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I only started to freak out in the dressing room just before we went on stage. I'd decided to wear my Best Buys Bri-nylon overall as this cool ironic statement, but it was sticking to my fishnet tights in a very unflattering way, and I couldn't help but wonder if people would simply think I hadn't had time to change after work.
"I look like a dork, don't I?" I muttered for the fifty-seventh time, but Jane was back combing her hair and Tara was mumbling something about picturing the audience naked. I could taste the fear at the back of my throat. It was a metallic, bitter tang that wouldn't budge, no matter how much water I gulped down. I felt like I was about to go naked into battle.
But once I was actually on stage, it was too late to feel frightened. In actual fact, the warm glow of the spotlights felt comforting and safe, and it wasn't as if I could actually see anybody's faces. It was like being back in my bedroom but with much, much better lighting. Plus there was applause and shouts of encouragement, and for about the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged somewhere.
Then my feet, which had been rooted to the floor, began to move -- and the next thing I knew, I was throwing definite rock chick shapes. One leg up on the monitor, head flung back, and my hips were shaking in a definite 'come hither' way, while I poured out all those words that had been stuck inside me for so long....
"This is a song about those little toys that you get in the plastic egg machine outside Sainsbury's," I suddenly announced, like I'd been working a room since I was knee-high to a mic stand. "It's called 'Made in Korea.' One, two...One, two, three, four!" Jane was looking at me in disbelief and then shaking her head and laughing. And all the while I could feel the power thrumming through me, because I could make these noises come out of my guitar and make people listen to the stories inside my head.
After we came off stage, I didn't know where to put myself. All the adrenaline that had kicked in was still whooshing around my system. I prowled around the tiny dressing room 'cause it was such a kick to have a dressing room to prowl around in -- but then Jane burst in, her usual cool abandoned. "There are people out there who want to talk to us!" she announced. "Stuck-up people who'd usually look down their noses at us. Are you coming, Moll?" But I was already out the door and trying to adjust my excited skipping to a more casual saunter.
"You were great."
"Loved the set."
"Are you playing again?"
"You're in my A-level psychology class."
I was surrounded by a blur of faces all talking at me, and I realized that this is what it must be like if you're popular. This is what it must be like if you're Lizzie Firestone or Tania Chase or all those other girls at school who fit in.
Jane came up behind me and wrapped a hot, sticky arm around my waist, and we talked to people who were actually interested in us and listened to us, pretending that we did this kind of thing every day. The last admirer (note to self: we had admirers!) eventually trailed away and I nudged Jane with my hip. "Being in a band is like a cheap day return to cool," I shouted in her ear.
She grinned. "And did you notice how they were all girls and they all looked a bit like us?"
"'Cept they weren't us, 'cause we --"
"'Cause we rock!"
We paused to ponder just how much we did rock when Tara suddenly appeared, looking all whey-faced and wan.
"I'm never doing that again," she said with a shudder. "Everyone was staring at us. Urgh!"
"What did you think they were going to do -- close their eyes while we played?" Jane raised her eyes to heaven.
"I hadn't thought about it."
"Aw, poor Tara," I said, giving her hand a squeeze. "What happened to imagining them naked?"
Tara shuddered again. "I was too busy trying not to throw up to think about that."
Jane snorted and started to tell Tara how we were the new queens of the scene, but I was distracted by a boy. A boy who was staring at me like I was an all-you-can-eat buffet. I mean, he wasn't even making a paltry attempt to disguise the fact that he was staring at me-but I supposed I was going to have to get used to this kind of attention.
What would Ruby X do in this situation?
I sidled over to him, and as I got nearer I realized that apart from the unnerving starey thing, he was quite cute. Tall and lanky, but somehow managing to bypass weedy. Dark tufty hair, good cheekbones, and a T-shirt that would have looked like Hello Kitty if Hello Kitty had devil horns and a blood mustache.
He didn't stop looking as I closed the gap between us, just raised his eyebrows and waited for me to say something.
"Are you going to stare at me all night or are you going to buy me a drink?" My opening line was a nice blend of confrontation and flirtiness, I thought. I smiled mysteriously at him and wondered where I'd got the stones to be so...sultry.
"I'm going to stare," he said flatly, looking down his slightly-too-big nose at me.
"Oh." But the thing was, I couldn't walk away now that he'd fronted me, so I tried again. "Did you like our set?"
Starey-boy considered the question for a moment. "Your songs are really immature, you can't play your guitar to save your life, your drummer's a shambles, and as for the girl on bass -- my gran could do better, and she's paralyzed down her right side."
I stood there, opening and shutting my mouth like a mentally challenged goldfish, racking my brains for a snappy, devastatingly brutal comeback to wipe the smirk off his face. But Jane, who must have been listening to his snark for some time, beat me to it.
"Well, screw you then, sad boy," she snarled. "I saw you gawping at Molly all through the set, and if you think slagging us off is gonna get her interested, then you're even more lame than you look."
"Yeah," I added, all brave and blustery now that my best friend had appeared.
The boy looked unimpressed. "You're going to have to get used to constructive criticism if you're serious about your, um, group," he said, smirking again.
How could I ever have thought that he was cute? "We are serious," I said witheringly.
"I bet you thought you'd get loads of little groupies, didn't you?" he continued. "And that you'd be the heroines of the Year Twelve common room tomorrow."
Jane had given up any attempt to speak, but from the way she kept clenching and unclenching her fists I could tell she was planning to inflict bodily harm.
"Look, you don't know anything about us --" I began angrily, but sounds were still coming out of his mouth.
"I know you need a decent guitarist and a drummer who's not afraid to beat the crap out of his kit." He turned to Tara, who'd wandered over to see what was going on. "No offense."
"None taken. I suck," she agreed happily. Jane and I glared at her furiously.
"Tara," growled Jane warningly.
"I'm Dean, by the way," said the boy, as if we actually cared.
"And we're so not interested," Jane hissed.
All my adrenaline had fizzled away after Hello Satan's little pep talk was done. I turned to walk away, but Dean grabbed my arm. I looked at his hand like it was made of some icky, radioactive gloop.
"You need me," he said simply.