made Ben pay for trashing mine and Rupert's relationship, which sort of spoilt the mood.
I realised I was tired and that I needed to go home and take my tablets. I'd hardly slept the night before, thinking about Ray and what had happened.
Ben said he'd walk back with me, but I told him I'd rather wander home quietly, on my own.

Over the next week, I was off into town most days buying bits and pieces for the flat.
I didn't bump into the woman upstairs, she was pretty quiet. I don't think she went out much. I knew when she was in because I could hear the light tread of her footsteps pacing up and down the floor above me.
Margaret had a habit of coming out into the hall just as I was heading for the front door.
Good-looking young man you have there.”
Who, what?”
The boy that came around when you moved in, haven't seen him since.”
Oh, you mean Ben, he's not my young man.”
Well, he's very handsome, if I was forty years younger. Mind you, you wouldn't be able to trust a man like that, there would be women throwing themselves at him. Have you got a boyfriend?”
Good for you, waste of time, or are you, you know?”
One of them, gay. I mean, it doesn't matter to me, everyone to their own, that's what I say, live and let live, as long as no one gets hurt. I mean it's odd, the sex thing, that must be a bit strange.”
Well, I wouldn't know, I'm not gay.”
Oh, that's good, because it is a bit weird isn't it, especially men, I'd rather not think about it. Have you seen Jane again, has she been down complaining?”
No, I haven't seen her.”
Me neither.”
Shame, poor woman. Twenty years down the drain, tossed aside like an old worn out shoe. Anyway, at least he's good-looking,”
That man, that one that came around. No harm in a brief fling, just don't let them break your heart.”
I'm pretty sure Margaret would have happily stood around gossiping for half the day if I hadn't told her I had an appointment.”
Oh, what's that for then, is it the doctors, is something wrong?”
No, I just promised to meet a friend for lunch, they'll be waiting.”
Is it a man?”
Good, no man's going to buy you lunch without expecting something in return, like I say, you can't trust them, sex, it's all they think about.”

Chapter 27

The next few months I spent looking for work, anything, cafe, restaurant, pub, nothing. It was the wrong time of year really, the winter, things would pick up in the spring when the holidaymakers came down. It was pretty soul destroying though, having nothing to do.
I thought about what Jess had said, but I didn't really like the idea of moving up to London. We spoke on the phone most weeks. She was still in a real state, all she talked about was Shannon and how much she missed her.
There was always Bristol, I could ring Dee, the woman on the train, but it would be awkward, she might not want to hear from me, I hardly knew her, “let's keep in contact”, was just one of those things people say, to be polite.
Ruth called around, I told her how I was feeling, how fed up I was.
She just said something would come up, that I must keep looking and not lose heart.
It was sad, there was a distance between us now, I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but since the thing with Ben, and Christmas, we were less relaxed in each others company.
Then Dee rang me. She was having a thirtieth birthday party, she said I should come up, I could stay at hers. Though she would have to invite Rupert, so if that was going to be a problem, she'd understand.
Seeing Rupert didn't bother me, well, not much, but a party, that did. I didn't really like parties, meeting lots of strange people, not knowing what to talk about, not fitting in. I said I'd check the date and then get back to her.
When I told Tammy and Oliver they said I should go.
Get yourself out there girl,” said Oliver, “nothing is going to change unless you make the effort. It's just a party, who knows, you might even have a good time.”
Tammy agreed, though she was more doubtful.
Oliver's right, though I can understand how you feel. I mean, you hardly know this Dee person and everyone else there won't have a clue who you are, well, just Rupert, and that's going to be a bit awkward isn't it? Still, like Oliver says, it might be fun.”
Ben's probably going to be there as well,” said Oliver
Tammy thought that that might be another reason not to go.
He behaved really badly,” she reminded me.
Oliver told Tammy to let it go.
Life's too short, and it's time to forgive Ben, Zeta, he does really care about you.”
As I made for the door with my suitcase, Margaret came out of her flat.
Oh, off somewhere nice?”
Hmm, not the Caribbean then. Bit of dump Bristol. I went out with a man from Bristol once, he got mugged, hide your money in your shoes. How long are you going to be away, do you need me to water your plants or anything?”
No, I haven't got any, and I'll just be gone for the weekend.”
Well be careful, there are some rough areas in Bristol.”
I told her I was going to a friend's party, then wished I hadn't.
Oh dear, well, watch what you drink, it's very common now, putting date rape drugs in people's drink. If anything tastes a bit funny, leave it. Men, they're awful.”
I wasn't sure whether I found Margaret annoying, or actually quite funny.
From Bristol station, I got a taxi to Dee's place. A basement flat in Clifton. It was a nice house and so was the flat. Dark, but unusual, I liked it, I liked the feeling of being slightly below ground. There was a huge long front living-room and dinning-room combined. My bedroom was at the back, small and boxy, but it was all I needed.
Well, let's get this party started.” Said Dee, pouring me a glass of wine.
I thought it was tomorrow night?”
The main event, yeah, but you're here now, so, officially, the birthday weekend begins.”
We drank, laughed, talked about anything and everything and then wandered into Clifton to get a Chinese take-away.
Dee was just the easiest person to be around.
When we got back to the flat, quite drunk, we sat around and talked about the party. What food there should be, how much alcohol. Then Dee said that she hadn't known whether to invite Rupert or not, because it could be awkward.
Christ no, go ahead, it's fine, ancient history.”
So we rang her brother John and Ben answered the phone.
Is that Ben, is Rupert there?”
Sure, that's Dee isn't it?”
Yeah, are you coming to my party?”
I didn't know I was invited, your brother hasn't said anything about it. Is he invited?”
Of course he is. Anyway, so are you and Rupert. Zeta is here but she said that she is totally cool with seeing Rupert.”
Oh, well what about me?”
Dee asked if I was fine with Ben coming as well.
Sure, no problem.”
When Dee put the phone down she asked why Ben thought I might not want him to come.
So I told her all about it.
Sounds like he's got a thing for you,” she said.
No way, Ben's just got a thing for most women, a very shallow thing.”
Well, you believe what you want. I'm just telling you how it looks to me.”
It was past one in the morning when we finally went to bed.
The next day we walked into town, nursing our hangovers. We found a cafe and ordered bacon rolls. Then we hit the clothes shops looking for something new to wear for Dee's party.
Back in the flat, we spent the afternoon watching an old, not very good, movie, and I thought of Angie.
Every now and then, I'd get this strange feeling in the pit of my stomach, as if I'd just been thumped and needed to get my breath back, whenever my thoughts turned to Angie. Anything could set it off, seeing a crossword puzzle in the newspaper, her favourite biscuits in the supermarket, a silly pair of fluffy slippers, like the ones she had worn around the house, small, silly little things
Before we changed for the evening, Dee pulled out her vast collection of make-up.
That's what I want to do, I'm going to train as a make-up artist.” She said. “Come here, I'll show you what can be done!”
I was sitting there for ages.
Then, when she had finished, I went to look in the mirror.
There you go,” she said, “you look red carpet ready, fantastic, I'm good aren't I!”
Yeah, great, it's your true calling, I wish I knew what mine was.”
An hour before the party we were both a bag of nerves.
Dee was worried about how many people would come and I wasn't sure how well I would cope with meeting so many strangers. At one point I actually went to the bathroom to throw up.
The first person to arrive was her brother John.
Hey sis,” he said, kissing her on the cheek and handing her a bottle of Champagne, Champagne! ”Happy birthday!”
Dee wanted to know where the others were.
Oh charming, here I am, wishing you well and handing you champers and all you want to know is, where's everyone else, or rather, where's Rupert.”
He said the others were psyching themselves up with a few pre-party drinks in the pub.
Then the doorbell started ringing.
Dee had a lot of friends and I didn't know what to do with myself at first. They were all hugging her, handing her presents, laughing and joking in the way old friends do.
Dee would introduce me and they would just say, Hi, and then look blank, thinking, who the hell is she.
Rupert showed up with Ben.
It was strange to see him at first, and my heart leapt a little.
Zeta, I.”
Don't Rupert, don't explain, it's OK, we're fine.”
Then Dee noticed and came over.
Hi Rupert, here, come with me, I'll get you a drink.” She said, dragging him away.
Don't worry about me!” Ben yelled after her.
Then he took my hand.
Here Zeta, you can guide me in the direction of the food and drink.”
Haven't you been here before?”
Nope, it's all new to me, so I shall need looking after.”
In the end, everyone was dancing and I joined it. It was a good evening and didn't end until past two in the morning.
The final five remaining were me, Dee, John, Ben and Rupert.
Well sis, I declare your party a resounding success.”
Really, do you think they all enjoyed themselves.”
Of course they bloody did.”
Ben was sitting next to me on the floor, our backs against the wall, John was lounging on the sofa, and Rupert was lying on the floor with Dee kneeling next to him. Dee had put some softer music on while we talked about the evening, who had done what that was particularly funny, who was the most wasted, who had been into who and whether they had left together.
Well, I didn't get off with anyone,” said John.
Who did you want to get off with?” Asked Ben.
But he's going out with Sally?”
I know, the pain of unrequited love,” he joked.
Rupert said that he didn't think he could get up off the floor and asked Dee if it was alright if he just crashed there for the night.
Dee looked pleased and then went to her room to get a duvet to throw over him.
I bags the sofa,” said John.
Ben insisted that as everyone else was staying, so should he.
Can I sleep on the floor in your room Zeta? I don't think I can face dossing here with these two drunks, and Rupert will probably spend the night throwing up. I know what he's like when he's gorged himself on alcohol.”
Make yourself comfortable in the bath,” I said, and then I told Dee it had been the best party ever, which was true, and went to bed.
By the time I woke up, John had already left, but Rupert and Ben were still there, sitting in the kitchen drinking tea and looking pretty bloody awful. Dee said she had the worst hangover ever. I was just incredibly thirsty.
The only answer is a big fry up,” suggested Ben, “That will sort us all out.”
Rupert said that if Ben mentioned the word fry up again he would have to run to the bathroom and be sick for what must be the fifth time.
Well, there's a really good greasy cafe around the corner so who's up for it.”
No one responded and Rupert just groaned.
Zeta? Dee? I can't go on my own.”
I quite fancied some breakfast but Dee wasn't interested.
So I found myself, ten minutes later, sitting opposite Ben with a mug of strong tea while we waited for our breakfasts to arrive.
I think Dee is a bit keen on Rupert, are you really over him?”
Sure, and yes, she is.”
Right, so when are you going back?”
This afternoon.”
Don't, stay one more night, now you're here, you might as well.”
Well, because then I could take you to The Swan, they have a great Irish folk band playing on Sunday evenings.”
I should get back.”
Oh, never mind.”
Ben was right, what was the big hurry to get back, and I wondered if The Swan was the same pub that my mum used to go to with Shannon. It seemed likely and I was intrigued.
When we returned to the flat, Dee was lying on the sofa, but it looked as if Rupert had left and Ben asked if he had gone home.
No, he's in my bed.”
Well, you two didn't waste any time.”
No Ben, it's not like that, he needed some proper rest so I told him to go back and get some more sleep in my room.”
As it turned out, Rupert ended up spending not just that Sunday afternoon, but that same evening, and many others in Dee's bedroom.
Ben and I went to the pub and then he asked if I wanted to go back to his place.
Because I want you to.”
Christ, I'm beginning to think that's the whole sum of your vocabulary Zeta! Because I'm in love with you. I think I have been ever since I saw you standing in my mother's kitchen with that crazy hair.”
I'd not been expecting that.
You're gorgeous, ”said Ben, “That's what I put in my Christmas letter to you, that I was sorry, and that I thought I was in love with you.”
You're just in love with falling in love Ben.”
It's different.”
Yes, it always is.”
Still, in the end, I took his arm, and the first face I saw the next morning was his, propped up on an elbow, peering at me.
Don't go back Zeta.”
I have to.”
You don't.”
This shouldn't have happened Ben, I need some space to think things over.”

Chapter 28

Come up anytime Zeta, just give us a call, if the spare room's free, it's yours,” said Dee, when her, Ben and Rupert saw me off at the station.
What an idiot, I thought to myself as the train sped towards Exeter, what a bloody fool, Ben, you should have know better.
He spent the week calling me, trying to persuade me to come back up.
Off again,” said Margaret
She was coming in through the garden gate as I was leaving.
Yes, just for a few days.”
It's a man isn't it? I can always tell. That woman above you, Jane, she's left. She's gone back with that bloody useless husband of hers. I said to her, he'll only do it again, I'd put money on it.”
In the end, my stay in Bristol was a lot longer than a few days.
Dee told me that there was a waitressing job at the restaurant where she worked.
I loved it, having a job to go to, and and Ben and I became an item. Sometimes I stayed over at his place and sometimes I stayed at Dee's. I gave my flat up and sent Margaret some money to hire a man and van to take my stuff to the dump, or give it to anyone who might want it.
It's a man, isn't it?” Asked Margaret when I telephoned to tell her.
It's a job Margaret, work, there's more work up here.”
And a man.”
OK, and a bloody man.”
I was happy to give her the satisfaction of being right.
Is it the good looking one?”
Oh well, I can't blame you, if I was a few years younger, well, who knows.”
I started contributing to Dee's bills.
Ben told Ruth that I had moved to Bristol because I'd found a job, but he didn't tell her that he was seeing me, that we were going out with each other.
She won't like it, just because she never think that anyone is quite right, or that I am capable of a meaningful relationship and settling down.”
Well, I don't think you are the settling down type, but I don't care, settling down sounds pretty boring.”

My life, my confidence, how I saw myself, changed beyond recognition over the next few months.
I met so many people, at work and through Ben, Dee and Rupert.
We went to parties, to the cinema, watched stand-up comedy live, and sat in the corner of The Swan every Friday. I loved it all, I had a life, the one Angie would have wanted me to have.
For the first time ever I went to see a band with Ben at the university, not just any old band, a famous band, and when they played one of my favourite tracks I just broke down crying.
Then, over the next few weeks, I started to break down crying a lot, for no reason.
I'd wander into town and then realise that I had tears streaming down my face and I would have to hurry home. I was back to waking up with a wet pillow from crying in my sleep. I kept thinking about Angie, missing her, needing desperately to talk to her.
Not only that, I became bad-tempered, easily upset and annoyed.
Whenever Ben was later than expected, or couldn't meet up, I would be convinced he was seeing someone else. We argue, I'd get angry, break things, and then be sorry, hate myself.
One day, while we were on a lunch break at the restaurant, Dee spoke to me about it.
Are you OK Zeta?”
What do you mean.”
Well, you just seem to be having trouble coping with things at the moment.”
Dan doesn't think so, he said I was a really good waitress, one of the best he's had in his restaurant.”
No, I don't mean that. I mean in your personal life. You know, you're either in a really bad mood or in tears. It's difficult for me to say this Zeta, but I think you need to do something, you know, have a chat with a doctor or therapist perhaps, get some help.”
Oh really, and why is that.” I snapped back.
For this very reason, you're so moody, unpredictable, one minute everything is fine and then you just turn, something snaps in your head and you're a whole different person. I love you, your friendship matters to me Zeta, but you have become really hard to be around”
Well don't be around me then, just fuck off,” I said, storming back into work, instantly regretting what I had said, the fuck off part, that is. What made Dee think it was OK to trash my personality like that?”
Dee spent the afternoon avoiding me. She looked sad.
That day our shifts ended at the same time, but instead of waiting for me so we could walk home together, she just went on ahead.
When I walked into the flat she was sitting on the sofa with an expression on her face that I hadn't seen before.
You need to move out Zeta, find somewhere else to stay. No one speaks to me like that. I've had enough.”
I don't know why I was so shocked.
Then she left and I was alone in the flat.
Christ, I'm such a fucking awful person, what the hell's wrong with me, why am I so self-bloody destructive. I yelled at the empty room, at Angie, in case she was up there somewhere, looking down, listening to me.
An hour later, Ben turned up.
Dee's been round to see Rupert, you've really hurt her feelings.”
She wants me to move out.”
Does that really surprise you Zeta, the way you've been recently and the way you spoke to her!”
Oh poor Dee, it wasn't that big a deal!”
What, telling her to fuck off, you think that's OK. When she's let you move in with her and helped you get a job, been such a great friend to you.”
So it's all me is it, everything's my fault. She said I was difficult to be around.”
Well, you are!”
Dee told me to go and get a shrink, and if that isn't bloody rude I don't know what is.”
Oh for Christ sake Zeta, you've become impossible. She was just trying to help, something's not right.”
So I gather you're not going to let me move in with you, now that I'm to be made homeless?.”
No, I'm not.”
Of course, you wouldn't would you, I'd cramp your style. How long has it been now, Christ, nearly five months, that's almost a record in your books. Time to find someone new, if you haven't already, which is more likely.”
I'm not hanging around for this Zeta. Dee's staying with Rupert until you find somewhere else. She can't even face coming back to her own flat right now.”
Ben slammed the door on his way out.
I felt sick. I'd lost everything, Ben, Dee, my new life. I'd screwed the whole bloody thing up. I'd trashed it all, now it was just me again, even more alone than I had ever been.
I went into my room and packed a case. I'd go, I'd go and stay with Jess in London.
They would all be glad.
As I stood waiting for the train I fantasised about just throwing myself in front of it.
Then I was on the train, looking out of the window at the fading day
What was I doing, what the hell had I done?
By the time the train pulled into Paddington, it was very late and very dark.
All the underground services would have been scaled down and I'd probably end up waiting half the night at Blackfriars for the train to Streatham.
Maybe I should just find a bench to sleep on?
I had my bank card on me, I could get a taxi, but that would be crazy, Jessie's was miles away.
I don't know whether I meant to walk in front of the taxi or not. I really can't remember.
As they raced me through the hospital corridor on a trolley, a nurse asked me who she should contact.
I told her, no one, I had no one.

