Click to Reveal Content Warnings
- Discussions of death and dying
- References to and discussion of cancer (Multiple Myeloma)
- References to previous abusive romantic relationship
- References to drug use
- References to alcohol and drug use
Fig. 41. Marnie
There was a letter on the doormat addressed to Marnie. Marnie never got any real post, despite her constantly bloated email inbox and packed direct messages on every form of social media she had. It was a good thing; nobody could show up on her doorstep if they didn’t know her address, and real post was slow and annoying anyway. A few people had been bleating on the blog about her getting a PO box or something so they could send her things, but it sounded way too proper and expensive for her to really consider it.
The letter a large purple sticker on the front.
DO NOT BEND.
Marnie weighed the letter in her hands. It wasn’t heavy. She opened it carefully, peeling the gum beneath the flap, watching it stretch in little tendrils. There was a typed letter with an official header, but as Marnie unfolded it to read, something fell to the carpet between her feet.
It was stiff card, a black strip running lengthways down the centre that caught the light. One end was perforated. Marnie picked it up, turned it over, and yelped.
INFINITE EYES – BACK FROM THE DEAD TOUR
ft. VISIONS OF THE PHOENIX
JULY 27th SPECIAL SHOW
YORK MUSEUM GARDENS
July 27th was the anniversary of Tyler’s death. It was only a few weeks away. Marnie’s heart was pounding. She held the ticket close to her chest. She wanted to run down the stairs and tell her dad, but he wouldn’t have understood. Her mind flitted to Cherry, but they hadn’t spoken in almost two months.
Marnie stared at the ticket, laying it flat on her desk again.
She hadn’t believed Lila. The more time that passed since she met her, the more she became convinced it hadn’t happened at all. The day in York felt like a weird daydream she might have had on the bus to school or when she was dawdling, trying to think of what to write for the blog or for PopJam. They hadn’t swapped numbers or emails. Marnie hadn’t even thought to ask for a picture. It had all been too breathless for that, but she wished she had thought to, just to have proof that it was real.
She had half-written an email to Cherry about it, even though it had been months now since they’d really spoken. Cherry was going to the London Infinite Eyes gig; Marnie had seen the confirmation email on Cherry’s Instagram. She hadn’t even offered to buy Marnie a ticket, too. It stung. But Cherry’s life didn’t really seem any different than how it had been last year when they were planning Tyler’s thirtieth birthday. Her social media was all glamour shots and videos of her dancing to Infinite Eyes songs. Marnie had been the last one of them to reach out, yeah, but she hadn’t really tried to reach her again.
Marnie had just buried herself in school and articles and posts for the blog. There were new Infinite Eyes songs to review, new pictures of Tyler, new pages from his notebook. Layers of secrets, each one a little clue, getting her closer and closer. She’d thought about going back to York again, back to Colloquium. Maybe she’d see Lila again. She’d got so far as to walk to the train station, but she didn’t find a ticket.
She didn’t want looking for Lila to become what looking for Tyler was like. But it wasn’t, it couldn’t ever be, because she’d met her for real. It had happened. And she’d got Marnie a ticket. Not just a ticket, either.
SPECIAL GUEST PASS £00.00.
Marnie’s fingers were trembling as she picked up the letter again. It was from Heatcay Records, Infinite Eyes’ label. A special invitation upon request of Infinite Eyes and their partners. Marnie opened her laptop, scrolled through her emails. There was one from PopJam that she’d missed because it hadn’t been flagged as urgent, she’d had so much to do these past few weeks, she hadn’t even noticed. The label had been in touch, PopJam were going to pay for her travel so she could interview the band in person. They wanted her to record it live to stream on their site.
A large lump formed in her throat. Her eyes were stinging. A funny sound escaped her, and she clapped her hands over her mouth in surprise. She didn’t know why she was crying, but it was tumbling through her uncontrollably, her shoulders were shaking with the force of it. She felt like she’d been holding all of those feelings in without realising or knowing what they were and now they were coming out, it was all or nothing. She didn’t even hear her mother come home, or notice she’d come into the room under the soft sleeves of her cardigan were wrapped around Marnie’s shoulders.
‘N-nothing,’ said Marnie, choking on her words a little.
‘Marnie, you’re crying your eyes out,’ said her mother.
‘Look!’ said Marnie, pointing at the letter and the ticket. She watched her mother examine both, sniffing occasionally and trying to steady her breathing.
‘Oh, Marnie…’ Her mother’s hands were shaking.
Marnie snatched the ticket back. ‘I’m going, you can’t tell me not to.’
‘I wouldn’t,’ said her mother, her eyes wide and glassy. ‘Marnie, I’m so sorry, I. I don’t know what to say.’
Marnie almost crushed the ticket in her hands. She turned away. ‘Don’t say anything, then.’
