So here I sit in the table closest to the door, alone. Not a very auspicious start if you ask me. If this is supposed to be our "first date" - not that either of us ever used the term "date" at all, mind you - then where is he?
In the corner, near the stereo system, there's a battered sign that reads: SATURDAY: Karaoke Night!
God, have we ever been to one of these? I don't think I can deal with people caterwauling 'Waterloo' after having three shots of tequila. Maybe that's the best plan, though. I've already nearly finished my first pint. But do I really want to be drunk by the time he gets here?
Just breathe, Daisy. That's right. He'll be here. He said, well, rather, lifted his head from the PlayStation controller and tossed over his shoulder, "Let's give this a go, shall we?" the day after he came to get me from the train station. And I didn't misread him. No. I'm sure I didn't.
Time for another drink.
After I get another beer from the bar I see him, there in the doorway, scanning the room for me. I lift my hand, give him a cheery wave. He catches my eye, and turns toward me. It's almost like I see it in slow motion, the way his grin curves the corners of his mouth and his eyes light up. We stare at each other for a second too long and my skin begins to prickle. He's here for me, it's not a ruse any more, we're going to be together for real. If only I'd realized it the day we first met in the café. He walks toward me, the grin spreading into a wide smile...
A body slides into the seat beside me. "Hello." Our heads whip toward him with an audible crack.
Tim and Daisy turn toward me and say in unison, "Brian?!"
"Am I late?" I notice the untouched pint on the table and I pick it up and take a swig. It's not my regular beer, but it was nice of Daisy to order one for me. "Thanks."
"Um, uh, all right, you're welcome. Where'd you, ah, hear about this outing?"
I frown for a second. "Around the building, I guess. Is..." I have trouble getting the words out. "Is T-Tw-?"
"Twist coming?" Daisy places a hand on my arm. "I dunno. She didn't say anything to me about it."
Tim takes the seat on her other side. "Sorry, mate." They exchange a glance, probably feeling sorry for me. That's all right. I shouldn't keep up hope where there is none.
But I'm mostly relieved. Things between us ended so awkwardly. My art is coming more easily again, now that we've split, but I miss that halcyon time. The days when all she had to do was stare into my eyes and I was lost for days. A little like the way Tim and Daisy are looking at each other right now...
"So," I say, and they jerk a bit in their seats. I can't cope with petty social interactions that paper over the cracks in the human condition rather than exposing them. So I ask, "Either of you going to sing tonight?" I gesture with my head to the sign in the corner.
"Oh, no, no," Daisy begins, and Tim adds, almost on top of her, "I doubt they have the Doctor Who theme on the playlist." Daisy gives him a strange look. "Can you even sing that? That doesn't have any words. It's just like, 'Dah, daaaaaaaaahh, dah dah dah." Tim interrupts with, "No, it's like this, Doo, doo, dooooooooooo, wooo-ooo-oooooooo. Doo, doo, doo, doo, doo doooooooo..."
There is no use getting involved when they start talking over each other like that, so I quietly excuse myself to go look at the playlist. I won't actually sing anything, but seeing the two of them so happy is putting me in a melancholy mood. If they were going to act so couple-y, why didn't Tim just take her on a regular date? I'll never understand commercial artists.
I flip through the list of songs in a desultory fashion, trying not to listen to the argument, which has now shifted into Daisy singing the theme from Friends. Wait, that's on the list - I should tell them.
I feel a tap on my shoulder. I look up. "Oh, hello, Mike." He's dressed in his usual army fatigues, chewing on an unlit cigar in his mouth.
"Whatcha thinking about singing?" he asks, shifting the cigar to the other side.
"Oh, I'm not going to sing anything. Just needed to get away from the table for a bit. You know, let them have a little time alone."
"Who?" I ask. Tim didn't say anything about a girl when I was 'round his place earlier.
Brian nods at the table, but it's just Tim sitting there now. His date must be off at the ladies'.
"Tim's here with someone?" I tense, ready for battle. I'm not happy that my best mate is gallivanting with another girl so soon. Then my blood runs cold. "He's not back with Sophie, is he?"
Brian's mouth opens and closes a few times. "Er, no."
He points at the table again, and I see Daisy sliding in to sit beside Tim.
"What?" But it doesn't take me long to realize what he means. Daisy and Tim are making eyes at each other like they were first year cadets at the academy. Tim says something, and Daisy giggles. "Oh, that then," I say, though I'm not sure how I feel about it. I suppose it is Daisy, after all.
I turn back to the book to get my mind off it. "Now come on, be a man. You've got to sing something. It's not right to come to a karaoke night and not sing."
But Brian isn't really paying attention to me. He's staring past me to the doorway, frozen like a statue.
They still have a karaoke night at this place? You'd never catch any of my boys in Manchester bothering with it anymore. It's so 1998.
I can't believe I came all the way down here. I mean, it's just a night at the pub, I could have done that in Manchester, and saved myself 100 miles on the train. But Daisy sounded so, I dunno, odd over the phone. Yes, that's it, there's no other reason. I'm here to see Daisy, she needs me.