Chapter 29

This time around my face had fared better, no stitches necessary, but my right hip had been shattered and the wrist that had been broken in my struggle with Ray was back in plaster.
There must be someone we can call Zeta.” The nurse said, a couple of days after my hip replacement, and still, one had called the hospital or visited me.
I'd told them that it had been an accident, walking in front the taxi, but I think that they were starting to wonder.
The taxi hadn't been going very fast, it had just pulled away from the station. The surgeon said that the severity of injury to my hip was because my bones were very brittle for someone my age.
Then had traced my surgery and medical records, which confirmed what they had already expected, the anorexia, the mental health problems, and I'd been put on suicide watch.
The hospital psychiatrist visited me and asked if I had been taking my medication.
I hadn't, not for months. I'd been happy, I didn't need it and it made me feel drowsy.
She prescribed something different, something stronger, but that wouldn't make me so tired. It would take a while for me to notice the effects, but it would help, it really would. That, and therapy.
Christ, more bloody therapy. What a waste of time.
After a couple of weeks I was desperate to be discharged, but they wanted to know where I intended to go, what help I would have.
So I told them about Jess.
The psychiatrist said that as long as Jess made sure that I was registered with a doctor in Streatham and received regular visits from a mental health officer, for a couple of months at least, then I could go.
So, a couple of days later, with the aid of crutches, I got into a taxi with Jess.
Jess had been fully briefed by the hospital and she had made sure all the help I needed was in place.
Jess was still devastated by Shannon's death and we both drifted around the house wallowing in our shared misery.
The health officer and therapist were alright, I liked them, but the tablets helped more.
By the time I could walk without the crutches I was feeling calmer, more level, less up and down emotionally. Although, the better I felt, the more I wanted my old life back, or rather, my new old life, Ben and Dee, working in the restaurant. The fact that I had screwed all that up, hurt so much.
Then I saw a job advertised in the window of an Indian restaurant on the high street and I wandered in.
The guy I spoke to said they would need references, I had to give him the name and address of my old boss in Bristol, Dan, and just hope that he would be kind. I'd left without any notice, but he was a nice guy, I'd worked hard up until then, so maybe it would be alright.
Jess wrote me a character reference and confirmed that I was living at her address.
That's how they found out where I was.
About two weeks into my new job and I'm waiting tables. It's a busy Saturday evening.
They were sitting there, waiting to have their order taken. I didn't want to go over, so I asked one of the other waitresses, Mandy, if she would take their table.
She came back with their order, but said they had asked after me, whether I was working that night.
Damn, what did you tell them?”
Well, I said I wasn't sure, which sounded a bit stupid. You know Zeta, you are working tonight, and they are going to be eating here, so unless you can find a way of hiding in the kitchen for the entire evening, well, you're just going to have to go over there and say Hi. Who the hell are they anyway? Good looking couple.”
They're not a couple, well, who knows, maybe they are by now, they're old friends from Bristol.”
Well, they've come some way to see you then.”
I'm busy.”
Yeah, well go and say a quick hello and tell them that.”
Instead, I went over and asked them what was going on, what they were doing here, in this restaurant.
Looking for you, obviously,” said Ben.
Yeah, we would hardly have decided to have a weekend break in bloody Streatham would we.”
Dee was smiling up at me.
We wondered where the hell you were. The only place we could think of was your aunt's, her friends, but we had no idea of the address, name, or phone number.”
Then I was at work and Dan told me that a restaurant in London had rung up wanting him to vouch for your waitressing skills. He said he was tempted to just tell them the truth, that you had run out on him without a word of explanation or apology, but you know what an old softy he is.”
And so, like the brilliant detectives that we are, we tracked you down.” Added Ben.
Why, why bother?”
Because we love you, and we were too harsh, we didn't take into account all the things you have had to deal with and try to be more understanding.”
More people were coming in looking for tables.
I'm working, I can't talk to you now.”
Dee asked what time I came off work. It would be late.
Ben said they were staying in some rooms above a pub.
So we arranged to meet up the next day at twelve.
It was past midnight by the time I got home. Jess was already in bed. I wandered out into the back garden for a cigarette.
Seeing Ben and Dee had really shaken me up. I didn't know whether I was pleased or not. I'd made such an effort to push them to the back of my mind, and now here they were, in London, stirring up a lot of complicated emotions.
Fortunately, I was too tired from work to lay awake thinking about it.
In the morning I told Jess.
It's a good thing Zeta. Go and listen to what it is they want to say.”
It might make me really sad again, I might not like what they have to say.”
I doubt that.”
No, but you know, I don't want to get hurt any more Jesse.”
Well, you've got to go Zeta, or you will be left forever wondering whether you should have gone, and how things might have moved on if you had.”
So I went.
They were sitting at a table by the window with a drink.
Here, let me get you one,” said Ben, as I wandered over,”Pinot, that's right isn't it?”
Sure, yes.”
I sat down next to Dee.
What's this all about Dee?”
You, we've been so worried, and sorry, why the hell did you run away like that? When you didn't show up to work for a couple of days Ben got himself in a real state. It's all he's been able to focus on, finding you.”
Ben handed me my wine and sat back down.
So why did you leave like that Zeta, just vanish again? It was awful.”
Because I was being a total head-case and you were all sick of me, I didn't know what to do.”
Oh God Zeta, I've missed you so much, we all have.”
You hated me Ben, and so did Dee.”
No, we didn't, we were just frustrated and we didn't know how to deal with it, your crazy mood swings. Mum knows, I told her what had happened, and I told her I had been seeing you. She was furious.”
Then Ben did an impression of Ruth telling him off.
You are an idiot Ben, you read Zeta's file, which was a disgraceful thing to do. You should have had more understanding, you don't seem to think about anyone but yourself. That's what you don't understand about relationships, there's difficult times, ups and downs. People need to be there for people, Blah, blah, blah.”
Oh, that's pretty harsh, but true,” said Dee, laughing
God, your hair Zeta, I never knew you had so much of it, it's wonderful, amazing, both beautiful and bonkers at the same time, like you.”
I'd stopped visiting hairdressers to get it cut and now it had grown both down and sideways.
Ben reached over and took my hand.
I didn't know how to respond to his touch.
Where's Rupert?” I asked.
In Cornwall, with his dad. His dad's not well, pneumonia I think, he's in hospital. He'd have come with us otherwise, wouldn't he Dee?”
Yeah, you're part of us Zeta, our gang of four, well, five if you count John. Everyone gets pissed off with each other from time to time, but we don't run away.”
We had another round of drinks.
Now that we've found you, will you come back Zeta, please?”
Ben moved from his seat opposite me and sat in the chair to my side.
Look, Ben, you don't want me, not with my big messy backstory. You're not like that, we don't stand a chance.”
No harm in giving it another go.”
There is, you, I, someone's going to get hurt.”
Well, that's life, you can't protect yourself Zeta, you know that better than most people.”
He's right Zeta, maybe you two will work out, maybe you won't, who knows, but it's got to be worth another shot surely?”
Ben looked at me, waiting for my answer.
Then Dee asked about my leg.
When you came in, I noticed you've got a limp. How did that happen?”
Oh, I got hit by a taxi, it wasn't his fault, I just wasn't looking.”
You got run over!”
Well, not run over. It wasn't going very fast, I just bounced off the bonnet.”
Bloody hell, did you have to go to hospital?” Asked Ben.
Of course she would have had to go to hospital,” said Dee, rolling her eyes.
Yeah, just for a couple of weeks. Then I moved in with Jess.”
So how badly injured were you!”
Broken hip, broken wrist, some internal bleeding. It's all fine now.
Ben actually looked as if he might cry.
All that happened and I wasn't there,” he said.
Well, in a way it was a good thing. It gave me time to sort myself out, get some help with all the stuff that was going on in my head, so, all's well that ends well.”
Does it hurt then, your hip?”
No, not much, they did a good job, it's on the mend, the limp will go. Although I doubt if I'll be dancing quite so enthusiastically for a while.”
After leaving the pub we all went for a walk on the common and had coffee in the cafe at the top of the hill.
Ben and Dee needed to get the train back to Bristol in the evening. Ben had an exam on Monday.
I went to the station with them, but it was so sad.
Please come back!” Said Ben into my ear as we hugged goodbye.
I hadn't been able to decide what to do, whether to go with them or not. I had my job. I couldn't just walk out again. There was Jess, I needed to think about her. It was complicated.
When I saw the look on Ben's face as the train moved away from the station I felt like someone had gouged a knife into my heart.

Chapter 30

Over dinner, I told Jess how it had gone, meeting Ben and Dee again, and what we had talked about.
Jess said that as much as she loved me staying with her, I should go back to Bristol.
You're young Zeta, they're good friends, and it sounds to me as if Ben really does care an awful lot about you. You're doing well, you're much better now than you were. Just don't go cold turkey again with your medication. See your doctor regularly.”
I promised Jess that I would, but I still had my job and I wasn't going to leave for Bristol without giving them a months notice. That would also give Jess time to get used to the idea that she would be on her own again. It was hard, we had become very close.
You're like an aunt to me,” I told her on my last night there. “We're family now.”
Mandy from the restaurant was upset I was going. She said she wouldn't have anyone to have a laugh and muck around with any more. We promised each other we'd stay in touch.
Jess came all the way to Paddington and told me to call her whenever I needed to talk, day or night.
Ben was at the station to meet me when the train pulled in to Bristol.
He had insisted I stay with him in his room, so he could keep an eye on me, stop me from escaping again.
I knew that the best thing to do would be to find my own flat.
Still, until I could find somewhere, that's what I did.
Within a few weeks, I had moved into a self-contained flat in a large house not far from Dee, in Clifton, and I had my old job back.
I rang Jess most days, and as the months went by it was good to hear her begin to sound excited about a play, or an exhibition, she had been to see.
Mandy came and stayed every now and then. I'd hoped that she and Dee would get on, but they didn't. Dee said she didn't like the way Mandy flirted with Rupert.
One evening all of us, me, Ben, Mandy, Dee, Rupert and John, all went out for the evening. A new wine bar called, Jazzmataz had just opened and it was karaoke night.
When we had drunk enough to lose our inhibitions we took turns at the mike.
I stood up and sang 'Back To Black' by Amy Winehouse.
Bloody hell Zeta, I didn't know you could sing like that!” Said Ben, when I sat back down and let John take over.
Like what?”
Amazing, like, amazing. You've got an incredible voice.”
Of course, none of them would have ever heard me sing before, it was just something I liked to do when I was on my own, just sing along to music on the radio.
Then they all persuaded me to get up and sing again. This time I sang 'Angels' by Robbie Williams and the whole bar stopped talking and listened. When I finished there was all this applause, it was fantastic.
Just as we were about to leave, the manager came over and asked if I wanted a regular gig there every Friday.
Dee was jumping up and down and clapping her hands with excitement. John told her to get a grip on herself and Ben hugged me.
Do it Zeta, it will be brilliant!”
So that's what happened.
Every Friday the sound equipment was set up in the corner of Jazzmataz and I sang.
I'd put together a selection of songs that I thought suited my voice best. Soulful I guess.
Ben always came to watch, either with Rupert or John. Dee was usually working.
One night, after my set, this guy called Jake came over to our table and introduced himself.
He said he was in a band called The Soulpunks.
I've brought the other guys along to listen to you sing, you've just got the most amazing voice, Zeta, is it alright if I call you Zeta?”
That's my name.”
Jake was very tall, dark, and probably too thin for his height and broad frame. He was dressed in a lose nineteen forties pinstripe gangster style suit and he had a handsome, sharp, intense face. As he spoke, his black, brown eyes stared right into mine, and I felt as if everyone else in the room had just evaporated.
I'd be lying if I said I hadn't felt any attraction.
The way he moved was so self-assured, his soft southern Irish accent sounded almost musical, alluring, and there was something that seemed dangerous, yet gentle, about him.
The band, we've been on the lookout for a really good singer, like yourself, for some time, you're definitely the one. You're fantastic.”
Oh really, you've decided on me have you. What sort of music do you play?”
Well, kind of jazz, funk, ska, that sort of stuff.”
We've got gigs in Bristol and some in London. I'll admit, we haven't been on the scene long, but we're building up quite a fan base. With the right singer we could really go places.”
Then Ben interrupted.
I've not heard of you.”
Jake ignored him.
So, Zeta, I'd love you to come and listen to us and maybe, you know, consider doing a number, sing, front the band, see how it feels.”
I told Jake that I was pretty happy doing what I did solo, but I'd check them out and agreed to turn up at the pub where they would be playing on Sunday afternoon.
On the way home that evening, Ben asked me why I was even interested.
I don't know if I am, but there's no harm in going along, is there. It's Sunday afternoon, it'll be fun. Dee, Rupert, John, they might want to come.”
So there we all were in The Swan, listening to The Soulpunks.
Jake played the saxophone and it was pretty slick, so were the rest of the band.
They looked really cool too. They were all dressed up in big oversized zoot suits, braces, Fedora hats, and Jake was wearing some dark, round, wire-rimmed Steampunk style shades.
When they stopped for a break Jake introduced me to the other three members.
We've got the baby of the band, Strings, right here, and he's our man on double bass, Toots, he's on trumpet and the designated driver, Rojay here, he's the second saxophone.
Jake then asked if I would sing one number with them, just one, maybe Rehab, by Amy Winehouse.
Sure, it will be a pleasure,” I said, standing up.
Jake took my hand and led me towards the stage.
The pub was packed and it was obvious that Jake's band was the main attraction.
After a few minutes mucking around, we found the right pitch and it was a real buzz being up there with the guys.
The applause was almost deafening and quite a few people had got up to dance. So we did a couple of other numbers.
Ben looked agitated and sulky when I sat down.
Why were you up there singing all those numbers with them, are they going to pay you?”
No, we were just giving it a try out, you know, see how we worked together.”
Well, you don't need them, you're great on your own.”
I kind of like the idea Ben.”
Yeah, well, I don't.”
When the band stopped playing and the rest of them were packing up their equipment, Jake came over.
So, are you in Zeta?”
In what?” Said Ben.
The band, of course, our singer.”
No, she's not. Zeta can make it on her own.”
I'm sorry, my question was aimed at Zeta here, not you. I don't see why you would have any say in this. She looks like a woman quite capable of making up her own mind.”
I'm her boyfriend.”
Well, we're fine the way things are.”
I'm not interested in your personal life, and you know, in case you're not aware, this is the twenty-first century.”
How dare he! I could have throttled Ben.
Yes, I think it could work out, but if I'm fronting we are going to have to change the name.”
Well, yeah, we've got a lot to talk about!”
Ben said that Jake and I would have to discuss it another time because he wanted to go home.
Dee, Rupert and John hadn't been at the table during the conversation. They had been dancing and were now at the bar. I wandered over to them.
We're off now, I think that's it for the afternoon.”
That was fantastic Zeta, amazing,” gushed John,”are you going to sing with them then?”
Yes, I loved it.”
I loved the saxophonist! Gorgeous!”
Dee thumped him lightly on the arm.
Behave yourself, or we won't take you out again.”
Rupert said that they would finish their drinks and follow on. I'd invited them around for some wine and a takeaway.
What the hell was all that about!” I said, as we wandered back to my place.
You're good on your own, you don't need them and I don't like Jake. He was bloody rude to me, you should have said something.”
No Ben, you were rude to me, insulting. Talking on my behalf and going on about being my boyfriend as if that somehow meant that you made all the decisions.”
He looks shifty, I don't trust him.”
It's a band Ben, there's nothing to worry about, I'll just be singing, the same as I do now.”
If you join them you'll be off travelling around to different gigs all the time.”
Well, that will give you the chance to get on with work for your exams.”
Ben had had a really bad mark for his last papers, which was something I blamed myself for, at that time all he had been thinking about was finding me.
I don't know, I just don't feel it's a good idea.”
Ben kicked a can that he been chucked on the ground and didn't speak to me again until Dee and the others turned up for drinks.
I guess he could see how it was all going to pan out, even then.