For a moment, it was quiet. ‘Mrs Gordon at church was talking about you, the other day. She’s seen your writing. She thought it was very good.’
Marnie squeezed her eyes shut.
‘I’ve been selfish, haven’t I? Very selfish.’ Marnie’s mother’s voice was distant, thin. It was the tone she’d used in the days after Kim’s death. Marnie had wanted to shake something bigger out of her. Why wasn’t she screaming? Marnie would hear her sniffling and whimpering through her bedroom wall. She’d stick on her headphones and turn up the volume. ‘You’ve been working really hard, haven’t you?’
‘Nice of you to notice.’
Marnie’s mother closed her eyes and sighed. ‘I love you. So much more than you understand.’
Marnie shook her head but let herself be pulled close and held fast in the ring of her mother’s arms. She smelled like rose perfume and fresh laundry, like childhood stories and walks to the park.
‘I’m so proud of you.’
The words shot through Marnie like a bullet. She clutched her mother’s shirt and pressed her face hard into her shoulder. ‘I miss her so much, mum.’
Marnie’s mother laughed through her shuddery breaths. ‘Me too.’
‘I’d have taken her with me. She’d have loved to see them; I know she would have. I know it’s not all of them, because Tyler is gone, but it’s enough, right? Do you think she’d have come back from uni to go with me?’
‘Of course, she would have. She loved you more than anyone.’
Marnie pulled away. She looked down at the ticket still in her hands, now bowed to match the shape of her palm, so tightly she’d have been holding it. If she stopped looking at it for too long, it would vanish like smoke. She was going to see them. Infinite Eyes. Tyler.
Marnie heard the soft creak of her door falling closed, and when she turned, her mother had gone.
Marnie sat back in her chair, staring at the ticket. She knew he was dead. He’d always been dead. She hadn’t even known he’d existed when he was alive. The Tyler she wrote about and dreamed about, who kept her up at night and watched over her in her dreams had always been dead, and he would never change.
She was going to meet the rest of them. Joel Dawkins and Laura Plath. She was going to shake their hands and exchange little pleasantries and maybe even try to make a joke or two. She was going to ask them about their music and talk about their lives. She was going to see them right there, hear their voices in the flesh, see them play their music just a few feet from where she was standing. They were going to stop being faces on screens and sounds over headphones and they were going to become real, solid, breathing human beings. And Tyler wasn’t going to be there because he was dead.
Marnie folded the ticket up into the letter again, carefully placed it back in its envelope. She clicked away from her email and opened her blog. She scrolled through the main page, a succession of photographs of Tyler and snippets of his songs and analysis that she herself had written. There was so much of it that it felt in that moment as though it could go on forever. Marnie had studied every one of those pictures for hours, the lines of Tyler’s face were almost as familiar to her as her own reflection.
They looked different, now. Why had she never thought about the person behind the camera before? What would the picture have looked like, if it hadn’t been framed just so? There was a world beyond Tyler in those images, one Marnie would never be able to get to, no matter how hard she looked at them or how long she spent thinking about the words Tyler had put out into the world. He wasn’t even around for her to ask about it.
Kim’s posters were still on the walls, her myriad idols staring right back into Marnie as her gaze drifted from one to another. The wardrobe, though now empty, stood tall and as decorated as it had been since before Kim died, and her plushies, and the diary, were still stuffed on top of it. They crowded the gap up to the ceiling with a thousand black plastic eyes, all of them catching the summer sunlight, dazzling but unseeing, unfeeling as they peered out of their void.
Saying Tyler’s name three times in the mirror wasn’t going to bring him back any more than it was going to bring back Kim. Holding the letter was dizzying; proof, finally, that she had really done something, really made some change, gone some small way to writing some indelible wrong and made Tyler into the thing he’d wanted to be. But he wasn’t there to see it, to feel it. His voice, still playing quietly from her laptop, was the same as it ever was. Hurt and distant, he was stuck forever wanted something she’d played a part in getting for him. She loved him, and he would never, ever know.
Marnie gripped the letter tight in her hands, pulling them in opposite directions, threatening to tear that paper she had moments before lovingly caressed. She didn’t want to meet Laura and Joel. She wanted to meet Tyler. She’d done it all for him. It was because of him she was going. It was Tyler she’d been doing it for, Tyler that she loved, wanted, needed to know and understand. It wasn’t right, none of it. She wanted to tear it into shreds.
Marnie tore the envelope and the ticket fluttered, still wholly intact, to the carpet, along with something else. The piece of paper looked blank where it lay. It was torn out of a notebook, one side jagged where it had been ripped free. She stooped down and turned it over.