Looks like some of the others are here: Tim, Mike and... oh, no. Brian. He's seen me - giving me that puppy dog look - he might as well be Daisy's dog, Colin. I don't know why. We broke up, and it's for the best. I'm not going to let it stop me having fun.
I turn my eyes away from Brian, pretending not to have seen him. I'm not going to walk out of here just because of him, no way. I didn't put on my new dancing heels just to waste them on the weirdos on the train.
I walk toward Tim and Daisy's table, where they are deep in discussion about something. Probably something horribly dull - she needs saving. "Daisy!" I call cheerily, and she turns toward me with surprise.
"Twist?" She slides out of the booth to give me a hug.
"Heya, Twist," Tim says with a flat tone. What's got into his bleached head?
At least Daisy's happy to see me. I sit down and lift my hand to order a spritzer, still not paying any attention to Brian beside the stage. "How've you been doing?"
"'Bout the same," Daisy begins.
"The same?" Tim cuts in.
She gives him a silencing look. I wonder what that's about. "Still in the house," she continues, "thank god, though it was touch and go there for a while. And I almost took a job at Colwyn Bay, but it didn't work out, so..."
"Oh, I'm so glad you didn't. Colwyn Bay has absolutely no social scene."
She laughs. "Yeah, like I'm out partying every night here–"
Suddenly music starts blaring from the stage. All three of us turn to see Mike standing there, microphone in hand. He sings:
Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide
No escape from reality
"Bohemian Rhapsody," Tim says. "Nice."
Open your eyes
Look up to the skies and see
I'm just a poor boy
I need no sympathy
And then Brian comes out of the shadows from the side of the stage. Oh my god, is he going to sing?
Because I'm easy come, easy go
Little high, little low
Any way the wind blows
Doesn't really matter to me, to me
In slow motion, Mike pulls what looks like a gun out from behind his fatigue pants and aims it at Brian as he sings:
Mama just killed a man
Put a gun against his head
Pulled my trigger, now he's dead
Brian jerks crazily (still in slow motion) and crumples to the ground, while Mike continues to sing.
"Ya think that gun's real?" Daisy asks Tim. She grabs a handful of peanuts to chew on.
"It better not be, or we'll all be in for it."
"I think it's..." I begin, and they wait for me to finish. I gaze at Brian another moment, sprawled on the stage, his arms and legs bent at odd angles. I can't help but find it... "adorable." I smile.
The music has just gotten to the part where the tempo picks up and the chorus comes in. "I love this part!" Tim exclaims and jumps up to jog to the stage. "Daisy!" he beckons and she hops up with a grin.
"You in, too, Twist?" she asks as she passes me.
Am I in? Brian, from where he's lying on the floor, has his eyes fixed on me again...
I push my way into the pub just as Mike starts to sing. Karaoke night, how fun! I haven't sung on a stage since that time Mick and Keith were slumming it in Camden. I should see if they've got any Stones on the playlist. By the time I have my glass of vino, Tim and Daisy are stepping onto the stage.
Oo, but Twist's here, too. I frown. Wasn't she up in Manchester? The way Brian's looking at her, I bet he wishes she still was.
She gives him a wink and giggle and bounces up on the stage to join them. Hmm. I take a sip of my wine. Guess the lovebirds have worked it out.
They look so darling up there, the young people, singing together. Especially Mike. I love the prop gun he's got in his hands. Makes my hands itch to touch the real thing again.
The cold steel of his rifle, I mean. He promised to take me to the shooting range later this weekend.
The whole pub has turned to watch the lot of them singing away. They get to the good bit, the high note, and on "For me!" Mike raises the gun and pretends to shoot at the rafters...
There are screams around the pub. The group all looks at Mike in shock, and then they scatter. The place turns to absolute chaos. I see the bartender on his phone - dialing 999, probably.
"Mike, over here!" I call, waving him over. I'm close to the alleyway door - I open it a crack for him to slip through. "Out this way!"
He sees me and ducks under my arm with gymnastic grace. Before he dashes off, he murmurs a plea, "You won't tell the cops anything will you? I don't want this getting back to the staff sergeant."
"O'course not, love." I give his cheek a pat. "Now run along and hide."
He smiles brightly and disappears into the night.
I stand silent, still, unseen from my perch. I am always alert for signs of danger.
The crowd of pub-goers mills on the street.
A man flees in the other direction, thinking himself safe. He is safe from the police, at least.
An older woman takes an enormous swig from her wine glass, surveying the crowd with a maternal expression.
A young couple giggles in the alley, exchanging flirtatious glances.
But I do not see my target.
Ah, there she is, under the streetlight around the corner. Does she realize she is being watched?
Then she turns toward me. Can she see me here...?
"Tim? What are you doing?" She gives me a long-suffering look. "Get over here."
The police aren't here, and they probably won't do more than take a report, anyway. I shrug and step out of the shadows.
As I walk toward her, hands in pockets, she tilts her head in that way she has, a slow smile growing on her lips.
"Walk you home?" I ask when I get close enough, nudging her shoulder.
"Where we'll just see all the same people we just escaped from?" She shakes her head fervently. "Kiss me, you git."
I don't need to be told twice. "Yeah, okay."