Chapter 31

We decided to call the band Zeta May & The Soulpunks.
As I liked the guy's image, I decided that I should make an effort to compliment it, and I hadn't really formed one of my own. I'd try and wear a skirt and top when performing, but that was about it.
There was a vintage clothing shop in Clifton where the boys bought their suits. I'd often passed it, but never went in, it looked dark and claustrophobic.
Jake said he'd take me, he was a regular customer and would be able to help me chose something and get a discount.
Once inside, the shop was captivating, if not a little creepy. Weird looking mannequins from way back, stared at us as we entered, their eyes seemed to follow our every movement, unlike the old shop display heads which kept their gaze firmly fixed straight ahead. It was like entering a time capsule, another world, full of ghosts. It went further back than I had expected and smelt damp and musty. I couldn't see any form of heating and it was quite cold. There was so much to look at and take in. Everything, the shoes, the bags, the clothes, they all spoke of lives past, other people's history.
As the doorbell chimed, the lady who ran the shop looked up from the book she had been reading.
She was thin and wizened, maybe in her seventies or eighties, and she was wearing a huge men's camel coloured wool coat and fingerless wool gloves to keep warm. Her grey hair was scraped into a tight bun and she looked stern, unfriendly. Then, as soon as she saw Jake her whole face and demeanour changed, she came alive.
Jake my darling! How are you?”
Good Babs, good, and this is Zeta, our new singer, she needs some outfits.”
Well have a look around and if you need any help let me know.”
Jake flicked through the rails of clothes, occasionally pulling one out and holding it up against me. He knew everything, the eras, the fabrics, and managed to guess correctly what would fit me.
Once he had an armful of dresses he thought I should try on he showed me where the changing room was and then sat down next to Babs for a chat.
Come out and show us when you're ready,” said Babs.
The idea of undressing in the equally cold back storage cupboard wasn't that appealing, but as I changed frantically out of one outfit and into another I soon warmed up.
It took over an hour. I'd come out to show Babs and Jake, and they'd clap every time I emerged as if they were watching a fashion show.
The forties dresses suited me best and I left with a navy crepe tea dance dress that hung just below the knee, a wartime Wrens suit, and a nineteen thirties red satin and sequinned evening dress that was absolutely stunning.
You look like a movie-star.” Jake said, when I came out in the red dress, and then, with Babs permission, he stood up and opened a glass cabinet of jewellery and pulled out a diamanté necklace. He stood behind me and fastened it around my neck, then told me to look in the mirror.
Wow, that's beautiful,” I said.
Yes, it is.”
Bab's gave me a generous discount and hugged Jake as I picked up the bags ready to leave. Then she took hold of his hand and I heard her say in a quiet, conspiratorial voice, “she's lovely Jake”.
As we walked away from the shop I asked Jake if Babs had thought that I was his girlfriend.
Didn't you tell her I was just a friend?”
Why, why bother. It doesn't matter does it?”
No, I guess not.”
Jake said I should wear the red evening gown for our first set, mind blowing was how he described it.
That weekend, I pulled out the red dress and changed into it, ready for my first real gig with The Soulpunks.
Ben laughed when I came out of the bedroom.
Bloody hell, you look like you've been beamed down from some old Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film or something.”
Well, do you like it?”
I guess so, it's just not really you is it, kind of dated. Did Jake make you buy it, to fit in with him?”
No, I just thought that as the lead singer in a band I needed some kind of image, that's all, you know, dress up a bit.”
I didn't tell Ben that Jake had been shopping with me, I knew he wouldn't like it.
Red dress, red hair, it's a bit over the top Zeta, almost blinding, talk about razzle- dazzle them.”
So I changed into the blue crepe dress.
That's better. I like that one, far more you.”
By the time I reached Jazzmataz, I was quite late and Jake looked really anxious and agitated.
Christ Zeta, I thought you'd changed your mind.”
No, just the dress, Ben thought the red one was a bit over the top.”
Shame, you know, you should go with your own instinct Zeta, it was perfect, the guy's an idiot.”
Well, he is. Still, I see you're wearing the necklace.”
Yes, it's lovely, thank you.”
Jake had insisted on buying it for me as a present.
Anyway, let's make beautiful music.” He said, kissing me lightly on the cheek, before taking my hand and leading me across the room. The place was packed out.
The owner of the club, Ricky, didn't seem bothered that he would now have to pay extra for a band.
Ben turned up with Rupert and Mandy, she was down from London for the weekend, but Dee had to work.
At half-time me and the guys were surrounded by people keen to congratulate and praise us. I didn't get a chance to speak to Ben.
I glanced over at him. Rupert and Mandy were chatting away, but Ben was just peering down into his pint of beer looking moody.
I'm not sure I'll come again Zeta.” He said, on the way home.
Because I feel like a spare part, you don't need me there. Before the band, you did, we sat together halfway through your set, and at the end. We talked about how it went and had a laugh. It was us. Now it's you and them.”
No, it's not.”
It is, tonight, at the end you were up there for ages chatting with Jake and the others.
Well, look,” I said, “we're here together now, aren't we.”
Yeah, big deal.”
The following Friday Ben said that he and Rupert were going to go to the stand-up comedy at The Swan instead, like we all used to before I started singing.
I really missed Ben being there, just knowing that he was, It mattered, more than I had thought it would.
I told him when I got home.
Ben said that the comedy wasn't as good without me either, it hadn't seemed as funny, and for a while, everything was alright again.
Then Zeta May & The Soulpunks were being offered gigs all over Bristol and in London.
We had one in Brixton and Jess came along with a friend of hers.
It was great to see her. She seemed brighter, happier, coping a lot better with Shannon's death.
You sound amazing Zeta, what a talent, and this band, well, you're brilliant, I love it.”
After the gig, we got in the van and headed back to Bristol.
It was fun driving through the night with Jake and the boys.
Toots drove and the rest of us sat in the back of the van.
We'd analyse how well the gig had gone, what numbers the crowd had liked best and then Strings would reel off any new jokes he'd heard.
Strings was one hell of a Bass player. He came from a big family of brothers, but was the only one with a gift for music, and he was self-taught. He'd learnt to play guitar first and then, as soon as he was tall enough, he'd taken up the double bass.
The Hootenanny had been an excellent venue and the crowd had reacted well, they'd called for us to come back on and perform a couple of extra numbers.
Jake had been nervous before we walked out, he'd pushed hard to get us this venue. Jake wasn't just in the band, he pretty much managed everything, he was the very core of it and we all relied on him.
The band really started to get a name, some recognition, and we were travelling all over the country to bigger and better venues.
Ben and I saw less and less of each other.
Then he got his results. He had his degree in computer science, which I thought was great, but he said it wasn't, it was a low grade, he had just about scraped through and it would be tough competing in the job market. He was angry and disappointed.
I've got a bloody great loan, a shit degree, it's all been a fucking great waste of time Zeta!”
As the weeks passed and Ben had to deal with one job rejection after another, he became more and more morose.
One weekend I suggested going down to Cornwall to see his mum and dad. He hadn't visited them in ages.
Haven't you got a gig?”
Sure, but I'll tell them I won't be able to do it, just this once. They can play without me, it will be fine.”
Jake was furious.
What the hell Zeta! You can't just bail out, our gigs are set in stone, you're letting everyone down.”
I've got to have some time off Jake, now and then. We're almost booked up solid and this weekend we've only got two small venues. Ben needs me, he seems really depressed, I'm worried about him.”
Yeah, well, he's a moody git anyway, I don't know why you put up with him.
Because I love him.”
Really Zeta, do you really?”
Well, I can't think of one thing either of you have in common.”
Then Jake stormed off.
So Ben's the moody one is he!” I yelled after him.
It was about six in the evening when we arrived at Ruth and Harry's.
They didn't seem that pleased to see me, though they looked relieved to have Ben back home for a few days.
Ruth had been calling up to speak to him a couple of times a week.
Harry took Ben out for a quick pint before dinner so that Ruth could talk to me alone.
What's going on Zeta, what has happened between you two?”
Ben, he's changed. He was doing so well at University, enjoying life, then this. His work, career, everything, it's a mess.”
I know, that's why I thought we should come down.”
She blamed me, I knew that.
He was fine, everything was good. Ben's really smart, he should have easily got a first in his degree.”
And then he met me.”
I'm not saying that.”
No, but you're thinking it. I'm doing my best, I'm trying to help.”
You don't seem to be around most of the time Zeta. I call and you're always off out with that band. He sounds bored and lonely. ”
Yes, I'm singing, we're doing well, getting lots of work, and I've got my waitressing job. So what, that's what I do. I can't just sit around the flat with Ben.”
Instead of concentrating on his career, all he's been doing is thinking about you.”
That's not my fault Ruth. While I was working he could have been doing the same.”
You went off, he was really upset when he should have been focusing on his exams.”
Look, Ruth, I had no idea. I didn't know how Ben felt about me. I listened to you, I thought I was just another one of his flings, I didn't expect it to last.”
Ruth wasn't sure how to respond, and then Ben and Harry were back from the pub.
It was clear both Ruth and Harry thought that I was just about the worst thing that could have happened to Ben, and I figured that they were probably right.
Dinner was tense. Hardly a word was spoken.
I helped Ruth load the dishwasher, in silence, and then I said to Ben that we should go out, to The Seafarers, see if Tammy and Oliver were in there.
Ben wasn't that enthusiastic, but we wandered out anyway. I couldn't face an evening sitting in with Ruth and Harry.
On the way to the pub, I tried to get Ben to open up and talk to me, tell me what he was thinking.
I don't know Zeta. I just feel lost, I don't know what direction to go in.”
Forward Ben, go forward.”
How? I've applied for loads of jobs and so far only one firm has contacted me for an interview.”
It's the same for most students leaving Uni Ben.”
And you Zeta, I feel I've lost you.”
No, you haven't, I'm here, see, walking right next to you.”
Physically, maybe, but your minds always somewhere else these days, with Jake and the band. They're all you ever talk about, especially Jake.”
No, I don't, are you jealous Ben?”
Yes, of course, I bloody am, it's tearing me up inside. I knew this would happen, from the minute he showed up at our table asking you to sing.”
That what would happen?”
That he wanted you. That he'd take you from me if he could.”
He wanted me to sing, that's all.”
No, it was more than that, I could read it in his face, I saw the way he looked at you.”
We reached the pub and I squeezed Ben's hand.
It's OK Ben, I'm here, I'm not going anywhere.”
The pub was busy, a band was playing, and Ben looked like he wanted to go back out again. Then we saw Oliver sitting in the corner on his own.
Where's Tammy?” I asked.
Oh, we've split up.”
Who did the splitting?”
Me, I guess.”
I don't know. I felt a bit suffocated, Tammy's the possessive type, and then she started going on about engagement rings and stuff and the distant sound of wedding bells was a real turn off.
The eternal bachelor boy, our Oliver,” joked Ben.
Ben seemed more relaxed now we were in Oliver's company.
I realised that I hadn't talked to Tammy for months.
Oliver asked Ben how Rupert was.
Oh, he's great, he's got a bloody first and a load of interviews lined up.”
How about you Ben?”
Crap, don't ask, I don't want to talk about it.”
OK, then.” Said Oliver, looking at me and raising his eyebrows.
He obviously hadn't heard from Ben for a while.
I went to the bar to get the drinks so that they could catch up.
While I was there one of the band members came over to me.
Christ, you're Zeta May!”
The one and only.”
We saw you in Bristol, it was awesome.”
Thanks, nice to meet you?”
I shook his hand.
Dave, it's Dave.”
Nice to meet you, Dave.”
I took my drinks from the bar, ready to inch my way back through the crowd.
We're huge fans, I know this is really forward of me, I mean, tell me to get lost if you want to, it's a big ask. You wouldn't do just one number with us, would you, later on?”
Sorry Dave, I'm here to spend some time with my boyfriend.”
Who was that?” Ben asked when I sat down.
Someone called Dave, he's in the band that's playing.”
What did he want?”
Oh, just recognised me, wanted to know if I would do one number with them later on.”
Ben gave a big exaggerated sigh.
It's OK, I said no.”
But I bet you wanted to.”
No, I didn't, I just want to have a quiet evening with you.”
It's not that quiet.”
No, well do you want to go somewhere else?”
Ben said he didn't know what he wanted.
Oliver heard the end part of the conversation.
You can't go and leave me on my own here. I haven't seen you guys in ages.”
So, we stayed.
Dave and the group were good and when they took a break, I went up and told them so.
It was weird. They seemed so blown away by meeting me.
Dave made one final stab at trying to get me to sing with them.
Just the one!”
I looked back at Ben, who was glaring over at us.
Another time, maybe, and sorry, I have to split, my boyfriend's not feeling well.”
I went back to the table and apologised to Oliver, telling him that Ben and I needed to go.
Fair enough, but keep in touch, I miss you guys.”
As we walked along the seafront I held Ben's hand. Then we sat on a bench with our arms around each other and Ben started to cry. Big fat tears soaked my shoulder and although he hardly made a sound I could feel his whole body shaking. So I held him as tight as I could, until he finally stopped.
I'm sorry Zeta.”
For what.”
Being so wet.”
I'm the wet one Ben, you've soaked my bloody shirt.” I was just trying to make light of it.
Oh for fuck sake, Ben, you have nothing to be sorry for. Look, I love you, we're going to be OK, it's alright. Now come on, let's go home.”
Ruth and Harry were still up, they were watching television.
Did you have a nice time?” Asked Harry, not out of any real interest, just because he felt he should.
Yes, but we're tired now, aren't we Ben. We'll go upstairs if that's OK.”
That night we held each other as if our lives depended on it.
When I went downstairs in the morning, Ruth was in the kitchen and Harry was out in the garden. Ben was still fast asleep.
Could you and Ben stay longer Zeta. I think he really needs to spend some time here, at home, have a break from Bristol.”
I'm sorry Ruth, I've got my rent to pay, my job, and the band, I can't just drop everything.”
No, I know, but maybe Ben should stay a while longer. I've never seen him so miserable, so deflated and down.”
I know, but whether he will or not, without me, I'm not sure.”
We both tried to persuade him to stay for at least a few more days. I had two long shifts at the restaurant on Monday and Tuesday. So he agreed, he'd come back on Wednesday.
I asked Ben not to walk with me to the station, it would just be upsetting.
As the train pulled away, I had a really ominous feeling about us, deep down I knew I hadn't been honest with Ben. I'd told him what he wanted to hear, not how I truly felt.
I stared out of the window, seeing nothing.
A passenger came up and introduced herself.
Hi, I'm Shelly, I'm a big fan, you've got the best voice ever.”
Thanks, that's lovely.”
I saw you in Brixton, you were just amazing, and the band, they're really good. The blonde one, the bass player, has he got a girlfriend?”
Strings. No, not right now.”
Shelly gave me her address and asked if I would send her a signed photo of me and the band and maybe one from Strings.
When she moved on down the aisle, I sat there thinking, Christ Zeta, people know you, they know who you are, like a well-known person. Not famous or anything, but recognisable. Angie, what would she have made of all this. She would have been really proud, this made me feel good, and then I thought about Ben again.
Back at work, Dee gave me a big hug.
Something's worrying you, isn't it?” She said, standing back and studying my face.
Christ, you're as bad as my sister Angie, she was a bloody mind reader as well.”
So, tell me your troubles?”
Can I call around this evening, talk to you then?”
Dee said that as long as I bought a bottle of wine I was welcome anytime.
So after work, I wandered home with her and told her about Ben, our visit to Cornwall, what he had said, how he had cried.
Well, do you love him Zeta, or is he right to be worried about Jake?”
That's the whole problem, I'm kind of confused right now.”
Maybe you should have some time apart.”
I couldn't do that to him, not right now, it would upset him even more and I can't help feeling guilty.”
About what?”
Well, that time I went up to London for instance. I had no idea he would be worried like that. To be honest, I thought he just wanted to be rid of me. I thought everyone did. He should have been studying. I've kind of ruined everything for him.”
You're not responsible Zeta. He's had plenty of time to catch up instead of moping around feeling sorry for himself.”
His parents don't think so, they blame me.”
Nonsense, it's not your fault, we're all responsible for our own lives.”
Ben's someone who's been used to drifting through life with everything turning out pretty much the way he imagined it would. I'm not sure he's emotionally equipped to cope with the pitfalls.”
Poor Ben, it's true, but what can you do, sadly, he's just going to have to learn the hard way, you can't protect him, or adjust to fit in with what he wants. Live how you want to live Zeta. You're in a great place right now, don't let anyone ruin it.”
I felt better as I walked home from Dee's, for the chat, but still just as confused about what I really wanted.