I hope you can make it! It was so good meeting you the other day. I meant what I said, about you being a part of getting Visions to where we are today. It’s more complicated than I thought it would be, being on stage, people watching and looking at you. I can’t honestly say it’s everything I dreamed it would be, but it’s amazing, and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you. So, thank you.
Katy and Cyrus are looking forward to meeting you, and Ash has actually followed your blog for years (big Infinite Eyes fan, lol) so he’ll probably be as star struck as you are. Laura and Joel are pretty awesome as well. And Wren might be there, but we don’t know yet.
It would be awesome to have you.
Love from Lila Beckett xxxx
Fig. 42. Tyler
Tyler was in the bathroom. It was midnight. He’d been bleeding for an hour. If he didn’t get help, he was going to die slumped on the ground next to the bath, holding a towel to his face, and naked. What goes around, comes around.
For twenty minutes, he’d been debating what the best course of action was. He could let it happen in this relatively quick, quiet way, and in the morning, Wren would stumble in, still covered in bite marks from yesterday afternoon. Tyler would be lying there, curled like a sleeping kitten in a puddle of his own blood. A fair trade-off for dying in his sleep, completely unaware of what was happening, would be to die during Wren’s sleep.
The lucidity of this potential death was appealing. Sure, the shape of the doorframe was beginning to look a little bit vague, and a sense of unfamiliarity was blooming in his chest even though this has been his bathroom for years, he could, if he wanted, sing to himself. He liked that it could be the last thing he did. He would be sparing Wren the agony of watching him go, drawn out and rasping, after days of being unable to speak or even move. Pissing, puking, crumbling in on himself.
His head hurt, though. He was cold and he could feel the muscles on the inside of his thighs trembling. The room was turning slowly, though Tyler was sitting perfectly still. Everything seemed to have run, just a little, like a watercolour hung before it was properly dry. The idea of the room was right, but the edges were wrong. He was scared. Under all the fuzz and the ringing in his ears were the vibrating wings of panic. Consciousness was going to go, he knew, and he was afraid.
Two weeks before, Tyler thought it was happening. His nose started going, like this, only Wren had been there. He scooped Tyler up like he was made of paper and slid him into the back of his car. When Tyler woke up in the hospital, Wren sitting next to the bed, asleep but still gripping his hand.
All of it, all of it pared away. The album. The band. Singing. He didn’t care if he was singing. He wanted Wren to hold him. He wanted Wren to keep him safe and warm.
Tyler flickered his eyes closed, gripped the edge of the sink and heaved himself to his feet. He emerged from the bathroom slowly, his bones made of lead, his flesh made of ashes. Wren was spread lavishly across the bed, his chest bare and exposed by the thrown-back silk sheets. The warm light from the bathroom poured over him, lighting up his skin a soft, pale gold. His hair was tousled, his lips slightly parted, a little blush on his cheeks that matched the red mark on his throat that Tyler had bitten there himself. Wren was glorious, resplendent, and Tyler smiled. The bite mark would probably out last him, but he would remember the way Wren looked forever. Even if forever was only fifteen minutes.
Tyler slumped onto the bed, shaking so much he could feel it in the mattress. Wren didn’t stir. Tyler brushed his fingers along his cheek. ‘Wren, honey.’
Wren half-smiled, kissed the tips of Tyler’s fingers. His mouth was warm. Tyler was freezing.
‘Go back to sleep,’ said Wren.
Wren frowned and opened his eyes. When he saw the towel, the blood on Tyler’s chest, he sat up with a sharp intake of breath. ‘What’s happening?’
‘It’s alright,’ Tyler said calmly. He lowered the towel to smile. ‘I need to go to the hospital.’
‘I’ll drive you,’ Wren answered. He rubbed his eyes and immediately kicked off the sheets. He cast around the room for jeans, wound Tyler in his dressing gown, swore under his breath as he tried to pull on his socks. Last of all he pulled on a t-shirt, one of Tyler’s that had been too big for him for months. His hair was mussed with sleep and hurry. He didn’t let go of the t-shirt’s hem.
‘Is this it?’ Wren’s voice was small and soft, but he didn’t sound afraid.
Tyler reached out, but Wren’s hand was too far for him to grab. Wren stepped closer, half crouched like he was proposing or maybe pledging allegiance. Tyler wound his half-numb fingers through his hair. ‘I don’t know.’
Wren squeezed his eyes shut and nodded. ‘Okay.’ He strode over to Tyler and gestured, offering to pick him up. Tyler let himself be carried, resting his bloody face against Wren’s warm shoulder, separated from his glorious skin by less than a millimetre of cotton. He couldn’t believe, all of a sudden, that he’d considered bleeding out on the bathroom floor. Just this little moment of contact, the rhythm marked out by the steady throb of Wren’s heart, was worth the world.
Tyler didn’t notice the car ride, or the trip from the door of the car to and into the emergency room. He flickered back when he heard Wren say his full name.
‘And you’re his brother?’ the doctor asked Wren.
‘Boyfriend,’ Wren corrected smoothly, squeezing Tyler’s hand. ‘I’m still here,’ he promised. ‘I won’t let you fall.’
‘I’d fall all the way to hell for you,’ Tyler barely managed to say, his voice only just audible.
Tyler was drifting. It was quiet in the place he ended up. Maybe he could hear the sea. Wren was close by, Tyler knew, but he wasn’t sure how exactly he knew that. He couldn’t see him or hear him, or even feel him touching his skin. But there was warmth there, and it was Wren. He didn’t question it. It seemed stupid to.
Tyler opened his eyes. His room was empty. The chair where Wren usually sat was filled only with a hoodie and book, pages crookedly splayed face down. Tyler’s guitar was against the wall at the end of the bed; Joel had brought it, like he had asked.
‘Come on, Tyler,’ he whispered to himself. He managed to sit up. He grabbed Wren’s hoodie, and a phone tumbled out of the pocket. Tyler picked it up. The background was a picture of him and Wren, smiling. Tyler tugged the hoodie over his head, burying the wires on his chest. He sat, breathing, waiting for the room to stop spinning.
‘Tyler?’ Wren was in the doorway, holding a polystyrene cup. ‘Are you cold?’
‘It smells of you,’ Tyler said.
Wren put down his cup and touched Tyler’s cheek with his warm fingers. Tyler’s eyes fluttered. ‘You’re freezing,’ Wren said. He kissed Tyler’s forehead. ‘I’ll go and get you some more blankets.’
‘No.’ Tyler grabbed Wren’s half-retracted wrist. ‘Don’t go.’
‘I won’t be long,’ Wren promised.
‘I don’t feel cold.’
Wren studied Tyler’s face. Tyler smiled in a way he hoped was reassuring. He pulled Wren’s hand back up to his cheek and leaned into it.
‘You’re beautiful,’ said Wren.
Tyler laughed, a sound like shredded paper. ‘I love you.’
‘I love you too,’ said Wren.
Tyler let Wren’s hand go. ‘My guitar,’ Tyler said. He reached for it, but it was too far away. His arm fell against the sheets. ‘Please?’
Wren hesitated before he passed the guitar over. He looked confused as Tyler closed his fingers around the neck, strummed the strings with the back of his hand. The chord rang quietly through the room. An idea crawled into Tyler’s head. ‘Wren. Your phone,’ he said, nodding at where it lay on the bed.
Wren picked it up. ‘What about it?’
‘Will you do something for me?’
‘I need you to film this.’
Wren shuffled on his feet. ‘Are you sure?’
Tyler nodded. ‘Put it on the blog.’
Wren pursed his lips and nodded. He fiddled with the phone. ‘Okay. Whenever you’re ready.’
Tyler smiled. He took a deep breath. ‘So, this is ‘Nepenthe’, properly,’ his voice sounded more familiar than it had for weeks. He counted himself in with tiny nods of his head and began to play, but his fingers went stiff on the strings. ‘No.’ He couldn’t remember it. The chords were dead in his hands, words vanished on his tongue. ‘God, Wren. I can’t remember.’
Wren set down the phone and was on the side of the bed before Tyler could blink. ‘I can’t remember it, it’s gone.’
‘It’s not gone, I remember it.’ Wren laughed softly. ‘You bled through it on stage; it’s sort of burned into my memory.’
Tyler felt as though he had been robbed. He clutched a fistful of Wren’s shirt. ‘But it’s not in mine.’
‘Hey, shush, it’s okay.’
‘It’s not, it’s the best one, and I… Laura.’
‘It doesn’t matter now. Come on, I’ll put this back.’ Wren made to take the guitar but Tyler held it as fast as he could, shaking his head.
‘I need to do one more. It was supposed to be ‘Nepenthe’. It’s meant to be the last song.’
Wren brushed his hand along the side of Tyler’s face. He was beautiful and it hurt Tyler to look at him, because what was he doing there, this creature, in the middle of this bitterness and sadness?
‘Do something else,’ said Wren. He stood up, raising the phone again.
Wren shrugged. ‘I don’t know. What’s the first song you ever wrote?’
Tyler chewed his lip and thought for a moment. His mind was thick and hard to sift through, but he caught hold of something. He didn’t know if it was the first anymore, but it was old. He hadn’t played it for years. He strummed the first chords. ‘I’m ready,’ he said. ‘This one is called ‘Where Roses Grow’.’
In the blanks between the paragraphs
And spaces in between us,
Like spaces between words.
There’s less than half left in my glass,
But life itself can be remastered.
I dream about a morning after,
Waking up with you.
We’re probably just a shout into the void.
All our paper memories are easily destroyed.