Chapter 32

The band usually got together for a rehearsal on Wednesday evening, so when I rang Jake to say that I couldn't make it because Ben was coming back, he had a fit.
Oh for Christ sake Zeta, you can't keep doing this! Everyone was asking where you were and a lot of the regular crowd felt really let down, and the new people who had turned up to see you.”
It's just a rehearsal tonight, Jake.”
There is no, just a rehearsal, we need it, we need our act to be one hundred percent tight.”
I promise Jake, just this once, no more, I'll be with you on Friday and all the rehearsals after that.”
The extra couple of days with his mum and dad had been good for Ben. I met him off the train and saw that lovely smile of his for the first time in ages.
We bought some food and wine and went back to my flat.
This is nice Zeta, me and you here, it's been a strange couple of months.”
I thought he might cry again. Then there was a call from a computer software firm in Exeter inviting him for an interview on the Friday.
Ben was really pleased.
It's not a big firm or anything, and it's not the best pay, but you know, it's a start. It will give me a chance to prove myself, show what I can do, get a portfolio of work together.”
He was in high spirits when I walked with him to the train station and I knew that if Ben could remain positive and act his old charming self, then he'd probably get the job.
We kissed goodbye and he said he would join me at Razzmatazz later in the evening, when he got back from Exeter.
Seeing Jake and the boys was like coming home.
We did a great set and afterwards, Jake and I wandered outside into the courtyard for a cigarette.
It's good to have you home Zeta, I hate it when you're away. Sorry I shouted at you over the phone.”
I was only gone a couple of days.”
Yeah, but I haven't seen you for nearly a week.”
That's not exactly that long Jake.”
It felt like it. It felt like forever.”
Then, Jake leant in and kissed me really gently on the lips, it was so sweet.
I fucking knew it!”
Ben was standing in the doorway, he'd seen us.
Then he left.
Oh God, no! I'm going to have to go after him, carry on without me Jake.”
I saw Ben's angry back view as he pushed his way through the crowd, I called after him, but he just kept walking
By the time he was out in the street and I'd managed to grab hold of his arm to force him to turn around and look at me, it was raining heavily and I wasn't sure whether it was tears or drops of rain that were streaming down his face.
That wasn't how it looked Ben, I had no idea Jake was going to do that. It just happened.”
Zeta, I'm not blind and it's over, we're over, I don't want it to be, but it is. You left me some time ago, you just didn't realise it, and I didn't want to face up to it.”
Oh, Ben!”
Go back and sing Zeta.”
No! We can't end like this! It's crazy.”
Can you tell me, looking right into my eyes, that you don't have feelings, any desire, to be with Jake?”
I looked down at the dark, wet pavement and Ben walked away.
The next morning I was woken by the sound of the doorbell ringing. Someone was frantically pressing the button
It was Dee, she was in a real state.
My first thought was of Ben.
Oh my God Dee, it's not Ben, tell me it's not Ben!”
She brushed passed me and threw herself on the sofa wailing.
No, it's not Ben, it's that fucking stupid bastard Rupert.”
What, what about him?”
He's left for London, he's got a job.”
Well, that's a good thing isn't it?”
No, because he's also told me it's over, no more Dee and Rupert.”
What, just like that!”
Yeah, well, pretty much.”
Why, just because he's moving to London?”
No, it's because that vile man-eating friend of yours Mandy's up there.”
Christ, I can't see those two working out.”
Well, they are, and in her bed! I knew she was after him, from day bloody one, I saw the way she looked at him.”
Oh God Dee, I'm so sorry, I feel really bad, I introduced her to you and Rupert.”
Yeah, well, I wanted to put some of the blame your way, but it's really not your fault. Rupert obviously didn't feel as much for me as I did for him, so I guess, if it hadn't been that conniving bitch, someone else would have come along.
Neither of us had work until the evening so we wandered along the riverbank, the rain has eased off, but the muddy sky blocked the sun, it was a cold, damp, unforgiving day.
We found a small tatty, but warm, cafe, up a side street and as we sat there nursing our chipped mugs of coffee, I told Dee about what had happened the night before, when Ben had seen me and Jake kiss.
Oh God Zeta, poor Ben.”
I know, it's awful, I feel awful. I know he's really hurting.”
Was he right though. You and Jake, is there something going on?”
I hate to admit it, and I've tried to kid myself that there isn't, but I guess there is. Although nothing has happened, just that one kiss.”
Christ, then it looks like me and Ben have just joined the lonely hearts club.”
Oh Dee, did you love Rupert?”
Yup, right now I hurt like hell. I feel like someone has ripped out my heart and is jumping up and down on it laughing.”
Perhaps you should go and see Ben. It might help, you know, shared experiences and all that.”
Yeah, well, I'll think about it, but maybe I'd prefer to wallow alone in my own misery for a while. Do I really want to take on Ben's as well? I'm not sure I do.”
I can't go and see him, it will just make things worse, I can't fix this, but I would like to think he had someone to talk to, someone who knew how he was feeling right now.”
I'm not going to be able to fix it either Zeta, his heart's been broken, it's going to take more than a few shared words and knowing that I've also been dumped to mend it.”
At work that evening Dee kept making mistakes with the orders.
I can't concentrate Zeta, my head's just full of Rupert, I can't think about anything else, him and Mandy together, I feel so betrayed.”
Dan was getting really impatient with her, so I took him aside and told him what had happened.
He said Dee could have the rest of the evening off as we weren't that busy, even though we were.
Dee came over to my place the next day.
She'd been to see Ben on her way home from the restaurant.
He's in such a state Zeta. I was really shocked.”
What did he say?”
Not much, he cried a lot and his eyes were all red and puffy.”
Oh, Dee!”
Yeah, but you know Zeta, you can't help it if you've fallen for Jake and let's face it, Ben's left his own long trail of broken-hearted women in his wake.
You don't think he's... you know?”
Suicidal or anything.”
No, I really don't Zeta, he'll pull through, in time, and at least he's got that job.”
What job?”
The one in Exeter. He starts in a couple of weeks. He's going to look for a flat there.”
Oh, thank God for that! I didn't ask, I didn't know.”
Yeah, well, it's probably a good thing that he's moving. He said he wouldn't be able to face, seeing you for a while, especially with someone else. Or, as he put it, that bloody arrogant, egotistical bastard Jake. I'm glad that at least I don't have to see Rupert and Mandy swanning down the street hand in hand.”
Christ, relationships, it's all so messy!”
Well, I'm just going to concentrate on working hard and saving up some money. Focus on what I really want to do with my life. Stuff Rupert, I was too good for him anyway.”
Dee smiled at me.
That's the spirit Dee, and yes, he wasn't good enough. He's not all that, you'll meet the right one, I know you will.”
Yeah, well, I'll give my heart a little time to mend first, let the cracks heal.”
Later, at rehearsal, Jake took me aside and asked how I was.
I'm OK, I'm fine.”
So is everything alright with you and Ben then?”
No, it's over.”
I'm sorry Zeta.”
No, of course not, I'm lying, I'm glad.”
Then out of sight of the rest of the band, he kissed me, long and hard, and when he pulled back I was shaking. It was as if an electric current had passed through my whole body and I just wanted us to leave right there and then, forget the rehearsal, and head straight back to my place with Jake.
I grabbed his hand.
Let's go.”
Then Toots was standing behind us.
For Christ sake, you two, we're waiting to jam.”
That was it. The beginning of me and Jake.
From that night on we were inseparable.
Every time I looked at him I felt as if I was being pulled down into a vast enveloping lake of love and desire. I lived for his touch, and making love with him was the most gentle, sensual experience. The look in his eyes as he stared into mine, as we moved together, I would be lost, completely captivated, his strong slender limbs entwined with mine. There was no doubt, this man loved me, this beautiful, extraordinary man, truly loved me.
It was a wonderful time for all of us. Me, Jake and the band. We were all right where we wanted to be, together, making music.
However, close me and Jake were, we still looked forward to meeting up with the guys.
We started to write our own songs and the rest of the band really liked the new material. The five of us developed our own unique sound. A sort of soul, reggae mix, but with a twist, an edge. It was exciting.
Jake moved out of the bedsit he'd been sharing with Strings and Rojay and in with me.
You're here every night.” I said, “So you might as well. Just don't expect me to iron your shirts, that's all.”
As if. I'll be ironing my own, I can tell that you haven't the gift for it, yours are always creased, I'll have to do yours as well.”
Sounds good to me.”

Chapter 33

Zeta May & The Soulpunks started to fly.
We found ourselves playing at the coolest venues to an ever-increasing crowd of fans.
One night while we were doing our regular gig at Razzmatazz a man came up to us and asked if we had a manager.
Jake told him that he was the manager, that was his job.
This guy, Leroy, said we needed a professional. We needed him.
Jake wasn't keen at first, but Leroy started boasting about how many contacts he had in the music industry. Influential friends, big names, recording companies, and he'd get us on tour.
We were all pretty sceptical, but as it turned out, Leroy did know a lot of people and he knew the business inside and out.
He had us signed up to an Indie label within months and then sat us down to talk about tour dates and venues.
After that, things moved really fast. We were on the road most of the time and our fan base just kept growing.
Leroy hired someone to work on promotion, she made sure we had exposure on all the big social media sites and kept our followers regularly updated with news.
I had to give up working in the restaurant, but whenever I was in Bristol, I'd catch up with Dee.
I'd go around to her place because if we went out our conversation would always be interrupted by someone coming up wanting to talk and get a picture on their phone.
We had a record in the top ten followed by interviews, television, radio, magazines, it was crazy, exhilarating. I'd never felt so alive and this was a life I could never have imagined, so far removed my past.
Rojay went out and bought a brand new motorbike, Strings left the shared bedsit in Cotham to rent a studio apartment overlooking the river, or, as he called it, a pulling pad, and Toots wanted us all to pay towards a new, far bigger, touring van.
There was nothing Jake and I really wanted. As long as we could wake up in the morning and the first thing we saw was each other, that was enough. Although we did spend a fair amount of time and money in Babs's vintage clothing shop.
Leroy decided that we needed to make a video for our top ten hit. There would be a professional make-up artist called Emma, and remembering that it was Dee's ambition, I asked her if she wanted to come along to the filming, gets some tips and information on how to break into the business.
The video shoot was a really fun couple of days for everyone, again, Leroy's contacts came through, we had a brilliant director and cameramen. They made us look so cool and slick.
Dee had a great day. Emma gave her lots of tips and advice, then she said that she was getting really busy with all the television and movie work, so if Dee wanted she would be happy to take her on as a trainee. There wouldn't be much money in it, but Dee could still cover her shifts at the restaurant.
Our tour included a number of big universities around the country and a scattering of even larger venues.
Strings couldn't wait to play Cardiff. All his family would be there, his mum, dad and three older brothers.
They came backstage afterwards. His parents looked so proud and pleased to see him. I could tell how close they all were, it was lovely, and Strings was in his element.
His mum, dad and brothers all ran a pub in his home town, Caerphilly. After the gig Strings went back to spend some time with them.
Then, just over a week later, we were back on the road and back in Brixton. This time we were performing at the O2 Academy.
Jess came along to see us. I sent her V.I.P tickets and made sure she was at the front with her friend.
I don't know why, but I didn't contact Mandy. Loyalty to Dee I guess. I hadn't liked the way she'd moved in on Rupert.
At the end of the evening, when we were all hanging around the dressing room having a drink, one of the bouncers came in and said that there was a Mandy outside insisting she knew me, so I told him to let her in.
Mandy looked awkward at first, and uncertain at what kind of reception I would give her.
It was good to see her though and I went over and gave her a hug.
Mandy! Lovely to see you.”
Yeah, sure, though, you know, stealing my friend's man, not cool.”
I gave her a big smile so she knew I wasn't all that angry.
Well, it didn't last long, me and Rupert. He went off with some bloody boring old English teacher, much to the delight of his dad, who didn't really rate me, a humble waitress.”
Well, come and meet the boys.”
Mandy looked over at them.
I like the saxophonist. The tall, lanky black haired guy with the intense face, he looks deep.”
Yeah, well hands off, he's mine. What about the bass player, Strings, he's great, good looking and funny. I think Toots has got a girlfriend, he says he has anyway, none of us have met her. Rojay's only passion seems to be his motorbike.
He looks a little too young for me, baby-faced. Strings, that can't be his real name?”
No, just a nickname and not a very imaginative one at that. I don't know what his parents call him.”
Well, there's an opening line, I'll go and ask.”
Mandy made her way over to where Strings stood.
While the crew loaded all the equipment into the van we hung around backstage in our dressing room. There were a few other people there that the boys knew, and a guy who turned up to see Strings.
They moved away into the corner of the room for a while and I saw money change hands.
It made me feel uneasy.
The guys had always smoked a little dope after a gig, but the secrecy of the transaction and the amount of money exchanged made me think he was buying something harder.
After the man left, Strings started snorting some coke and then he offered me and the other guys some. I wondered whether he thought it would impress us.
No way,” I said, “been there, made that mistake. Where did you meet this guy Strings?”
Oh, he was hanging around near the exit and just wanted to know if I was interested.”
Well, why are you?”
I don't know, I've not done coke so I thought I'd give it a try.”
Toots and Rojay joined him, but not Jake.
Mandy wasn't interested and said she had to get home, we promised to keep in touch.
By the way, it's Malcolm, that's his real name.”
No way!”
That was the last time I saw Mandy. Our paths just never crossed again.
Me and the band were spending most of the time on the road. It was exhausting, manic, but I still loved it. It was great to feel part of something, to have that sense of belonging. I made sure I ate properly so I had the energy to keep going, and I stayed on my pills. Life was good, I wasn't going to screw up.
The only person I managed to see fairly regularly was Dee as Bristol was still my base.
She and Emma had decided to set up their own make-up agency together in Bristol. Emma had the experience and Dee ploughed all her savings into the venture.
They were getting a lot of work and Dee was in her element. We hired them for every video we made, along with someone to try and tame and style my wild hair. I couldn't cut it again, it had become something of a trademark.
Things were also going really well for Dee on a personal front.
Dan had held a farewell party for her on her last night of work at the restaurant.
Then he had ended up confessing that he thought he might be in love and couldn't bear the idea of not seeing her again, and as it turned out, Dee felt the same.
Her brother John was still in the house that he had shared with Rupert and Ben and kept in regular contact with them.
Rupert was working in a research company in London and had settled down with the English teacher.
Ben had his job in Exeter, but his love life seemed to have reverted back to nothing more than a series of flings. John told Dee that last time he had spoken to Ben he had been complaining about being stalked by some nut job called Tammy, who he'd just had a one stand with and immediately regretted.
Not my Tammy, I thought, surely not. Ben had never seemed to like her very much, he'd never got past calling her old what's-her-face.
We did a gig at Exeter University and I don't know why, but I wondered whether Ben might come. He didn't. There were posters of us plastered up all everywhere, so he would have known about it.
Then I set my heart on doing a small charity gig in my old home town.
All the money from ticket sales would go to Cancer Research.
I wanted to do it for Angie, Leroy just saw it as a good publicity stunt.
Oliver was there and Rupert was down visiting his dad so he came along with who was now his wife, Sally. Tammy turned up with a couple of the girls she worked with. It was great to see some of the old faces, but above all else, I just so wished that Angie could have been there.
Tammy had a place in the front row and I could see the look of amazement and disbelief as I walked out through the dry ice onto the stage.
After the show, a bouncer came backstage and asked if I knew a Tammy.
Tammy walked into the tiny changing room with her friends.
They looked like children at a Christmas party, hardly able to contain their excitement.
Tammy made a big deal of us being old friends to impress them and they wanted to take selfies with me and the band.
Then a really unwelcome face from way back walked into the room. Lenny. He looked a bloody mess and he was obviously still dealing. Strings went over to greet him and they moved outside. If he recognised me, he didn't show it, and I doubt if he did. Even all those years ago his brain had been pretty fried. I don't know how he still managed to function.
While Tammy's friends were flirting with the guys I took her aside.
Tell me Tammy, you didn't get involved with Ben by any chance did you?”
Her face clouded over.
You're not with him any more are you Zeta?”
No, I just heard something.”
Oh God Zeta, I really, really like Ben, and I feel so hurt. A couple of months ago, when he came down, I saw him in The Seafarers. Oliver wasn't there so I went over for a chat.
I guess we both got pretty drunk and he came back to mine. Then the next day, when he woke up, he just said, bloody hell, got dressed as quickly as he could and left. All day I rang his phone, you know, I just wanted to talk about it, what had happened between us. He didn't answer it, and then, the next day, a note came through the door saying…

Sorry about that, wasn't meant to happen, got way too drunk.
Heading back to Exeter.
See you around sometime.