But there are places we can never know.
Beneath the ground in gardens where roses grow.
Tyler looked at Wren. ‘Okay…’ he said, and the word dripped out of him. He reached out for Wren, fingers trembling, and Wren took half a step forward, knocking into the end of the bed with a clatter. He tucked away his phone and took the guitar from Tyler’s hands right as he fell forward over his knees.
‘Wren,’ Tyler said.
‘I’ve got you,’ Wren promised. Tyler tried to sit back up but couldn’t. Wren’s hands were firm and gentle as they rested him back against the pillows.
‘The password on the blog is ‘Abelard’,’ said Tyler. ‘You’ll post it, won’t you?’
‘I promise,’ said Wren.
‘Thank you.’ Tyler felt the last of himself floating away. He couldn’t hold on to anything, but he could feel Wren’s fingers on his skin, warm little touches.
Tyler dreamed that he was flying. He could hear the sea. He dreamed about Wren, his hands on his skin. Soft voices in his ear, whispering promises that everything was going to be alright. He dreamed that it was winter, that snow was falling from the sky in thick flakes, catching in Wren’s hair as he turned beneath it. Tyler dreamed that he would climb out of the car and go to him and they would dance.
Tyler dreamed about the guitar in his hands, Joel and Laura laughing over glasses of champagne. Christmas lights were hanging. He was the warmest he’d been in his entire life. It was impossible to say how he knew, but he knew that he had done it, that he had got everything he ever wanted. He would go to Wren and would smile, and Tyler knew he was happy, too.
Tyler opened his eyes. It was dark.
‘I’m just over here,’ Wren said softly.
Tyler touched his chest. It was bare, save for a few patches of plastic. Wires ran from them, up to a screen beside the bed. The warmth of the dreams was still there, the fuzzy softness of the world, but Tyler couldn’t lift his arms. He turned his head. Wren was sitting on the edge of the bed, reading.
‘Is this a dream?’ Tyler said.
‘No, it’s real,’ said Wren. He closed his book and lay down next to Tyler on the bed. Wren pressed his lips to Tyler’s forehead. Tyler revelled in every warm blast of Wren’s breath against his skin. His thoughts were thick and heavy. It was like sifting through treacle. He could feel great gaps inside himself, voids opening up in every space. He was going to fall into them, but it didn’t seem frightening. It just was.
Tyler remembered the song, the last one. ‘Did you post it?’ he said.
‘What’s that, beautiful?’ said Wren.
Tyler drew a rattling breath. ‘The video.’
‘That was days ago.’
Tyler half-shook his head. Wren was stroking his cheek. Tyler leaned into his warm touch, eyes fluttering. ‘Did you post it?’
‘I posted it,’ said Wren.
Tyler sighed and closed his eyes. Everything was disjointed.
Wren got up and after a few moments there was music. Tyler felt the bed dip and Wren’s warm arms closed around him. ‘Beneath the ground in gardens where roses grow,’ Wren sang along quietly. They rocked gently side to side.
There were spaces inside of Tyler, deep, deep inside of him. He knew he was going to fall into them. He was so loved. He had loved so much. Things were different now. Smaller. He remembered Wren curled on his chest on a sunny afternoon. The memory stretched on forever and ever. It didn’t matter what happened next. That moment would always exist. All their moments. Every touch, every kiss, every whispered ‘I love you’. It would still be there when Tyler was gone. And Wren would go on. And the world would go on. In Wren’s arms, surrounded by the warmth and the smell of him. That was happy ever after. That was it.
And that was alright.
He needed Wren to know, somehow, that it was going to be okay. He knew he wouldn’t be able to explain. He wasn’t sure how to even begin, so he just said, ‘this is it.’
Wren stopped swaying. He leaned down so they were at eye level. ‘It’s what?’
Tyler smiled. ‘It’s enough.’
‘Enough of what?’
Tyler shook his head. ‘Just enough.’
The blog of the Band
Entry 1: Hello Void (Posted 10 Years Ago)
Hello everyone. Actually, there probably isn’t anyone reading this. Hello no one. My name is Tyler Brundle and I’m pretty sure in the next few years I’m going to be the next big thing in British Pop. I don’t have a lot to back that up, just a sort of second sense. The kind of feeling that starts in your bones and radiates outwards. Its as good a tell as any, though. I’m going to be the shit. Just wait and watch.
That’s probably not the best way to get people on board. I’m 19 years old, and a few months ago I started studying music at the University of York. It’s okay, I guess. I’m really glad that I’m surrounded by other musicians, but it isn’t exactly the dream I was hoping it to be. Half of everyone just plays the cello or the harpsichord or some shit. That’s not really what I’m about. I’m a vocalist and guitarist. Yeah. One of those. I write most of my own stuff. The people I grew up around say I started singing before I could talk. I’ve got a bunch of letters, all the people that looked after me when I was kid, and the only thing people can really agree on about me is that I loved music right from the word go.
As this is my first post here, on my very own blog, I suppose I should outline what I intend to do. A sort of manifesto, if you like. The statement of where I am, how I got here, and the place I’m going to end up.
At the moment things are a bit bleak. I live in a pretty crappy room in university halls. The kind with the sink in the corner and not enough bathrooms for everyone in the block. It’s not very glamorous, but I think I’d be more discouraged if it was. Nobody who’s anybody interesting started out in the best of circumstances. You’ve got to make it through the grind if you want to be the best you can. Anyway, it’s okay. There’s a bed and a desk, and there’s space for my guitar. Right now, that’s all I really need.
When I was in high school, I was in a few bands, but none of them were really what I was looking for. The first band were all a lot older than I was and I was basically a spare part. I showed up, played rhythm guitar and sang guest vocals for covers of songs I didn’t even really like. I’m not sure what I saw in those people, really. The allure of older kids was really strong for me. In my head, seeing them do the things I wanted to be doing was enough for me to feel like I owed them some kind of loyalty. I didn’t, though.
The second band was made of kids from my year at school. I didn’t know any of them before we started studying music together. The only thing that pulled us together is that we didn’t want to get assessed on the class’s terrible rendition of Pachelbel’s Canon. They were pretty great, really, but none of them really wanted it the way I did. We had a few chances to do something really interesting and every single one of them was too afraid to take the chance. Who wants to be in a band but doesn’t want to get on stage in front of people?
I took a bit of a break from music after that. It wasn’t deliberate, and I never stopped playing by myself. I got out of high school as fast as I could and went to college to do my A-Levels. I’d say I got in with the wrong crowd, but I didn’t really get into any crowd at all. There were a few people I knew from school there, and they were much better at making friends than I was. I sort of drifted between groups, never really making any solid connections, but I was sure that I had a reputation that got to people way before I ever did. I came out, very publicly, and to nobody’s surprise except my own nobody gave a shit about it really.
It didn’t change much, not from the outside. But I felt free. I was miserable, honestly. I wanted someone who would listen, somebody who would care, but I think those sorts of people only exist in stories. Nobody is really happy; they just pretend to be because they think that it will make people like them.
I didn’t fail my A-Levels, and I was as surprised as anyone. I don’t really know what I was thinking, before. I changed my mind from just going it alone on results day, managed to wing myself a place here at York. In one sense it was a good thing because it meant I was as far away from everything I’d ever known as I could get without being a starving artist. I’d thought about trying for somewhere in London, but honestly, I think that city would have swallowed me if I’d been there now. York is trying it’s best, and there’s hardly anyone important here.
London is where I want to be, when I can get there. I’ve got this sense that in York I’m going to find my people, my tribe. I don’t think they’re on this course. At least, they aren’t yet. I’m trying as hard as I can to do well, but it’s so much harder than I thought it would be. It’s all technical, and I’ve never been great at that kind of thing. I’m more about feelings. If I could get by with those, I’d already have a PhD, I think. Anyway. I’ll do what I can on this course for as long as I have to, until I find them.
The band is Infinite Eyes. That’s how many people will look at us. Too many to count. Too many to remember. Too many to know.
We’re going to own it. We’re going to be huge. By the time I’m thirty, I’m going to be playing Glastonbury. I know it’s crazy, but I just sort of know it’s true. I think you have to know it, if you’re ever going to have a shot. Not just believe, not just feel, but really know it. Know you’re going to be huge.
That’s as much of an introduction to myself as I can really give. I don’t know who’s going to read this yet, but somebody will. One day, lots of somebodies. I hope that I don’t disappoint. I know that I won’t. Consider this the first exhibit in the museum of my life.
I’ll see you on the flip side, fans of Infinite Eyes. I love you until the end of time.
Tyler Brundle, Rock Star. Xx
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Fig. 44. Lila
There was no backstage at the museum gardens, just a large tent filled with trellis tables and folding chairs. Stumbling into one of them, it didn’t feel like Lila had just stood in front of thousands of people. All the others shows had been in dark, cramped rooms where she couldn’t see anybody’s faces, but the walls had thrown the cheers back in her direction. Outside, the crowd was drowned out by the sound of her own voice. It was still ringing in her ears as the familiar rumble that signalled the start of Infinite Eyes’ set started up.
‘Are you coming to watch?’ asked Thea. She was holding a half-drunk glass of wine and thrust a full one into Lila’s face.
‘God. Let me have twenty seconds,’ said Lila.
‘Sorry,’ said Thea. ‘You were incredible, by the way. Totally amazing. They’re about to start. My god, I didn’t think I’d ever get to see them live. It’s total madness.’ Thea seemed to be holding back from jumping on the spot.