It was so abrupt, so horrible. I really felt that there was something between us, you know, a connection, and he didn't hang around long enough to find out.”
Sorry Tammy, that was a pretty bad way for Ben to behave.”
I keep trying to contact him, but I think he's blocked my number now. I went up to talk to his mum, see if she could give me his address, but she wouldn't. She was really nice and everything, but she said that she was sure that if Ben wanted contact then he would. One time I heard he was down, so I went and stood outside the house until he came out. Then he saw me and just went back in. He didn't even go to the pub, I know, because I looked in both Friday and Saturday evening, none of the old crowd go there any more. I miss it. Do you ever see him Zeta?”
Well, if you do, you could say something to him about me, you know, find out what his feelings are.”
I could see Tammy was a hopeless case. Talk about fatal attraction.

Chapter 34

On the way back to Bristol, in the minibus, I told all the guys that I didn't want anyone dealing drugs backstage at our gigs.
They all went quiet and Strings looked away. He knew I was mainly aiming my anti-drugs lecture at him.
Toots and Rojay may have liked to snort the odd line of coke, but they weren't really that interested, Strings, on the other hand, was getting sucked into something that might swallow him whole.
The drugs were taking over and he was experimenting with everything, coke, pills, heroin. It was bloody tragic to watch and nothing I or the other guys said made any difference.
I could see a change in him, he was moodier, more distant, and instead of being funny, he'd just rambled on about crazy stuff that none of us could make any sense of.
His once slightly plump face and body had thinned, and he seemed constantly on edge, hyper.
Back in Bristol, apart from a few interviews and some photo shoots, we had a couple of weeks off from travelling and recording. We all needed a break.
Jake and I spent most of our time hanging out in the flat, cooking up meals, watching box sets, listening to music and making love.
I don't know what Toots and Rojay were doing with their time off, but we were all well aware of how Strings was spending his.
The tabloid press was having a field day. There were pictures in the paper and all over social media of him staggering out of one club or another looking totally wasted, often accompanied by some big busted blond in a very short skirt.
From the band's image point of view, we weren't that bothered, it's what people expect, at least one of us losing it, failing to cope with sudden success, living on drugs and alcohol, but we did care about Strings. It was like watching our kid brother go off the rails. Strings was racing down a track to oblivion and he wouldn't know how to put the brakes on.
I tried ringing his mobile so that I could invite him over, get him to hang out with me and Jake for a couple of days, see if we could somehow calm him down, persuade him to get help.
Some girl who sounded pretty wasted answered the phone and then it cut off. It was about eleven in the morning. I tried again, nothing.
Back at work Strings tried to hold it together. He generally turned up for rehearsals and recordings on time and was playing just as well as ever. What he didn't do, was spend any of his free time with us any more. As soon as a gig or a recording session was over he'd be off out into the night, and he was looking rough, emaciated, sallow -cheeked, dark shadows under the eyes.
Of course, the press loved him for all the wrong reasons. He was handing them stories left, right and centre. There were a series of kiss and tell stories from girls hoping to gain some minor celebrity by revealing all, literally, and endless speculation about which drugs he was using accompanied by photographs of him looking really spaced out.
One time he went on some mad rant in a club and ended up in a fight, which for Strings, was totally out of character.
We just didn't know what to do.
His eldest brother came down and stayed with him for a couple of weeks, which seemed to calm him down to some extent. He either stopped taking the drugs or managed to hide the habit, but when his brother went home, Strings slipped straight back down again. He wasn't in the papers as much, I guess he realised that his family would be reading the stories, so he hung around his flat more, entertaining there rather than heading off into town.
Then he let the band down, he was a no-show for the afternoon rehearsal for a big Saturday night chat show we'd be performing on, and we were all really excited by the prospect.
No one knew where Strings was, and we couldn't go on and do our new number without him.
Jake was frantic.
Without Strings, without bass, it's going to be bloody rubbish, it's going out live for Christ sake!”
Leroy said that we had to go on, we had to work something out. The show might be able to pull another band in for the night, but we had already been billed, it would be suicide as far as getting any more television appearances went and it would be bad publicity. He said we couldn't count on Strings and he'd make some calls. A bass player called Max turned up to rehearse the number with us. He was a really old guy, in his sixties, who looked like he'd lived the life of a man twice his age. Leroy had known him for years, and he was brilliant.
Even if Strings showed up before we were due to perform, now it would be Max out there on stage.
We felt pretty privileged to be working with him. Leroy said he'd played with all the top bands at one time or another.
The audience's response to our set was amazing, we had a standing ovation.
The next day we found out that there had been over a million downloads of the track within hours of the show being aired.
Our euphoria soon evaporated into overwhelming grief when we heard the midday news.
It was Strings.
A girl had rung an ambulance from his apartment when she'd woken up next to him and realised that he was dead. He'd overdosed on heroin.
Oh, Christ, poor fucking kid!” Said Jake before breaking down in tears.
Rojay and Toots made their way over to my place. We all needed to be together.
We just holed ourselves in for the next two days, ordering in food, drinking and talking about Strings, sharing all our stories about him and feeling sick with the loss.
The press expected a statement and we just said that we were all deeply shocked and saddened. There were no other words, right then for the depth of what we all really felt. It seemed unimaginable that we would never see Strings alive. That it was all over for him.
I rang his parent's house to express our sympathy.
His dad answered to phone. He was angry, he felt we had let Strings down, hadn't protected him, hadn't made sure he got the help he needed in time.
We all thought the same, we should have done more and sooner.
I'd been to a few funerals in my time, but I don't know, somehow String's one just seemed sadder than anything.
Such a bright light had been extinguished, such extraordinary talent just wasted, and it was all wrong.
There was a huge crowd outside the church and inside was full of family and friends. The brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, all his old mates from school. His mother was just broken, unable to stop sobbing, while his father valiantly tried to hold himself together, stoic in his grief.
Me, Jake, Toots and Rojay sat at the back and held hands throughout the service.
Max came out of respect, even though he had never met him.
As everyone began to file out of the church we waited.
Strings's mum and dad walked passed and I went forward to speak to them, but they just kept their heads down, his mother's shoulders shaking and his father's arms around her.
Then they were whisked away to a wake that was for family only, and some of his childhood friends.
The press got the photo's they needed as we came out and then they moved on.
Strings left the church in his wooden casket and was placed in the back of the hearse, which would drive the short distance to his newly dug grave.
We had had a huge double bass made out of flowers and bearing his band name, Strings, made up, and were glad that at least his parents had placed that against one of the glass windows at the back of the hearse.
The sun shone brightly as his coffin was lowered into the ground, delivered into eternal darkness. The horror of it, such an inconceivable fate for such a beautiful young soul.
The deep blue cloudless sky and bird song seemed a mockery, it should have turned as black as night, a solar eclipse, just for a second or two.
As we walked away I began to feel my knees buckle and Jake held me up.
That was it, the end of Strings' short story, the end of his life.
Leroy thought that we needed to get on with recording and use Max.
We couldn't though, not at first. After about three weeks we met up again and tried to jam, but it was too hard, I couldn't sing, the band played really badly, it was a mess, we left the studio wondering if this was the end of The Soulpunks.
There were a number of live gigs that had been booked before Strings' death.
When the time came we had to decide whether we could honour them or not.
Max came over for a session and I guess we sounded OK. It wasn't quite the same sound and it never would be. However good Max might be, Strings was irreplaceable.
Max understood the situation. He'd been in bands that had either split or, like us, lost a loved and important member.
He understood the grief and took over, got the guys back on track, and I found my voice again.
Strings, we would never forget and would never stop missing. He should have still been on this adventure with us, our soul brother.

Chapter 35

With Max on board, over the next few years we really established ourselves in the UK music scene.
Then Leroy wanted us to tour Europe and America.
I don't really know why, but none of us were that enthusiastic.
Toots' reason was that he had a criminal record for stealing cars and being caught with a large stash of cannabis in his early teens. He thought that it was unlikely he'd be let into the States, and said we should get someone else on trumpet.
There was no way we were going to go anywhere without Toots.
Max didn't care one way or the other, he'd been there and done that already.
Rojay had just met someone he was crazy about, someone he seemed to love as much as his Harley-Davidson, so he didn't want to be touring another country for months.
Jake and I, we just weren't ready.
Leroy was annoyed, said we needed to think bigger, that we were just stagnating, like big fish in too small a pond. None of us were giving the press anything to write about either.
The press need stories, you're giving them nothing.”
What do you want Leroy, another one of us to go off the rails!”?
Heck no, just do something interesting.”
Like what for Christ sake?”
I don't know, use your imagination.”
As it turned out, a story had already been brewing and there it was, a week later.


Who was Zeta May before she became the famed front-woman for The Soulpunks and one of the UK's most revered singers?
No one seemed to know. So I found myself travelling to the small seaside town where she grew up to discover more about the early years of the woman behind the voice.
The locals remember her well.

She was a strange one,” said Margery (a cashier in the corner shop where Zeta used to buy her milk and cigarettes).
Not exactly unfriendly, but you know, withdrawn, always hiding behind that wild red hair of hers, I don't think I ever saw her face. Jenny, who worked here, then, she was convinced Zeta stole stuff off the shelves, but we never caught her.”
A former teacher (who does not want his identity revealed), described her as disruptive and troubled, leaving school at just sixteen and falling in with a bad crowd.
Zeta wasn't academic, she struggled in most subjects and left school without any qualifications. I'd see her in town hanging out with known drug dealers and petty criminals.
She didn't mix well with her peer group, there was one friend in her year, but that was about it.”
I then tracked down Zeta's one and only school friend, Tammy Finch, to find what memories she had of Zeta.
She was kind of crazy, other kids were nervous of her, Zeta wasn't shy of picking fights. We were close though, I felt sorry for her. She had a difficult home life.”
It turns out that the woman Zeta for years thought to be her mother, was, in fact, her sister, Angie May, who brought her up from the age of four, after the death of their mother.
A neighbour described Angie as a morbidly obese chain-smoking agoraphobic who never left the house.
Tammy said that by her teens Zeta was doing all kinds of hard drugs and developed serious mental health issues.
She had a case worker and was put on medication. My mother never really approved of our friendship and certainly, while she went through her worst phase, when she was hanging out with all the druggies, I avoided her.”
Tammy's mum, Sandra, described Zeta as having a serious personality disorder.
She was trouble, aggressive, manipulative, and her mother, sister rather, she was no better. I didn't like Tammy hanging around with Zeta but Tammy's like me, we try to see the best in people. It was no surprise when Tammy told me what she'd found out about Zeta's parents.”
An old boyfriend who she had, apparently, ruthlessly discarded as soon as her career began to take off, revealed to Tammy that Zeta's father had been an I.R.A terrorist who had been gunned down in the street by police back in the 1980's.. Her uncle was sent to the Maze for his involvement, and then, just two weeks later, her mother was killed in a suspicious hit and run.
A former landlord told me that Zeta had left his cottage in a really appalling state while still owing him a month's rent.
There was blood on the carpet. The dad from the family next door beat her up, or raped her, something like that, anyway, he went to prison and after Zeta got out of hospital, she just moved in with her mother. I had to get someone to steam clean everything. There were cigarette buts all over the yard and I reckon she smoked inside as well, which was against the rules The upstairs carpet stank of cat and cats weren't allowed either.”
Zeta May never brought formal charges against the man accused of attacking her and I've not been able to verify details of the story, although there is no doubt that a sexual attack took place.
Finally, I spoke to Margaret, the woman who let a room out to Zeta in her home, just before Zeta left for Bristol.
She was one for the boys, I know that much, there was a constant stream of them wandering in and out. Nice looking though, especially one, very nice. I didn't know anything about the rape, you'd think she'd have learned her lesson! Smoked too, that funny stuff, margirana or something.”
So it seems that Zeta May, one of the greatest singers of our era, is the product of an extraordinary, dark, and disturbing past.
Could this be what people respond to when they hear her soulful voice? The demons trapped deep within.

I threw the paper across the room and rang Leroy.
I've read it. Is any of it true?” He asked.
Some, but it's all messed up and full of inaccuracies! I wasn't raped for a start, I was beaten up. They shouldn't be able to write these things. I'm going to sue their ass off!”
Leroy told me not to bother.
All this stuff about your tragic upbringing, if anything, it will just generate even more interest in you and the band.”
But they've made me sound like a bad person, and that bloody Margaret, I sound like a bloody prostitute. Men! There was only Ben, and I didn't smoke anything except regular bloody cigarettes.”
It's rock n roll baby. It's what people expect. All it's going to do is add to your street cred. Apart from that, I wouldn't be surprised if this little expose doesn't result in a barrage of offers for interviews, newspaper exclusives and book deals. Sit back and watch the money roll in!”
Leroy was right, and the phone didn't stop ringing. Several publishers rang to offer me a book deal, all the tabloids and magazines were desperate for an exclusive interview and there was another huge surge in downloads of our music on the internet.
One of the things that upset me most about the article, was that Tammy could not have known about my dad and uncle's involvement in the I.R.A unless Ben had told her what he had read in my file.
A few weeks later I was hanging out with Dee and she said that Ben had talked to John about what had been written.
He was upset about it,” she said, “he knew how angry it would make you and was really sorry. Ben thinks he must have said something to Tammy when he was drunk, that time they met in the pub.”
Yeah, well that doesn't make it OK!”
No, but that was only a small section of the write-up. He's not responsible for the rest of the garbage they wrote.”