Tyler’s voice rang out of the speakers, and half the people in the tent turned towards the open flap that led to the side of the stage. The gap was already almost full of people. Wren Abelard stood with his arm around his violet haired friend, and a few feet from them, the tiny, dark haired figure that was Marnie DeLillo was visibly shaking. She was holding the tent flap in both of her hands, craning her neck around to look out at the stage. Lila wondered if you could see the screens with Tyler’s face on from there.
Marnie had arrived before Lila had gone on stage. She had barely said a word, instead seeming content to stare at Joel and Laura with a reverence in her eyes that made even Lila uncomfortable. Everyone was too busy, and there was too much pre-show ritual to complete for anyone to really pay Marnie very much attention. Lila and Ash had to hum through every song on their set, him mapping out the chords with his fingers as Katy tapped out the beat with her toe and Cyrus triple checked the tuning on his bass.
Lila wondered if Marnie had watched any of their set at all, or just spent the entire time staring at Joel and Laura.
‘Go on,’ Lila said to Thea. ‘You’ll miss it if you don’t go over there now. I’ll follow you in a second.’
Thea nodded and made her way to join the others at the flap. Lila snickered as Thea put a hand on Marnie’s shoulder and she jumped out of her skin.
‘What’s funny?’ asked Katy, slumping into the seat next to Lila.
‘I think Thea is trying to flirt with Marnie DeLillo.’
Katy scoffed. ‘Brilliant.’
‘Where’s Ash and Cyrus?’
Katy rolled her eyes. ‘Out the back, fucking around behind the stage like idiots. Want to go over, see what’s happening on the stage?’
‘We’ve seen it before,’ said Lila.
‘Yeah. But it’s still pretty wicked.’
Lila sighed but followed Katy over to the flap. Wren nodded in greeting and his friend stepped closer to him to make more space for them in the gap.
The Infinite Eyes show looked different in the daylight. Instead of moving as silhouettes, Joel and Laura were tiny on the unadorned stage beneath the monolithic screen from which Tyler was singing. From where she stood, Lila could see the huge scaffolds holding it up, the thick black cables taped and strapped onto the struts. Tyler cradled his guitar on the screen, colours warped at Lila’s side-on angle so he moved as a negative of himself. From beneath the heavy jumper he was wearing, tubes and wires snaked free, disappearing off the edge of the screen as though they were connected to the scaffold, too.
Side on to the speakers, Lila could hear the chanting of the crowd, and it was like almost everyone there knew every word that Tyler was singing, a good deal of them shouting in the beats between the songs over his little asides, too. The breath caught in Lila’s chest as a boy hoisted what must have been his girlfriend onto his shoulders, right near the front of the stage. The girl spread her arms wide, mascara leaving grey trails down her cheeks as she sang along.
Next to Lila, Marnie was whispering the lyrics, a steady, tuneless underpinning to every line that started to make the hairs on Lila’s neck stand on end. Lila peered up at Tyler’s image, as he ducked his head as though trying to hide the smile on his face. For a moment, it was magical. The crowd cheered and Tyler laughed as though he heard them, his gaze flickering up again, peering across the sea of their raised, quivering hands.
The screen faded to black, replaced in an instant with shaky, grainy footage of Tyler and Laura in a practice space. Tyler laughed and covered the camera with his hand as Laura frowned in frustration. The beat of the next song came in, and on the screen, Tyler stepped up to a microphone on a much smaller stage than the one his bandmates were standing on. Leather bands jostled on his wrists as he pulled the microphone right up to his lips, but he wasn’t singing the song they were playing, and after his voice trembled in over the speakers, the image shifted again to him and Wren in the corner of some party, Tyler looking smaller than before, a beanie pulled down over his ears. Still he was smiling, and as the words of a song he never had the chance to perform live himself swelled, the crowd swayed in almost perfect time, a ripple of response, of appreciation, of love.
The beginning of the last song in the set brought a hush that made Lila’s ears ring. Tyler plucked the opening notes on his guitar, and Thea grabbed hold of Lila’s sleeve. Lila looked up at her to see tears dripping off her chin. Thea laughed and ducked her head into Lila’s shoulder.
On Thea’s other side, Marnie had taken a step forwards, her hands over her mouth. This song was the same as the one she’d used to make the video that was the reason everyone was there. Her tribute to Tyler. The light was fading in the sky, blue sky stained peach and lilac, and people lifted their phones high as the shivering, trembling rhythm track Joel and Laura had added to the song finally swelled as though right from the ground beneath them.
When the song ended, the cheer was deafening. Joel slid his bass off his shoulder and propped it in front of Laura’s drum kit. He started towards the tent, but unusually, Laura didn’t budge. Lila stared at her, holding her breath like something bad was going to happen.