Chapter 36

We were back on tour a month later and I decided that it wasn't the right time to sign up for any book deals or magazine articles, and I wasn't really interested. It was my story, my life, mine and Angie's and we owned it.
One of our final gigs was in Belfast.
Although the troubles of Northern Ireland were resigned to history, Leroy wanted extra security after the mention in the paper of my father being a member of the I.R.A.
After the gig there was the usual gathering of people wanting to speak to us, get photos, that sort of thing. The majority of them were assessed and turned away by the bouncers, then one of the guys opened our dressing room door and said that someone claiming to be my uncle was outside. I told him I didn't have one.
Thought not, it's just some old bloke, some tramp.”
Then the bouncer came back in again, apologising for bothering me.
He told me to say his name was Aaron, Uncle Aaron.”
Bloody hell. Tell him to wait, tell him I'll be out in a minute.”
I felt quite faint. Jake looked at me and asked what was wrong.
You look like you've just seen a ghost Zeta!”
Yeah, well I'm about to, my uncle, uncle Aaron, he's out there, he's alive.”
Jake knew nearly everything about me, but I had never had any real reason to talk about Aaron.”
I told Jake and the guys that I would catch them later, back at the hotel.
As I walked into the hall I could still see the shadow of the man who had been in the photographs that Angie had shown me. Tall, thin, thick grey hair, a hint of how handsome he had once been.
So, wow, Uncle Aaron, you're not dead yet, then, like everyone else.”
Aaron looked puzzled.
I had to see you. That article in the papers, I realised who you were. When I found out you were in Ireland, I just had to come.”
It was busy, the crew were packing up and we were in the way. I told Aaron we should go somewhere else, somewhere quiet.
We left through one of the fire escapes and he took me in through the back of a pub.
Angie, Shannon, tell me, how are they?”
Don't you know? They're both dead Aaron, everyone's dead.”
No, that can't be. That's not right.”
Shannon died from pneumonia a few years back, and Angie from lung cancer.”
Aaron stared at the sticky dark wood table for a while, lost for words.
I lost track of them, after your mother died, and I didn't know where to start looking. Angie, she was mine, you know.”
Yes, well, no, not until a few years ago. It hurt her, it hurt that you let her think that
Ryan was her father, that you were happy for your brother to bring her up.”
She was better off. Ryan was a good man, responsible, not like me, I was all over the place, always getting in trouble.”
You could have still told her that you were her real dad. It was a coward's decision.”
Maybe, I don't know, selfish, I guess.”
When she found out she started to wonder if Ryan had ever loved her at all, or had instead only felt a suppressed resentment. She said that thinking back, he'd been quite cold and distant towards her.”
No, I'm sure he cared.”
I said loved, not cared, they're not quite the same are they, you can care about a pet cat or dog, but it's not ever going to be quite the same as the love you have for a child.”
Well, he wasn't the best at showing his feelings.”
Then Aaron seemed keen to change the direction of the conversation.
Shannon, I so wanted to see her before I died. I couldn't come over to the mainland. I hoped she'd find me.”
She was ill, she had multiple sclerosis, by the time I knew her, she was in a wheelchair, apart from that, she had absolutely no idea where you were. Angie and I, we tried to get a lead, some clue as to where you might be, we scanned the internet, everything, but there was nothing.”
It's true, I've moved around a lot. Our mam and dad died while I was still inside and we lived in rented. There was nothing, no family home, no money.”
So where have you been all these years?”
All over, loads of different places, all kinds of odd jobs, bar work, construction sites, anything going.”
Did you think about them much, Angie and Shannon.”?
Sure, always, and your mother, and Ryan. Poor bastard, gunned down, and it was all my fault. He wouldn't have gotten involved if it hadn't been for me. So, I've lost them all.”
We wondered about that, well, about mum, did she know he was in the I.R.A?”
No love, I'm pretty sure she had no idea.”
It's just that, when she was run over, it was odd, I saw it happen. For years I couldn't even remember, then it all came back to me, it looked as if the drivers intention was to run mum down.”
Oh God! I fucked everything up, I took everyone with me.”
So you think it might have been?”
People, they must have thought she knew far more than she did. They could have been worried that after Ryan's death, she might get questioned, talk. I heard about her death, Christ almighty, it broke my bloody heart.”
Shannon, did she know?”
Oh yes, Shannon was heavily involved, although she dealt more with the planning side of tings. You know, deciding who to target, detailing attacks, coordinating tings, very organised Shannon, valued member. That's why she would have gone and got herself lost somewhere, after the shooting. Where did she go?”
London, South London. Streatham.”
So she lived out the rest of her life in Streatham! Fuckin hell.”
Aaron called over to the barman.
Here, Sid, give us another will you, a double, no, rub that, make it a treble!”
Are you good for it Aaron?”
Me niece here, she'll sort it out.”
You don't mind do you love, it's just that tings are pretty tight for me at the moment and I expect you've got a few quid stashed away, now that you're famous and everything.”
Yeah, sure, what are family for.”
Sid brought the whisky and another glass of wine over. I handed him fifty euros and told him it was for Aaron, his drinks for the night. If any was left when Aaron did, then Sid could give what remained to him, but I figured Aaron would manage to drink his way through it.
You're a good girl Zeta, always were, the sweetest little ting, the apple of your mammy's eye. That big head of red hair and legs as thin as string, you looked like a little dolly, and kind of top heavy. It's a shame the way it all worked out. When I realised, after the ting in the papers, that you had to be Ryan and Laura's baby, Christ, I just had to see you, have a talk. All these years of wondering, wondering about Shannon, Angie, you, and now here you are.”
Yeah, well, I'll be going back to my hotel soon.”
Will we be seeing each other again, do you think?”
I don't really see the point. The rest of the family are dead, and I don't even remember you.”
You're angry with me, aren't you Zeta, you blame me, for all of it?”
Yes, I am angry and I do blame you. Mum and Angie were innocent. They were just collateral damage. Mum lost her life and Angie's was so fucked up by everything it killed her.”
I'm still your uncle, that must count for something?”
No, under the circumstances, why should it?”
Aaron tipped the glass of whiskey down his throat and ordered another triple.
That one in the band, the one you're with, Jake, he looks like Ryan, a lot like him.”
Nothing, just funny to see him up there on stage that's all, and you, so like your mother. It's strange, that's all, so many memories.”
Yeah, well, I'm sorry Aaron, but I'm going to have to leave you with them. Jake will be wondering where I am.”
So, that's it then, I won't be seeing you again?”
Don't let life harden you Zeta. Family, it's important, we're the only two left now.”
I leant forward and touched the hand he had resting on the table. I just wanted to feel the flesh of my father's brother, this one time. Then I gave him another fifty.
When I reached the door, I turned and looked back. He was a pitiful figure, sitting there, hunched over his drink.
I managed to get a taxi to the hotel.
Jake looked worried when I walked into the room.
What was that all about.”
The death toll.”
The distant past, a goodbye to all that.”
The next day we flew into Exeter early and the minibus was there to take us on to Bristol.
First, we wanted to stop and have some breakfast.
Our driver took us to a roadside cafe he knew.
Great, I love these places,” said Max, and then he was off telling another one of his stories about life on the road.
The night before, meeting Aaron, it had trawled up a lot of confused, mixed feelings.
I'd lain awake thinking about all the things I could have said, the recriminations. I felt anger towards him and I wondered whether I should have expressed it, instead of trying to remain calm. Had I let him off too easily. What good would it have done now though? If Aaron had a conscience, then it would have nagged at, and tormented him through the years, if not, then what was the point, nothing I had to say would touch him. He was left a lonely old man, and I guess I was glad, to some extent, that I had learned to control my anger. I think Angie would have felt that I'd dealt well with the situation.
As I stared across the cafe and my mind drifted off in a mass of jumbled thoughts, I suddenly noticed a familiar figure over by the window, Ben.
It just seemed the right thing to do. I got up and wandered over to say Hi.
Ben looked up, pretending to be surprised, but I could tell he wasn't, he must have seen us come in.
So, what are you doing in this neck of the woods?” I asked.
I live here.”
What, in this cafe.”
No, Exeter, what about you, how come you're here?”
Just flown in from Ireland.”
Ah, the jet-setting life you lead now.” Ben gave me a tight and slightly bitter smile.
How's the job?”
I'm leaving it, I'm heading back to Bristol. I've got a better one. I'll be back in the old flat with John for a while.”
That sounds good.”
So are you still in the same place?”
I'm still living in Clifton, yes, but I bought a house. How's your mum and dad?”
Oh, they're fine.”
Give Ruth my love when you next speak to her. She helped me a lot in the past, I haven't forgotten.”
By the way Zeta. I felt sick when that article came out. I knew you'd think I had something to do with it, but I didn't. Well, not deliberately. I'd got drunk and ended up at that bloody nutter Tammy's place. All we did was talk about you. I can't remember what I said. Too much, obviously. I don't think anything even happened between us. I mean I was really out of it that night. Then she spent months bloody stalking me. In the end, I wrote to her, told her she was wasting her time and that I was still in love with you.”
Well, I'm sure that letter was gratefully received. Look, Ben, I'm sorry for hurting you.”
Yeah, well, I guess my fragile heart will mend, in time.”
Then Ben gave me the old Ben's smile, mischievous and genuine, before his expression suddenly soured.
Hi Ben,” said Jake offering him his hand.
Ben ignored it.
Sorry to interrupt Zeta, we're all ready to get back on the road.”

Chapter 37

For the next couple of months, we stayed in Bristol to record the new album.
Jake and I had been busy writing, and the main track, the first one we intended to publicly release, was a song we co-wrote as a tribute to Strings.
It was good to be still for a while and just hang out in the recording studio with Toots, Rojay and Max.
I was also looking forward to Dee and Dan's wedding.
I'd be singing a few of their favourite songs and then the band would play on so I could just enjoy the party.
That was the next time I saw Ben.
God you're as beautiful as ever,” he said, wandering over to me with an absolutely stunning brunette on his arm.
This is Bernadette, Bernadette, Zeta, an old flame, she broke my heart some years ago, but with a little help I think it might mend.”
Ben stroked her hair and then slid his hand down her back, resting it on her left buttock.
Christ, his lines don't get any better, I thought.
He looked up at her, she must have been at least two inches taller than him and catwalk thin. His new flame.
Good, I thought, he's found someone else, now maybe we can be friends again, and in that respect, Ben was back in my life to some extent, and for a while there, so was Bernadette. She was even in one of our video's. Then she was gone, and Ben was dating an actress called Franchesca.
Rupert was at the wedding with his wife and John was best man.
It was a wonderful day. Dee looked amazing, it was the full traditional white wedding, and Dan's two little nieces were bridesmaids.
The hotel where the reception had been held was walking distance from our house, so when Dee and Dan were whisked away to start their honeymoon, Jake and I wandered home.
I think I'd like us to get married,” said Jake, his arm around me, pulling me closer.
Is that a proposal?”
Well, it's not a very good one, you're going to need to work on it.”

After the album was finished, the first live gig we had was in Camden Lock, north London, at The Jazz Cafe.
It was a fairly small, intimate venue where some of our all-time music heroes had performed in the past and the perfect place to sing a couple of the new songs, especially the one dedicated to Strings.
We announced that it would be a premier performance of two main tracks from the album. It was a Sunday afternoon and the place was packed.
After singing a few of our old numbers I moved to the front of the stage and announced that the next song had been written as a dedication to Strings.
Once the whooping and clapping died down I began.
It was a sad song about death, drugs and lives lost too soon. Jake had thought that perhaps we should write a song that celebrated his life, but as I pointed out, his life had hardly started.
The audience stilled and some of the crowd began to gently sway as they listened, and then it happened.
Max saw him before I did, but he said later that he just hadn't been able to get to him fast enough. Jake was doing one of his solo sax numbers and Toots was concentrating on the part at the end where he had to come back in on trumpet.
I saw a figure run towards me through the corner of my eye.
The knife went into the side of my neck. I can't remember what it felt like, just shock, confusion, and then there was Max wrestling the man to the ground and getting the same knife jabbed into his arm.
A guy from the front of the audience, then ran forward. He managed to knock the knife out of the man's arm and hold him face down on the floor until the police arrived.
We later found out that he was a soldier on leave from Afghanistan and the press made much of him being the hero of the moment, and as far as I was concerned, he was, and so was Max.
Blood was gushing out of my neck and someone took off their T-shirt and pressed it there to try and stem the flow, before the paramedics took over and I was, once again, being whisked through London in the back of an ambulance, sirens blazing.
Of course, a camera crew had been there to film the show, and by the evening footage of the incident was all over the news and social media. Though by that time, I was in surgery.
Christ, I was so relieved when the surgeon told me that my vocal chords hadn't been damaged.
Sadly, Max's injury turned out to be the more serious, the tendons in his arm had been severed and it turned out that his bass playing days were over.
Time I retired anyway,” said Max, trying to put on a brave face, but we all knew he was pretty devastated. No musician wants to lose the ability to play.
Still, in our eyes, and that of the watching public, he was the other action hero of the day, and I think he took some comfort in that, another great story to tell.
As we all sat around his hospital bed, he told us about a time when he was backing a band and something similar had happened. Which he reckoned was why, despite being an old fossil, he had been quicker to respond.
The police came to see me and said that the a young man had been charged.”
Young man?”
Yes, well juvenile, fifteen. An Almado Carter. He said you knew his family, you had once been neighbours. We looked into it and realised that he was the son of Ray Carter, the man who attacked you in your home seven years ago.”
Christ, Almado, fifteen!”
Yes, he's big for his age, tall, and he looks a lot older, but that's him.”
Why did he do it, what did he say?”
He said you broke up his family, made his dad go mad. He has some serious mental health issues due to the traumas he's had to deal with, especially the death of his father, the way it happened. He's admitted that he intended to cause you grievous bodily harm.”
What will happen to him now?”
An appearance in youth court, leading to various expert assessments and, most likely, a three year supervision order.”
What does that mean?”
Three years under the care of the local authority. He'll get help.”
I wanted to see him, face to face, but the police said that for now that would not be a good idea, maybe sometime in the future, perhaps, if a psychiatrist or mental health officer thought it would be something that might help, and if Almado wanted it. First, a number of serious decisions about the best way to proceed needed to be made.
They talked to me about victim support, but I told them not to worry. I'd learned to roll with the punches.
Within the week I was back home and recovering well.
The papers hadn't been able to print a name or details because of Almado's age and his face had been pixilated out of the video. They had tried scraping around for information, but the lack of it meant that the story didn't gather any momentum. Though they made much of the fact that Max would never play again, and reported that only time would tell whether I could ever return to singing.
Well, that time was a month later, Jake, Toots, Rojoy and I were in The Jazz Cafe in Camden to finish the previously interrupted performance. A guy who regularly played bass there took Max's place, which was tough. Max came along and got pretty drunk, then after the set, we all went back to mine and Jakes place to do the same.
After that, we all decided that it was time to take a break.
A break which turned out to be permanent.
For a start, we didn't have anyone to take over from Max and he was going to be hard to replace.
Rojay took his girlfriend to meet his family in Jamaica and decided he wanted to stay there for a while. When he asked Jake to help him ship out the Harley, we knew he was probably planning to live there permanently.
Toots lost interest in gigging altogether. He put down his trumpet and became a long distance lorry driver.
That was it for The Soulpunks. We went our separate ways, and despite everything we had been through together, we just lost touch.
Jake and I didn't want to form a new band. The Soulpunks had been the original four and that was over.
Every now and then Jake and I would do a gig at the old club, Jazzmataz, just to keep our hand in.
We had enough money.
A lot of other artists wanted to cover our songs, especially Strings, which was (fairly unimaginatively I guess), what we had called the tribute track. On release it shot straight to number one and stayed there for four weeks, and, much to Leroy's delight, it became big in America.
Strings mum wrote me a letter a few months after its release. I hadn't been sure how his mum and dad would feel about the song. It was a sensitive piece and I'd hope that they would approve, but it was their son and they were in a state of grief, so I just wasn't sure whether it was even right or appropriate.
It was a short letter, but she said that she thought the song was beautiful and was pleased that now people would always remember Strings, who he was, or rather, Malcolm, as she called him.
Her and her husband's approval meant the most. They may always feel that we were partly to blame for what happened, and maybe we will too.
Jake and I bought a place back down in Cornwall, in my old home-town. A beautiful big Edwardian house looking right out to sea. We went down and stayed there as much as we could and still spent most of our time writing songs. We figured that one day, in the not too distant future, we might be ready to go back on the road.
Every now and then I would be asked to make television appearances, turning up on chat and panel shows. I turned most down. I'd only do them if Jake would come with me. Being away from him wasn't an option, my heart would actually ache.
I'd become more and more anxious about being apart from him for any length of time, fretting that something bad would happen and he'd be taken from me.
Jake understood, and although he wasn't neurotic in the way I was, he was happiest when we were together.
The problem was, that without the rest of the band Jake found himself left out of it all and he started to feel isolated, lonely and without purpose.
Maybe you should get a new band together Jake. Why not?” I said
It's not that easy Zeta, you can't just go and replace guys like Toots, Strings and Rojay. They were good, really good, we worked so well together, and Max, he was a legend, we were close, there will never be another Soulpunks. I miss them, I miss them all, the way we jammed. That's gone.”
As the months passed, we began to bicker more often and argue about stupid things.
Jake then started to spend most evenings at The Seafarers. He could be a big deal down there, especially on open mike night when he took his saxophone. The local musicians, good and bad, all wanted to play alongside him.
He was cool, handsome, charismatic and fairly famous, all the fawning and attention were a great bolster to his ego, but I'm not sure it did him any favours. Jake had always been a good judge of people's character, now he became less so. If they admired him then they could hang around.
Sometimes I'd go with him, but not very often. I was the opposite, I hated the attention and wished that it could have been like the old days, when I was just Zeta.
It made me laugh to see all the local girls trying to catch his eye. Jake was a one-woman man, and that I knew was me.
Then the drinking began to take over and he'd come home really drunk with a posse of people he'd been hanging out with.
I'd stay upstairs in the bedroom, keep out of it until they left.
Jake would come up and try to persuade me to go down.
The guys want to meet you Zeta, please, just say Hi, that's all.”
You're pretty drunk Jake, why don't you call it a night, come to bed.”
I will, I will, in a minute, I'll be right up.”
A couple of hours later I'd finally hear the last drunken goodbye, which would always be a huge relief. Although I hated Jake bringing people back, I didn't feel I had a right to stop him.
Occasionally I'd get up in the morning and find someone passed out on the sofa.
Jake and I would have a huge row about it. To my mind, our home was a sanctuary, private, and I didn't want these curiosity seekers and stoners invading it.
In a way, I think Jake felt the same, but he'd get bored, then drunk, and then he didn't care until he sobered up the next day.
One time he came back with some guy I knew from way back, from my teens, when I had hung around with Joe and the druggies.
I was upstairs and recognised his voice, so I looked over the bannister. Dope, that was his nickname and that's what he spent most of his time smoking. When he was slightly more lucid, he'd be off thieving from old ladies houses and flogging the stuff to antique dealers.
So I ran down, looking like a crazy woman in my dressing gown, and told him to get the hell out.
He looked pretty surprised. I don't know whether he recognised me from that time or not, but he had no doubt that he needed to find the front door, and quick.
That was the trigger to the bigger argument, Jake and I had ever had, a number of ornaments were flung across the room and then Jake stormed off into the sound recording studio, where he stayed until halfway through the next day.
When he finally emerged, I told him that if he wanted to live this way, dragging back anyone he happened to meet at the pub and letting them into our house, then I was going to have to move back up to Bristol and leave him to it.
I've been there and done that,” I said to him,”if you want to waste your time on a bunch of dead-beats because it inflates your fragile ego, then go ahead, but I'm having no part of it. I crawled out of that hole years ago.”
Jake just said that everything wasn't about me and slammed the door as he left the house.
Then he came back, sober, later on in the afternoon, apologised, and said he was going to cook us some dinner.
Over a bottle of wine, I told Jake some of the stories about Dope and the others, and although they were really quite awful, by the end of the evening, we were crying with laughter.
We were good again.
Jake still went to the Seafarers occasionally, for a couple of hours, and sometimes he'd take along his saxophone and play, but he didn't bring anyone back to the house and he seemed happier for it.
We started to go for long walks around the coastline and then find a country pub where we could stop and have lunch.
Jake's family came down from Manchester to stay with us.
It was the first time I'd had a chance to meet them.
His dad was Irish, but his mum Scottish. Which helped explain the strange, but very endearing inconsistencies in Jake's accent.
They were lovely. Fun and full of character, and we had a great week.
Jake had three brothers. I was looking forward to meeting them, but for now, they were all busy with their own lives, two working on the oil rigs, and one about to become a father for the first time.
Dee and Dan took some time off to come down, and every couple of months, Jess turned up with her new partner.
It was fine for a while, but we really needed to get back to work, form a new band and get back out there. Jake was right though, it wasn't going to be that easy finding new people to work with.
We talked about it all the time and figured that maybe we needed to move back up to Bristol or even London so we could mix again with people in the business. 

Chapter 38

A brief distraction was another wedding.
Ben was marrying Franchesca.
Jake and I were invited, along with the usual suspects.
It was great to see Ruth, Christ, it had been so long. She hadn't changed though, norry, and he still looked at my hair with a certain disdain, as if it was a wild bush that needed pruning or setting fire to.
Ruth hugged me so tight I could hardly breathe.
I'm so proud of you Zeta, I really am. How you've turned your life around.”
Ben seems happy!” I said.
Yes, lovely girl, she's pregnant, you know.”
No, I didn't.”
Well, I'm probably not supposed to tell anyone, but I'm so excited. It will be my first, my first grandchild.”
I'll keep it to myself for now.”
There's a girl.”
Oliver was at the wedding, he was still single, which he said suited him.
Tammy, he told me, had settled down with the estate agent who had finally sold her parents' house.
I heard Angie's laughter in my head again, or rather, a snort of derision.

Nearly three years after the attack, Almado agreed to see me. It was just before his seventeenth birthday.
He had been moved to a mental health unit at a hospital in Kent.
We sat together in a room where what went on between us could be observed from behind a two-way mirror. They could see us, we couldn't see them.
Almado looked like a man in his late thirties. His hair was already thinning quite dramatically, he was well over six feet tall and had gained a lot of weight.
Thank you for seeing me Almado.”
He just looked down at the table.
How are you doing?”
I'm sorry.”
For what.”
I don't know, everything that's happened, I guess.”
Why are you sorry, it was me that stabbed you?”
I know, but I guess you felt that I was responsible, that because of me, everything had been messed up, that I was responsible for destroying your family. Your mum and brother, do you see them?”
Sure, they visit all the time. Mums re-married, Ted, he seems alright, Luca's fourteen now.”
Wow, I guess he must be.”
Have you got a scar, from where I stabbed you?”
Can I see it?”
Did it hurt?”
I can't remember Almado, it's all a bit of a blur, it all happened so fast.”
I know, that's what it was like with dad, when he fell off the cliff. When I think about it, it's all fuzzy in my head, and it hurts right there.”
Almado put his hand on his forehead.
It's hard, when bad things happen, it takes time, but time helps. Like my scar, time has healed it, and that's what can happened inside your head to. You can't see it, where you have been scarred, so it's harder to treat, but it's there and with care it can heal.”
Almado looked away from me, he looked at the wall instead, his mind drifting.
So, what's it like for you, in this place?”
It's OK, they're nice to me. No one hits anyone in here, and they're giving me my own place soon, a flat in the hospital grounds. I still get to come here for all my meals though, and the things I like doing.”
Which is?”
Painting. I like painting.”
That's good.”
I hear your songs playing sometimes, on the radio, I don't like them.”
Fair enough.”
I like clubbing stuff, techno.”
Then there was an awkward silence. It was hard to know where to take the conversation. Although Almado looked like a grown man he seemed far younger than his seventeen years. There was a childlike innocence about him.
I want a cigarette, but we're not allowed to smoke indoors.”
Yeah, I fancy a cigarette. Is there somewhere where we are allowed to go?”
There's a garden.”
I looked over at the two-way mirror and then a woman walked into the room.
We were wondering if we could go and have a cigarette in the garden,” I said.
The woman didn't look too sure about the idea, but I convinced her that it would be alright.
There was a young girl out there, maybe sixteen, very thin, emaciated, and she looked lost, distant. She sat there just kicking the ground.
When we wandered out she looked up.
Hi, Ali.” She said to Almado.
That's Sissy,” he said, “She's my girlfriend. She likes techno as well.”
Then she looked back down again and I realised she had earphones plugged in. She was listening to music. I was fairly sure Sissy was unaware of the fact that Almado had decided she was his girlfriend.
So what do you like to paint?” I asked.
Trees, I like to paint trees.”
What kind of paints do you use.”?
Oils, but they cost lots of money.”
How do you get them?”
Mum brings them. I miss my mum, I miss Luca. I want to go home.”
Almado looked as if he was going to cry. I asked one of the staff to come over.
That's probably enough chat for one day,” she said.
It's been good to see you, Almado,” I said, ”but it's time for me to go.”
Will you come back again?”
Do you want me to?”
I think so.”
As I walked towards the door Almado asked if he could show me his paintings, and I was escorted into a room that smelt of damp clay and paint.
They were pretty abstract, the pictures, and I know nothing about art, so I just told him that I thought they were great. That he had a real talent. Maybe he did, who was I to know.
Then he gave me a small picture.
You will like this one, it's a tree with blossoms.”
That's an incredible gift Almado, thank you.”
I don't want to stab you any more.”
Well, that's a relief.”
I laughed. Almado looked uncertain, and then he smiled.
You've got your whole life ahead of you, all sorts of wonderful things could happen, don't forget that Almado.”
On the way out I asked one of the staff how he was doing.
Good, he's making good progress. We're all very fond of Ali here. We were worried about your visit, how it might affect him, but he seemed fine, fairly chilled about it.”
Yeah, I think it went OK. He's asked if I will come again, what do you think?”
If that's what he wants, if he seems alright for the next couple of days, then I don't see why not. He might have a delayed reaction to your visit, get angry or upset later on.”
As it turned out, he didn't get angry, though he had cried after I left.
Six months later I made a second visit, bringing him some oil paints.
He seemed improved, more grown up, aware.
Sissy didn't seem to be around, I didn't ask Almado about her, but I asked one of the staff as I was leaving.
She died, in hospital, organ failure.”
Then I rang one day and was told Almado had been well enough to move back home and live with Bella,Ted, and Luca.
That was the last I heard or saw of Almado, but I think about him now and then, wonder how he's doing, hope that life got a little easier for him.
I could have asked for his address, sent him cards now and then, but I decided that it was best not to. He needed to resign me to the past as well, so that he could have a clear view of his future.

Chapter 39

The last wedding I went to was Dee's brother's.
A civil partnership between him and a guy called Barry.
Dee and Dan's marriage was as solid as ever, and I knew it always would be, but Ben's was over.
Franchesca had gone off with a fashion photographer and taken the little girl she had with Ben to live with her and the new guy in America.
Ben said Ruth had been heart broken, not by the marriage break up, but because she wasn't going to see her grandchild.
What about you, Ben, how do you feel about it?”
Gutted, I hate the bitch. She's taken my baby from me and now some other bastard is going to be bringing her up.”
How old is she?”
Nearly two, she isn't even going to remember me.”
You can fly over to see her.”
It was a stupid thing to say I know, but I didn't expect Ben to be quite so angry.
Yeah Zeta! No problem there. I can just get on a flight to New York every weekend. Knock on their door, see if I can take her to Central Park for a few hours and then fly back again. It wouldn't be massively expensive either would it! Are you earning so much money now Zeta that you've completely lost touch with reality?
I'm sorry Ben, I just don't know what to say, it's hard for you, I understand that.”
Yes, it is bloody hard, it's a cruel thing to do. Franchesca said she had to go because she needed to pursue her acting career. Ha, she couldn't even manage a convincing lie when I accused her of having an affair. Talking of which, where's Jake?”
He's in Cornwall. He's not much of a one for weddings, so I told him he didn't need to come if he really didn't want to.
Looking into Ben's face I realised how much it had changed over the years. Speaking now, with such bitterness, he looked surly, spiteful, and any of the boyish charm he once had was lost.
Oh for God sake, Ben, move on, you and me, it was a long time ago.”
I'd hoped Jake would come with me, but he said that, apart from Dee and Dan, he wasn't that keen on anyone else who might turn up. He meant Ben, of course, and I don't think he had much time for Rupert or John either. So I didn't want to force him.
When he decided not to, I toyed with the idea of making up some excuse to get out of going to the wedding as well, say I had a cold or something. In the end, I just couldn't lie, especially not to Dee, and I tried to be rational, nothing bad was going to happen. Jake would be here when I got back and it was always good to see Dee.
Do you still have a house in Bristol, or are you staying with Dee and Dan?” Ben asked.
Yeah, we've kept the house up here. It's convenient. Cornwall's great, but it's a hassle to travel anywhere.”
Yes, it's always best to have two houses if one can.”
Oh for fuck's sake, Ben, spit that bitter pill out.”
I went to move away, find Dee and Dan. Ben grabbed my arm.
Sorry Zeta, you're right, please, I don't want to lose your friendship along with everything else.”
He smiled weakly.
I've got to sing, we'll catch up later.”
Ben looked as if he was about to say something and then thought better of it.
After the DJ took over I spent the rest of the reception dancing. It was a good party.
When it all wound down and came to an end Dee, Dan and Ben came back to my place.
We sat around on the floor, chatting about everything, and nothing, like we always used to.
Ben seemed to be enjoying himself now.
Dee and Dan didn't leave until after three in the morning.
We were all really drunk by that time. Dan asked Ben if he wanted a lift home in the taxi they'd ordered.
He said he fancied just one more drink and then he'd make his own way home, it wasn't far.
So they swayed out of the door, supporting each other, waving goodbye, and Dee told me to come around to their house for breakfast.
It's the worst, most pathetic excuse, the fact that we were both drunk.
After Dee and Dan left, Ben came over and sat on the floor next to me.
Do you remember Zeta, do you remember that night, the one at Dee's party all those years ago, the next day, how we got together.”
Sure, of course, I do.”
Rupert was really sick and we had that big breakfast. You know, it's always been you Zeta, the one, my soul mate. Bernadette, Franchesca, I didn't really love them.”
Don't Ben, please.”
No, no, listen, I'm just saying. I love you, always have, always will. We were good together. You've no idea Zeta, how painful it is to be so in love with someone who doesn't feel the same way, no idea, it's awful.”
Look, Ben, we're both drunk, let's change the subject.”
I can't, I only want to talk about you, us, what happened.”
Time to go home Ben.”
No, just one more drink, and then I promise, I'll be on my way.”
Good, I love Jake, nothing will happen between us again Ben, you need to accept that.”
He took you from me Zeta, until he came along we were great, we were really happy. I hate the bastard.”
Shortly after that, Ben passed out on the floor. I rolled him over onto his side and went to bed.
An hour or so later he was in my room, waking me up.
Zeta, Zeta, it's really uncomfortable on the floor, and cold, can I just get in with you?”
No Ben, of course you bloody can't, have the sofa.”
But it's cold down there. I promise I'll behave myself”
I'll get you a duvet.”
There was one in the airing cupboard on the landing. I grabbed a dressing gown and wandered along to get it.
Ben followed.
We didn't have a spare room, what could have been one, was filled with music equipment.
So I wandered downstairs with the duvet and a cover to put over it.
Between the two of us, and because we were both still quite drunk, it was a struggle to get the cover on. I lost my balance and fell on the floor.
Then Ben was on top of me.
God, I love you Zeta.”
Get off Ben, I don't want this.”
He started kissing me, his hand moved inside my dressing-gown.
Stop it, Ben, I don't want this!”
You do, we both do.”
Then I guess that was it, it happened. My memory is hazy, but the following morning I woke up on the floor with the duvet over me and Ben by my side.
What had happened?
Ben woke up.
Zeta love.”
What the hell Ben, what the hell happened there!”
We made love Zeta.”
No, I love Jake, we didn't!”
We did, us, together, like old times.”
There are no old times, just go Ben, leave, get out, and don't you ever dare tell Jake.”
Why not.”
Because I would hate you for eternity, even more than I do right now.”
People say hate is akin to love. You didn't hate me last night, you were well up for it.”
That's a lie! Get out of this house, now!”
Ben picked up his coat and walked to the door. Then he turned.
Well, I don't regret it.”
I threw the nearest thing to hand, an empty bottle of wine, right at him, but it smashed against the door as it closed.
All I wanted to do get the next train home to Jake.
After running a hot bath, I climbed in and sat there, trying to make sense of everything, to remember, but I couldn't. There were some bruises, but I guess that they must be there from falling over, maybe I hit something on the way down. I felt sore and I felt sick.
The living-room was a mess. I picked up the duvet, took it outside, and threw it in the bin. Then I cleared the bottles and the broken glass by the door, emptied the ashtray and hoovered the carpet with the carpet cleaner.
When all evidence of the night before had been erased, I grabbed my bag and made for the station.
I got a first class ticket so that I would be in a fairly empty carriage. The last thing I wanted was to be forced to talk to someone, I felt numb.
My phone rang, it was Dee.
Where are you Zeta, are you coming around, we're doing a big fry up.”?
Sorry Dee, no sorry I can't.”
Oh, why?”
I'm on the train home.”
You sound funny, has something happened? Ben, he did go home didn't he?”
No, yes, it's fine. I'm just really hung over that's all, sorry Dee, got to go, I think I'm going to be sick.”
The toiled was occupied so I leant out of the open window. Luckily, there was no one there to see me.

Chapter 40

When I walked into the house I could hear Jake playing his saxophone down in the basement studio.
I wandered down, the door was open and there he was, beautiful Jake, playing such a sad and soulful number. God, I loved him, what the hell had I done. Why hadn't I just chucked Ben out? The old feeling of absolute self-loathing engulfed me.
Jake saw me and came over.
Christ Zeta, I've missed you. Hey, what's the matter, you look upset, white as a sheet, what's happened?” He said, leaning in to kiss me.
Nothing, I missed you too. I missed you dreadfully.” Then I started crying.
Hey, was the wedding really that bad,” he was joking, trying to make light of it.
Yes, it was awful. You weren't there Jake.”
Jake laughed and held me tight until I stopped.
I've been working Zeta, coming up with ideas, a new sound. No more wasting time at the bloody pub, we need some lyrics, then a band, I'll speak to Leroy, see if he knows of any good guys to work with.”
Jake sounded full of enthusiasm, he was back on form.
I was in a pit of despair.