‘Lila,’ said Joel, when he was close enough to be heard over the still-shrieking crowd. ‘We’re going to do it; we’re going to do Nepenthe.’
Lila exchanged a look with Thea.
Joel grimaced. ‘We were just thinking, you know. It was Tyler’s favourite, he always wanted to end with it, every fucking show, it was kind of annoying. We were talking before, me and Laura, and we’re going to do it anyway, but the audio is so bad, and it was you that Wren asked.’
‘Are you serious?’ said Lila. Her heart was in her throat. The way that crowd had looked at Tyler was nothing like the way they’d looked at her. She wasn’t sure she could do it. Thea gave her a little shove, right between her shoulder blades.
‘Wren, should I…?’ said Lila, but the look on Wren’s face made her words dissolve into nothing. The colour had drained out of his cheeks. He nodded minutely at Lila, and she bit her lip. Joel gestured for Lila to follow him back onto the stage, but it was though her feet had put down roots. ‘But you don’t do en cores,’ said Lila.
‘Tonight, we do,’ said Joel, and he took Lila’s hand.
‘Get Ash,’ Lila said over her shoulder to Katy, but Joel was leading her back onto the stage.
The people in the crowd exploded, jumping up and down as Joel slung his bass back on. He grabbed a microphone from the side of the stage and placed it front and centre. ‘This one’s for Tyler,’ he said, and he stepped aside so Lila could take her place.
It was really almost night-time now, and as the lights on the screen faded, the lights on people’s phones glittered in front of Lila like the moon reflected on water. She took a deep breath and it crackled over the speakers, just at the moment where the screen glimmered to life above her. Lila peered up, saw Tyler stepping towards a microphone just like hers. He looked down at his feet, but there beneath him, Lila felt a thrill down her spine as though he was peering down at her.
‘Alright,’ said Tyler. ‘Let’s do this.’
Lila closed her eyes and pulled the microphone close to her mouth.
Tyler’s words poured out of her. She’d always sung Infinite Eyes songs half an octave higher than Tyler; his voice was much too low for her to mimic. As the rattling audio of ‘Nepenthe’ poured out of the speakers, though, it came out as a harmony, and Lila gripped the microphone so tight her knuckles hurt as she sang.
When they reached the last chorus, she heard her voice crack and finally opened her eyes. Floodlights illuminated the faces down below her and she smiled, the last words already on her lips, perfectly in time with Tyler. She’d heard this song, this recording of him so many times before. She felt like she was down there with the crowd, singing along exactly as they did. The gap she and Ash had written about, the line between the stage and the audience, it felt as though it had melted away, and Lila could hear every voice singing along with Tyler, along with her. The last notes trembled, and Lila held as long as she could.
Tyler broke off a second after her, clinging to the microphone stand as though it was the only thing keeping him alive. Without needing to look up, Lila knew the moment where he wiped the blood from his lip. He laughed a half-note, came in close to the microphone again. ‘Thanks,’ he said. And he was gone.
Lila doubled over, her own hands clapping together along with them. She could feel tears on her cheeks, but she was laughing when Joel put his arms around her shoulders. Joel lifted Lila’s hand and the crowd screamed her name, or maybe Tyler’s. It was impossible to tell.
Lila was giddy as she came off the stage. Arms engulfed her, and hands clapped her back. She felt different, larger, as though the cheers had burrowed into her skin and filled her up to bursting, but she could feel herself starting to cry. Tomorrow she could watch it back a thousand times over from the hands of people in the crowds, see herself as something else on that stage, a footnote in the story of Infinite Eyes, tiny under Tyler’s image. She could already feel words tripping off her tongue, saying they never planned it like that, it wasn’t meant to be that way, she hadn’t wanted to do it the way she did, and she knew it wasn’t like the Party Shock show, nothing like how Tyler would have done it, but it had felt almost right, in the moment, and she had been a part of it.
Nothing she said would matter, of course. In the end, she wasn’t all that different from the dead picture on the screen that had been behind her, no more real to the people watching than he had been. It was doing it that mattered, not the way she spoke about it afterwards, or whatever words had swapped their way between everyone before they’d even made it onto the stage.
Lila looked up, expecting it was Ash that was holding her. Instead she found herself peering into Wren’s eyes. His mouth was pressed into a thin line. Lila clutched him back, feeling the shivers running through him as he held onto her. ‘Was that good enough?’ she whispered to him.
Wren pulled out of the embrace but didn’t let go. He held Lila’s shoulders in his hands, frowning at her, his eyes flickering back and forth between each of hers like he was waiting for her to answer some impossible question.
‘Wren?’ said Lila. ‘Was it enough?’
Wren shook his head. He pulled Lila close again. ‘You already know.’