Over the next couple of months, I tried to put what had happened with Ben to the back of my mind, but it was eating away at me, and something else was happening. I began to feel sick most mornings, then it got worse and I would feel nauseous most of the time.
I assumed that it was because of the gnawing core of guilt and self-hatred that coloured every hour of the day, a return of my old eating disorder, food lost its attraction and everything tasted funny.
Then Jake was worried about my weight, you're thinner than ever Zeta, and you're not eating properly.
He insisted I went to the doctor.
I hadn't seen my old doctor in ages and I knew I needed to if I didn't want to end up crazy and ill again.
I told her about the sickness and she did a test.
Cancer, was that it, I thought.
Pregnant, nearly three months.
It's amazing that I hadn't figured it out earlier.
For a brief moment I felt a surge of joy, followed by a wave of fear and then a truly awful thought, was it definitely Jakes?
When I told Jake he was really pleased and his parents were over the moon.
Jake was full of talk about the nursery and all the things we would need, but I couldn't, the not knowing, it just spoilt it all. Jake sensed something was wrong, that I was in a strange mood. I told him that it was just hormones, pregnancy, and all quite normal.
He made sure I ate properly and tolerated the mood swings as I struggled to stop smoking.
Physically, being pregnant was not something I enjoyed, as I lost control over my body and my stomach swelled, I felt more and more vulnerable. Mentally, I wanted the baby, and if I had been in no doubt as to whose it was, I would have been happy, excited for the future, becoming a mum.
One morning as I was lying in bed, Jake came up with a breakfast tray.
Tea, poached eggs and toast,” he said.
I wriggled myself upright and he placed the tray on my legs.
There was a small box, a jewellery box, I knew what it was straight away.
Oh, Jake.”
Open it!”
He slid the engagement ring on my finger and it fitted beautifully.
Diamonds and sapphires, do you like it? If you don't I can take it back, change it for something else.”
I love it, Jake.”
So will you marry me Zeta May? I know I haven't gone down on one knee, but I'm afraid I'd just feel a bit stupid doing that. Is this good enough for you, the ring, the proposal, will you say yes?”
Does crying mean, yes, or no?”
I couldn't speak.
I'll take that as a yes, look your toast and eggs are cold now, let me take the tray, come downstairs and I'll make you some more.”
When Jake left the room and I finally managed to stop crying, I sat there in bed thinking, and I knew what I had to do.
My life had been full of so many destructive secrets and lies and no good had come of it. The simple truth would have always been so much better. I loved Jake and he was too important to me, he deserved to know what had happened.
As I walked into the kitchen I was shaking almost uncontrollably. Jake was at the sink.
He turned.
Zeta, what's happened!”
That's what I need to talk to you about Jake. I want this,” I said, handing him back the box with the ring in it,” but I don't think you will want me to, not when you know.”
Know what!”
I told Jake everything that I could remember from the night with Ben.
He actually reeled from the shock, he staggered back as if I'd just hit him hard in the face.
Then he went down into the basement, shut the door, and didn't come out for the next twelve hours.
I wandered aimlessly around the house, not knowing what to do with myself.
In the morning, when I was in the kitchen making some coffee, I heard him walking around upstairs.
Then he came back down carrying a suitcase. I was standing at the bottom of the stairs.
There was no anger in his face, he just looked defeated.
Don't Jake, please!”
I'm going to need to go away for a while Zeta.”
I begged him to stay, told him how much I loved him, but he seemed lost for words.
When he reached the door, he hesitated and then turned to look at me. Those eyes, so deep, so dark, I couldn't read them. Then he left.
I sat on the sofa for hours, just willing him to walk back in and make everything alright again.
It got dark, and still I couldn't move. Eventually I fell asleep on the sofa and when I woke the next morning the sun was streaming in through the window, for a second, one sweet glorious second I forgot what had happened, and then the recollection that Jake had gone,
left me momentarily paralysed, how could I live without him, it didn't seem possible.
The loneliness and despair I felt over the next month were crippling. I could hardly eat, sleep, or leave the house.
Everything I needed I ordered in, just as Angie had.
It was impossible to concentrate on anything so I just found myself obsessively, mindlessly, cleaning every corner of the house.
I'd put on the television to watch a film, then it would be over and I wouldn't remember any of it.
Yet, I somehow kept myself together.
It wasn't all about me now, there was a baby, and I wanted it, whatever, I did want the baby.
So I wandered around the house in a dreamlike state thinking of Jake, always thinking of Jake.
He rang now and then, just to ask how I was, but he'd sound flat, distant, uncaring. It was awful, to believe that I had lost his love, that I could no longer touch him either physically or emotionally.
I avoided seeing anyone. If I couldn't be with Jake then I wanted to be left alone, and no one bothered me. Everyone was busy getting on with their own lives.
Any invites to shows or public appearances of any kind, I turned down.
I didn't even ring Dee to tell her what had happened, I was too ashamed, and I knew she was busy with her work and helping Dan set up a new restaurant.
It never occurred to me to talk to Tammy. The article in the paper had been the end of our friendship. She couldn't be trusted. Apart from that, she was married now. Everything had changed, and for me, soured.
Even the loneliness I had felt after Angie died didn't seem so complete. Jake was there, but he wasn't. This was a similar, but different kind of grief.

Chapter 41

One Sunday morning, I went downstairs and picked the papers up off the mat. I only ever bothered having them delivered at the weekend, and I liked to sit at the kitchen table reading them over coffee like Angie used to.
On a page in one of the magazines that were devoted to the parties of the rich and famous, was a photograph of Jake.
I could hardly believe it, he had his arm around a beautiful actress, they were standing in the corner of a club, dressed up for the party, holding drinks. I couldn't read the expression on his face, although I spent the entire day trying to do just that. Did he look happy, did he look in love? She did, she had a big dumb smile on her face and was looking adoringly up at him. Christ, I felt as if I might faint, my heart was pounding and my chest hurt. For days afterwards I became fixated with the picture, tormenting myself by looking at it over and over again. I couldn't eat and the baby seemed restless inside me, kicking hard.
Jake hadn't taken the ring when he left for Bristol, it had been left on the bedside table and I'd put it back on my finger.
Since then, my finger had become puffy so it was hard to prise it off, but with some soap and water, I managed. Reluctantly, I put it in its box and sent it to Jake, to our house in Bristol where he was staying.
Whether I did this as a melodramatic gesture, or to punish myself, I don't know.
No cards or words had accompanied it, I couldn't think what to write.
Then Dee rang, she'd seen it, the photograph.
Hey Zeta, just thought I'd give you a ring, see how everything is.”
Oh, fine, you know.”
And Jake, what are the two of you up to these days?”
Dee didn't quite sound like Dee, and I guessed she must have seen the photo.
You've seen it, then?”
Oh come on Dee, I know you far too well, Christ, 'what are you two up to these days', you don't speak like that.”
Well, OK then, what's going on? I was pulling apart a magazine to cover the floor while I helped Dan paint, and I saw a picture of Jake on one of the pages.
Yeah, I know, it's awful, we're separated right now.”
Why, what's going on, you're crazy about each other?”
So I told Dee everything. All about the stupid mistake with Ben, the fact that I was pregnant, and that I wasn't sure whether it was Ben's, or Jake's.
Oh Zeta! You poor thing. What a bloody mess. Look, I'm coming down.”
No, it's alright, you're busy with the restaurant, I'll be fine.”
Oh, shut up. I'll be there tomorrow.”
I saw Dee heading towards the house just as I was being wheeled into an ambulance, then she saw me.
Bloody hell Zeta, you could have waited at least a couple of hours, given me a chance to unpack.”
I told the paramedics that Dee was my birthing partner and they let her travel in the back with me.
The pain was pretty intense, but I was glad to have Dee there holding my hand and distracting me with her endless chatter and barrage of questions.
Christ, Zeta, why did you keep this from me. Pregnant! You and Jake split up! I'm your best friend. This thing is huge, you're huge! Bloody hell. It looks painful, is it Zeta, is it really painful? Do you need painkillers? How far is this bloody hospital anyway!”?
Ten hours later and there I was, sitting up in bed holding my baby.
A tiny little girl, tightly swaddled in a blanket, calm, asleep, an ethereal beauty. I just couldn't stop looking at her. How could she be mine! It was magical, extraordinary. Life was extraordinary, wonderful.
She'd come a couple of weeks early, but at six pounds, she was healthy enough.
Dee sat in the chair next to me, she'd been there through it all.
Oh Dee, you must be so tired! I'll give you the key, get a taxi back to the house and I'll sort it out later.”
No way, I'm fine sitting right here. She's just lovely Zeta.”
Oh God Dee, what happened, oh, it was awful, I so wish.”
I know Zeta, but you mustn't blame yourself, honestly.”
Then Jake walked in.
He stood there, this man, this incredible, lovely man, with his sweet, sensitive kind face, looking at me and the baby, with love, and to see that, to see that I hadn't lost him, was a moment of pure joy.
Tears streamed down my face and he picked up the baby and held her close to his chest.
She's stunning, amazing, look at her, and he leant in to kiss her forehead and then mine.”
Dee had rung him as soon as we had reached the hospital. Then she had waited until he turned up.
So, she came early,” he said, “just couldn't wait.”
Or they got the date wrong, I don't know.”
If her birth had been full term, then there was no way it could have been Ben's, and I made a silent prayer, please don't let it be Ben's.
I'm sorry I didn't bring you any flowers, or a gift. I was in too much of a hurry to get here. I'll probably get a speeding ticket, but who cares, I'm back home.”
I burst out crying again.
I thought you'd be happy,” Jake said, teasing me the way he always used to.
Me and the baby only needed to stay in the one night, though if the nurses hadn't been so insistent, I think I'd have bundled her up right there and then and left with Dee and Jake.
Jake drove Dee back to the house, then the next morning he took her to the station before driving to the hospital to pick us up.
As I sat there on the bed waiting, someone new was wheeled into the ward. It was Tammy.
She looked pale and in a state of shock.
Christ, that was awful!”
Boy or girl?”
Boy, nine and a half pounds! Yours”
Girl, a tiny thing, just six.”
I wandered over to her bed and looked at her baby.
Beautiful, is he your first?”
Mine too. This is amazing, how we've both ended up here, at the same time, in the same hospital.”
I didn't know you had moved back down, are you living here now?”
I think so, it's a good place to bring up a child. I heard you got married?”
Yes, Derek, You?”
I wanted to gush about Jake, tell her I was engaged to the most wonderful man, how in love we were, but I couldn't. I was still worried about the future, anxious that he might leave again. That what had happened could still pull a dark cloud down over everything.
Then Jake made an entrance. He came over, smiling.
So are my two beautiful girls ready to go then?”
I picked up my bag and looked at Tammy.”
See you around I guess, mother and toddler, all that kind of thing.”
Sure, we're alright aren't we Zeta?”
Of course, you take care now.”

Dee had been wonderful. To have her with me while I was in labour had been so reassuring, she just sat next to me and held my hand. If she'd asked me whether she should call Jake and tell him, I would have said no, just because I can be that idiotic, saying no, when I meant yes. Just to hurt myself, and because I didn't deserve him.
Dee said she'd get back to Bristol, give us both some time to talk and then come down again in a week's time if that's what I wanted.
I did, I wanted a woman around who I could talk to. Dee hadn't had children yet, but she was smart and practical. She always knew what to do.

Chapter 42

Jake told me he didn't give a damn whether the baby was his or not. He loved her, she was incredible, and she was mine, she was part of me and that was all that mattered.
I knew he meant it, when he said it, but I know that it's just not that simple, you can't just erase knowledge of something from your mind.
Jake would be able to be a father to the baby, whether she was his or Ben's, but it seemed to me, that in a way, history was, to some extent, repeating itself.
The chance of her being Ben's was incredibly slim, but if I found out it was, how might that affect us? I hated Ben, the very thought of him, and that awful night in Bristol, but I needed to know, to have certainty.
So, a week later, Jake, me, and the baby were swabbed for our DNA and the next few days of waiting were excruciating.
We hadn't come up with a name yet and somehow everything seemed to be on hold until we had the results.
Whoever the father was, I couldn't love this baby more, but of course, I wanted it to be Jake's, I desperately hoped it would be Jake's little girl. For his sake, and for mine, I didn't want Ben to have a part in our lives, in our future, to always be somewhere there in the background.
If the baby was his, would I eventually have to tell her that Jake wasn't her biological father, would that be the right thing to do? Thinking of Aaron and Angie, I knew it would be a hard decision.
All these thoughts and anxieties spun around in my head as I lay awake at night, unable to stop the eternal chatter of questions without answers, and for that reason, having no sleep, needing to feed the baby every few hours, wasn't so hard.
She had a Moses basket next to our bed.
Jake seemed to sleep well, but every now and then his hand would wander over to touch me, check that I was there, then he'd drift back to his dreams.
When the doctor called to make an appointment for us to see her, we almost didn't go, did we even want to know, maybe it was best not to.
We couldn't talk as we walked back to the house.
I pushed the pram and we both just stared at the little being sleeping there, warm and safe.
Once inside the house I gathered her up and placed her in the Moses basket I had brought down from the bedroom and put next to the sofa.
Will we stay together Jake, or do you want to leave. I'll understand if you do. You can still see the baby whenever you like.”
Why would you say a stupid thing like that, what's wrong with you Zeta! You bloody baffle me, you really do. I'm not going anywhere, ever. Even if she had been Ben's, I told you, I'd never be able to leave you again, but she isn't, she's mine, ours, so what the hell are you talking about.”
What about the actress in the paper... Do you love her.”?
What bloody actress?”
The one you went to the party with, there was a photo of you with her in the Sunday paper.”
Christ, I had no idea.”
Of course I bloody don't, it meant nothing.”
You did sleep with her then, you made love?”
Once, and I'd rather forget about it, in the same way as you would rather forget about what happened with that bastard Ben, and it was hardly making love. It was just shallow and meaningless, utterly unmemorable.”
The thought of him with someone else, it cut deeper than the knife Almado had thrust into my neck. This is how it must have felt for Jake when I told him about Ben.
Oh Jake, I'm so sorry for messing everything up.”
No, it's over, we can let go now, move on, and I should never have walked out on you. It was stupid and unkind, I couldn't think straight, the thought ...”
Yes, let's leave that all behind us, let's never talk about it again.”
That scar, I knew would heal, for both of us, it was a mere scratch, it would hardly leave a mark, we had each other, our baby, everything, the rest was insignificant.
So maybe it's time we thought of a name.”
Do you have any in mind Jake, I haven't come up with anything, do you want to call her after your mum?”
What? Brenda! I don't think so! What about your mum, maybe that would be nice, or Angie.”
No, she's all new, she should have her own name.?”
Pearl is pretty, I've always liked that, and she's like a beautiful little pearl.”
Oh, I love it!”
Jake had stopped off at the corner shop on the way home and come out with a bottle of Champagne.
Time to open it I think,” he said,”but first, here, you must put this back on and promise me that you will never take it off again.”
He handed me the ring.
It was horrible when I opened the envelope Zeta, and there it was, no note, no anything. I didn't know what to think.”
I promise,” I said,”trying to force it back on.”
Christ, you're not Cinderella after all, it doesn't bloody fit! Look at your chubby little fingers.”
I managed to wiggle it back down in place and said, “see, I am, but I don't think I'll ever be able to get it off again, and I won't ever want to.”

Jake's formed a new band, and now and again, I sing.
We sold the house in Bristol, but if we're ever gigging up there we stay with Dee and Dan.
I'm part of a big family now, Jake's family. So Pearl has grandparents and uncles and a cousin, born just six months before she was.
I do so wish she could have known her aunt Angie though.
As Pearl grows up I think of all the things that Angie did for me, the sacrifices she made. Angie would have loved Pearl and the way things turned out, but she will never know and I still grieve for her.
The heady days of Zeta May and The Soulpunks are over.
Our time came and went, but me Jake and the new band can still pull in a crowd.
Back home, Tammy and I often see each other, at mother and toddlers, then we wheel the prams down to the coffee shop for a gossip. She seems really happy with Derek and now there's another one on the way.
Ben never gets mentioned and I'm glad that I haven't seen him since that night.
Jake has though, just the once.
He came back from The Seafarers, he'd been down there playing with his new band, there was some blood on his shirt.
Oh Jake, what happened?”
It's OK, it's not my blood, my fist made a dent in a man called Ben's face and I think the blood got there when I knocked his two front teeth out.”
Oh, Jake, you didn't did you!”
It was a pleasure, I've been looking forward to the opportunity for some time,” he said, grinning, “and I don't think he'll be running off to the police and making any kind of complaint.”
Ruth's retired now, sometimes I would see her in town, but because of Ben, I'd find myself avoiding her.
Then, one day as I was wheeling Pearl through the park, she walked up to me.
After making a fuss of Pearl, she said.
I've got a lovely granddaughter,” and her eyes started to water, ”but I don't get to see her, the mother took her to America, and now Ben's gone out there to live. It's such a shame, I was so looking forward to being a grandmother, watching her grow up, spoil her. A few pictures aren't the same.”
Will your daughter Jinny have any, do you think?”
No, sadly for her, that's not going to happen.”
A part of me felt that I should invite Ruth around to the house, have a chat, watch Pearl play, I knew she would have liked that, but thinking about Ben, I couldn't. Just hearing his name made me feel uncomfortable, and it was glad that he was now in another country altogether.
So I hugged Ruth, said, “thank you Ruth, for all you did for me, I shall never forget.” and then walked away.
As I wandered along the seafront I thought about the book offers.
Maybe when Pearl's a little older, and I have more time, I'll get down to writing that autobiography.

The End